Krassimir Terziev

Excuse me, Which City is This?

Excuse me, Which City is This?
title: Excuse me, Which City is This?
year: 2004
place: Sofia
publisher: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia
ISBN/ISSN: 3-86588-028-2
language: english
author(s): Krassimir Terziev
source: Visual Seminar. Resident Fellows Program 2: An Eye for the Pale City, 2004, Sofia: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia, ISBN: 3-86588-028-2

An intuitive geography project

I think that it is at least empirically arguable that our daily life, our psychic experience, our cultural languages, are today dominated by space.
Fredric Jameson

“Excuse me, which city is this?” is a visual exploration of the world of daily life of a city in crisis – Sofia, Bulgaria. This is an observation of the presence/absence of memory in the spatial practices of the inhabitants of the city. It is an exploration which bears the assumption that space has a major role in the cultural and socio-economic practices and structures.

In “The Production of Space” (1974), Henri Lefebvre studies the (public) space as a (public) product and defines three key concepts in his project – spatial practices (our perceptions), representations of space (our ideas) and spaces of representation (spaces of living – experienced spaces). According to Lefebvre, spatial practices in neo-capitalism transform the close associative link in the observable space between daily reality (the routine of everyday life) and city reality (the roads and networks which connect the separate places for work, private life and leisure. In my study I attempt to analyse the current processes of mutation in the social practices and spaces of living in a period of crisis in the representations of space.

At the time of research, the city was experiencing its fifteenth year of post-communist existence. Until 1989 Sofia was the capital of a “prosperpous” socialist Bulgaria whose citizens met – supposedly happily – the victory of real socialism in the country in the 1980s.

After the collapse of socialism in 1989 a period of transition to a market-oriented social order began. Concomitant with this radical disruption was a series of economic, cultural and political crises followed by corruption and chaos on all levels. Sofia as a capital (and as the last bastion of the surrendering institutions and as the gateway to the “endless opportunities” abroad) suffered a sharp increase of population as a result of the growing unemployment throughout the country and the concentration of new capital and production spheres. This demographic boom against the backdrop of the total decline of institutions lead to an urban environment that was left entirely to private and individual initiative. As a result the city has been breaking down into fragmented series of spatial organisations each of which follows its own logic, rhythm and rules.

The project explores the processes of atomisation in urban geography, architecture and the logic of production of public space.

Sofia does not exist! It is only a pale abstraction projected by the institutions and it does not succeed in resisting the flow of “real life”. What exists is only fragmented places where traumatised memory (or its absence – social amnesia), imagination and the pressure of everyday needs bring about ceaseless mutations, re-discovery and re-definition of urban space.

The focus of interest in this situation is how people use, destroy, and change the material environment that surrounds them; how people appropriate spaces and turn them into personal surroundings, or inhabit spaces, which they have in a sense squatted in without being bothered about the deposits from the past.

My observations on, and vision about, urban space are not to be taken as a scientific study. The only value that could be attributed to them is the intuitions for an immediate connection to, and experience of, space which specialists in the humanities do not perceive or do not have the time to reflect upon.


While observing the mutations and breakdown of public urban spaces, by video and photographic means I record separate instances – key sites – where different aspects of everyday life have crystalised e.g. inhabiting the city and identifying (or refused to identify) with the space that is inhabited.

Some of the places are witnesses of an ideological intervention of the past that has survived in the present (for instance, the children’s playground in the Northern Park). Others are evidence of the weightlessness of the present (the illegal market along the banks of the Perlovski canal or the deserted cars in the streets – these can be observed throughout the city). A third type comprises fictional bad scenarios about the future development of the city or the revenge of long-suppressed nature (gigantic mutant dogs as the sole surviving city dwellers) or spaces of simulation inhabited by imaginary citizens (the crowd scenes with the extras in the Boyana Studios)


A Place (a children’s playground)
The Northern Park in Nadezhda housing estate
Single-channel video installation, 08:30 min., Pal, stereo, DVD player, 25“ TV screen.

A leisure park in the periphery of the city in a typical working-class neighbourhood. The unique spatial composition is the result of urban planning and the thinking mode of the socialist and socially-oriented engineer. It is a bizarre concoction of romantically artificial (planned) hillocks and military strategies. The hillocks are well-organised and cut across by canals and ponds which are linked by nostalgic curved footbridges. Highlights of the architectural ensemble are the prop-like tanks, rockets, military airplanes and canons arranged as if on a battle field. All these items are made of modules manufactured of the same material: metal tubes whose diametre ranges from 20 cm to 70 cm, and which are painted in the basic colours – yellow, red and blue. These are “devices for children’s play”– one of the fanciful remnants of ideological urban planning, which is still present in the daily life of the city dwellers in this part of Sofia. Amazing is the scale on which people visit the park. Every weekend the playground is full with families with children unaware of the tragic metaphor they so actively participate in.

A Market (the levels of the river Danube)
The “Black market” along the banks of the canal at “Stochna Gara”
Video installation, DVD, 10:48 min., Pal, stereo

An informal (product of individual initiative) market in the central part of the city. Passing through the Stochna Gara area on a Saturday you can observe or participate in the “black” market, which takes place in the bed of the Vladayska river. This is a wholly “unregulated” concentration of strange people and goods with vague origin and purpose. Here you can find samples of most inconceivably useless and forgotten objects of human production. Always overcrowded, this market is a place of complex social relationships: despair, “free” labour, memory/nostalgia/amnesia, consumerism (in a mutant shape) and ingenious survival techniques. The market is situated in a unusual spatial manner in the city – it is at the centre of a roundabout, below the level of “normal” street traffic and it appears to signify itself as an underground place. Another implication of the location is that passers-by as well as drivers and passengers can see the “arena of the spectacle” from above (like spectators on the floors of the Colliseum in Rome looking down at the plebeians). The third peculiar spatial feature is the Vladayska river – the canal in whose bed lies the market.

