Installation from the 1980s to the beginning of the 21st century

by Dessislava Mileva

“Everything had broken down in any case and new things had to be made out of the fragments” – those were the words with which German artist Kurt Schwitters explained the creation of his first Merzbau work in 1933. Considered one of the predecessors of modern installation and an inspiration to many artists, it reflected Schwitters’ idea of creating a “total” art in which architecture, theatre and poetry are blended. By 1937, when Schwitters was forced to leave his native Hanover, his work had already filled five of the rooms in his house. It was destroyed in 1943, along with the entire building during the bombing. As in the next two versions that the artist built, various sculptural and architectural elements filled the space of his dwellings and came out even through the windows. Some of them were even embedded in the very walls. From the preserved photographs documenting the work and from its reconstruction attempts made in the 1980s by stage photographer Peter Bissegger, one main feature of the installation can be noted – the work with the space, which leads to a change in its structure and perception by those in it.

If the installation today intertwines also the found objects, readymade, video, photography, music, digital arts and sculpture, it remains nothing short of a total art involving the spectator not as a passive observer, but as an active participant in its existence. As Ilya Kabakov, whose installations today are still a benchmark for this type of art, said, “The main actor in the total installation, the main centre toward which everything is addressed, for which everything is intended, is the viewer.” [1]

The installation is not subject to either the ideas of a particular artistic movement or established academic canons. It can occupy both an exhibition space and the public space, depend on the movements of visitors or be almost invisible to them, be recreated from one place to another or be completely ephemeral. Unlike sculpture and other traditional forms, it often forces the viewer to go out of their passive observer position, even only through the way they move in the space to react in some way to it. Installation penetrated the Western European and American art scene in the 1960s with works by artists such as Allan Kaprow, Robert Morris, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Smithson, Michael Asher, and Hans Haacke. These were artists who developed in the field of conceptual art, minimalism, land art and for whom installation found a meaning as part of a broader practice and experiments with the media. Today, it continues to be an integral part of both the work of the many artists around the world and of the concept of the exhibitions themselves.

In Bulgarian contemporary art, installation gradually found its place with the change of the political regime in 1989 and the awakening not only of artists, but also of the academia and the exhibition circles to the unconventional forms of art. However, the existence of installation forms could also be claimed before the regime fell. Although they were not specifically identified as such at the time, the works and experiments of some artists as early as the mid-1980s can be regarded as installation works.

At first, they were created during various plein-air painting sessions and sculptural symposia; they were made in a natural environment with materials and objects found on place. Holding such events away from the capital allowed the artists to experiment more boldly with materials and forms, challenging, first of all, not so much ideologically as purely formally and artistically, the imposed canons of socialist realism and traditional genres. The found materials and objects and their assemblage without the use of expensive and complex techniques not only facilitated artists in the process of creation, but also became a major part of the idea of a new type of art. And the natural environment, away from traditional exhibition spaces, is not only an escape from censorship, but also a new insight into the meaning of a work’s existence.

Among these first attempts was the iconic Water Dragon. Its author, artist Veselin Dimov, built it from coloured boards and ropes. The year was 1983, and the occasion for the making – a wood sculpture symposium themed The Child’s world, organised traditionally by the Union of Bulgarian Artists (UBA). The work, in itself, met the requirements of the event and the regime – it was made of wood as the main material and complied with the assigned theme. However, the similarities stopped there. Despite the obvious sculptural nature of the work, it could not be viewed as a traditional sculpture as one could not go around it, and the location along the Veleka River, that is, in water, completely changed the way it was perceived.

This was not a random attempt in this genre for Veselin Dimov. A year earlier he had organised the exhibition Terrain and Structures in the seafront park in Varna. In the preserved photographic documentation of the event, the individual elements can be seen, varying in shape and aspect and yet related to one another, created by the artist with found materials and objects such as metal, wood and rope and placed in the space of the park. In the following years, other artists also tested the possibilities of this type of materials and environment. After 1985, Varna-based artist Tsvetan Krastev created numerous works using seawater-peeled trees, rocks, stones and other objects found along the shore, on which he then applied different colours. And in 1986, during a youth camp near Dospat Reservoir, the 42-meter Snake by Iva Vladimirova, Stefan Zarkov and Chavdar Petrov was shown, made of cardboard and Styrofoam and painted with geometric signs. Another water-related work is the Bridges of Art (1988) by the DE group (artists Orlin Dvoryanov and Dobrin Peychev). The installation was located along the Perlovska River and was made of ropes that supported a colourful metal grid over the narrow bed of the river. The sunlight penetrating through it and reflecting in the water created an interesting play of gleams and shapes.

