Krassimir Terziev is an artist who explores the present, constantly referring to the past, but also looking ahead to the future for references, as well as to distant planets from which the view could possibly be more comprehensive. He is among the very few authors asserting his responsibility to history and sourcing from it infinite experience and insight. Even fewer expand the geography of their quest into the unresearched territory of space from the heights and distance of which earthly problems are objectivized. The breadth of his works’ space-time continuum is boundless, opening infinite opportunities for historic references and galactic journeys. In that regard his “Worlds Routes Map” of 2010 is an emblematic work which emphasises the artist’s interest in the interrelations of all things which underpin our very being, and – much like the butterfly effect, the responsibility for one action or another is borne by scores or hundreds of those affected. The closer this world becomes due to the growth of communications, the stronger the connection and the more impossible the isolation. Geography succumbs to economics and politics.
To the acquisition of knowledge and deliberate submersion into science, Krassimir Terziev adds his skill of observation, affirming not merely the act of looking but of seeing. In his video “Between Flashback and Déjà vu II” (2017) the cameras, one propped on a tripod placed on a high position and another, mounted on a drone both record and observe each other. While one is shooting a wide panorama of Sofia, the other is searching for the former, gliding along the facade of a high-rise apartment building. In the Orwellian world there is always someone watching somebody else from somewhere. No action remains undetected. The habitual is full of overlapping realities and the consideration of multiple layers of existence is part of the game of survival. Viewing or that state of constant alertness to surrounding challenges also enhances the responsibility for all that is happening. The artist claims that responsibility, noticing and noting things and events that matter but often remain peripheral to the viewer’s sight.
In the video series “Incidents” (2022) Terziev presents incidental captures of the “bumps” in urban living – the stuck seconds’ clock hand, the disco beat bug in the streetlights, the broken lock of an automatic train door which causes it to open and shut despite the absence of humans. These micro episodes reveal not just the ultimate dependence on equipment’s functionalities but also become metaphors of contemporaneity, with its exhausting movements back and forth, creating eventually a feeling of deadlock or regress.
Krassimir Terziev has a taste for suspense, the moment of anxious expectation and the premonition of something happening which may remain unrevealed to the viewer. In fact, the intensity of suspense is at times so strong that one does not even need resolution. The artist once again leans on this cinematographic device to suggest and tell us more about our own selves. Terziev has been working with moving image since the mid 1990-s and his works are benchmarks in the history of contemporary Bulgarian art history, e.g. “Library Paranoia” (1997) and “Multiplied Shadows” (1998).
Similarly, in “Ghost Descending a Staircase” (2016-17) Krassimir Terziev, with Daniel Kötter, relates to familiar works from the history of art but also builds upon the non-occurrence – the camera follows the descent downstairs a 31-storey building. There are neither humans nor plot. The idea, the intent lies within the activity itself, charged with the angst of the monotonous rhythm of repetition. While initially created as an apotheosis of architectural modernism, the work has another impact as well – at least in the minds of those viewers who have lived through the uniformity of existence and attitudes of socialism, with its unvarying, automatically repetitive activities and identical buildings.
It is by no coincidence that his works’ titles frequently contain the word “ghost”. Krassimir Terziev likes the mystery and uncertainty of the apparitions which, in no single concrete shape or form, are still part of anything strange or inexplicable in life. “A Ghost That Once Looked Familiar and Homey” (2019) once again relies on what has remained incomplete and unsaid, all ultimately true of thousands of events and occasions. The contentious monument “1300 Years Bulgaria” which was demolished in 2017 by authorities on highly ambiguous, questionable grounds, was shot using photogrammetry and turned into a 3D model supposedly providing a 360-degree view of the work. As the source material consisted of photos made over different decades and people, more often than not of the most captivating sides of the monument, it was impossible to blend those into a completely objective totality. The artist reflects both on the irreparable destruction and loss, as well as on flawed memory which can hardly store tangible recollection of events.
