In September 2000 six Manchester artists travelled to Sofia,
Bulgaria to work with four Bulgarian artists to install the public
interactive video series "Urban Cycles". This exchange
project was initiated by the Interspace Media Centre, Sofia and
will come to IDEA, Manchester in April 2001. The project has evolved
through a yearlong process of online communication and collaboration.
The following excerpts are taken from an extended conversation between
Jen Southern, one of the artists participating, and Galina Dimitrova,
the project's curator.
GALIA: From the beginning Interspace had planned to develop
the project as an international collaboration. We were interested
in the diverse visual and conceptual perspectives of an international
group of artists in relation to the specific public space of the
Bulgarian National Palace of Culture. The experimental nature of
the project and the use of hi-technologies determined a long and
sophisticated process of creation and preparation, in which we also
wished to collaborate with an organisation and artists who have
experience in that area. Interspace had been introduced to Idea's
site-specific digital and video projects through our contact with
Gary Peploe an artist working with IDEA who made presentations during
the "Videoarcheology" International Video Festival, organised
by "HO Association for Contemporary Art" and Interspace's
Media Arts Festival "Project END".
|The National Palace of Culture
JEN: The practises of all the artists involved are linked
by an interest in urban sites and digital installations. In June
this year  we made an initial visit to Sofia to meet and to
explore the site. The NPC, where the work was to be installed, is
vast. Built in 1981 on the wishes of Liudmilla Zhivkova, daughter
of the then communist leader, this cultural palace consists of 15
floors, 8 auditoriums and a five-storey foyer with a marble floor
onto which our videos would be projected. A park with formal fountains
extends several hundred metres in front of it. These large public
and open spaces have the concrete optimism of 1970's public galleries
and libraries in the UK, but on a much bigger scale. During the
installation Monserrat Caballe performed, the huge 4 storey tall
modern chandeliers were turned on, and as ticket holders flooded
in, the building took on its intended grandeur and status.
GALIA: The choice of a public space over a traditional gallery
was determined by the wish for a large-scale visual impact and to
reach wider audience of both general public and cultural consumers.
To put the project into an "official" cultural space,
into the public art context and outside of the artist run gallery.
The Palace of Culture is a unique space; its architecture and function
were very appropriate for this project. The giant building was built
to host diverse and prestigious cultural events. Nowadays however
many commercial activities take place there. This typifies the current
socio-cultural situation in Bulgaria, in
which such institutions have no public support and must finance
themselves. The monumental architecture typical of the Communist
period both framed the large-scale projections and opposed the dynamically
changing images, the various levels of the foyer interior allowing
multiple perspectives on the projections.
GALIA: The project presents the artists with a common platform
for creation and exhibition of individual works multiple-screen
video installation, integrated within the urban environment. Entering
into a well-known public space the visitors are drawn into a changed
environment, four juxtaposed video images projected onto the foyer
floor created a "visual illusion and spatial manipulation"
(*). The everyday flow of people coming into
the Palace of Culture are provoked to participate in the work, as
they trigger images via a sensor system when walking through them.
JEN: The technical set up for an installation is usually
seen as the main factor shaping the interaction. In using the same
system on 10 consecutive days for ten different works, Urban Cycles
revealed that the interaction between artist, audience and site
had more to do with content and context than with technical set
up. The works became an investigation of the role of the audience
in not only a publicly triggered installation, but also in the changing
face of a public space.
As the audience tried to catch, to anticipate, to avoid these works
they became creative participants, official intruders, unwanted
guests, members of a faceless crowd, cumulative and creative numbers.
The solidity of the architecture was challenged by Dourmana's body
laid bare, my own architectural addition of an extra floor, and
the moving filmic video of both Myers and Terziev animating the
solidity of the monumental. The artists played many roles: the covert
intruder, the domestic performer, and the defender of the space.
In Krassimir Terziev's work the audience's movements assembled
fragmented clips of the film Casablanca, Maria Berova's cleaning
lady aggressively cleaned up after visitors, taking care of the
building, Anneke Pettican's silhouetted figure wrote graffiti specific
to the building onto the floor, leaving sentences half written when
visitors approached. Gary Peploe's fruit machine of Eastern and
Western icons and logo's invited you to play serious games. In Nikolay
Chakarov and Steve Symons' work the audience played a cumulative
part. While for Nikki they were faceless ants colonising the space,
for Symons each audience member and the cumulative order in which
they entered the four trigger areas built up a "language genome"
unique to the paths taken through that specific space. These articulations
of the role of audience also reflected on the role of the artist
in a public space. As Jenna Collins invited the audience to walk
into images of her home, their interaction became an intrusion.
Petko Dourmana's image lay provocatively naked as if buried under
the floor of the palace of culture, turning in pain as visitors
walked over him. In my own work visitors revealed black and white
snap shots of the shopping centre inevitably incorporated beneath
the floor of the Palace of Culture, whilst Adele Myers four videos
showed traffic flows through cities, as a path walked through the
images became a journey through the traffic of international cities.
These works negotiated a series of temporary relationships with
the audience, with the building, and with each other. These relationships
were perhaps specific to that building, or buildings of that kind,
but they were also a more specific interjection into both the field
of public arts within BG, but also the more general field of video
GALIA: Following the exhibition of this work it has become
obvious through the interest of journalists, artists and critics
that Urban Cycles made public media art approachable and attractive
to a great number of people. According to the NPC, over the 10 days
20 000 people either consciously or incidentally viewed and participated
in the creation and composition of the works. The project provoked
mass media interest in public art events. Most journalists reviewed
it as sensation and qualified the artists' work as radical acts
to current socio-cultural life NPC's commercial activities.
Cycles UK will take place in September/October 2001, when the Bulgarian
and UK artists and Galia Dimitrova will take up a month long residency
at IDEA to make new work for the Manchester site.
(*) - This is how David D'Agostino described
the project in his review "Urban Cycles brings new media to
public space", published in the Sofia Echo English-language
weekly newspaper, Sept.29-Oct.5, 2000.
"URBAN CYCLES" Public Video Installation project
Dates/Exhibition Hours: 15-24 September, 11-19 h,Location: Central
Foyer of the National Palace of Culture, Sofia
A collaborative project between InterSpace Media Arts Center,
Sofia, BG and IDEA - Innovation in Digital and Electronic Arts,
Manchester, UK; With the kind support of British Council, Sofia;
Soros Center for the Arts, Sofia; National Palace of Culture, Sofia;
Irbis, 3M, Bulgaria, Huddersfield University, UK; Liverpool Arts
School and Liverpool John Moores University,UK; Curator: Galina
Dimitrova /Interspace/; Participating Artists: Interspace - Krassimir
Terziev, Petko Dourmana, Nikolay Chakarov, Maria Berova; IDEA -
Jen Southern, Anneke Pettican, Adele Myers, Jenna Collins, Steve
Symons, Gary Peploe