Vesselin Dimov

Вoegspriet, 1982.

Installation

Details

  • Photographer: Aleksandar Nikolov

Those first works, between experiment and improvisation, ephemeral and sometimes unfinished, belonged to a specific type of installation that fits in the land art. Artists such as Orlin Dvoryanov continue to work in this genre to this day, creating some much more complex, conceptual and mixing different media projects, such as Meat and Aquarelle (2008), and Forest – Dimensions (2011), an installation made of natural materials such as wood, leaves and coal within the land art symposium in the village of Devetaki (Lovech).

In this very end of the 1980s, in Bulgaria emerged yet another type of ephemeral art, that of “happening”, for which today the term “performance” is used. However, many of the works were also of an installation nature. For example, in The Dress (1989), the young artist Albena Mihaylova together with Dimitar Grozdanov, “hanged” an impressive in terms of size “dress” on the rocks of the Black Sea resort of Albena. Another memorable work from that time was The Chameleon(1990), a huge structure of wood and iron that the artists from a group called Gradat (The City) put before the National Palace of Culture in February 1990, during the last Congress of Gueorgui Dimitrov’s Communist Youth League. They hung 2,000 empty Komsomol membership cards on it. The attendees of the action followed suit and hung theirs, thus participating in the creation of a monumental installation in the public space. Another work of a similar nature from this period was Lyuben Farzulev's Drawing Machine (1988), in which passers-by in the garden in front of Crystal in Sofia were invited by the artist to create their own “abstract” works with the help of his machine.

Even today, performance continues to lead to one or another type of installation in the practice of many artists. This is the case for Kamen Stoyanov, whose performances often include the production of works. In Operantium (2016), the artist did not stop painting for 24 hours, becoming a kind of “machine” for painting and hung each of the paintings on a structure that was custom-made for the occasion. Thus, after the end of the performance, it remained not only to bear testimony to its happening, but also as an independent work that could be viewed. For Ivan Moudov, who in 2008 took on the role of a police pointsman, the performance Traffic Control led to a three-channel video installation, which in 2008 was projected on the entire walls of Prometeo gallery in Milan.

Ivan Mudov

Traffic Control, 2001.

Performance

Details

  • Photographer: Ilina Koralova

  • Description: Association for Contemporary Art, Graz, Austria

Ivan Mudov

Traffic Control, 2001.

Performance

Details

  • Photographer: Ilina Koralova

  • Description: Association for Contemporary Art

This type of installations became more common in the practice of Bulgarian artists in the second half of the 1990s, when video began to increasingly establish itself as an independent artistic medium, and not only as part of a project or as a means of documentation. Among the artists who continue to work actively with it to this day is Krassimir Terziev. He was one of the founders in 1998 of the InterSpace Media Art Centre and, based on his idea, the project Urban Cycles was implemented in 2000. This was one of the first interactive video installations in Bulgaria, i.e. it was built with the idea of the participation of the audience in it. Ten Bulgarian and British artists created a number of video screenings, embedded in the public environment (in this case the National Palace of Culture) and made to react to the movements of the visitors in the space. The project was curated by Galina Dimitrova-Dimova, and some of the participants included Petko Durmana, Nikolay Chakarov, Maria Berova and Terziev himself. In his work, he explored different cultural phenomena, the connections between them and their place in the collective memory. The installation approach remains extremely important to him, whether he uses video, photography or found objects. In one of his earliest installations, Let’s Dance(1996), he uses sewn-together shirts, resembling a circle of dancers, on which images could be projected, along with a small cassette player from which folk music could be heard. Similarly, The Return of the Beast. 1933-2005 (2006) comprised, for example, the simultaneous play of the English subtitles to the three King Kong films (from 1933, 1976 and 2005). The installation of three screens allowed the viewer to read simultaneously the lines of the characters from the three films, but the subtitles were shown against a black background and without any image. Thus, Terziev used the option for simultaneity of the video to build and examine an iconic image of pop culture, that of King Kong, without, however, resorting to other images. With this small “trick”, the artist also explored the possibilities of the video as a medium beyond its purely visual nature.

Krassimir Terziev

Let's Dance, 1996.

