The beginning of the 21st century and the contradictory process of globalization have reshaped the relationship between visual culture, art and social life. Visualization turns out to be more and more the dominant cultural code of the late industrial society. Nowadays one witnesses a new visual wave: in the global world the culture of the public image and the “society of the spectacle” (Guy Debord) are gradually transformed by the new complex structures of the “display”, “interface”, “billboard”, scanned-and-sent images. Along with the home video, the video clip and the post-MTV culture, along with the expansion of design, lifestyle and fusion cultures, these new visual-informational hybrids have started saturating everyday life.
This social change redefines the role of visuality in contemporary society by giving new form to public taste. As main transgressors of dominant rules and limits in the contemporary visual sphere, artists should question this situation by challenging the automated visual habits of the “average citizen”.
All this is especially true of the East European societies in transition because the public life and tastes in these countries also bear the marks of the communist visual environment - the burden of the totalitarian visual legacy is present in the urban surroundings, architecture, monuments and in the everyday material culture. Groups of visual bureaucrats and post-official artists are still using and misusing the old visual codes in favor of aggressive neo-nationalism and premature anti-globalism. Mass media in these countries, often populist and easily manipulated, circulate poor (and politically incorrect) imagery, split between the same outdated legacy and the newly imported and no less manipulative consumerist visuality.
In this unfriendly context the creative and innovative codes of the contemporary arts (with their specificity - mixing and transgressing systems of values, aggressive breaking of taboos, creation of new objects of desire, ironic quotations and multi-layered playfulness, etc.) are confronting a deficit of interpretation. On the other hand, given the generally poor level of the public’s visual literacy, one can say that the visual arts in these countries suffer a lack of “readability” and therefore cannot achieve a significant public impact.
A further unfavorable condition is the lack of communication between the small group of internationally-known visual artists in these countries and the critical minds there: one can speak metaphorically about a split between “visual” and “reflexive” elites - the academics and researchers in these countries also remain isolated in their own field of closed academic debates with insufficient public impact. The links to cultural journalism in the mass media are either insufficient or non-existent, so journalism remains oriented toward the mass taste and cannot be an ally in achieving a greater public impact of advanced cultural activities. Thus the potential of these critical elites to influence the cultural policies of the respective country, to be social critics and opinion leaders remains unrealized.
General Goal of the Project
Our intention is, firstly, to create a “shortcut” between artists and academics in order to reinforce both groups’ public impact and, secondly, to create a channel for this impact by connecting them with the field of cultural journalism in the mass media. Thus, we propose neither to focus on the specific production of visual arts nor on specialized academic debates, but on their possible public interaction. The zone of interaction is broadly defined as the visual interface of contemporary culture (starting with the Bulgarian case), which is a zone, shared with the public. The zone is observable in the city of Sofia. The public visibility as well as the potential impact of the “shortcut” would be facilitated by the involvement of mass media representatives in the seminar’s events. The ultimate goal is to influence the cultural policies in the country through debate and an increase of public literacy in the field of visuality.
To achieve these goals we intend to:
initiate events (artistic projects, publications, etc.) and/or identify existing events that could provoke the beginning of such debate;
involve the public into the debate by linking important events in the contemporary visual art with the whole visual “interface” of contemporary urban culture;
facilitate new interpretative competence in the mass media by involving media staff on a regular and equal basis as participants in the debate.
Module 1: Forum of Visual Culture;
Module 2: Resident Fellows Program;
Module 3: Guest Program - Visual Statement;
Interrelation Module 4: Publishing Program
The Forum of Visual Culture is the public forum for debate on a particular agenda, serving the circle of the Visual Seminar, specially invited participants (intellectuals, academics, artists, journalists). Its meetings are also intended to involve the media and the public. The themes of the public meetings are suggested and discussed ahead of time by the Experts' Unit of the Visual Seminar. The Experts' Unit is composed of artists and intellectuals sharing the priorities and concerns of the project, but representing various viewpoints and professional interests, who are capable of uniting those in a common debate as well as awarding the debate with a challenging and inspiring profile. The main function of the Experts' Unit is through closed discussions and brainstorming sessions to define the hot points of our contemporary visual culture.
