Diana Popova: My first question is about the metro – what kind of memory does it bear in your view? I am a regular commuter since the beginning of 1998 when it was opened and I do not find any traces of lasting memory as you define it in the project. There are no signs of transient memory either – it is kept as clean as it was in the beginning...
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: We use the metro because we are interested in the behaviour of the people in it. We look for traces that are behavioural rather than aesthetic.
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: We can find a multitude of people there who move along the same trajectory.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: Now I understand why the stadium, for example, is not in the focus of your attention – clearly, this is because there is no movement there. What is the relation between the crowd’s movement and city memory? Why is this important for you?
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: The very title of our project, Therefrom Hereto, suggests movement in space and time – from the past to the present. We compare the movement of people today with the movement of the crowd in the past.
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: Commuting is something that we all do automatically, by force of habit. In the context of the Visual Seminar we treat habit as a living trace of memory. Habit as a forgotten memory of memory.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: In the case of the communist party parades, our movement past the mausoleum, for instance, was guarded and then two hundred metres away the moving crowd would disperse. The movement in the metro is not controlled in any way. People go to work and this is all the organisation that is involved. Nobody has to bear themselves in any particular way. In the first instance movement is strictly regulated and in the other it is not regulated at all. In what way do you see the two cases as related? Communist party parades were not part of everyday routines...
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: We place them side by side.
Lylia Parvanova: The idea was to explore how a mechanism from the past works. And in this case we have a space which imposes rules on people. There are not many possibilities for manoeuvring. The route is limited – there is a corridor and two exits.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: So you do not refer to your youth with the little flags and the slogans. But they are nevertheless borrowed from the past. And this is the way in which you actually search for the memory, you seek to evoke the memory from the past as behaviour?
Lylia Parvanova: When we started working on this project at first we observed the city and the signs in it. We are used to walking in the streets without noticing the things around us. For example, there are old notices or signs, which have survived, but whose function is nonexistent nowadays. Our aim is to make people remember and through the memory to activate the space which they now inhabit.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: How does this activation of the memory manifest itself?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: Some people expressed it physically. There were old men who smiled and waved at us in exactly the way Todor Zhivkov did (the last communist leader in Bulgaria whose regime collapsed in 1989 – tr.). Some of the young showed us the finger.
Lylia Parvanova: There were all kinds of reactions: from imitating the gesture to making comments about what was happening. But everybody was anxious in some degree to find out what was going on. We carried out this project activity twice and the second time some of the faces were already familiar. A Russian told us “And this – every day, every day”...
Luchezar Boyadjiev: Let’s go back to movement. For me this is very interesting – the individual is moving inside the metro, you capture a moment of this movement when the person is neither at work nor at home. What made you choose this particular moment?
Lylia Parvanova: The condition when you don’t really think about what you are doing. In this situation the individual is not focused and what they do as commuters is mechanical movements.
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: In such a moment of mechanical movement, which is related to habit, you have more freedom to give it meaning and to make it a sign.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: The moment or the response? Of the crowd or of the individual in the crowd?
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: We capture a moment of travel across habit. The person commutes quite calmly and without any anxiety. And when you surprise him or her in such a moment and provoke a response, then this response is the most spontaneous.
Diana Popova: I still cannot understand the relation between the metro and the communist party parades from the past. In the latter case the organisational impulse is not only spatial, it is also infrastructural, as it were. It is ideological. On the other hand – as far as I understand – you do not aim at placing the multitude in the metro into a parade situation in a surprising and forceful way in the manner in which the Russian group Radek treat the crowds crossing the street at the traffic lights. You actually remind the multitude of people about facts and situations from the past. And every person who is taken by surprise in the street because of a memory, will respond in some way...
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: We come across a multitude of people at one and the same place more and more rarely, in parades or queues. The metro is one of the few places where one can get an idea about the image of the crowd nowadays. The person becomes more and more alienated and focused on their individual and self-sufficient existence.
Diana Popova: You mean that in the communist party parades the person was less alienated than they are in the crowd in the metro?
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: This would be a comparison of periods and values. I agree with you and I don’t believe that the people who went to parades in the past were united under one and the same idea but some common enthusiasm is visible. In the 80s people’s behaviour at parades becomes more casual and mechanical.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: I have no recollection of the 80s. The parades in the 70s are precisely the layer of memories of official city life which is used to activate the memory of the city inhabitant. In that context what would function as a different perspective? What happened was that a journalist emerged at the beginning or at the end of the parade to search for individual responses in close-ups. At the square, however, the cameras offer only a general view, like a huge totalised background. I wanted to ask you whether in the context of your action the people who document it experience it as participants or as reporters. Because half of them are members of your group...