Installation

Details

  • Photographer: Pravdolyub Ivanov
  • Material: white shirts (modified), plastic circular support construction, fishing cord
  • Sizes: height approx. 210 cm, diameter 260 cm

  • Property of: EA3 + 1AP
  • Description: Let's Dance modifies a technique from the craft of cloths design. Eight white shirts are sewed with one sleeve serving two adjacent shirts, leaving no individual space for movement outside of the circular group. The composition references the traditional Bulgarian folklore dance "Horo".

The simultaneous screening of several videos, i.e. the use of two, three or more channels, is also part of the concept of an installation. Besides Terziev, this simultaneity is also very characteristic of the work of Kalin Serapionov, who has also been engaged in video since the 1990s. His installation Choose Training (2014) was made up of three large synchronised screenings, alternating footage of flashing neon inscriptions, deserted offices and people working out at the gym or outside. These images created one big simultaneous narrative, whose sound was provided not by the noises captured in filming, but by a series of sounds created specifically by Angel Simitchiev. In this sense, in addition to the method of presentation, the sound also played a role in both the construction of the image and that of the installation. Serapionov is also actively engaged in photography, often showing his work in installations such as Look at Me, David (2012) and Self-portrait (1996 –2014).

A similar approach of intertwining several simultaneous video images can be found in a much earlier iconic installation - Ventsislav Stankov's The Last Supper (1995), displayed during the VideoHart exhibition at the Archaeological Museum in Sofia. Thirteen monitors were arranged opposite each other as if around an imaginary table, and from them one could hear the inarticulate speech of another artist, Kosyo Minchev. The viewer who was in its centre could be left with the feeling that they were in the middle of a secret conversation. This exhibition included the presentation of other works close to the idea of the installation. Using nylon, from which white paper funnels came out, Tanya Abadzhieva covered the entire walls of the Ancient Bath gallery in Plovdiv. Thus her work, titled Inner Space (1995), changed the architecture of the space itself and the sense of comfort and tranquillity which viewers who attended could experience. Similarly, Ventseslav Kostov used videotapes to literally build a Video Wall in the museum with the help of mortar and granite.

The found object, such as a videotape, was also the basis of a number of installations in Bulgarian (and not only) contemporary art. For example, Sasho Stoitsov used household items in some of his first installations – Boom in Power Engineering (1988) and A Hole in the Parquet Flooring (1989), using an old cabinet full of coal and flooring boards respectively. Both works relate to the political context of the time and make a subtle criticism of the regime's ideology.

Sasho Stoitzov

Boom in Power Engineering, 1988.

Installation

Details

  • Material: Coal, cupboard
  • Width: 70.00 cm    Height: 60.00 cm    Depth: 40.00 cm   

  • Property of: Sasho Stoitzov

Sasho Stoitzov

Hole in the Parquet, 1989.

Installation

Details

  • Material: Parquet
  • Width: 170.00 cm    Height: 170.00 cm    Depth: cm   

  • Property of: National Gallery, Sofia, Bulgaria

In one of his first installation works, The View to the West (1989), Nedko Solakov placed a small telescope on the ledge of Shipka 6 gallery in Sofia, from where one could see the red five-pointed star of the Communist Party’s headquarters. In this way, he used both the features of the space and the characteristics of the object. The work was ephemeral and site-specific, two of the main features of this type of installations. It was also part of the exhibition Earth and Sky, which included many other works of an installation nature, made with a variety of found materials and objects (urban furniture, car rims, cowbells, etc.). Unlike the land art installations from the mid-1980s, the materials for those created in the late 1980s and in the 1990s were often chosen because of their ideological charge or their ability to reflect the societal and ideological changes of the time.

This was the case in the aforementioned happening The Chameleon by the group The City or even in the work Punkers(1990) by Kolyo Karamfilov and Dimitar Mitovski from the Plovdivian group Edge. In addition to straw, metal and wood, the two artists used sickles, hammers and beam-shaped metal structures to make the three more than 2-metre tall objects for the Symbols and Signs exhibition. In turn, as a commentary on the images of the modern man and his suffering, Lachezar Boyadzhiev “crucified” on the wall of the exhibition space three men’s suits, similarly to the images from Christ’s crucifixion. About 4 metres tall, the installation was titled Neo Golgotha (1994). Also emblematic of the period of change is Pravdolyub Ivanov’s work Transformation Always Takes Time and Energy (1998), in which dozens of small hot plates were connected to each other in an electrical grid, with disproportionately large containers (pots, cans, etc.) placed on them, from which water boiled and evaporated before it was refilled, in an endless process. With this installation, the artist commented on the idea of the inevitable, albeit sometimes extremely slow, due to the limited capacity of the forces to change the societal processes, transformation of time.

