Iara Boubnova, Nedko Solakov

the rancidness of sacred space

the rancidness of sacred space
title: the rancidness of sacred space
year: 2005
publisher: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia
ISBN/ISSN: 3-86588-192-0
language: english
author(s): Iara BoubnovaNedko Solakov
source: Gelatin, 2005, Sofia: Institute of Contemporary Art, ISBN: 3-86588-192-0
supported by: The project takes place in the framework of relations. relations is a project initiated by the German Federal Cultural Foundation

Iara Boubnova: I have seven topics that are worth discussing with you as an artist and co-initiator of Gelatin’s visit to Bulgaria.

Nedko Solakov: Don’t reveal them yet so that you can surprise me. Generally, what I would like to talk about is the purely emotional experience of having been in their works or in their studio. The sense that I get for these four people who are very different but who also fit together and complement one another very well. My sense of their studio where chaos reigns – however well-organised, it is chaos nevertheless – and from which you see how something... whoop... leaps forward and is then put on the wall. People who work with fairly liberated minds in terms of what and how they want to do – weird, crazy and quite communicative in the best possible sense of the word.

I. B.: So far you have been talking about the studio and about a very private experience – after all, very few people can go to artists’ studios. I tend to be more interested in publicity. What I wanted to invite them for was something like a shock therapy: Gelatin coming here and producing something that will make everybody just bite their fingers and be awe-struck. Because these artists have really liberated minds, they are not made anxious by the presence of the audience. The audience is part of their works – the artists easily pass into the state that the audience is in. We saw this happening when they were here and gave a lecture – when they are tired, the artists simply become part of the audience and sit and listen quietly. I would like us to talk about those major instances of Gelatin’s public puzzlement.

N. S.: Generally, everybody in Bulgaria knows what it means to travel from Vienna to Sofia on an old scooter. And they can appreciate the endeavour of four people
who set off without anything practical in their minds. They simply want to do a project. They stop, they are surprised, they see something crashed, something fluttering, a beautiful sunset or sunrise etc., and this is simply incredible as an experience. Besides, I for one am very impressed with what they created at the ATA
Center / ICA – Sofia – how they could just “spit” this here and that over there, just like this... A shared state of being among the four of them and that’s it. This element is very intense. Their ability to turn a familiar space into something else. I have witnessed the incredibly intimate, personal space they created in the comparatively narrow gallery owned by Nicola von Senger in Zurich. It was no more than 3 m long, yet they made a cinema where you go in and there is enough space for you to turn around and sit, and you have the sense that you are in a relatively large studio cinema. And this thing is both affecting you when you’re inside by transporting you somewhere else, and at the same time when you are outside you can perceive it, you can imagine what is happening inside.

I. B.: As far as this journey from Vienna to Sofia is concerned, in most cases people find it strikingly unusual – it is physically and technically very difficult. But Bulgarians very often travel on this route by bus.

N. S.: But we are talking about scooters here.

I. B.: The scooter in this case is after all an addition to the road.

N. S.: When you travel by bus, you find yourself in a community and it’s all too clear why it is heading for Vienna: somebody will set up a small business, somebody else is going there to study but can’t afford the plane ticket etc. And suddenly you see these four whirring fellows with the small, totally unfashionable scooters... and you just sit there praying that they get here in one piece. And it turns out that this scooter is a comparatively easy way for them to get noticed by the people in the places they were passing through and this is a very convenient way of communication. Because if they had been coming by car, they would have been indistinguishable from hundreds, thousands of travellers. If they had been riding super motorbikes, people would have looked at them in a different way. It’s like
seeing someone travelling from Vienna to Sofia in a cart pulled by oxen or in a carriage.

I. B.: That is what I meant – the result was a total opposition to the capsule-like atmosphere of the bus exporting Bulgarians to Austria. There is something very amusing, and that is their strategy. I don’t know if you remember their initial perception of Bulgaria. First, they expected somehow “more”. And when I tried to find out more of what they had expected, they could not articulate it themselves. But for instance they expected that this Balkan country was going to be more chaotic, more natural, and less urban. And they did not see any of this. At one point they got terribly upset. They were very disappointed with the Bulgarian young people. They went to bars, private flats and other places and talked with different people. To all the questions that were asked the young people answered that it was “very difficult”. Sean Snyder for example experienced something very different – he has completely different means of observation. He has asked a huge amount of young people who live abroad, and who were in Bulgaria for their holidays, about how they lived. They told him things about his American homeland that he had never known. Sean was left with the impression that Bulgarians are tremendously dynamic and very entrepreneurial.