The force of suspense is prominent in the video “[…] Suspended” (April 2020) where it is used to suggest a traumatic experience. Shot during Covid-19 lockdown, the work is a close-up of the artist’s studio. The obsession with the motive, the unsteadiness of the hand-held camera, the dramatic music builds up substantial anxiety. Beyond that though it is merely a sequence of views from a room which lacks any dramatism whatsoever. Nonetheless, the artist manages to make us relive the claustrophobia of the confined space, much like the times when we were not allowed outdoors.
Along with the video Krassimir Terziev also made a series of drawings titled “New World Order”. They directly reflect the artist’s feelings in those times of loneliness, insecurity and uncertainty. As ever, his works combine gravity with humour and irony. The title alludes to the conspiracy theories of world domination, while the minimalism of the objects ironically implies how little may be left to dominate anyway. Only pieces of reality remain, reality itself has long ceased to be whole. The distinction between animate and inanimate objects, the segregation of “lonely islands” where protected but unrelated to the rest of the world rocks, trees and animals float, depict the image of the disintegrating world. Once again there is no sign of humans – perhaps they are by now an extinct species, or maybe watching from the porthole of a secret refuge. The only trace of human beings is in the stylized graphic figure in the manual, following the Ikea protocols for the diptych, revealing the extent to which all rules have been scrambled, the inadequacy of external help and the futility of effort to “reassemble” the world’s old order.
In the artist’s words, “All works are mostly grounded in the paradoxes of dealing with the invisible, unfamiliar menace. Seeking order (state of emergency) was the approach not just in our country but everywhere else in the world too, aimed at subduing the panic, as was the ridiculous notion of “social distancing” imposed to allegedly overcome the unfamiliar, unresearched threat. The order of which “social distancing” was part creates a grid, a modernist frame based on the model of rationalising reality, but that grid at times collapsed under the pressure of the obscure, influenced also by the incapacitated social constructs we inherited from the neoliberal turn. The series of drawings inspired by the assembly manuals of a large commercial brand indirectly visualise the logic of the measures, supposed to be implemented step by step and proposing a solution / salvation / relief should all instructions be meticulously followed, but instead they were introduced/cancelled, then re-introduced, intermittently, often illogically, creating chaos and confusion, and as a result simply reinforced the panic. As a result of “Do 1, 2, 3…” led to assembling unstable, illogical constructions instead of an integral structure.
The other drawings visualise the proliferation of the method of social distancing from the human world to a universal, global principle applied to animals, plants, minerals etc. If the Big Bang leads to the progressive distancing between the galaxies in the universe, isolation may well be the transection of this distancing.”
There is yet another focus in “New World Order” which has in a way become apparent over the recent months – the survival of artists not just in times of crises but per se. Krassimir Terziev’s projects can be considered from this point of view too, adding further to their interpretation: where do the personal and the public meet, and could contemporary artists find their worthy place amidst the social machine.
Approximately during the same period the artist presented his computer generated video of his own home/fortress, “Things we know we know. Things we know we don't know. Things we don't know we don't know. Things we don't know we know” (April-May 2020). During lockdown family homes became carefully guarded Noah’s arks. The tight grip onto life was the foremost task as if the demise of any individual would have meant the end of the world itself. “Stay at home”, the mantra which Europe chanted from 13 March to 13 April. Laboriously developed socialisation drowned snugly into the slipper cosiness of the family cell. Despite that, in Krassimir Terziev’s work the home is broken into pieces and with liquefied outlines, accessible to viewing by anyone. The last vessel of hope is floating in space but it is likely that all of its bits and bobs might fall overboard anytime now. Besides, none of its humans are anywhere in sight – perhaps they were the first to feel the cosmic pull of space, the dream of settling down and eternity is still in the air, roaming the universe albeit shredded to pieces. The video “I Am in a Room Different From the One You Are In (tribute to Alvin Lucier)” (2021) is in a way the sequel to the same narrative.