Pravdoliub Ivanov

Transformation Always Takes Time And Energy, 1998.

Installation

Details

  • Material: hot plates, pots, tea pots, cables, water, electricity, time
  • Sizes: dimensions variable

  • Property of: edition 1/4 – Collection ERSTE Bank
  • Description: edition of 4 variants

Kiril Prashkov’s works of an installation character from the National Style series, such as National Table (1994), National Cross (1995) and others, also date back to that period. The artist used various fruits and vegetables typical of the Bulgarian cuisine, for example leeks, peppers, cauliflower, aubergines, pumpkin, beans, some of which he painted in the colours of the Bulgarian flag and arranged in ephemeral installations. In the following years, the use of sticks, odds and sods, wire and cables was also established in his practice, with which he created ironic texts and inscriptions, often referring to literary works. One of his most recent works in this style is Detachment (2014), in which the inscription in English “We'll fight for Your Rights to the Last Drop of Your Blood” was installed on the façade of the Ancient Bath in Plovdiv. Another memorable installation of his is The Most Wooden Piece of Beethoven (The Score of Für Elise) (1995), in which he hung, with the help of a metal structure, a spiral-shaped and ink-painted piece of paper in the gallery space.

A particularly prominent installation nature is also that of many of the exhibitions organised by XXL gallery. It was established in 1996 to show only, in the words of the curator Svilen Stefanov, “socially oriented (provocative) art with dimensions in the minds of the young people here and now”. The founders and artists of the gallery include Genadi Gatev, Houben Tcherkelov, Kosio Minchev, Georgi Tushev, Ivan Kyuranov, Slavi Slavov, Krasimir Krastev - Rassim, etc. The exhibition Houben, Kosio, George (1996) presented installations with various found objects. In Mental Bodybuilding, Georgi Tushev used barbells with weights of different shapes loaded on them such as a five-pointed star, a swastika, a cross and a crescent and coloured in candy yellow, blue and pink. In Inside, Kosio Minchev installed doors with peepholes, on the inside part of which polyester human heads were glued. Through their eyes, pictures of “two friends and colleagues disguised as Christ and Buddha, and of the Qur’an” [2] were projected, which every visitor could see peeking through the peephole. Houben Cherkelov’s work Action of Paint, on the other hand, involved white mice enclosed in glass vivarium, in which food painted in red was placed. The faeces of the animals scattered by their movements thus created peculiar drawings in blue and red. Those highly provocative installation works gradually gave way in the artists’ practice to some much more traditional techniques. For Kosio Minchev, this was mainly sculpture, and for Houben Tcherkelov – painting. They both settled in the United States in the late 1990s, where they still work. 

Dr. Galentin Gatev, who in addition to being an artist is also a physician, created, especially in the 1990s, projects with a strong conceptual character and numerous installation elements. During the action In Defence of Solid Material (1994), he managed to persuade a factory to change its technological process for one day and produce elements of wood instead of metal. The wooden parts thus made were packaged and prepared to be transported out of the plant under the direction of Dr. Gatev himself. The artistic action Only Possible Way (1996), which was implemented in two locations – the Elatsite open-air mine near Etropole and the space of a gallery, also dates back to that period. In the latter, he built a tunnel and a truck that could not go through it, which reminded of oversized children's toys. Twenty years later, he continued, in the words of curator Yovo Panchev, “the theme of the mechanism (of being) through the technology of transport as a cultural phenomenon equally close to the children’s game and the existential limit” with the project deployed in the space of Goethe Institute Sofia, Warten auf die Eins (2017). There, he installed four lift doors, as well as screens with drawings of a lift cage.

