Around the center of the middle
Culture Weekly – Issue 17 (2766), May 9, 2014
[…] The same can be said about the deserted plateau of liberty, of which Zankov speaks (in an interview that will follow).
With the „Oh, Happy Days“ exhibition Ventsislav Zankov returns to the painted figure. With almost 5 m. monochromatic canvases, filled with gigantic bodies, Zankov carries the sculptural monumentality of his work on canvas. The black and white works have an extremely plastic presence and, can also be described as complete two–dimensional sculptures, an entourage of conditions, which support the central figure – a stylized plaster hero with a dog and a(!) glowing neon wing. With a clean line and tight, harmonious firmness that will remind of the classics of the genre (Dalchev, Funev, Starchev), the protagonist of „Oh, Happy Days“, as a photogenic superhero from a comic book, refers to an abstract legendary context.
This character resides in the utopia of universal happiness. …There, in the center of this environment, in the in absurdity, in emptiness, Zankov freely interprets Beckett. In the absolute freedom, if you can move – you fly. The figure with a dog, however, is confined and its wing is one. When one works with a theme such futility, one unwillingly gives it sense, fills the void with their stuff, doing a big, developed self–portrait. The role of the dog remains free for interpretation, even free in principle. I see no point in canonical interpretations regarding the exhibition, which has been generously left with several keys to be deciphered, and the author has persistently denied the instrumentality of these elements (More of Zankov – again, in the interview)
THE HAPPY DAYS OF VENTSISLAV ZANKOV
Union of Bulgarian Artists Bulletin number
The last exhibition of Ventsislav Zankov in „Rayko Alexiev“ Sofia Gallery can be seen as a kind of diary of a past year, in which the important points are marked with a creative act.
„Oh, Happy Days“ deals with the author’s interpretation of the afterlife – in this case, the gallery space, guarded by a fallen angel and a one-headed Cerberus. Filled with gigantic images of bodies, intertwined with each other, bent in quiet despair, wriggling, agonizing… On the walls hang animal remains – sculptures with precise anatomical accuracy.
Hell or purgatory? Or simply a universal idea of the afterlife, lacking any personification and portrait characteristics – faces of the human figures are deleted; where there is no color and everything is immersed in monochromatic, black and white painting and only the neon sign „Oh, Happy Days“ throws light, colored glow on the white sculptures.
This exhibition is a continuation. After the apocalyptic attitude of the previous project of Ventsislav Zankov – „The Last Boudoir“, presented in the same space, today the author shows what happens next. Both exhibitions are alike in their autobiographical nature: as here works are dated, marking the milestones of a certain period of time, and „The Last Boudoir“ was a kind of retrospective of the creative path of the author over the past 20 years, presenting everything he has done: sculpture, painting, activism…
„Oh, Happy Days“ brings the wholeness of a complete idea, a story about the world after death, the way the author imagines it. An interesting point in it is how sculpture and paintings overlap in their scale, because Zankov paints with the same scope, as he sculptures… and vice versa.
In his creative history of a provocateur he creates innumerable works, while under his rebellious nature his talent of good sculptor, painter and master and the thought of a conceptual artist, easily uncover. Therefore, no one felt indignation, when in 2010 he founded the „ Iron Medal for Contemporary Art “ award in his name, which so far was adjudged to six artists and curators: Vesselina Sarieva (2010), Dr. Galentin Gatev (2011), Rouen Rouenov (2012, posthumously), Ivo Dimchev (2013), Spartak Dermendjiev and Iveta Getsova for 2014. At first, sounding more like a performance, mocking the absurdity of the existing art awards today, now, after five years, to be the winner of the „ Iron Medal for Contemporary Art” sounds prestigious.
A monumental dream
Exhibition of Ventsislav Zankov, „Rayko Alexiev“ gallery, UBA, April 11 – May 1, 2014
No need to superimpose/extract additional meaning to/from the presented, or to explain. The almost fierce desire for instant consumption has to be welcomed – not only it renders the search for another meaning, but places each one of the „products“ of today in a new light. The calm „use me“ is addressed broadly and already sounds like a scream: „Why do you not use me?“ The exhibition of V. Z. deals with the Artist with a capital A, in an almost performance-like way it spins and you find yourself around the axis of this existence, at this very geographical location, and not a step aside. And since the performance must be the opposite of a play, the audience, playing their part, must not only tackle, but also return the ball, even with a faint whiff of naive faith in the fact, that the artist actually doesn’t care. As one of the most prominent authors, who work a lot on auto-topics in Bulgaria, in this exhibition Ventsislav Zankov does not leave the autobiographical, even in places where viewing/the visible just want to shake off all the talks and triumph silently…
Monumental dream, whose compelling visions cyclically repeat to escape the horizontal or unappeased and frenzy erupt in the vertical. In fact, the author declares his return, his sneaking into the plastic – intoxication and withholding, that want to go behind a realistic form and simultaneously extend to mark the surpassing of its own growth.
