Communication Front 2000 Book, "Crossing Points East-West"

Overlapping Identities

Luchezar Boyadjiev

Sofia 1998

Last Summer (1997), almost incidentally, I introduced the metaphor of "overlapping identities" or "identity overlap" [1] in Kassel, Germany at the Deep Europe Workshop, [2] which took place within the framework of Hybrid Workspace [3] and documenta X. [4] The metaphor seems to have caught on, and I feel pressed to explain in more detail what I meant.

In my mind, "identity overlap" occurs whenever and wherever two or more people (or communities of people) lay claim on the same "territory" of historical, cultural, social, political, religious, language, etc. experiences and/or practices that each of them considers to be only his/their own. Here the legitimacy of the claim is usually based not on rational but rather on emotional grounds. The claim is usually paralleled by a lack of information and/or knowledge, and/or respect for the claim of the other. And experience is understood in the broadest possible sense as collective (personal) horizon of remembrance. What is most striking and exciting about "overlapping identities" is the constantly observable demonstration of coincidences of some sort in all such cases.

"Identity overlap" is most obviously expressed in political claims over coinciding geographical territories, but to base the metaphor on such examples would be far too simplistic. In the Balkans, for instance, whenever there are claims over territories, geographical or historical, they are usually based on everybody claiming the Golden Age - the time that each country considers to be the high point of its historical past - for Turkey this is the 17th century, for Serbia the 14th century, for Bulgaria the 10th century, for Macedonia the 4th century BC, for Greece. well, we all know how far back the Greek could go. However, such claims are usually covering up for other interests and/or sentiments.

When I say "overlapping identities" I have in mind something rather more complex, something that is a potential source of conflict as well as of understanding. For instance, it occurred to me recently that if I were to use the notion of political correctness in order to lay claim to special treatment at international art shows (or simply - quota-based participation), I would have had to base my claims on the very simple and historically proven fact that all Slavic populations (Bulgarians specifically, in the harshest way and for the longest time) within the Ottoman Empire were "awarded" the status of slaves. Consequently, I would have had to be given just as much preferential benefits as, let's say, Afro-American, Afro-British or just Afro artists whose ancestors were slaves for far shorter than the 500 years during which Bulgaria was under Ottoman domination. This argument might have served me especially well for documenta X had I been smart enough to use it way back in, let's say, 1993-94. But no, I decided to just be myself - the big, for all humans, artist that I think I am. As a result I, like some others, was simply out-casted by Catherine David on the basis of being an Eastern European artist. And as everybody knows by now, for her Eastern Europe is not nearly as interesting (read: exotic) as China, for instance. We, artists from Eastern Europe in general, turned out not to be different/oppressed enough for her concept. By the way - have you noticed that in the editorial text of "documenta X - the book" the authors (presumably C. David is at least one of them) make a badly disguised attempt to blame the existence and the activities of the Eastern European dissident movement before 1989 for the destruction of the French Left movement?

You see - some French leftist intellectuals sided with the Party Line in the Socialist countries while others sided with the dissidents. That caused a split in the movement, and the Right just walked in "on a white horse." It turns out that according to such an argument and to the twisted minds of this book's editors, all of us in EE should have kept our mouths shut (well, I wasn't really much of a dissident before 1989 anyway, which didn't help me with dX either) only to keep the French Left intact and happy? Well, I have to ask then: Whose life are/were we living anyway?

Regardless of who is right and who is wrong in the argument described above, I think that it is a pure case of "overlapping identities." Whenever in the last several years I have communicated with Western European artists/curators and/or other intellectuals I have had the constant feeling that we are neither all that different nor all that similar. We will never be the same nor will we ever understand each other to the full possible extent. At least not for some time to come.

This is so because we just overlap. I have survived the Big Utopia only to face now the Big Reality. They have survived the Big Reality only to keep on facing the Big Utopia. Irresolvable difference but incredibly human "identity overlap".

I hope that the following exemplary artistic action from the same summer will further clarify what is at stake with the "overlapping identities." The performance was titled "Deep Europe Visa Department" and it was part of the Deep Europe Workshop, which itself was part of the Hybrid Workspace program of the gigantic show of contemporary art documenta X in Kassel, Germany. The event took place on 2 August 1997 between 2-6 p.m., and it featured all the members of the V2_East Syndicate present there, an international group of media activists and artists (10-12 people from all over Europe and the US who were there for the 10-days workshop). The Hybrid Workspace was a space/event/program structured by Geert Lovink (Holland) in ten slots of ten days each. During each ten-days slot, a different group of media and net artists, critics and activists would meet and work with one objective - to produce content -, and one rule - no art on the walls (video projections and computer art, performances, discussions, project presentations and interviews were O.K.). The Deep Europe Visa Department (office) consisted of the following.