Lylia Parvanova: I think that they act as participants and not only as reporters.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: Your judgement is shaped by visual material and not by personal experience. The visual material has turned the past events into a recognisable code. In this sense the position of the reporter is to report the activities of those who are included in the report. In so far as the Visual Seminar is concerned, it is possible that what the person with the camera sees will be included in a book or exhibtion. This is why he or she is the most important individual – they choose the angle, the detials, etc. I have a little question since in your texts the 70s keep cropping up. I suspect that this is the time when you were born. Or perhaps this is the period in which you can find the most vivid expression of what you are searching for?
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: This is the memory about the mothers...
Lylia Parvanova: And about the fathers. It is a personal sentiment.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: Do you think that another approach to city memory is possible? I mean outside the chain fathers – mothers – children?
Lylia Parvanova: I think that the important thing is personal experience. It is related to my identity.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: In a text on city life Ivaylo Ditchev refers to a very elementary break, a psychological state – after the working day he gets in his car and, without thinking, sets off home. He has recently moved house but he sets off, mechanically, towards his former address. You use mechanical actions as well. In the context of the Visual Seminar, it is important how the activity, which is carried out, causes responses, brings about a result, how this result becomes material, a visual witness of memory...
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: How it leaves a trace...
Luchezar Boyadjiev: Even more so than any other action.
Diana Popova: Why is it that you use mackintoshes?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: As a code of dressing.
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: The mackintosh refers to the average person.
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: And they are unisex. We should not leave out the main accessory – the cap.
Diana Popova: During the project activity did you notice an accessory which is characteristic of the present i.e. the contemporary average garment that corresponds to the mackintosh?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: Probably the jeans.
Lylia Parvanova: I don’t think there is such a garment. The mackintosh is a part of an ideology.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: The dress code was limited and strictly regulated in those days. This is why in the 70s the jeans were something that was out of the ordinary. They were considered to be signs of ideological sabotage. It is very important for me to ask you about the slogans. We mentioned triggering memories as the aim of provoking people with things from past times. You use the word “Sale”, which emerged afterwards (after the collapse of communism in 1989 – tr.) in new commercial contexts. Did you confront again people in the metro with these signs or did you do it in a different place, which you identified with something old?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: We did it in the metro again, as an attempt to superimpose new substitutes onto the old model – the communist party parade. This is what we do with the metro itelf – it is a new substitute for the old model – the parade. We replace the slogans “Eternal comradeship” and “Long live the USSR” with something that is characteristic of our time.
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: What was interesting for us was the response of the people who were discovering the present and the past. There were middle-aged women who were curious about the sale and who were actually trying to find it. For me this kind of anxiety was more interesting.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: How did this happen in the context of the activity – consecutively or simultaneously? A train stops, the commuters are greeted with “Welcome” and then another train stops and the next group of commuters are met with “Sale” and...
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: Yes, that’s right.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: Perhaps my thinking is quite symmetrical and it seems to me that these words could be placed where the Mausoleum (of Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov – tr.) used to be. Have you thought about a bus or a tram?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: We discussed the possibility to carry out one of the project activities in the 111 bus – a route that conects the Lyulin and Mladost housing estates – where women with mackintoshes and behaviour typical of the 70s are a common sight, and with the sounds from a communist party parade. But in the end we abandoned the idea.
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: We needed movement.
Lylia Parvanova: We didn’t want a setting which people would recognise and would feel comfortable in. It was more important to keep the anxiety brought about by what was happening.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: In the mission statement that presents X-tendo you write “We work for the individual”. In the minds of people from my generation this immediately connects with things from the past, with the most stable of cliches, in fact. Perhaps you mean “on the individual” or do you mean the ultimate addressee? And, secondly, there is also the individual who will come to the exhibition and who will see your results. How do you see the ‘benefit’ for the audience, the positive outcome of this kind of project activity and its different visualisations? Since I have been in your position of a Visual Seminar fellow, I have been criticised in various ways in that regard. One thing is that the Romanies from “Stefan’s Brigade” are a sort of correction of the advertising environment, but apart from that, visible in this environment were faces that are not normally allowed in it. I saw the benefit precisely in the appearance of these faces. And I still do not know if this is perceived as good or as bad. But for a moment something new emerged. So what I am trying to ask is what are the expectations after the activation of the people and the memory of living in the city that they have? How do you see the result of this activation? Is the work on this project restricted to the Visual Seminar only or do you have a broader conceptual framework or strategy for what you do?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: By “We work for the individual” we mean the work in our group, in X-tendo. More generally speaking, this is a direction we would like to follow not only with this project. We are searching for human behaviour in the city and we are studying it because by means of exposing this behaviour we want to provoke a kind of self-awareness, self-reflection, self-discovery, an avoidance of habits and automatism. In a sense, however trite this might sound, we want to be creative in everyday life that we are used to, even in the tiniest details.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: Yes, this is clear. We are more or less on the same plane though our strategies, contexts, etc. differ. But I would like to ask a question that I have been asked and it refers to the whole Visual Seminar: Who gives us the right to think that people do not feel comfortable as they are, who gives us the right to make them become self-aware?