The culmination in this series is “A Walk in the Gallery”. The artist reconstructed the Structura Gallery in Sofia through 1400 photographs fed into the photogrammetry software and turned the still images into a 3D model. The audience finds themselves in the actual space while simultaneously observing its transformation. A gripping feeling of, on the one hand, an extraordinary, luring spacewalk, and on the other – the sinister menace destroying the firm stability of the space both in terms of its architecture and purpose. The glitches in the software which fabricates and fills at its will any gaps just reinforce that sense of unreal. The effect of entropy, of the space seemingly reduced to ruins, derives from the very nature of the complex translation between the two media – photography and 3D simulation.
Technique is never an end to itself for Krassimir Terziev. What matters is that the conversation picks up and meaning unfolds. As he says, he has seen sufficient collapses in his lifetime – of socialism, institutions and language. The artist is of the generation who lived through such dramatic changes compared to which the Covid pandemic seems almost like a tiny bug in the system. His works persistently reflect both traumas and the desire to deliberately deal with the past. Issues of silent consent during socialism, the impunity of the culprits, the inconspicuous existence of the snitches who are still among us, are central to his artistic attitude. On the other hand, Terziev is also of the generation who bore the weight of changes, with all of their physical challenges and emotional breakdowns. The generation who drifted between expectations and scepticism, carrying both hope and despair on their shoulders. Perhaps this is the reason he continues to seek salvation – even when he must take the viewers into space orbit.
The video “A Walk in the Gallery” is part of the “Reconstructions of the Forthcoming” exhibition which was shown in February and March 2022 at the Structura Gallery. It contains a range of unstable, fluid, oozing surfaces: black plastic garden chairs turned into weird shapes as if melted after a nuclear explosion; a cheap albeit spectacular shiny drape over a mock construction of a car, constantly fluttering from the fans hidden below. In the triptych “Who’s Afraid of the Other Side” the paint coats the back of the canvas, and one could see the traces of it seeping through the cracks. The references to Alexander Rodchenko and Barnett Newman and their inclusion in the substantial discourse on the art of painting are part of its perception. In the context of the exhibition canvas stands in for skin through the pores of which drips paint, like blood, or perspiration (according to the author). The same allusion is present in the covered car and even in the central video in which seemingly the shell is more important than the core. The architectural skeleton remains to remind of that which used to be. The artist has a particular affinity to textures which haunt his works even if they are incorporeal videos.
Time in Krassimir Terziev’s works is both plot and rhythm of life. In “Whip Painting” the artist applies hundreds of “whips” of thread dipped into paint onto the paper. The process, a lengthy, dedicated activity, is part of the ritual fulfilment and forcefulness of his works. Whether returning to the recent socialist past to remind of the traditional protection of the car (the coveted luxury item of the time one had to que for years for) with fabric covers – a fact embedded so deep in generations’ minds and attitudes to life, or turning the pages of history of art, this artist at all times considers what was, just as much as its link to what will be.
To Krassimir Terziev monuments hold a special significance as milestones marking certain moments and tracing history. Besides the work mentioned above which comments on the “1300 Years Bulgaria” monument, his video “Monu-mental” (2011) explores the public area surrounding the monument to the Soviet army in Sofia. Subject to many years of contention and divisive discussions, this monument still looms in the centre of the city. Despite its size and negative connotations, it has become a meeting point for young people, a space for rollers and skateboarders who seem to have taken it over and neutralised its original meaning. The monument is “overgrown” with youthful energy which has in fact mentally destroyed it while physically it still stands. The propaganda inscriptions have lost their significance. Casual everyday sights are juxtaposed with the dramatic music as if from a horror movie. The oversight of the past does not take away any of its presence’s reality.