That day, we had scheduled-announced a late evening-night party at the Hybrid Workspace with music, more performances, projections, beer, etc. All documenta X visitors who wanted to come to the party had to have an invitation (or rather, a visa). And, by the way, all visitors to documenta X - who had paid their 25 or whatever DM - wanted to see everything there was to see and get their money's worth. However, the only way to get an invitation to the party was to apply for it much in the way we, here in Eastern Europe, would need to apply for an entry visa whenever we have to go to the West. Basically, the idea was to make the visitors feel with their own bodies what it actually means to live behind the Schengen Curtain. Visitors were meant to "suffer" all kinds of humiliations and arbitrary judgements based on absurd rules. And eventually, to experience the "depths of Europe" first-hand.

We had prepared all the "necessary" procedure materials: rubber stamps with ridiculous words of permission and/or approval in all European languages available to us at this moment, and so on. And the application form that people needed to fill out in order to apply and get an invitation. The form was modeled after the German entry visa application form, with all questions and such, BUT it was in Albanian. The space inside was filled with several office tables behind which stood the "clerks" - that is us -, a lot of paper, stamps, etc. And most importantly - right next to the entrance - a computer equipped with a mini video camera which was used to body search the visitors when they entered the space.

Needless to say, the clerks appeared and disappeared from behind the tables as they wished, leaving the visitors to wait in desperation. "Counters" were being closed, while somebody would start reading a magazine. Clerks would go out in front of the building and pick out people from the huge line of waiting "applicants" to let them in on a purely arbitrary basis. For instance, whoever happened to be wearing clothes with the colors of the Bulgarian or Serb or Albanian national flag would go in right away, jumping a line of thirty-fifty people. Paper airplanes, thrown freely at the queuing people, would be used to "select" lucky applicants, who could then also enter ahead of their turn. Occasionally, the person who happened to have just come to the line and was actually last in the line would be invited to go right in (as in "the last will be the first").

But the main form of humiliation was that none of the clerks spoke a word either in German or in English. Each one of us spoke only in his/her native tongue - I myself in Bulgarian, Branka from Novi Sad in Serbian, Andreas from Rotterdam in Dutch, somebody else in Hungarian, Slovenian, Latvian, Russian, Polish, Albanian, and so on. So, the visitors were actually begging at times: "Could you, please, give us the form in German or at least in English?" To which we would respond in whatever language: "Please fill in your name, address, and so on and don't bother us with your stupid questions!" This resulted in complete chaos, but the lesson was that the Europeans (as in: the "Bulgarians," the "Russians," etc.) began to understand body language and started to fill in - name: "Helmut Kohl," or even "Joseph Beuys," etc., some address. If an "applicant" was completely lost, then he/she would be directed to our "consultant," the guy from Albania (Edi Muka) who was, naturally, the right clerk to turn to since he was the only one to speak Albanian.

Incredible as it may sound, the event was extremely successful. We opened the "office" at 2 p.m., and way after 6 p.m. there were still up to 80-100-150 people at any given moment lining up to get in. and be humiliated. It is also absurd that soon after 3 p.m., everybody who was standing in the line already knew what was going on inside, and yet they still wanted to get in and be humiliated. Of course, nearly everybody got an invitation, and so we were good to people after all.

Now, it is also important to know that Catherine David, who was "cruising all the dX grounds" every day, every hour, came running in through the back door of the Hybrid Workspace at 2.30 p.m. sharp, being desperately curious to find out what the hell the huge line was all about. (It may be worth mentioning that there were no comparable lines in front of any of the other dX venues.) I happened to be there at the back door then and met her with the words that nobody is supposed to enter through here, urging her to go out and please wait for her turn to apply. She was really furious: "Me, dX artistic director, you." Well, I let her in at the end. and she did get a "visa."

Well, that's basically it.


[1] "At documenta X last summer (1997), several media and art practitioners met in a project titled Hybrid Workspace, and later called Deep Europe. Echoing the words of the Bulgarian artist Luchezar Boyadjiev, 'Europe is at its deepest where there are a lot of overlapping identities,' the German critical writer Inke Arns characterizes the notion of Deep Europe as follows: 'With the notion of Deep Europe we refer to a new understanding of Europe, which leads away from the horizontal measurement of the size of a territory (thus including East/West etc.), towards something that could be called a vertical mapping, or a vertical measuring of the different cultural layers and identities in Europe.' "

(Mäkelä, Tapio. "In Cyberspace - Tales from Deep Europe," SIKSI magazine, #4, Winter 1997, p.30); an updated version of this text can be found at <>.

[2] More about the Deep Europe workshop at <>; see also the Deep Europe Reader <> - eds.

[3] See the Hybrid Workspace archive at <> - eds.

[4] See the documenta archive at <> - eds.

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