With the advent of the new millennium, the role and meaning of the found objects in installations changed. Although again related to issues of identity, memory and political processes, their prism gradually expanded from a purely local context to a wider European and global horizon. During the Triennale in Linz (Germany) in 2009, Lazar Lyutakov presented the installation Pepper Roasters, which consisted of two pepper roasters and two varieties of peppers. Visitors could roast and eat them, thus recreating an extremely common gesture in Bulgaria. In 2014, Kamen Stoyanov also commented on the period of changes with the installation Time for Sale, consisting of floor-lined hats with a visor, on each of which was written one year from 1989 to 2014. The colour of the inscription changed gradually from red to blue, signifying the transition to a democratic regime after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Rada Bukova is another artist who works extremely often with found objects, whose initial purpose she likes converting into others. In her site-specific installation All (2018) at St Joseph's Catholic Church in Plovdiv (as part of a larger project by Sariev Gallery), the various multi-coloured fabrics selected by Bukova and placed on the benches in the church created the feeling of presence. Her installation not only raised the question of the community, of the place of the religion or what was different in it, but also changed the very space and the sensations of the viewer in it.

Similar delicate interventions in the space can be found in the Bora Petkova’s work. Her installation To Full Evaporation(2008) consisted of 42 black steel containers filled with water and located all over the area of Rayko Alexiev gallery in Sofia. During the period of the exhibition, the water evaporated, leaving white-coloured sludge at the bottom of the containers. Part of the work remained thus invisible to the viewer, who would not find it in the same way at the beginning and the end of the exhibition. In another memorable work, Venture Capital (2012), Bora Petkova mixed audio and video with the features of the bank building in which she made the installation - two safes, two keys and frames, with the intention of signing (without this actually happening, however) and a temporary contract with the bank itself.

Bora Petkova

To Full Evaporation, 2008.

Installation

Details

  • Photographer: Bora Petkova
  • Material: 42 units 3 / 90 / 90 cm each: steel 2mm, flat black polymer finishing, water
  • Sizes: Variable dimensions

  • Property of: The Author
  • Description: Installation view: 'To Full Evaporation', Bora Petkova, 2008, Rayko Alexiev Gallery, Sofia. Bulgaria

    The installation “To Full Evaporation” consists of 42 steel black units filled with water. During the period of the exhibition the water evaporates leaving colored in white residue on the bottom of the elements. These deposits are delicate, yet visible lines unique for each unit, drawing repeatedly the outlines of the shrinking water areas (see portfolio pg. 144 to 148).

    The change of the physical state of the matter, caused by certain conditions, is seen as an invisible dimension of the work. Physical process of transformation is identified as a changing with time space dimension, completing the other linear two. The visitors are at the same time Spectators and Participants, facing the two different ways to approach the work: as a grid or as an object. Changing position, ones perception drift from a macro gazing to micro examinations of the different elements and evaporation fields. As the conditions such as temperature, air flow, light and slight change in the floor gradient vary in the hall, the evaporation advances with a different speed and leaves unique deposit drawings on the bottom of the elements. Consequently another change in the perceptions starts when one enters the grid of units: the multiplied object becomes an unique one.

    The dimensions of the installation are determined by the linear dimensions of the space and the physical state of the matter in time. While the ground perimeter of the installation is defined by the dimensions of the gallery floor, the height is not the one of the elements. The height of the installation during the evaporation is the full height of the gallery: 6, 70 m (or even above), as the process of evaporation is subsequent from the climate conditions in the space. The outcome is a varying third dimension which is a process in time and space, an invisible processing dimension, visually demonstrated and sealed in the other two liner two with the appearance of the white residues on the bottom of the elements. Due to the grid-set arrangement of units, the installation becomes accessible for movement, similar to urban Infrastructure exploration. Entering the linear dimensions of the grid, the visitor physically enters the invisible third dimension of height, which is the processing in time evaporation.

    The installation was transformed and exhibited later with the title 'ARCHIVE / To Full Evaporation', (Bora Petkova, 2010) in the frame of the exhibition 'The Bold & The Beautiful' (curated by Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva, 2010, Rayko Alexiev Gallery, Sofia, Bulgaria). The second presentation of the work showed 8 of the 43 units aged after a 2 years storage period as a series of pictures with dust and rust deposit patterns unique for each one which cover the white traces of the evaporated water (see portfolio pg. 149 to 151).
  • Copyright: The Author

Bora Petkova

Risk Capital, 2012.

