Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva

Travelling back to the future

in: Future Unfrgettable (exh. cat.) Versus Art Projects Istanbul 2019

Even now, 50 years later, man's first step on the Moon is still the same incredible and magical moment of perfection and triumph of human powers. The picture of the little man in white spacesuit standing beside the flagpole in that too unknown and too dangerous immensity is the very symbol of progress and the mastering of new worlds. In spite of numerous versions and speculations of its cinematic origin, and of a grand conspiracy of space race during the Cold War, the image has taken root in humankind's memory as a true watershed of evolution.

The past contains perhaps only one other image of the future, at once eternal and iconic, that can stand side by side with it: Stanley Kubrick's visualist and conceptual saga 2001: A Space Odyssey. They nearly coincide in time: the documentary material from Apollo's journey to the Moon came just a year after that of Kubrick's trip to Jupiter. It was an epoch-making moment that -- even today and fusing reality, dream and fantasy -- still defies its final practical processing, offering a slew of interpretations.
Outer space – the most successful metaphor of the eternally unreachable all – is still far enough to let us fill it also with all the technological garbage generated on the planet and the dreams for the future and salvation of humankind. At the same time it is near enough for us to have daily access to it through our mobile devices, the thousands of images and sounds from Mars's surface that the news brings us.

For Krassimir Terziev domesticating space has been both subject matter and artistic strategy since 2008. He started with the two-channel video A Message From Space in My Backyard (2008-09), which studies the problem of cosmic waste, and Just as Water, Gas, and Electricity Are Brought Into Our Houses From Far Off (2011), the series of photographs in the aesthetics of Dutch still life painting, which features all kinds of technological gizmos and a space helmet in between. The entire "action" is contained precisely there and in the images it reflects – the first man on the Moon is the man behind the camera, not in front of it. In Terziev's next works, this image – the man in white spacesuit – turned into a principal motif, replicated in a multitude of variants, series of drawings, photo montages and photographs. In fact it is the main reference to outer space and to the concept that this artist-recreated sterile simulation of reality could lie there.

I can't think of another Bulgarian contemporary artist who has shown such enviable constancy in the exhaustion of a subject and has immersed himself into such depths of study. As one of the first artists to shift their focus from classic media to the digital in the 1990s, Krassimir Terziev seems to have devoted himself to the medium seeing it as at once an instrument, object and goal of the art work. Cinema and Outer Space – equally fictional and at the same time ever more technologically mastered – are the beneficial subject matter in which the artist whirls his tensions, fusions and experiments with the medium. A significant role in his artistic choice is played by both the philosophical conflict of the relations between man and machine, and the autobiographical component, sneaking with an increasing frequency.

The year when man first set foot on the Moon in a sublime fusion of human fantasies and capabilities was also the year when the artist was born, here, on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. Somehow naturally, round anniversaries invariably cause us to seek similar connections with the broader picture, and this particular one comes across almost as a product of the subconscious. In Terziev, the return to identity and his belonging to the current post-Socialist context, to his own family, habitable environments, has the same force as the default flashback to the image of the "first man," and there is no way even for the helmet, carelessly left on the desk in the very first series of photographs, to stir a suspicion of the artist's self-identification with it.
Using this too personal energy, Krassimir Terziev creates an "outer space" that is literally domesticated, utilised, tamed. In fact it rather outlines painfully clichéd civilisational models and storylines of that cosmic background, perfect in its petrified eternity, where the concept of time does not exist in any familiar and comprehensible parameters, where there is no day, night, past or future. The more populated and enlivened his "outer space" is, the emptier of human presence, the present and earthly reality become.
Similar is his reflex to the medium. The more visionary and futuristic the plot, the more classic is the choice of means for its presentation up to the moment when the monitors are shut down and they are nothing but a base for an engraving, a monument, and a self-portrait. Everything known, everything that is here and now, has been left in an emptiness, surveilled by cameras and drones.

The main strategy is the swapping of place and time, a constant journey, the crossing of trajectories literally shown from the same cosmic distance in Worlds Routes Map; and also the eternal return to that very moment, truly first in every sense of the word.