N. S.: Generally, Gelatin too were left with this impression. It’s another matter that at a certain point they said something else. They liked the place very much. They liked the idea that something was happening. I think this stirred their interest and curiosity.

I. B.: I suppose that most of the people with whom they communicated simply find it hard to make a point articulatedly in English – for them “it’s very difficult” is a sort of sublimation... This is very amusing since I would imagine Gelatin would hardly use the word “difficult” about anything, really.

N. S.: Because they think that anything can be done. This is very positive about them and I hope at least part of the people here got the idea. Gelatin shows that nothing is impossible. Even in a situation where there is something that you have constructed in your mind, you have made a blue print and think it has to be done this way but you don’t have the money, or you don’t have this or that material, Gelatin are capable of reformulating this blue print, which is as flexible as their modelling substances, and they reformulate it to such an extent that in the end it is done.

I. B.: They did something similar here as well. First, they re-arranged the space because after all our gallery has a very readable space which is quite self-defining, there isn’t much variety. They very abruptly turned the physical identification in it upside down and had the projection in an unexpected place.

N. S.: So far nobody has used that axis. I’m talking about an axis, not about using the corner – I mean the space along one of the corners that has the shape of a
kidney – nobody had interrupted it like that before with this very dynamic axis by projecting in this direction. This was very well done. Just as the perfect use was made of the situation as it developed, an absolute play with what is given; erasing the memory in the minds of the audience and showing in a very creative way that you can work with this space. And also the idea that on the basis of what had been shown up to that moment you can say something new and in a new way, not declaratively, but in some other mode of expression. And the cool thing about it is that in their way of expression there is a great deal of intermediary spaces and planes. Everybody immediately looks at the projection which is going on. But at the same time, given all the little corners of the wall, Gelatin managed to show this space in a way that in my view was brilliant – this space was turned into a peculiar kind of diary. “For those of you who don’t know what we have done, we did this. And those who didn’t come to our lecture can look at the slightly tilted TV screen which can be seen as a separate work but in fact it isn’t because at the moment it is part of this here. And if you don’t want to look at this work, look out of the open window...”. One of their requirements was for the window to be open so that the sun could shine in there. And for those who want this sun to be creatively involved in some way, there was a sun on the wall right next to the window, if you remember... for me this whole work was just lovely. It should be added that these four people are very different from each other, very different in their ways of communication: one is absolutely brilliant when he is a bit tipsy, the other is silent and looks at you more or less tenderly, the third has a slightly frowning look, and the fourth is just like an image from a Brueghel painting... All four of them are like faces from a Brueghel painting... in the best possible sense of the word. They are creating a Babylon tower, an awesome Babylon tower.

I. B.: But do you think they have any sense of responsibility?

N. S.: Absolutely. It may appear at a certain moment, and to somebody who doesn’t know them or what they are doing well enough, that they are flippant and reckless, but this is simply not the case. Fortunately, there is no calculation in the interaction between their works and the audience, but I think they are all the time absolutely responsible about what exactly they do, to what extent they should finish it and to what extent they should leave it unfinished.

I. B.: I also find it interesting that there are several historical references. I see a clear link with Fluxus, but I would not go as far as to suggest that Fluxus are the base which is developed and continued by Gelatin. There is collective activity, there are these strange interventions among the audience where the artists appear as though everything was done impromptu – by the way, it often does not get that far but it looks as though it was extremely impromptu. But Fluxus have a super message and a specific weight. Do you think Gelatin have them too?

N. S.: I think they have an absolute message. The very idea of Fluxus, at the moment when it happened, was not at all designed for the museum, was it? You drop it in public space – the more scandalous, the better. Right now some of the strangest places in museums are precisely those which aim at capturing this Fluxus between four walls, to classify it and exhibit it in an appropriate way. The thing is that the four Gelatin people, what they offer you now, is simply much more than a work of art than it is in the case of Fluxus.

I. B.: Yes, I do. But do you think that the work of art that Gelatin offer us is a kind of anti-establishment, in a fancy gift-wrapping and with a ribbon, having Fluxus in mind? They have done everything against the museum, against the boredom of art history, against neat lists and after- wards they became part of it all.

N. S.: Gelatin states that certain curators would not invite them in some of the official exhibition spaces anyway. And this is good for them, I suppose because they have to hold some sort of opposition to keep them in good shape. But at the same time it is all too clear to them that they are just “hot” at the moment and this moment has been going ton for several years.

I. B.: They work with some of the best galleries, at least in Vienna. But in conversations they always downplay this fact.