Site-specific

Details

  • Photographer: Bora Petkova
  • Material: HD Video, PAL, 16:9, 00:03:29, with original audio; two original safes; two pairs original keys; two frames (25,3 / 25,3 / 4,5 cm) each

  • Property of: The Author
  • Description: 'Risk Capital' is a site specific work, a central point of which is the idea of regulating the relationship between Artist and Institution and in particular the Bank institution.
    The nature of matter the Artist and the Bank deal with, is defiantly different at first glance. My goal in this collaboration was to find the right language of communication and its documentation by which the artistic ideas and tools and the principles of corporate bank culture of UniCredit Bulbank, to work for the promotion and development of the identity and achievements of both sides, creating new real values.
    'Risk Capital' is a term from the field of finance. The reason to use it as a title of my work is to create a situation in which the definition of the interface between the two professional fields, to reach the “critical shortage" (see portfolio pg. 70 to 73).

    Installation view: 'Bank of the Future', Carte Blanche # 1, UniCredit Studio, Sofia. Bulgaria
    Realised with the support of UniCredit Studio, Sofia
  • Copyright: The Author
  • References: https://vimeo.com/45009287

Other artists such as Simeon Stoilov and Simeon Simeonov radically changed the architecture of the exhibition space through their installations. From the floor to the ceiling of Rayko Alexiev gallery in Sofia, in 2007 Stoilov installed a structure made of Styrofoam with seven rays, titled Isolator, in which visitors could walk and in a way isolate themselves from the outside world. Similarly, in the exhibition Against Architecture (2008) at Vaska Emanuilova gallery, Simeon Simeonov used silicone to create bright colourful structures enclosing the gallery along its height and width and changing the way visitors moved in it. In 2010, in one of the corners of the same gallery Stella Vasileva recreated a workshop to its smallest detail, including the dust and dirt. Daniela Kostova is another interdisciplinary artist in whose practice installations are often present. They play with both the space and its perception by the viewer. Her installations are often based on large-scale photographs, which she composes very carefully. Printed on vinyl or wallpaper, they are shown so that they could come into active connection with the architectural environment. In this sense, we are talking about an installation that is obtained from mixing photography and architecture. Kiril Kuzmanov’s work What Is Passing through Me, I Pass through It (2009-), which is a wide-format photograph printed on textile operated with an automated curtain rod in the window of Structure gallery in Sofia, can also be mentioned here. Special digital control changes the photo at a certain time, thus changing the views and context. A few years earlier, in the Kapana district of Plovdiv, the artist had built a mirror wall in the middle of one of the streets. Titled Project 0, the installation created a new space in space and brought some passers-by to complete confusion.

Kiril Kouzmanov in collaboration with the curator Vladiya Mihaylova and Open Arts Foundation

Opening of Project 0. With the kind approval of Kiril Kouzmanov, 2014.

Site-specific

Details


  • Description: Zlatarska street, Kapana Quartier, Plovdiv, 7 June 2014

Kiril Kouzmanov in collaboration with the curator Vladiya Mihaylova and Open Arts Foundation

Opening of Project 0. With the kind approval of Kiril Kouzmanov, 2014.

Site-specific

Details


  • Description: Zlatarska street, Kapana Quartier, Plovdiv, 7 June 2014.

The connections of an installation to the space in which it is displayed may, in this sense, lead to its total change or, in other words, its transformation into an integral part of the narrative of the installation itself. The exhibition The Artist and the Theatre (1986) is one of the earliest examples of such a change. In this first exhibition of young stage designers, the entire hall was transformed into a large installation, separated by props and costumes, which, devoid of their usual function, became a means of experimentation and improvisation. Two years later, the artists from The City group turned the space of their first exhibition into that of a city with its central square and streets. The installation nature here came from the condition posed by curator Philip Zidarov to make an exhibition without paintings. Therefore, many of the works inside it were also installations created with materials and objects found in the street – cars, posters, buckets, discarded household items, etc. However, speaking of total installations, we cannot but mention the work of one of the artists from the group – Nedko Solakov. Outside his activity as part of The City group and his work as a painter, he gradually began to make independent installations. After The View to the West and Top Secret (1989 -1990), there came New Noah's Ark(1992). This was the first installation in which the artist used all the space to build a narrative that immersed the viewer in it, made them move around the space, appropriate it, bend over, sit, and lie down to understand the whole story. The Truth (The Earth Is Plane), (1992–2003) is another iconic example. In this total installation, Solakov used paintings, drawings, collages, photos, maps, old globes, plush toys, video, a T-shirt, Bulgarian newspapers and texts written by hand to tell a multi-layered story full of twists. Even the retrospective exhibition presented at Sofia City Art Gallery in 2009 was converted by the artist into a huge installation.

