Of monuments and men can not be named an exhibition, or at least not in the sense that we are traditionally used to invest in this word. In the space of Vaska Emanuilova gallery an opportunity is presented to explore the history of four of the most talked about sculptural monuments in this country in the new millennium. A story that continues to be augmented through hundreds of comments (often anonymous) in virtual space, a multitude of reports in electronic media and dozens of publications in print. On the other hand, fragments of conversations have also been found - monologue laments about those monuments, that echoed / faded in public domain during the last decade. It was exactly for this reason that Of Monuments and Men could be described as a story about the conflict between the modern-day individual and the sculptured carvings of artists.
The gallery presents the Soviet Army Monument, the monumental composition 1300 Years Bulgaria, Georgi Chapkanov’s Hagia(?) Sophia sculpture, as well as the ambitious project Vasil Levski complex near Svilengrad, which is to be raised until 2017.
The exhibition includes photographs from the archives of the large-scale international project ATRIUM (“The architecture of totalitarian regimes in twentieth century urban governance"), that featured the National Institute for Immovable Cultural Heritage (NIICH) as well as the documentary archive of the newspaper 24 hours, Nikola Michov etc.
Curator: Plamen Petrov
Consultant: Nikola Mihov
Of Monuments and Men cannot be called an exhibition, or at least not in the sense that is traditionally used to invest in this word. In the space of Vaska Emanuilova gallery the visitor is given the opportunity to explore the history of four of the most talked about sculptural monuments in this country in the new millennium. A story that continues to be augmented through hundreds of comments (often anonymous) in the virtual space, numerous electronic media reports, and dozens of publications in the press. On the other hand, fragments of conversations were found - monologue laments on these monuments, that have echoed / faded in the public domain during the last decade. It was for this reason that Of Monuments and Men could be described as a story about the conflict between the modern-day individual and the sculpture carvings of artists.
Already in the middle of the 20th
century the American writer Donald Barthélemy noted aptly that any, even an ungainly small fourth-rate declassed European country, is covered with monuments everywhere, and you can not shrink the corner without bumping into a fifteen-foot bronze statue. In fact, the phenomenon of “monumentizing" the environment that the European inhabits, reveals the openly manifested attitude to the past. The past - that story prior to the present, which is placated as an integral part of the future; the necessary "construction" of time and thought, ensuring the foundations of European civilization. In that respect, Bulgarian cities, and Sofia in particular, are no exception to the general landscape of the continent - their profile is cut by silhouettes of sculptural monuments, often thought of as a kind of benchmarks of truth and morality.
Monuments beautify not only the city, but the past itself and history, by bringing to life an idea about the magnificence of a certain age, the strength or genius of a person, or a unique event in its kind. In the romantic notions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries those urban "relics" are often defined as a historical document, as a means of moral and exemplary teaching, a universal vector of subjective emotions. The monuments included in this exhibition, however, reveal a new feature of their own - namely, living monuments that continue to participate actively in the new day, but not just as creative events giving rise to pilgrimage tourism and photographic obsession, but as pulsating parts bearing the marks of current social order. On the other hand, the presented four monuments reveal different, specific conflicts between those milestones of memory and man in the contemporary cultural situation of the global village. For the last decade, the monument of the Soviet army has differentiated itself as one of the busiest topoi in the city. A meeting place of its own kind, for many young people - the area around the monument, and the monument itself became the "gazebo" for conversations and drinking beer, riding rollers, skateboard competitions and more. The monument, as an ideological appeal of totalitarian thought, seems to remain alien to the modern individual, having taken in his first breath after 1989. Probably just for that reason appeared also the striving to transform (consciously or unconsciously) that remote "otherness" into something new – a kind of native feeling that is close to the global man. And this process of transformation has been clearly stated by "painting" the monument, and revamping "the socialist man" into a hero from a contemporary American film – an action that has brought rampant, but quickly muffled social unrest. Already before that act, aiming at metamorphosis, parts of the monument were often redefined in semantic terms - such as the emergence in 2010 of the caption The last supper on the plane south of the monument. The monumental composition 1300 years Bulgaria testifies to a second type of a problem that can be defined as a phenomenon of invisibility. Loaded with "the normative ideological thought" of Bulgarian communist party leaders, this monument to memory, although designed as a reminder of the ancient history of Bulgarian people, enjoyed public attention only on the day of its official opening on October 20th
1981 when Comrade Todor Zhivkov gleefully cut the ribbon in the presence not only of prominent political figures, but also the high clergy.
The concocted vaudeville has quickly faded away and the short terms for the monumental composition (eight months) proved disastrous. The composition began to fall apart before the eyes of the "responsible" socialist man. Upon entering a period of transition in the last decade of the twentieth century, the monument became a ruin, but nobody took any action for its conservation and restoration. The problem was immersed in dozens of "debates" that went under the heading "what to do?" And the monument, though invisible, was drowning in public bickering - weather washing away its silhouette for good.
The third major problem that the monumental sculpture of Saint Sophia presents in the centre of Sofia, the capital, is the one linked with the new iconoclastic crisis in the modern world, and Bulgaria in particular. The battle with images which shook the society of Byzantium, and especially Constantinople in the eighth – ninth century, seems to reflects most adequately the conflict between the sculptings of Georgi Chapkanov and clergy. Whether it is Saint (Hagia) Sophia – the name meaning Wisdom, whose memory is celebrated on September 17th along with that of her daughters - Faith, Hope and Love, or that is the wisdom of God, or an allegorical image of the city? Whether it is a pagan monument, or a Christian symbol – those are all issues that pinpointed as a problem the looming female figure with a "flowing" dress. On the other hand, it should be noted that this monument was built as if to erase a memory. We are talking about the 24-foot sculpture of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, rising on the same place, which in 1991 was removed in an iconoclastic manner. This specific kind of layering of meanings and changelings actually seems to exacerbate the problem of the search for an answer to the question: What does this sculpture present?
The problem with the project as such, shows through even more clearly in the case with Saint (Hagia) Sophia, but it is manifested in the fourth object included in the exhibition – the monumental Vasil Levski complex. However, while with Georgi Chapkanov’s sculptural solution we are witnessing a non transparent procedure for the selection of a project with specific artistic qualities, built with public funds in public space, in the project for the monumental complex near Svilengrad, dedicated to Vasil Levski - the Apostle of freedom, another nuance comes to the surface. The project for building the complex is a private initiative. It will be built with private funds on land that was donated by the Municipality of Svilengrad, following a vote by of the organizers on the Municipal Council’s decision. Following an internal competition of I Love Bulgaria Association, a choice of a project decision with specific artistic qualities was made – a decision for the erection of a monument to a historical figure. What are the regulatory mechanisms that may exercise control on such a private initiative? What are the legal leverages to impose certain aesthetic frames without restricting human rights and freedoms? Those are all questions whose answers are too complex and seemingly ambiguous.
It is exactly those issues, their "exposure" and placing them on the discussion agenda that
Of Monuments and Men reveals.
The exhibition includes photographs from the archives of the large-scale international project Atrium (Architecture of totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century urban governance), which features the National Institute of Immovable Cultural Heritage (NIINCH) and the documentary archive of 24 hours newspaper, the archive of Lost Bulgaria, the personal archive of Valentin Starchev Stavri Tserovski. All visual materials referring to project for the monumental complex Vasil Levski have been provided by the Association I LOVE BULGARIA.