N. S.: This is normal.

I. B.: All right, you are after all an artist who knows the system very well. On the one hand Gelatin ride a scooter and their bums show through, on the other hand they are World Trade Center scholars, they work with Meyer Kainer, they do something, whatever it may be – at the Secession in Vienna... This is a little bit complex for the audience who cannot, after all, be aware of it. Do you think that this anti-establishment mode is a conscious strategy, or are they being just playful toward people and are being flippant and jocular about it?

N. S.: I think it is both things at the same time. It is a hugely simple way of putting it but this is simply a kind of creativity (I prefer to use the Anglicised word because the Bulgarian one is so devaluated)... We expect the word creativity to be used if you have, well, normal art, that’s what is creative, isn’t it? And these people, they are just... why not use this word, they are just very creative personalities.

I. B.: In Bulgarian you could say “ingenuous”, or “resourceful”...
N. S.: No, no, they are creative, that’s what they are. And I think they don’t have this problem with the establishment and with having entered a system like that. On the contrary, they were very enthusiastic about working for one of the best galleries at the moment, Massimo De Carlo in Milan. And the works were just beautiful. And you see them, they are the last people to have thought “Right, now we go off and do this commercial job”... At the same time the gallerists themselves need creative characters like that so that: if the worst came to the worst, they could appease their bad conscience about exhibiting this or that type of art. And in the best case for them this is part of a process which is simply very important.

I. B.: When they were here, they claimed that they are not marketable. Is this true?

N. S.: You mean in the sense that they don’t offer themselves or sell themselves?

I. B.: That they don’t sell themselves, they don’t produce products...

N. S.: Generally, I think that they sell themselves although in my view they will begin to be sold a little later on. But they will sell really well.

I. B.: Because I saw their works, the ones that can be bought, not only at Meyer Kainer’s but also at Massimo De Carlo’s, and they are rather similar: jars filled with
fluffy toy animals...

N. S.: The best thing would be to sell, for instance, entire installations. Relatively recently I saw one of their works in the newly opened Museum für Moderne Kunst Salzburg. Although it was placed in the typically museum way – on a pedestal and under a transparent cover, the work was a breath of fresh air compared to others, rather shrewdly done by Austrian artists. It’s like seeing phlegm – in the best possible sense of the word – spat in a glass case. OK, not phlegm, just spittle. As such spittle for me it is an absolute compliment. And most importantly, I know people who collect their works and who are very interested in how a project will take place, for example. I have a splendid work, one of the first drawings for the tower with fat people with a photo attached to it. I look at it every day; it’s like a warning. Probably this is why I have lost some weight; I am not as fat as I used to be... It is useful.

I. B.: It is useful for you in a very direct way. I hope it doesn’t remind you to clean or something like this...

N. S.: I met Florian for the first time at a dinner at Franz West’s in 2000 and he struck me with his way of talking, the way he expressed himself. And the work in Hanover had just been finished, I think, and he was telling me about how it had practically happened. I think that this is one of the most powerful works in the last ten years anywhere in the world. Tremendously powerful, indeed, in terms of visual representation – you watch a lawn with a small swimming pool with a diameter of about 1.5-2 m that doesn’t communicate anything to you, you think it is a mediocre work and then all these stories that take place, starting with the restriction that only healthy people can go in... very weird. And when an incredible amount of funding is invested so that you get a sense which bears the dream to find yourself in a caisson like that some time, but you know that you won’t be able to, that you won’t have, say, the courage to take a bucket and to jump in the water because you think there will be enough oxygen for your dream... And now these people have done it, if you want you can go in. Or when I think that in Sonsbeek, Belguim, for instance, this whole swamp, that they had made, that mud... Or as you well remember the presence of the Austrian pavilion in Venice, it was so elaborately done, perfect really, and turned into a swamp.

I. B.: They said about the Austrian pavilion that nobody understood them. The main thing was that there were people in the bushes whom nobody saw. These people were wearing masks, they were dressed in green, and were sitting in the bushes. Apparently this was the main task and the swamp simply happened to appear there... it happened to be at hand. Which I don’t really know since when I was there I didn’t see any people either, unfortunately, and I was mainly struck by the swamp and again by this incredible anti-establishment which is a total destruction of the sacral space of the pavilion. I find it very interesting.

N. S.: And the rancid sacral space – their project with Meyer Kainer, the toilet. People went in it simply because they needed to use the toilet which is in the centre of the gallery. I think this is lovely, especially because it is located in an area in Vienna where if you need to take a piss, it is actually difficult to find an appropriate place.

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