Years Later is a significant key in this shift in chronology. The work is a version of the earlier drawing 39 Years Later and it seems, as if its own time has stayed still just like the flag that is thought to have gone completely white under the ultraviolet light. This hypothesis remains unproved, but it somehow completely de-politicises that moment, taking it out of all historical linearity and showing it as a pure archetype of memory. Then it can be freely projected into Terziev's cosmic utopia, tripled as a "family" and added to Apollo Melanist Programme and Apollo Albino Programme.

Apollo Albino Programme (2017) is part of the project The Image Is No Longer Available – an inscription that usually alerts to an error or sudden absence in a system. This misconceived Noah's Ark finds its continuation in Apollo Melanist Programme (2018), again presented in the code of a special space programme: Long before humans, animals had gone into space – monkeys, dogs and manipulated images like the ones seen here.

With a feeling that something is about to happen, Yet To Be Titled is presented in the style of something already experienced, as a retro exotic view of a sunset. Guessing the perspective in this landsacpe, we can resort again to an earlier Terziev drawing: MoonPalmEarth (2015). Incidentally, in his movie Kubrick was the first to create this well-known image of the Earth as seen from outer space before it could be shot in the fullness of color. Later, when the coincidence was a fact, it had a striking effect.

The look from the Moon outlines a perfect silhouette of a palm on the Earth's image and instantaneously triggers models of association. In the same way Emotional Universe uses a multitude of standard, suggested-to-memory images in its own planetary system. Using nothing other than templates, the work is executed as a template featuring the outlines on a flat circular background.

With its total exotic absurdity as a revelation towards reality, Yet To Be Titled contains also a rather interesting transition from the cosmic theme to the Central series, which in fact exposes a great deal of Terziev's Outer Space concept.

In the years 2013-14 Krassimir Terziev was among the most active participants in the protests against the then Bulgarian government. Over the course of a year hundreds of people would come out in the streets and, gathered in front of the house of parliament, call upon the government to resign. Seasons changed, and the protests grew into various performative practices. Later a good many works by Bulgarian artists were born out of these events. At the height of the summer season of that turbulent year, the protesters set up a beach in front of the parliament building in downtown Sofia, where they started sunbathing for all to see under umbrellas and all manner of beach accessories. The series of drawings by Terziev is a direct reference to this moment. Here the image of the astronaut has been successfully supplanted by an equally ritual and formally replicated image of the policeman turned into a module of countless art configurations. But the concept remains the same: The exoticism of the beach, in total contrast with police cordons, is no smaller rebellion and clash with reality than the one in a landscape with a palm on a sunset. It's the same protest the artist uses to gradually depopulate the Earth.

The perfect example of this aloofness from everything that one could call "the here and now" is the video Between Flashback and Déjà-vu II (2016), which, by means of the instruments of cinema, creates a tense dramaturgy out of simple technical tricks. The artist used this strategy in other video works, where the environment is usually cleansed of human presence. Terziev never left his studio during the shooting of the video, executing the entire experiment in laboratory conditions, hyperbolising the natural emptiness of the apartment block that was the filming location.

Finally, Monument to the Time Elapsed (III, IV) strongly evokes the denouement in Kubrick and the moment in which our hero, the only astronaut to survive, Dr David Bowman, succeeds in shutting off HAL 9000, setting himself free and taking command in his own hands. The latest in a series of dead devices in which the artist sees only himself is a revelation not only of the relations between people and technologies, artist and media, but also those between the spectator and the work of art. Immediately, and inevitably, it is where the artist gets directly involved. In the execution of these works, the eternal return, in this case to the original in the era of technical reproducibility (after Benjamin), calls to mind a classic technique such as engraving.

And in fact, if we are to accept the art of Krassimir Terziev as a journey, it's a journey that moves at its own temporal pace. At each moment of the journey the question is raised about the depleting – or already depleted – possibilities for a future. This is a journey that certainly does not end with the shutting off of the monitors; there's also nothing superhuman there in Kubrick terms. A journey that always ends with the return to the artist's grounding I, -- forwards to the present and back to everything that was once a future.

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