The Forum of Visual Culture has three specific and interrelated foci:
Public presentations of Resident Fellows, discussions of the results of their artistic projects;
Presentations of the Guest Fellows and participants of the Red Riviera Revisited show: lectures, workshops, discussions;
General discussions on actual problems of the visual environment in Sofia (advertisements, billboards, electronic media, public performances etc).
A specific sub-module of the Forum of Visual Culture is the exhibition project “Red Riviera Revisited” that will involve the outsiders’ perspective on the chang(ed)ing visual interface of the country by mainly German and other artist who had been to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast (the Red Riviera) before 1989 as vacationing youngsters.
The Resident Fellows Program is the product of a partnership between the ICA-Sofia and CAS-Sofia activities and programs on a more theoretical level. It will be organised by the Centre for Advanced Studies Sofia in accordance with the ICA. Within a given year, CAS hosts four resident fellows from Bulgaria for a period of six months each. They come from the fields of contemporary visual arts, other artistic areas, or academia and are selected by the Experts' Unit of the Visual Seminar based on their submitted applications and the application/selection procedures appropriate in such cases. The resident fellows have a stipend and reside in Sofia for the period of their fellowships while working on a specific artistic or research project related both to the topic of the “Visual Seminar” project and to the other activities of CAS. The finalized projects are presented in public in Sofia and discussed by the Forum of Visual Culture (see Module 1).
The idea of cooperation between academics and artists is based on the familiar experience of the Centers for Advanced Study in Europe and USA. Their established practice involves the artists’ participation in the intellectual community of researchers gathered for other research projects of the Centers for Advanced Study. They engage in, and contribute to, the debates and the heuristic atmosphere of the Centers and develop their own artistic projects based on this experience.
Such fellows would be selected by a special procedure appropriate in such cases.
The Guest Program involves ICA hosting "by invitation only" two artists of international standing, for a negotiated period (up to one month), to work on or to present a specific project related to the objectives of the Visual Seminar. There will be preliminary discussions with such persons about specific topics of interest. The guest fellows would be asked to present publicly their work, to give lectures, to initiate debates and generally become part of the local art scene for a while. At the end of their stays in Sofia a show of their projects will be arranged and (based on previous agreement) the work produced in Sofia may be donated to the Visual Seminar with the prospect of establishing a collection of international contemporary art in Sofia. (So far there has been no such collection, but the important step towards it is a piece by Rirkrit Tiravanija that was donated to ICA-Sofia after the show “Locally Interested” in 1999).
Publications related to the Resident Fellow program:
Four volumes including papers of the researchers and the artistic projects of the artists (one for each group of Fellows);
Catalogues for the Guest Program artists and for the Red Riviera Revisited show - besides the visual materials of the guests' presentations, it will include discussions and contributions by the artists and research fellows;
Interface Sofia - one volume resulting from the two-year Forum of Visual Cultures discussions and developing ideas. It will be a collection of the best contributions and some specially-commissioned projects about the current social and visual environment of Sofia prepared in collaboration between artists and academics (short texts, visual works in book form, statistics, and related data);
Newsletters, posters, informational and educational leaflets and postcards related to the corresponding events and/or steps in the development of the project.
Monitoring and administration of the Project
Project Leader: responsible for planning and general supervision of the project and coordination of the project’s modules like Forum of Visual Culture, Guest program and Publications program - Ms. Iara Boubnova, Curator and Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia.
Academic Support to the Project Leader: responsible for the Resident Fellows Program and for the integrating of the artists in the intellectual community of CAS - Dr. Alexander Kiossev, Permanent Fellow of CAS and Convenor of the NEXUS project.
Experts' Unit: responsible for ideas of the Forum for Visual Culture public discussions, approving the selected fellows and concepts of publications: Diana Popova (art critic), Boyan Manchev (philosopher), Nedko Solakov (artist), Miglena Nikolchina (gender studies), Kiril Prashkov (artist and designer), Orlin Spassov (literature and popular culture studies), Ivaylo Dichev (cultural studies and social anthropology), Irina Guenova (art historian).
Ms. Maria Vassileva, curator and art manager
Project Assistant for ICA:
Ms. Iskra Zaharieva