Lylia Parvanova: I grant this right to myself. This is certainly a response to my own living here.
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: We do not presume to offer some kind of a model.
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: This is one’s comment about oneself. If someone finds something in my work that makes this person provoke themselves, this is fine. But I don’t think that I have the right to tell people what to do.
Lylia Parvanova: We act in a very delicate way, we are not threatening in what we do. But to want to change things is part of life, of one’s living it. I don’t have a plan which to impose on other people. It is more of a sharing.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: In your work what other similar projects have you carried out?
Lylia Parvanova: We have a theatre background. Our initial attempts amounted to searching for expressive means and presenting our work in the city.
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: If the drama is not there, we create it ourselves. We have made attempts in the streets before the Visual Seminar. Drama is not necessarily about a written text, it is the drama of behaviour...
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: ...of place, of interaction. For example in the theatrical-situational performance “Tahiti” we work with the drama of places in the urban environment that are typological in terms of their function. For example, a Place for meetings, a Place for crossing, a Place for recreation. We have in mind the characteristic behaviour of places.
Lylia Parvanova: We were trying to introduce a different aesthetic space by interfering with everyday life. There was a response, resistance to what we did.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: Where did this resistance come from?
Lylia Parvanova: People are not used to see art in the street. They think that there are special places for art and when it goes out of their boundaries it is seen as overstepping the law.
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: In fact, I don’t think we make art!
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: For me this is a response to stories, places or events using artistic means.
Lylia Parvanova: It is not exactly art, strictly speaking. If it is art, then it is the art of mediation.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: It seems to me that what you do could be seen as belonging to youth culture because your work does not fit the definition of ‘theatre’ or another classical art form. And another question – the etymology of the name of the group is related to extension, to broadening. How would you interpret the name? Is it extension in life or in art?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: Basically, it goes in both directions – or life in art and of art in life.
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: Besides, it is broadening so that other members can join in. But this doesn’t work for the time being...
Luchezar Boyadjiev: If the group includes a whole community of people living in Sofia, the notion could emerge that X-tendo wants to be a leader.
Lylia Parvanova: This seems fairly utopian to me: there is no boundary between art and life. It’s like the threshold rising, or the levels rising.
Tsvetelina Gospodinova: No, this doesn’t work. I feel more comfortable when I work just for myself. If by any chance there is some kind of benefit from it, then this benefit will appear. I don’t want to become a leader, to conquer...
Lylia Parvanova: Yes, this is true, you don’t want to become a leader. But it is not meaningless to make such things happen – to see people going and not being led by anyone.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: What the ideal milieu for X-tendo’s performance?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: We make do with what we have. This is one of the group’s ideas, to work with what we’ve got.
Lylia Parvanova: For me it is really important to work in, and with, the place where one lives. I’ve just come back from a Portuguese harbour. Boats arrive and a stream of people get off – like little machines, like one and the same person. We walked across the crowd, cutting into it provocatively but this didn’t bother them at all. If you don’t know the place, you don’t know what kind of a position you have in it, you don’t know what can happen to you.
Luchezar Boyadjiev: We live here in the city – is there anything which is not a memory? When the first advertisements appeared (there were not as many billboards then as there are now), there was a sign on a big block of flats that said “Forge ahead with BCP” (Bulgarian Communist Party – tr.). Then Mtel (The biggest mobile communications company in Bulgaria – tr.) appeared there. The place which the ruling political power has used, is now used by another power. The whole living in the city for me is a memory...
Diana Popova: The work of the group is also a kind of memory – including a memory of the place where it was carried out. Does anything in it change when it is presented in a different place, for instance in an exhibition?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: We are talking about different products, about different results. Presenting work in a gallery space is an attempt to summarise what we have been doing.
Lylia Parvanova: If we put in the metro what we do in the gallery, the meaning will be totally different.
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: It will be a whole new thing.
Diana Popova: And for the time being you do not plan to present it in the metro?
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: No, not for the time being.
Diana Popova: Because this “return to the site of the crime” would be very interesting.
Elena Koleva-Ivanova: There would be a lot of discontent.
Lylia Parvanova: But there are also those who would be pleased to see themselves...
Diana Popova and Luchezar Boyadjiev in a talk with Elena Koleva-Ivanova, Tsvetelina Gospodinova and Liliya Parvanova from X-tendo
Vector. ICA-Sofia: Motives, Analyses, Critique is a project by the Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia. The project is realised with the financial support of the National Fund Culture, Critique Programme