Orlin Spassov

Ten Stops

Ten Stops
title: Ten Stops
year: 2005
place: Sofia
publisher: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia
ISBN/ISSN: 3-86588-237-4
language: english
author(s): Orlin Spassov
source: Visual Seminar. Resident Fellows Program 4: The City as a Museum, 2005, Sofia: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia, ISBN: 3-86588-237-4

1. Beginning

With Svetla Kazalarska’s project the Visual seminar looks at urban history. Kazalarska has chosen a bus line in Sofia (No 76) and at ten of the bus stops she has placed posters presenting historical and cultural moments related to the respective city area. This bus line is one of the longest and busiest in the capital. The artist writes that the aim of project is “to take what seems to be museum-like out of its cover, to take it out in the city itself without turning the city into a museum”. The effect which she seeks to create tends toward “stirring the curiousity of the citizens of Sofia for the history of their own town, their own neighbourhood, their own bus stop, in terms of both the oldest and the most recent history”. The very idea of “stirring” interest clearly implies that such interest is often missing. The inhabitant of Sofia rarely considers his or her own neighbourhood in a historical perspective.

2. Danger

It can be said immediately that the project is inspired by Andre Malroux's idea about a universal “museum without walls” in which the historical fact or the artifact are granted a more democrati mode of existence. Malroux sees in the photographic reproduction the liberation of the art work from the museum space and the unlimited possibilities for its storming in the world of everyday life. A little later in his famous essay Photography – a brothel without walls Marshal McLuhan will take on the reflection about the changes that photography introduces in traditional arts, but he will also find a certain aspect of prostitution in it. Because the camera, like the monocle, tend to “turn people into things”, into “dreams for sale”, which one can buy, “press and squeeze in one’s arms”. The warning is that the dissolution of walls (of institutions, of norms) cannot be innocent, that it has a price which culture pays. Kazalarska is very aware of this danger. Very crudely put, the danger is that people might respond to the project with indifference. Today the visual environment in Sofia is a real brothel without walls: here innumerable messages ruthlessly compete for the citizen’s attention. The erotic and the aggressive of the visual are plotting openly.

3. Gallery

The realization of the idea Route 76 – the city through the window of the bus does not remain completely outside the walls of traditional institutions after all. Toward the end of the project Kazalarska exhibited the posters in the ATA Center / ICA-Sofia. In this way, though it had originated in the street, at the bus stop, from the 76 bus line, the initiative did not give up the classic “high” presentation, a certain degree of safety, or comments over a glass of wine.

4. The Road

The fate of the posters at the bus stops remains unclear. Does something happen at all, does anybody read them? At busier locations the answer tends to be “no”; at the peripheral and quieter stops the answer is probably “yes”. Diana Popova from the Visual Seminar makes the following observation on the spot: “The first thing that the project encounters in its real environment is the deafening visual noise around. Layers of posters for various events yell glamorously while old flimsy sheets peer out one under another. Small advertisements for photocopying or language services are stuck on top them and try to introduce a practical tone with their unadorned business-like timbre. The clumsy sketches on posters advertising Latino dances give a shout here and there with the innocence of children carried away with their games. Various products and services are wanted and offered, and their miniscule formats, with conveniently pre-cut telephone slips, whine from all sides... And it is all this mess that I have to look closely into in order to find posters from Svetla Kazalarska’s project”. Then what is the point? Why is it that in spite of everything the posters have the right to be here?

5. Negotiations

The initiative has an important dimension although it is not one that is directly efficient for the time being: it communicates with local authorities. At the first stage Kazalarska communicated for a long time with representatives of the municipality and of the Sofia Public Transport Company. Permissions are necessary.
The distribution of posters should be legal in an otherwise completely random visual environment. The realization of the project finds its way through the administrative jungle. This is part of the politics of the project: city authorities and the companies servicing the capital should be woken up for dialogue. Kazalarska’s long-term aim is for the project to continue beyond its pilot phase, to develop as an ongoing practice for presenting local histories at public transport stops. Then the messages could gain a more protected presence: they could be displayed in showcases appropriately located at stops. Thus the circle of institutions and sponsors supporting the idea would be widened. The project is a test for the existence of such readiness.