The exhibition also causes curiosity, because of its declared technique and form of execution – large charcoal drawings (the background – with the central heating system brings a somewhat comic element and resembles a character of Chaplin, who throws wood into the stove, pulls soot, cleans, opens, closes in fast motion etc., etc., but this has nothing to do with the seriousness of everything that follows). With its figurative impulse the idea aims to master/the academically justified/set/controlled manifestations of the fine. In fact, the paintings are placed in a large installation and are its secondary element. The attempt is to gather in one the blunt, minimalistic aggression of an advertising message, on whose model the „concept“ is based. In fact, the mere intention to see the drawings in such a setup has proved to be not a simple action. The combination of separate installation elements surprises with the intrusive, uniting mutual repulsion – between the pink sign and the image of this declassified protagonist, whose ground growth occupies the walls of the exhibition hall; between the optimistic in itself fact of institutional realization and the dark cult, in whose containment this action transforms the „Rayko Alexiev“ hall into. The concepts of Zankov often form a conglomerate/sum of heterogeneous parts, signs and ideas, that are difficult to fit into the exhibition space, no matter how alternative it is, and the impression left is that a lot/significant parts of them failed to crowd in through the door…
Before the drawings the attention focuses on one particular point of view towards the time flow, in which the action unfolds – the images are dragging and resting on each other, deprived of basic human characteristics, without being associated with physical atrophy. The giants literally burst with animal power… So, the timing of deformation may occur any moment now, to be forthcoming or purely imaginary, or happen in the folds of a parallel nightmare. Timelessness is simultaneity. On one hand, this statement is glorious, stately, impressive one, and on the other – remains a debatable issue, raising questions, fragmented, as if removed from its author.
In fact, V. Zankov manages to large–scale and stage convincingly an autobiography, betting and giving presence to his works and their total in such a way, that the individual works themselves lose meaning. In this sense, the exhibition can be seen as an inward look into a complex world of experiences, whose disclosure/storytelling is just as difficult, as writing down your dreams…
After „The Last Boudoir„ it looks like the happy days for Ventsislav Zankov become reality, at least the title of his new exhibition in the „Rayko Alexiev” gallery leads our attention this way. The neon sign with his handwriting – „Oh, Happy Days”, glowing in pink, can direct us to positive thinking, desire for a change in the attitude towards the world, transition to its bright side, optimism, experiencing the life shaking, faith in the good of mankind, confidence in the positive social and personal change. A shadow sneaks in the bifurcation of thought, going in the direction of Samuel Beckett’s play with the same title, written in 1961 – a year before the artist was born.
Life in the elaborateness of everyday life, filled with details of time, losing shape in the infinity of loops in the–one–and–the–sameness, becomes deserted in the loss of some larger sense. Powerlessness and futility are pushed from the days in necessity to live. The concrete movements, imposed by the survival instinct, reduced to its primitiveness and simplicity, profane the attempts to elevate the spirit above the pressing materiality. Perspectives, goals and ideas are kept in a missing horizon, beyond the physiology of biological. Emptiness and freedom occur, no commitments, happy days are here.
With the ambition to seek metaphors to capture the dynamics of what is happening right now in our country, Zankov chooses to develop in sculpture and paintings ambivalence in the silent, unheard cry of frustration and loneliness and the power of rebellion against them. “Oh, Happy Days“ are the days after the nonsense of being face to face with the emptiness is discovered. Beyond despair and futility there is nothing, in which another meaning can be searched for. There is not even space, a field – if there’s an act, an action – it happens in full freedom, and maybe for Ventsislav Zankov happiness is in finding the energy to act in such complete freedom. So, we all live in happy days, unaware, as long as we have the strength to endure without paralyzing and sinking into the swamp of depression of everyday life. Bearing and carrying the futility of the will for truth.
The power of protest and resignation, together with the abandoned human destiny, present to cause a direct meeting with the indescribable, impersonated in the sculptural composition „Warden of the Living.“
Human existence must be preserved and retained in the meadow of the social, in order to remain human. Outside, in the shadows, the inhuman is encountered; the meeting with the inhuman is preserved with the fear of the unknown, the fear guards. They say, angels too. The angelic is inhuman. Guardian angels encircle us in the herd, where we recognize ourselves and recognizable as people in the organization of life and the discovery of its meaning, beyond its organization, preservation and continuation. The nonhuman sense does not produce meaning and even if it exists – it is not ours. We are left to wander happy in freedom of the gaping emptiness, empty of meaning …
The titles, the names of the paintings, are the dates of their creation – between October 2013 and January 2014 – the happy days of their completion. They return to the void which created them.
