Alexander Kiossev

Extras Backstage

in: Visual Seminar 2. An Eye for the Pale City Revolver Sofia, Frankfurt/Main 2004

Here's a simple way to make your own installation (or performance for that matter) - artist Krassimir Terziev employs extras, dresses them up in period costumes from across the ages that he got from the wardrobe, and then leaves them with no instructions in a street on set in Sofia's Boyana Film Studio. They hang around or walk up and down in pairs, like the moving image of urban chaos ñ WWI privates and lumberjacks, legionnaires and city broads, guerilla fighters and sea captains, party leaders, dragons and elderly Bourgeois ladies. The Bulgarian spectator has this remote feeling they've seen these costumes somewhere, and the faces too ñ the entire scene is constructed deliberately to remind of many Bulgarian movies at once and yet not a single any one in particular, there's something very recognisable about it all and still one could not put a finger on it. And along with that the absoluteness of the eye is just as much at stake ñ in this case the camera eye. The entire image is broken up into quotes and semi-quotes, each leading to seemingly familiar worlds which never do become completely familiar...

Otherwise it all seems in perfect keeping with the classical integrity of time, place and action. So it seems. Because the Ñintegrityì of the urban time and space is exactly what this game is about. According to the old Bulgarian revolutionary tradition this latter one should be the result of an all encompassing,  large scale historical act (the major Bulgarian novels - ÑUnder the Yokeì by Ivan Vazov, ÑIvan Kondarevì by Emilian Stanev, ÑTobaccoì by Dimitar Dimov ñ they all have a gallery of characters and individual destinies which at some point all explode into one Ñall encompassing theatreì of history.)

But in Terziev's theatrical urban installation such metaphysical characters as ÑActì and ÑPlotì do not even feature. There is merely loafing around and waiting ñ in fact, quite typical states of urban existence ñ the extras waiting to get instructions and to finally engage in some real action. But there are no instructions. Merely hints and reminiscence of fragments from the 13-century history of Bulgaria in the air ñ fragments that altogether fail to come together in any particular order ñ there's nothing but sense of Ñactionì, potential Ñactionì. The people on the set don't even know they are merely pre-actors, that they will never get to become Ñcharactersì - they will remain atoms from a variety of contexts, potential arias from different operas that are not even meant to open.

Compared to other works Krassimir Terziev's interest in the process of atomising the city has taken one step further ñ this video installation is not just about the individual human atoms but also about the strange form of their compatibility which does in fact take place in the contemporary city. Despite the absence of a plot or Ñhistoricalì drama. The Boyana video installation comes to demonstrate that the city does indeed have some strange Ñtogethernessì about it. The different communities within it are a parody of each other in their expectation for something truly communal to happen, large scale and spectacular, so they might all take part in this urban theatre of Ñbetween timeì and Ñoutside spaceì. Because meantime, while waiting for The Story to take place (or their individual, private stories for all we know) the privates and the Bourgeois ladies, the dragons and the captains don't even notice what has happened up front ñ it looks like something backstage. And so they talk to each other, they laugh, flirt, get bored together, they get angry together, live together, boundlessly far and close to each other under their costumes. Where is this place, you wonder? - well, that's Sofia, take a look at it ñ a make-belief chronotope, a threshold to the life in which Vitosha and the shared boredom are the only things in common...   

There is so much of Becket in this Ñwaitingì, but in some mundane, Balkan, Sofia version. There is nothing left from the grand historic Narratives, even their pathetic revival from the socialist days (1300 year Bulgaria!) has fallen apart into a heap of confused props. Time is void ñ but it is not fulfilled with metaphysical anxiety because of the familiarity in the air, the everyday setting, the theatrical ghosts and the waiting which leads to nothing, to no historic catharsis. This is the temporality of the habitual lacking the transcendence of history's collapse into blabbering, gossiping, talking, whiling away time ñ and all characters have been replaced with extras.    

The extra is somewhat of an opposite to Baudelaire's flaneur as analysed by Benjamin. The flaneur was one walking eye, at once internal and local to the city, the man of the crowd but equally a consumer, dreamer and somewhat of an aesthetic recreator of the city. Passive in all other ways, the wanderer was active enough in his gaze, in his sudden passions for one or another urban space. And the fact that he is one pure eye makes him almost invisible ñ he has the anonymity of the fence-sitter, the omnipresent but unnoticeable other who easily blends in with the crowd. The flaneur is much more like an absent-minded, distracted camera than a hero.

But he doesn't look like an extra either, this next level of passivity. Similarly to the fence-sitter, the extra too is excluded from the Grand happening, but he has lost even the last trace of activity that the fence-sitter and roamer had ñ that of their own gaze. With the extra the perspective is turned backwards with the invisible camera staring at him rather than him staring at the city. And as if that isn't enough, these are no limelights or spotlights he has craved for, instead it is one preliminary gaze, a rehearsal gaze ñ the camera is not ushering him on-stage, it is not serving visibility but the audition. Who will be chosen, who will get the job, who will become truly visible, when will it begin?  

One hundred and fifty years ago Baudelaire's essays destroyed the illusion that the city was a place where the individual can develop and achieve something - it has become void, anonymous, a mass space for roaming and gazing. Moving through this tradition Krassimir Terziev's installation/performance dares go even further - the real city has vanished, it has been replaced with a set, with a pre-space ñ and the only possible thing one could do in the latter is to engage in futile blabbering, roaming about and waiting. And there are no gazing fence-sitters roaming about (there is nothing to gaze at, less still to fall in love with), there are bored dilettantes making their way through sets and props. Completely desperate and bored, they seek to find a role ñ any role, any minute, minor role... But nobody is summoning them to the stage.

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