perry bard on Mon, 13 Dec 1999 21:50:37 -0500 (EST)

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Syndicate: VideoArchaeology, International VideoArt Festival, Sofia, Bulgaria

VIDEOARCHAEOLOGY, International VideoArt Festival, Sofia Bulgaria
October 1 - 22, 1999.

In Bulgaria where few people own video cameras and internet access costs
$25.00 a month while the average monthly salary is $100.00, organizing a
media show was a brazen leap of faith. The first international videoart
festival,VideoArchaeology, used up most of the monitors, projectors and
VCRs in the city and a zero hour search for equipment ended when two VCRs
were borrowed from a beauty salon. It proved , however, that this leap of
faith can and should be made. Curated by Boris Kostadinov, Iliyana Nedkova
and Zhivka Valyavicharska,VideoArchaeology  included installations, single
channel programs, artist talks, and guest curated programs. The festival
was held at multiple venues throughout the city of Sofia including the BBC
Centre, the American Center, the French Institute, the Bohemian Arts Centre
and even the JVC Audio Visual Store. In addition, the ATA Center for
Contemporary Art, a private art gallery owned by Raymonda Moudova,
exhibited installations and served as the center from which the activities
were organized.

The theme of the festival, as described by the curators, "explores the
present through the lenses of tomorrow's past". Recognizing that
representations of history can easily be altered,VideoArchaeology  invited
artists to "speculate on the archaeological image of the present". In her
text for Cosmopolitan History, a guest-curated program previously shown at
TransHudson Gallery in New York City also shown in Sofia, Berta Sichel
describes the present as our historical moment:"Any attempts to find
baselines, beginnings, and/or linear narration would be futile. Completely
dependent on technology which permits the artificial montage and
non-meaning of information, manipulated events have become history in
contemporary society." Video artists were invited to predict the tool or
coin that might be left as the remains of our civilization. Artist Rupert
Francis (Australia/UK) who presented an excerpt of ARC(1999) at the
festival (a changing list of single words appearing on each of 2 monitors
leaving the viewer tsearching for meanings/associations), sees the built in
obsolescence of the technology we are using as the archaeology of the
project. In view of the range of works I saw, this is the lens through
which the festival is best examined.

Bulgaria is the least known of the former Eastern bloc countries. The
"velvet revolution"of 1991 (the first success of the Union of Democratic
Forces) and the 1996 bankruptcy of its economy were virtually ignored by
western media. Bulgaria is also largely ignored by the artworld: it has
never been invited to partcipate in a Venice Biennale and there was no
Bulgarian representation in the 1999 "Global Conceptualism" show held at
the Queens Museum in New York City despite the fact that there is a strong
tradition of conceptual art in Bulgaria.

Until 3 years ago very few artists were working with video and even now the
only access to equipment is through commercial venues at exorbitant prices;
there are no schools that make their resources available and no coops.
Video rental stores have only mainstream movies so there is little
opportunity to see historic films let alone artists videos. I saw few video
cameras in use on the streets and most of those were held by tourists.

Despite these technical obstacles, Bulgarian artists were a strong presence
in the VideoArchaeology  program. Boyan Dobrev's interactive CD-ROM
RE-RECORDABLE (1999) is an invitation to create fictions using supplied
footage from two bases: real-life, and TV drama and newsreel footage. The
viewer can select from the left (life) or right (TV clips) source to
complile a version of the film. QUITE (IM)POSSIBLE (1998), a collaborative
work by Luchezar Bojadzhiev and Kalin Serapionov, documents two different
types of shopping experiences: footage of boutiques is shown on one monitor
and footage of bitaks (Bulgarian for flea market) on a second. The
underlying tensions in the country's recent transition to a market economy
are revealed more through the real estate which is the backdrop for the
display than through the merchandise itself. The plateglass windows of the
boutiques offer a striking counterpoint to blankets lying on the ground at
the flea market. In Conversation IV (1999) by Ivan Moudov and Simeon
Nikolov close-up shots of hands passing a joint back and forth are
distributed on two monitors which are positioned in a corner with enough
distance bewteen them so that the viewer is in the middle of the action. As
part of a series in which words are absent, the piece suggests an inquiry
into the underlying social structure of language. In HOW YOU CAN PASS BY
YOUR IDEAS (Boyana Dragoeva 1999) the title text scrolls by, an animated
fish moves into someone's mouth and the fish and head eventually swim off
in opposite directions, disconnected parts offering ambiguous solutions.
Albena Mihailova Stussy's video TWO MEANINGS (1999) tells the story of two
women who live and work in transit. (She now lives in Basel.) The piece is
not subtitled making it impossible for non-Bulgarian speakers to absorb; it
raised questions of how work produced in a local context can be presented
in a global one.

