Luchezar Boyadjiev

Hot City Visual, 2003

Hot City Visual, 2003
title: Hot City Visual, 2003
year: 2004
place: Sofia
publisher: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia
language: english
author(s): Luchezar Boyadjiev
source: Visual Seminar. Resident Fellows Program 1: Sofia as a Sight, 2004, Sofia: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia

Project for Visual Seminar
Spring – Fall 2003

City Visual
1. A specific kind of visual thinking and analytical behavior by an artist (L.B.) that is a form of interaction with the visual interface of the city of Sofia;
2. The product(s) of this kind of thinking.

I notice that the interface of the city of Sofia is different in the different parts of the city.

In the central parts of the city the corporate logo, which is positioned high above eye level on the roofs of the buildings, dominates the visual environment. It is shiny, does not have concrete information and in terms of semantics is voided of context or rather it is localized within its own context without a connection to the actual product that is offered by the particular corporation. The corporate logo commands gigantic visual spaces.

In the neighbourhoods outside of the center, even in the center at the level of the eyes, the dominant visual presence is of the neighbourhood logo. It is very direct and positioned in close proximity to the client/citizen while rubbing itself visually in his/her body and eyes. The neighbourhood logo is commanding a space of 50 m in diameter and is actually a kind of visual “marking of the territory” as the stray dogs in the same neighbourhoods of Sofia are doing. There is no distance between the neighbourhood logo and the business activities it is promoting. The neighbourhood logo is rough, crude in style but it is very vital and vulgar.

The in-between visual territory is occupied by a third type of presence in the visual interface of the city. That’s the Bulgarian billboard. It is a kind of visual promotion of a local business that is pretending to have a national coverage with its activities. One example is the set of billboards of the kinds of grape brandy produced in the city of Karnobat in Bulgaria, the Pearl Grape Brandy, as well as the infamous billboards of the locally produced Vodka X-taz. The Bulgarian billboard is using something from both of the above-described types of visual presence: a/ it is shiny and attractive as the corporate logo in its visual form; b/ it is vulgar and concrete in its messages just like the neighborhood logo. In this sense the Bulgarian billboard is the same type of phenomenon as the so-called “pop-folk” music (the “chalga”) with its vulgar lyrics and vital, powerful music.

Such a triple layering of the city environment could also be observed in the architectural environment of the city, which however, is localized and positioned differently in terms of time – the leftovers from before 1989 and so on. This environment, especially the office and apartment building construction after 1989, is influencing the life of the city in a similar way to the way of the logo and the billboard.

The process aspect of the project Hot City Visual presupposes the accumulation of observations and visual commentaries of cases in ways exemplified in the attached Diary of the origin and the substance of the frame project. It is related to the pre-condition that the context of the fellowship is one of debate and discourse rather then one oriented to production of single art objects.


The substance of my project Hot City Visual for the Visual Seminar is to build up an “advertisement campaign” for a certain neighbourhood (family) business
in a corporate way within the public space of the city. And vice versa... Here I do envisage three basic promotional lines of action:

1. Stephan’s Brigade (himself and his sons-in-law). Here I plan an advertisement campaign for Stefan and his sons-in-law who work together in a group without actually having any kind of legal structure. Stefan and his sons-in-law are Roma whom I have known for 15 years. I have worked with them in the Union of
Bulgarian Artists and the National Gallery for Foreign Art while Stefan was employed there. Now Stefan and his sons-in-law are working out of Macedonia Sq. in Sofia where they look for one-day odd jobs when available. They are fixing roofs and parquet, hauling art works and other stuff, etc. People like them in terms of work and ethnic identity of a minority group are missing entirely from the advertisement environment. The idea of the campaign is that there is no integration of Bulgaria in the EU without integration of Roma in Bulgaria. The project aims at starting a public debate and focusing the public attention on these aspects of life.

2. My Key Maker (and Philips).

3. The new neighbourhoods.

The limitations of the budget as well as the unpredictable process of getting permissions for public installment of the visual products of the campaigns presuppose additional and mixed variants of these ideas!

In as much as my project is positioned within the context of the Visual Seminar with its debate and academic context of daily work of the resident fellow artist, the project involves an additional element that is best described as “product-as-process”. Here I do envisage two lines of work/activity:

4. Hot-Line for Visual Irregularities to connect to people and the media.

5. Samples – a Diary of the City Interface, the whole Diary as artist’ book in edition of 1.

These last two lines of work do not depend on the budget limitations but are meant to function all the time. The aim, specifically of the Visual Hot-Line, is to construct a situation of a constant link and feed back between the Visual Seminar, the people and the media (individual reporters, columnists, etc.) who in this way can be stimulated to take part on an equal footing with the other participants in the seminar.


