You don't really photograph the present, as the past is woven into it... Consequently, it makes seeing unforseen things more difficult.
— Hito Steyerl. Politics of Post-Representation. In conversation with Marvin Jordan1
It is no simple matter to write about Krassimir Terziev – not just because along with his active art practice he is also researcher of the processes in contemporary visual culture, not even because he can personally refer to the images he himself has created, or the very nature of his interests. Krassimir Terziev’s subject matter is contemporaneity itself. He is of course a contemporary artist, his topics and means of expression deal with the present, organically linked to the recently produced past, and seamlessly, naturally leading on to what is yet to be.
Whenever we speak of contemporary art we more often than not fail to mention the obscurity of the very term “contemporary”. It should be pretty obvious that it has to do with time, but that part of time which is “right now”, the part that is happening as we type these words. It is obvious that we live for longer than the “right now”, that we have a past and rely (at least briefly) on having a future – this attendance in the contemporaneity and the feeling it evokes does not comprise the understanding of it.
There are a number of ways to define “contemporaneity” – via information distribution, via technology, via the scope of political and social events. But how do we see it from within, from its own perspective, is perhaps something only an artist could reflect.
In art, and beyond, in visual culture there have been a number of revolutionary occasions with an impact. Contemporary visual orientation was formed after the invention of photography and film, but just as much after the Malevich Black Square (1915), or Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936), after mankind’s gaze at Earth from outer spare (1961) or after Marshall McLuhan said that “at the point where a new media-induced environment becomes all pervasive and transmogrifies our sensory balance, it also becomes invisible” (1969), after “TV – for each home” (circa 1970s) or the smartphone made the creation and sharing of “pics” an act of minimal effort.
This rapid, random listing relates directly to Krassimir Terziev’s artistic methodology, the artist and researcher whose works are subject to the current catalogue. Over the past almost 20 years he has been systematically building his relationship with the visual contemporaneity and the media through which it manifests itself. Not surprisingly his interest in the visual environment is grounded in his classical education (Terziev has a master’s degree in painting from the National Art Academy in Sofia since 1997), which on the one hand accounts for the ultimate “artist’s eye”, but on the other – derives from the principles of aesthetics. His first steps are during the chaotic 1990-s which break all principles, overcome isolation and challenge any status quo. The 1990-s were the times for the medium of video which became accessible to Bulgarian artists, in their infatuation with the opportunity to document or pseudo-document the dynamics of post-socialist changes. One of the country’s earliest video and media artists, Krassimir Terziev duly reflects the peculiarity of real-life situations with “instantaneously” disappearing contexts. The registration of the poor poetics of the fleeting world though quite soon proves insufficient. Pinning down “life as it is” (after Dziga Vertov) in the time of digital technology seems relatively simple to him. His video-eye is analytical and constructive both with regards to the subject of scrutiny and the opportunity for viewing. The artist’s research interests were reaffirmed in his doctoral thesis in Cultural Anthropology (2012), also published as Recomposition. Author, Media and Artwork in the Age of Digital Reproduction2.
In one of his earliest elaborate video works On the BG Track (2002) Terziev focusses on self-identity, the paradox of clichés and uniqueness – especially poignant issues at the time. The artist not merely tries to define what being Bulgarian at a certain moment meant. Using fragments from various foreign movies in parallel to footage from the streets of Sofia, he questions how identity and the notion of it are formed by the external view, and particularly the view from the mighty weapon of mass culture, i.e. cinema.
The magic of cinema and its exposure, as stage magicians used to advertise their art, is a recurring topic in the artist’s works. He is the director of the paradoxical A Movie (2004) shot on old sets at the Boyana Film Studio. He auditioned 50 extras who put on historical film costumes and stood waiting for the director’s cues only never to get any. The “representatives of the past” have` to exist in expectation for five hours in the “present” moment. The two-channel installation is not merely entertaining with the chaotic mixture of stories recognizable through the elements of clothing. This situation of “hanging” in time offers the inclined to trust film-reality viewer a cause to doubt that lingers long after the actual viewing. Terziev makes a somewhat anti-Eisenstein statement with the composition of “the frame with the crowd”.
Years later, in Monu-mental (2011) Terziev once again returns to documentary film by shooting at the site of one of the most contentious spots of contemporary Bulgaria – the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, erected in 1954. The major argument raised at every election campaign is that it is highly inappropriate for the capital of an independent country to have a monument to its conqueror, and that it needs to be destroyed or at least moved elsewhere, anywhere away from the centre of the city. The monument’s defenders on the other hand claim that it is part of the country’s history, that it has already been physically “adopted” in the urban development of the city. Both parties’ mainly argue over whether the young generation “should feel intimidated” or respectively “remember their history”.
Although Terziev’s camera does not change its angle from the initial frontal view of the complex, the film follows two plots. Cars and pedestrians cut across the close-up, some of them just like that while other apparently on their way to somewhere; some fooling around on their bikes, skateboards, rollers or whatever else is in fashion in the city; they play ball, practice their dance moves; dogs pass through with their owners, couples meet, groups assemble; they eat and drink and smoke; some sit on the banisters or the stairs to the monument, others climb the bronze figures, while third “hang out” at the fence to the underground passage... The audience is predominantly young, they are indifferent to the urban environment around them and preoccupied with their own subjective “now”. The monument, in the background, is practically always in the frame – looming, awesome, stable and naturally just as indifferent. The soundtrack on the other hand ever so often “insists” on suspense which though is never confirmed by the actual scene. It is obvious that there is no trace here of the tension of debate or the proclaimed political drama.
* From Latin: Thus passes the medium of the world. The title of the essay is suggested by Luchezar Boyadjiev in a conversation with it's author.
1. http://dismagazine.com/disillusioned-2/ 62143/hito-steyerl-politics-of-post-representation/ <<
2. Krassimir Terziev. Recomposition. Author, Media and Artwork in the Age of Digital Reproduction. Sofia: East-West / ICA-Sofia, 2012 <<