5a. Romantic aspects

From the forum on the website of Sofia Public Transport Company Holding:

Vladi Velev:
One of the buses (No 3601) servicing line No 76 has one single electric light bulb in the passengers’ compartment. What is the reason for this? A technical impossibility to provide more lights that are working? The driver’s unwillingness to switch them on? Whom should I send an official complaint to? After all, I do not pay in order to commute in something resembling a dark catafalque. What is more, it is practically not possible to see where one steps the evening.

You do not understand the romantic aspects of the buses on line 76, and as for the stepping part, it is probably done to avoid potential conflicts about who stepped on whose foot :-)

6. Practice

Kazalarska introduces the theme of urban commuting, of the route of bus line 76. The public transport in Sofia: is there anyone who has not heard about it?! In recent years it became notorious for pick pocketing, filth, crowds of people having to squeeze in the vehicles, unreliability, scandals, commuters travelling without tickets. It has become an arena for various conflicts: between the young and the elderly, between drivers and passengers, between passengers commuting with tickets and those sneaking in for free. Public transport is one of the few spaces where the citizen who has taken a shower and the citizen who has not are in immediate proximity. The Sofia dweller, however, is fond of the public transport. Every ride is a potential adventure. It is not a matter of mere transportation but of an emotional practice which leaves people more or less battered. In fact, public transport is a very precise image of contemporary Sofia: it is eclectic (comparatively modern buses co-exist with dilapidated-looking ones), stressed and nervous, romantic and modernizing within the limits of its possibilities.

7. Above

Using public transport is scary mainly for foreigners. Having witnessed the action of a group of fake ticket inspectors (a gang which specializes in collecting “fines” from passengers traveling without tickets), German friends of mine firmly refused to commute in the public transport network. It offers a picture of con- temporary Sofia which many would prefer not to subject themselves to. Mishel de Serto has described commuting in the enclosed space of the compartment as “the prefect realization of rational utopia”: order, rules, control. Commuting in Sofia obviously does not fit in this orderly vision. Probably it is not by accident that one of the spots favoured for showing Sofia to foreigners is the terrace at Kopitoto1. The view from Vitosha provides Sofia with a certain clinical safety, a-historicity and universality. Most cities, when viewed from above, begin to resemble one another.

8. Below

The movement down in the city is mostly in the present, in the here-and-now. Kazalarska’s project attempts to go beyond this routine, to remind us that urban spaces and local culture have developed historically. In the project the bus stop is precisely a place to stop, to slow down the flow of everyday life for an act of museum-like worshipping of tradition. The ritual of reading the posters has been designed as an antithesis of the real journey and is a suggestion for a micro-journey back in time. The history of the individual neighbourhood sometimes may not be particularly prestigious but it participates in the construction of the city as an overall picture. Gradually, the view from the bus window also begins to make more sense. Commuting and commuters are cultivated: a ride is also a movement through history.

9. Map

The stitches of public transport on the map of Sofia are as a rule temporally stable. Cityscapes, the architectural face gradually change but the routes, transport line numbers and the locations of the stops remain the same. The citizens’ commuting in the present in fact follows stable trajectories. And yet there is a sense of insufficient historical awareness in Sofia today. Urban history is reduced to several prestigious sites which are the focus of tourist interest. Outside them the historical dimension of the city is not only not projected, but it is also underestimated. Deprived of biographies, many parts of the city are left without self esteem. Kazalarska’s project meticulously and accurately finds the suitable context for its development: in it the peripheral and the central parts of the route are represented equally well. Thus the city is perceived in its otherwise volatile homogeneity.

10. Last stop

Through its activities the Visual Seminar traditionally aims to intervene in the urban environment, to challenge the routine perception of the cityscape. This is why the projects that have been realized so far often had a critical tone. They tried to shift the visual layers in the city, to storm in – sometimes using scandal as a means – into real municipal policies. Against this background Svetla Kazalarska’s project seems educating.
In reality, however, the author points out, the project is also “a kind of challenge to the museum experience of the city, an attempt to decentralize the museum view of the city, an attempt to reduce the distance that the museum poses”. It is this reduction of the distance that aims at fighting back the visual brothel of Sofia on its own territory, to weaken it with the means of the museum. History against “dreams for sale” – this is Kazalarska’s recipe.


1 Kopitoto is an area situated in the nearby Vitosha mountain (tr.)

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Last modified on Feb 10, 2021
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