Ivaylo Ditchev

The Delocalizing Gaze (Luchezar Boyadjiev reshuffling the city)

The Delocalizing Gaze (Luchezar Boyadjiev reshuffling the city)
title: The Delocalizing Gaze (Luchezar Boyadjiev reshuffling the city)
year: 2004
place: Sofia
publisher: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia
language: english
author(s): Ivaylo Ditchev
source: Visual Seminar. Resident Fellows Program 1: Sofia as a Sight, 2004, Sofia: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia

The artist of today is not the one who is creating but the one who is reshuffling signs. Leonardo and Shakespeare would be at best producers of decorative kitsch, at worst – ideologists who are fortifying the trust in the system. Already in the 1950ies and 1960ies the Situationists found themselves in this impasse – the world is overflowing with meanings; there is no more nature that one can model. They offered two alternatives: the detouring (détournement) of the dominating semiotic order and the construction of situations.

The detouring has been practiced ever since Dada (you take the Mona Lisa, you paint a moustache). The construction of situations provides a certain totalizing element. The main work of art is life itself that is being organized as resistance to the dominating symbolic order. But what is life? Unlike predecessors as Wagner, Tolstoy and Bogdanov, the Situationists did not believe in the mystical substance of the subject. The stage they were to perform theirs detouring could only have been the material trace of living, the city. The total spectacle which power is organizing for us is enfolding in space, resistance will have to unfold in space as well.

What do we call a city? The city they surround with a magic furrow and which can be undone only if the furrow is ploughed in reverse; the City of God as a moral,
utopian task; the city of fraternization, the collective feeding ritual founding the inhabitants’ fraternity; the city that is constructing triumphal arches to welcome the ruler which it is to “wed”; the temple-city, the market-city, the privilege-city...

Since the middle of the 19th century the city is encompassing man with an ever-denser wall of virtual images. By this I mean images of things we know to be
located elsewhere. The Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Baroque or Neo-Byzantine styles in urban construction that were meant to legitimize the new forms of statehood are good examples for that: here, in the modern city, you read architectural quotations from other epochs suggesting tradition, stability and so on. Take advertisement, take the ever faster changing fashion for cloths, cars, goods, names of restaurants and the exotic cuisine served there... – ever more otherness is injected into the city space. Here is the very definition of urbanity itself: a space saturated with otherness (The city is the motherland of the foreigner, says Montesquieu). So, adding a virtual dimension to the city spectacle intensifies the very city principle: evermore otherness per square inch.

The city is a total spectacle and as Guy Debord used to insist, spectacle signifies passivity; the spectacle is a kind of a social relation, which transforms the  spectator into a submissive consumer of meanings. There is only one way to resist: the detouring of the mighty streams of signs in order to construct situations through which the individual will disturb the total spectacle, will create unexpected semiotic contexts and re-appropriate the space that has already been expropriated by power.

What exactly did the Situationists have in mind when they were talking about constructing situations is rather hard to comprehend today. The main thing though is that these are non-spectacles. Power is staging triumphal arches and fields of Mars, however instead of being stoned with reverence, you are drawing around idiotic zigzags and try to pee somewhere in the shadows.

The urban reshufflings of L.B. are thinkable only in the context of the total spectacle, in a world that has been filled up with meanings. There are digitized soldiers, Roma people and stray dogs peering through the windows of the residence of the Swiss Ambassador to Sofia. A century ago this would have been considered a critical-realist action – the harsh social reality is being reflected and framed in didactics by the humanist artist.

There are no social suggestions in the works of L.B. for the very social layers are not in a position of hierarchy. There is nobody to sympathize with anybody else. One day the Ambassador turned up in Sofia, whether via Swiss Air or the computer, it doesn’t really matter, it’s as simple as that. Some are here, others are there and the question is not about who is happier and who is unhappier, but about the arbitrary way in which they are differentiated.

Spatiality is articulated differently. Instead of isolating myself with fences, instead of piling up feathers and straws in the nest of my private world, today I am piercing its walls with as many openings as possible. The most intimate, the most “mine” space is where there are the most screens, frames, windows, etc., i.e. it’s the space saturated with as much otherness as possible. In other words, the city principle has been transferred in the private sphere; the private is urbanized, it becomes coexistence of otherness. Or to use the language of an earlier work by L.B., my intimate space is the space where images are projected from some other space where I used to live. That is how things are seen by psychology. In a new home we are always unconsciously looking for traces of the old one and that is the
source of the strange un-coziness (which Freud calls das Unheimliche) caused by forgotten infantile fears and suppressed desires. The literalization of the memory, its projection on a semi-transparent screen, abolishes the dramatic tension between memory and forgetfulness. The time (of forgetting, of remembering) is curtailed and the two spaces coexist one next to the other. You may see it as a kind of depressive surrealism.

Let me make it clear: this is not about illusion. A full transfer into the other space, as can be experienced in holographic shows at theme parks or under the helmet of the computer simulator, would still be part of the spectacle. The aesthetic the artist is searching for is in the literalization of the single-spaced-ness, in the shock of the curtailing of time.

The post-local society provides you with opportunities to be constantly elsewhere. In the intimate space of your bedroom there is the TV or computer screen where various political, scientific, intimate, etc. events take place incessantly. You sit at a table with some people talking on the phone to others. You look for the most
exotic touristic stage in order to feel you are at home from elsewhere. You hunt for signs of the newest fashion; you fall in love with new sounds, and new food... Such a continuous absent-mindedness, or rather split-mindedness.