This whole irrational and spectacular spatial arrangement lead me to work out my own system in order to interpret what was happening under my eyes. Somehow I recognised the river Danube in the canal called Vladayska river. And in the Natinal Radio broadcasts of the level of the river Danube in centimetres, which I remember from my childhood, I somehow recognised the figures announced in Bulgarian, Russian and French as levels of commercial transactions/stock exchange indexes taking place at this market.

100 Points in Favour of Art in Urban Space
A collection of 100 photographs of deserted cars in the streets of Sofia
Slide show for internet environment (part of

This is probably one of the few common denominators which unify the dispersed urban spaces. Strolling through any part of the city one is confronted by cars without tyres, propped on wooden planks, permanently parked on the sidewalk, in tiny parks among residential buildings or directly on the street. They are witnesses of a mass catastrophe from the recent past. The cars are objects filled with micro stories (containing evidence of owners, time period, geographical location, the current state of society). They are fixed permanently in their places thus shaping the face of city streets. In order to legitimise their presence and appease the concerned rational half of my intellect demanding an explanation at all costs, I recognised in them art works in public space (a hybrid between park sculpture and a gigantic long-term collective happening).

The City of Dogs
(Post-urban landscapes)
A series of photomontages – 360° photographs, 4x150/20 cm. Colour inkjet print on paper / 360° panoramas for internet environment (part of

A series of photomontages featuring mutant creatures (heirs of the street dogs) as the only element that unites all the areas and diverse spaces in the city.

The photomontages are 360-degree photographic panoramas from the city centre (the park in front of the National Palace of Culture) and the city suburbs (housing estates Tolstoy and Druzhba) or of a collage of tourist landmarks, all inhabited by gigantic dogs (their height ranges from around 6 feet to the height of a building of 10-15 storeys). These inhabitants are signs of the nature’s revenge (the irrational) on culture (reason), and they awake all the fears generated by the feeling of guilt about the forgotten equilibrium, by the egocentrism and comfort of consumerist existence. The stray dogs are a phenomenon that has taken on hysterical associations in the urban subconscious that have lead to the fabrication of generations of horror films that come true in predictions about disasters or invasions by “the others”.

I do not know whether there is any irony in turning of the image of these street inhabitants into a cliché about our city in the “reports” from Sofia that appear in
Western media. In the recent past stray dogs have been the media image for countries like Bulgaria or Romania, distributed in Western tabloids and television reports from this part of he world.

A Film
(Staging a film production)
Two-channel videoinstallation,DVD, Pal, stereo, 27 min, 200/500 cm

As I already mentioned, “A Film” is a documentary fiction – imaginary ctizens (a representative mixture of historical periods) inhabit a fictional urban space (sets that have already been used and are half-destroyed). This is a vision about those who have not found their place/time in the city. It is also an analysis/questioning of the authenticity of memory, a gesture of dealing with visual ideas about the past which are to a greater degree associated with feature films than real documents. The aim is to create a product on the verge of reality and fiction with second-hand means (set and costumes that have already been used, and which have remained in the Boyana studios from past productions)

“A Film” uses the strategy of appropriation borrowing the economics and logistics of film industry. Essentially, the process is that of directing group scenes in filmmaking. In it the cameras are not directed to the characters of the story (main or supporting) but to the extras. Instead of acting and identifying with the characters, the goal is to recreate a situation with the help of large numbers of temporarily hired extras. They are the focus of interest in this production – the ordinary non-professional people whose motives for participating are external to the process of filmmaking.


The project stages a “real film production” with shaping a production team, release of a call for extras, casting of the candidates and organisation of a full
shooting day. The stage is a film set, built and used by previously shot italian film production in “Boyana” Film Centre (the main infrastructure facility in local
film industry). The extras are dressed in a stage costumes from the specialised wardrobe of “Boyana” Film Centre (a collection of historical costumes left from film productions in the past decades). At 10 A.M. the group of 50 extras is lead to the film set and left there to wait for further instructions and a signal for the start of the “action”. Such a moment never comes. Three cameras from different angles follow the behaviour of the people, during all the long hours of waiting. This process goes on for 5 hours. Then the group is dismissed without further explanations. The dual channel DVD Installation “A FILM” shows this sequence of time, while all these people are waiting and do nothing, but only wander around on the edge between fiction and reality.

The possible directions for an analysis in the filed of film industry lie in several parallel planes. First, this is an exploration of a recycled cinematic image (containing zero levels of drama), it looks at the conventions of film industry and at the economy of the internal system of filmmaking. Second, by completely discarding the dramatic content (the scenario which is expected) together with the frivolous use of representations of all sorts of historical, cultural and social contexts in the costumes, the focus is shifted to the tension between the expectation for things to “fit” into the frame of normality, and the reality of “nothing happens” or “there is something wrong here”.

Observing the behaviour of the extras plays an important part in the process as well as the combination of psychological portraits and the internal links of interaction within the group.

Significant is also the place where the project is happening – “Boyana” Film Centre – as an infrastructural unit of Bulgarian filmmaking as well as using the costumes available at the studios from past Bulgarian film productions.

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