Aside from Bulgarian works, there was an extensive international collection
of videos running throughout the month. There were programs of new work
from Canada (guest-curated by Barbara Prokop, Naomi Potter and Biliana
Velkova), Estonia (curated by Mare Tralla), France (curated by Heure
Esquise and Tangra), Novi Sad (curated by VideoMedeja), Poland (curated by
Piotr Krajewski), Switzerland (curated by Stella Haendler and Thomas
Kneubeuhler) and the United States ( 3 separate programs curated by Berta
Sichel, Kate Horsfield and Nelson Hendrics, and Carol Parkinson).

Regarde ! (1999) by Renatus Zuercher (Switzerland) was a 100 minute
database of Super 8 home movies collected from donors and transferred to
video. The generic quality of the moments most people choose to record -
first day at school, hiking, a birthday party - makes this collection a
compelling artifact in which viewers can recognize themselves. In 30,000
ACRES OF TRANQUIL GARDENS (Eric Lesdema, Stephanie Bolt, UK, 1998), the
layers of contemporary experience are woven into one smooth fabric through
democratic reportage: the footage ranges from pans of deserted buildings
and barren landscapes to amusement arcades to dead dogs lying on the road.
In LOCAL TIME , David Hatcher (New Zealand/Germany, 1999) isolates two
faces from an historical bronze plaque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The
"colonizer" and "colonized" appear on 2  4" LCD screens at either end of a
rectangular piece of plexiglass. The footage is manipulated so that the
original images are unrecognizable, the regional narrative replaced by a
peculiarly animated "conversation" that transcends the specificity of

In contrast, place was very much the theme of many of the works in the
Yugoslavian program. IN THE BALKANS (1999) by Apsolutno (a collective of 4
artist from Novi Sad)  consists of two minutes of grey landscape into which
a caption reading "in the bulk" disintegrates. In DEPRIVING OF LAND (1998,
by Igor Antioch) a knife is thrown into the sand while the syllables of the
word "Yugoslavia" are articulated in different orders, a search for a lost?

In general the festival program was uneven and too ambitious. Given the
lack of opportunity to see artists' videos in Bulgaria, the curators'
decision to show all kinds was wise, however, there were many good
performance-based works in the French and Canadian programs that would have
been better suited to a different context. TRANSFORMATION EGOCENTRIQUE
(1999) by Stephane Tremblay (a member of the Montreal-based Video Verite
collective) was a simple idea beautifully performed: a man drawing his own
reflection in the camera lens. In STAR SIGHTINGS(1999), by Naomi Potter,
Barbara Prokop, Biliana Velkova also of Video Verite) three women strut
down the street wearing the same generic "movie star" outfit, taping
themselves as they walk. The resulting footage is a rhythmic, lyrical
abstraction that slowly comes into focus. In SORRY GUYS (l998) by Chantal
Michel(Switzerland) a woman wearing a party dress and high heels inches her
way up the wall of a confining white room. Shifting camera angles make the
activity look like an intense workout performed on all the interior
surfaces of the cube. In "Touchy: Part I: Guggenheim, N.Y." (1999, by IAT
- International Action Terrorism - Anne Cleary and Dennis Connolly,
Ireland/France) the artists challenge the museum guards by touching the
works of art. While one of them persists in this action, the other records
the interchange with the guards who eventually ask them to leave. Performed
in three different Guggenheim museums (Berlin, Bilbao, New York), the work
becomes a cultural study in museum guard training.

VideoArchaeology presented a testament to the present; it was a rubbing
rather than a dig, a transfer of information. If there is a conclusion to
be drawn, it might be that society is moving too fast to dig and perhaps
the transfer is the relevant currency.

Perry Bard is an artist living and working in New York . Her site specific
installation PULSE, a collaboration with Boyan Dobrev, was presented at the
JVC Audio Visual Store during VideoArchaeology.

Forwarded with the permission of Afterimage The Journal of Media Arts and
Cultural Criticism, Rochester, N.Y.

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