We are here at the heart of progress. Freud says, take my daughter, she is in the US, but she could call me any time over the phone. And this is progress. But wasn’t progress itself – the steam engines, the ships... – at the origin of the separation between father and daughter at thousands of miles? The undertaking is rather ambiguous: on one side progress is separating us, but on the other it is connecting the newly formed fragments. If the world would not be fragmented then space would have remained a pile of huge unarticulated lumps (Freud and his daughter are happily living together); however, had technical means not provided for a new kind of fragmented togetherness, then the world would be as atomized as Hanna Arendt is describing it in the totalitarian society (the two are irreversibly separated). Since L.B. does not want to waste our time, he is expressing this complex concept through the instantaneity of the “cut and paste” command.

By dissolving into fragments you are slipping out of the place where they can get you, in order to avoid sanction. You are no longer where they are looking for you; you have projected desire onto another self. The freer you are, the more the fragments. At the end of the process there is the total collapse of space, everything has infiltrated everything else according to the rhizome principle. Everybody is simultaneously everywhere, i.e. nowhere. At this point, the word “sanction” has no longer any meaning, because everyone has found him/herself at both of its ends – s/he is at the same time sanctioned and sanctioning, executioner and a victim. That is the point utopia. You are never separated from anything but you are never fatally linked to anything either; you are not dead but you are not really alive either.

One can get to the utopia of mono-space through the high technology of the first world, as well as through the entropy of the third world, i.e. as much via division, regulation, and articulation, as via interiorization, imitation, ambiguity. In the first instance the subject is keeping the process under ever increasing control that is symbolized, say, by the scepter of the remote control which makes it possible for him to zap ever faster from screen to screen; in the second instance the subject is evermore powerless to stop the avalanche of announcements on the trees, stenciled T-shirts or neighbors’ parties from invading his/her world. You find here the very ambiguous core of desire, which at the same time asks for the sanction and wants to avoid it. Needless to say the two processes are simultaneous, i.e. if high up on top of the buildings ever more specific advertisement campaigns are unfolding, then down there low in the gutter, an ever-deeper visual mud is being deposited.

The reshufflings of L.B. are following the Nietzschean logic: what is shaking should be shoved away. If the locations in the world surrounding us are irreversibly sticking together, he is there to give a hand in order to get rid of the last remaining principles of differentiation. Take the horizontal. At the accessible to the human hand locations on the lower street level people are pasting self-made advertisements. The higher you go the more you need ladders, permissions and scale; with height the prices get higher as well. High up – expensive, down there – cheap; high up are the all-powerful corporations, at the lowest level is the neighborhood craftsman. The natural grinning Roma end up on the façade usually reserved for the transnational beauties; the neighborhood key maker is taking over the place of the Philips logo.

The reshufflings performed by L.B. are revealing the arbitrariness of this seemingly physical reality. Didn’t we think until recently that it is somehow normal that there should be sacral places, festive places, market places, and intimate places? Christians oriented their graves to the East, Muslims avoided urinating in the direction of Mecca, geomancers adjusted houses according the earth’s magnetic field. Then, one day somebody put an icon in his living room, while somebody else installed the toilette bowl without the benefit of the compass... Then there came L.B. and out of an anonymous window on the Parliament building somebody hung his/her laundry, while on top of the Presidential office building they lit a new neon sign “President AG”. Everything is possible especially when everything is virtual. By the way, you have here another literalism because “virtual” means “possible”.

Now we understand why LB has become so addicted to the computer that he is even using it to draw the houses of the Old City of Plovdiv from life. The computer is the very form of confusion; it is the collapse of space. I am not talking here about monumental illusions built up by power with a lot of money, equipment and ideological investment. I am talking about an amateur, almost childish game – he can steal the figure of the Tsar Liberator off his horse, he can put guards of honor in front of the key maker’s “office” not to convey some  glorious idea, but just in order to confuse the places. Purposefulness without purpose.

Do we need different spaces in order to be human? Isn’t the collapse of space going to trigger the disappearance of desire as well, which is, as Lacan says, motivated by prohibition, by otherness?

I do not know if the digital pantheism of L.B. has a critical potential. In a way, there is no less critical artist, in the traditional modernist sense of the word. You just need to recall his work where he calculated the exact cost of his creative persona to foreign sponsors. His main method is to stage depression, his own absence – look, there are two colliding spaces but I am not here. On the other hand, the “I am not here” might be interpreted as an accusation against a world that has left no room for me. It’s the aporia we know now to have no answer.

The problem of the Situationists was that the spectacle spilled over the whole social sphere. It is not just diffuse, as Debord has it, in the sense of being scattered around in fragments. It is reflexive in the sense of being interiorized. The spectacle is everywhere because the human is self-staging himself every- where. S/he is seeing him/herself in images, roles, and narratives (including the narrative of the constructor of situations who is struggling with the spectacle). Because the problem is not in the saturation of reality with meaningful objects, but rather its transformation into an object of the all-seeing gaze. The problem is the cultural panopticum. The noble savage of Rousseau found himself in a TV game where the most natural one will get the big prize. In this sense, in playing “everything is possible” we speak not so much about the world, as about the new way in which we see it: not as a reality, but as a possibility.

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