To an extent his interest in monuments continues in the “Monument to the Time Elapsed” series which Terziev has been developing since 2013 – reanimation (in the artist’s words) of electronic devices (telephones, computers, TV sets). The artist engraves familiar images onto now dead screens – self-portraits and family portraits. Formerly shimmering with millions of images, the black surfaces are now still and capture a single moment which is at once transient and eternal.
Krassimir Terziev’s interest in the past is neither more substantial nor more substantive than his interest in the present and future. He analyses ongoing broad socio-political aspects and how they reflect on our lives. “God Save…” (2012) or “The Markets Are…” (2013) comment on the global financial crisis on 2008-13. In the performance piece “On Crisis with Rhythm” a music band read financial report on “the collapse of the housing market, followed by bankruptcies, followed by political crises, crumbling national economies, measures undertaken by national and supranational institutions, etc, etc, at the heart of which it is invariably about the circulation of an unimaginably abstract amount of money.”
Text has always played an important role in Krassimir Terziev’s works, and he often uses it as a means of expression. Notably, in his most recent piece designated for the traumatic space of Georgi Dimitrov’s former mausoleum in the centre of Sofia. “Between the Past Which is About to Happen and the Future Which HasAlready Been” is an installation with a circular seating area on top of the letters of the title. The text has been selected to reflect the insecurities of time locked between the ambiguous past and the predictable future, which continues to repeat familiar mistakes. His installation “Drift” (2019) plays with the same uncertainty of time, splitting literally into two the statement “Between the Past Which is About to Happen and the Future Which Already Has” for the audience to pass through. The viewer can hardly put the entire text together and even if they could one is trapped in its absurdity.
Krassimir Terziev has the incredible skill of crossing historic and geographic boundaries, skipping from the personal to the generic, positioning outer space onto the dinner table at home, as well as shooting his own family off to a distant planet. The image of Earth seen from Space is the trademark of the artist’s quests: “Yet to be Tilted” (2018), and vice versa – the opportunity to see ourselves on a different planet: “Untitled (Moon Paradise” (2013); “Family” (2015); “Apollo Albino Programme” (2017) and “Apollo Melanist Programme” (2018).
In 2016 Krassimir Terziev launched an exhibition titled “The Look Objects Give Us Looking Back Through Us”. The project was inspired by one of Jacques Lacan’s stories which was pivotal to his theory of “the gaze”. The philosopher shared about an occasion when during a boat ride a fisherman noted to his friend that he could gaze at the empty sardine tin floating in the water nearby, but it couldn’t gaze back. This episode haunted the artist who felt that the tin which had collected the light from the sun rays (without which it cannot be seen) seems to be gazing back at him/us with the gaze of the universe. This triggers his reflections on Looking and Seeing; on the fact that by observing objects in our immediate environment we often miss the major, substantial Gaze which forms them.
This leads Krassimir Terziev on a journey to find “the language of things”. He pores beyond the known and habitual, attempting to reflect in the light emitted by the objects themselves. We see them but they are looking back at us – and that perspective feels differently altogether. The mysterious sense of being observed alters our feeling that it is us, the viewers, who are in control.
In an older series of paintings “Missing Scenes II” (2008) the artist creates images based on real or fictional film scenes, illusions and facts, observations and daydreaming, without clearly distinctions between them. In drawings such as “Above and Below” (2014), “Synchronous Drift” (2015), “Moon, Palm, Earth” (2015), “2020. A Regular Work Day” (2014) Krassimir Terziev alludes to this peculiar ambivalence of life which moves from the depth of the Earth’s core to the boundlessness of outer space
No wonder many of Krassimir Terziev’s works sound like prophecies. His latest show at the Structura Gallery evolved massively in the eyes and minds of both viewers and author. The break out of the war in Ukraine while the exhibition was still on completely changed the perception of the works and gave them fresh meaning. These premonitions stem not merely from intuition but also experience and insight. Terziev belongs to this new type of artists for whom the means of expression and the skills of applying them simply aid the thought’s way out.