The project foresees a public presentation of the whole process and results in both urban space and gallery space.



Post-project Notes

Working on the Hot City Visual I realized that I have a love-hate relationship with the visual environment of Sofia, mainly with its advertisement strata(s). It seemed to be based on reasons having to do with the content, the style, or the quantity of all those announcements, billboards, signs, posters, and so on. None had to do with the enjoyment of the brightness and energy, though chaotic of that environment, so much different from what we had before 1989... A number of seriously theoretical words like producers, consumers and customers; critical art practices, entertainment, formation and information; taste, style, inclusion and exclusion; representation and misrepresentation, etc. were always on my mind. Yet, I couldn’t find an all-encompassing term that makes it simple to explain what is it that Hot
City Visual, as part of the Visual Seminar with its wider context and agenda, is dealing with, especially in its critical and hopefully, socially relevant aspects.

It was only after the public presentation of the project (October-November 2003, Sofia) and during a late-night talk over a glass of beer in a typically run down Berlin pub that things were put in the perspective I was looking for. Maybe the reason was the English language we spoke, maybe it was the interactive atmosphere between the two friendly projects. However, Ines Kappert, the Project Leader of the Interview Project (significantly subtitled “Thinking in Dialogue”), which is part of the relations program as the Visual Seminar is, almost by accident dropped the term consumer identity. I think the term is part of her theoretical discourse and interests. In the context of my project the use of the term did two things: a/ put it in a much wider yet focused perspective; b/ reminded me of the slogan of a shopping mall in the US from the early 1980ies which I had been “privileged” to go to once upon a time.

SIMS had outlets (maybe still has) in New Jersey and New York that offered fancy but off-the-rack clothing at very affordable prices thus positioning itself in the market niche between the boutique and the mass-appeal department store. Its promotional slogan/logo was: “An educated consumer is our best customer”. The SIMS customer was not rich by any means but the logo made him/her feel flattered nonetheless, as in: “The reason I don’t shop on Fifth Avenue is not because I am poor, the reason I shop in SIMS is that I am “educated” and savvy!” SIMS had the most stylish shopping bags made of black paper and the logo stenciled in silvery lettering...

The visual environment of Sofia is the operative context where a certain type of post-communist consumer identity is being constructed and forcefully, massively imposed in full accordance with recent developments in Bulgarian society – in a market economy consumption is even more important then production, right? However, working on Hot City Visual made me realize that: a/ in this city there is little space left for any other kind of public identity (or private identity, for so many identity ways are not being promoted, are invisible, etc.) and it makes me “jump to my artistic arms”; b/ most of the people in Sofia are at best only customers, not really “educated”, and there are few economical incentives to change the status quo; c/ people in Sofia who are to develop and “be” that kind of identity are not yet and could not be economically relevant consumers (due to poverty), although this is expected of them, they expect it of themselves because that was the promise for an affluent society, which had to motivate the same people to put up with the hardships of the never-ending transformation after 1989.

The visual environment of Sofia is based on the cultivation of desire, consumerist desire(s), as any advertisement context is. Desire for certain goods but the bottom line is that it’s desire for a certain standard of living, standard of being European (as imagined rather then discussed) and so on. This kind of standard is in reality nowhere near in sight and even the much-expected EU membership in 2007 is not going to change much. So, a feeling of frustration is settling in and it is becoming more pronounced. That is frustration caused by unfulfilled desires. No matter how convincingly psychoanalytical theory will claim that it is for the better because acceleration of desire is based on the constant postponement of consumption, I can’t help having the feeling (in the context of Sofia) that the city is experiencing a traumatic déjà vu. The city and the country still remember another type of accelerating frustration because of the constant postponement of consumption of the desired “object”. The infamous promise of the glorious communist future used to be the main “carrot and stick” mechanism for motivating the subjects (people) of real socialism during its spiraling out of control (and actually, short lived) existence. The frustration then was caused by the fact that no matter what the Party said or did, people could see with their eyes and feel with their bodies that the promised utopia of communism was never drawing any nearer. It was like the horizon line – receding with the same speed, as you are approaching it. Disregarding theory, at the end of 1989 there was very little desire left in spite of the prolonged postponement... maybe now there is nostalgia but that’s different.

Now there is the image of consumer identity but no consumer identity in Sofia, yet. Maybe that’s how it should be. I do not know. I do not think anyone knows for there has never been a society that has chosen to take this unique road to a developed capitalist society – via socialism (as societies in Eastern Europe are doing lately).

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