Moreover, a new type of installations, influenced by the penetration of new technologies into art and by the increasing opportunities for young artists to travel and study abroad, began to emerge on the Bulgarian art scene in the last decade. The audience is starting to take an even more central place in their concept until it even becomes a condition for their existence. Since graduating in 2010 from the National Academy of Arts in Sofia in the subject of Digital Arts, Albena Baeva has been creating installations using new technologies and programming. Beauty 3+ (2017) is what the artist calls an “interactive sculpture”. Baeva programmed the popular Barbie doll so that every time a visitor passed near her, regardless of their gender, she would catcall them using different phrases which can often be heard in the street about a woman. And in Archaeology of the Present, the audience was invited to play something on a children’s piano to create their own film from collected frames from old reels.

Also of an extremely “immersive” nature are Petko Durmana’s installations. In Post Global Warming Survival Kit,(2008), the artist used various media such as video, sound, projections, computer, but also found objects and night vision devices. The visitors were "transported" into an anti-utopian world that they could only discover using those devices. In 2019, he also implemented the installation Three Migrants in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Smuggler), which required the participation of the audience in order to happen. Venelin Shurelov is another artist and scenographer who works mainly with digital media. In 2004, he founded the SubHuman Theatre platform , through which he develops most of his projects. These include a number of interactive installations such as Phantomat (2008), Alphaville – Thank you so much! (2010), and Shooting Gallery (2012). About his latest project, the One Person installation, designed for the public space, he said: “Modern technologies allow open-access systems to be built, with a liberal rather than authoritarian way of functioning. The object built on this principle would be a good reflection of the public image at the moment.”

 In 2018, an also particularly strong impression made the installation As If in a Dark Mirror in Sofia City Art Gallery by artist Teodor Ushev, who lives and works in Canada. He’s among the first in Bulgaria to use the so-called “mixed reality”, in which the visitor can “walk” equipped with a virtual reality helmet. Going increasingly beyond the boundaries of traditional media in this way, the installation gradually became another type of art, which can hardly be defined solely as visual.

However, in parallel to this trend, another one was developing. In addition to being a work in an exhibition space, the installation can be part of the exhibition’s stage design itself. The “immersive” and interactive element here are tools based on the game aspect to engage the audience in a new way with the content of the exhibition. Often this is done for exhibitions of a documentary nature, which do not display the works of certain artists, but rather a collection of documentary elements - photos, videos, etc. on a topic. An example of this is the exhibition Smoke, curated by Vesela Nozharova, which tells the story of the development of the tobacco industry in Plovdiv. It was built with numerous installation elements such as enlarged and transferred to other media details of photos, audio recordings, as well as various historical artefacts placed in different places in the space. Its purpose was to immerse the visitor in the atmosphere and the time period of the so-called Tobacco City in Plovdiv in the first half of the twentieth century. 

In 2019, the exhibition The Flyway of the Red-Breasted Goose was presented at Credo Bonum gallery in Sofia. This fully interactive exhibition aimed at acquainting the visitor with the life and migratory processes of an endangered bird species was created at the behest of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, while the concept and implementation came from the Reactive Studio team. This is a group of artists, designers and engineers who have been creating various interactive installations for different cultural and non-governmental organisations for several years. For example, their project "MiReLa", an interactive music wall displayed on the fence of the National Academy of Arts to give more visibility to Sofia’s candidacy for European Capital of Culture in 2019. 

Reaktiv

MiReLa, 2012.

Digital Art

Details

  • Photographer: Petya Boyukova
  • Material: custom electronics and software, mac mini, loudspeakers, plexiglass, led ligjts
  • Sizes: adaptable

  • Property of: Petya Boyukova
  • Copyright: photo: Petya Boyukova

From land art and found objects to digital technologies, the installation in Bulgarian contemporary art is difficult to summarise with the artists and works mentioned in this text. Many others, such as Peter Tsanev, Stanislav Pamukchiev, Stella Vasileva, Maya Antova – Mayoto, and Chavdar Gyuzelev work with it much more sporadically, for individual projects and exhibitions. But perhaps, just like in Gavazov's Room Dimitar Shopov and Vera Mlechevska built a fictitious reality with the help of authentic artefacts, what makes the installation part of the practice of vastly different artists is its ability to manipulate the architectural or creative space and create another one. 

[1] https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/i/installation-art

[2] Musakova, E., Houben, Kosio, Tushev in Size, Art – Art in Bulgaria magazine, 37/1996, p. 16