The burning, the entropy which produced carbon, are the material that the artist used to create the human figures – painting in black. The form crushes the viewer. The words are worn, they trick us in producing interchangeable meanings, the concepts flock parallel versions of reality, under which it disappears or remains elsewhere. The „elsewhere“ is in a search of its imagery, outside the directions of militant optimism or pessimism, eco–activism and other collective identifications.
The hectic production and consumption of words, meanings, objects, policies for disposable use, produce garbage. The man becomes garbage.
The power determines the field, in which the individual movements seem free. The field is power. The fear guards. Beware of fear and the void of futility – we fill it with faith or causes, recognized as our own, and the consumption becomes passion of filling. We clutter with things and our weight becomes overweight.
If there are forces, that are inhuman or unknown to man, they protect him in pens through nightmares. Hence become happy.
The usual things
The recording starts with the phrase, which I say, putting an end of the sentence: „Let’s talk a bit about the usual things”, trying to feel the water. I do not understand this exhibition. VZ is angry or grumpy, I cannot tell. He says he’s neither angry, nor grumpy.
Jovo Panchev: …the usual things.
Ventsislav Zankov: Which are the usual things, ’cause they differ for me and you?
JP Indeed, they differ for you. That’s why I am asking, we’ll talk about the usual things. Oh, Happy Days…
VZ Don’t tell me you’re going to ask me where the title comes from.
- I am not, I am asking how are you, how are you doing?
VZ Fine, tense.
JP We had an installation of the underground (Sofia underground, author’s note) with neon sign of Iskra Blagoeva „Never trust a happy artist”.
VZ Come on, am I happy?
JP No, you pretend to be happy, an intended effect.
VZ No, I do not pretend to be happy. Could be true, you know,…not to trust a happy artist. No, I think about the happy days. I can tell you what was all about…it was about…where is Beckett, I cannot tell you. I’ve got a memory of Tatyana Lolova (a prominent Bulgarian actress, translator’s note) slowly and calmly she was covering herself with garbage. And she was sinking and telling how nice it was. This is an association which has much to do with the exhibition – Beckett. Maybe there’s a link to the void which follows the futility. Right? When there’s no sense. You do something and then comes emptiness – it’s empty.
JP The plateau?
VZ You either get depressed there, or if you can move, you are free, the absolute freedom is there. Free of the fact, whether you or someone else will like my work, and… how things should or should not be done. And you start working with that futility and the stupid thing is that, while you are doing it, you start creating sense. The trick is to be able to do futility, that’s the difficult part. You end up at the point you have escaped from.
These days (the titles of the works)… it’s not that these are the happy days, but rather these are days, the days… I have decided the title will be: Oh, Happy Days! And see, the dates are coming. There’s satisfaction you’ve done something. I said to myself, anyway, nothing’s coming right, let me at least do them 4.5 m large, so that they can be totally unsellable and futile in terms of consumer preferences. In the sense of denial – a 4.5 m large painting provokes a reaction such: no, this is not acceptable.
JP In line with the Neue Staffelei Kunst (‘new easel art’ an ironic formulation of the commercial, contemporary bulgarian art, which appeared in a previous conversation of ours).
VZ This is the scenario with a happy artist. „Happy” nowadays is being played as a hit song. The three letters in the sign О, щАСТливи дни! (A wordplay, which cannot be interpreted literally. Three Cyrillic letters in second word of the title form the English verb „act”, translator’s note)– act – shape an accent on purpose. Or to put it that way: salvation lies in the action, no matter how trivial this may sound.
JP I could not see why have you included the sculptures, instead of presenting the paintings only? They make it too autobiographical. The paintings are cooler than the boudoir, simpler. This figure of the superhero, let say a self-portrait…bodies or figures in skirmishes…
VZ I do not know what battles are you talking about, but there’s always something personal. Each painter continually makes self-portraits, regardless of his/her attempt not to. There’s no other way. From a certain point onwards the things started moving in parallel, because I painted them very quickly, while he took me some time. He took me two years and I was unsatisfied with him for a long time and started painting powerfully; and every time I looked at him – he was feeble, of poor physique. Then I would switch, start working on him and then paint the next painting. And again, he’s no good – when I remove the paintings, he seems alright, when I paint – he doesn’t and I am once again starting to work on him.
JP Yes, they are much more monumental in a way.
VZ Yes, that’s right, because they look larger. At the end I made a mould for him and filed him inside of it, as I was running out of time. And in general – he came out fine. He is linked to that – the Warden of the Living is tied to his fears, to the fear. The fear guards. These are the wardens – the fear and…
JP What about the parts on the side – parts of a dog, of an angel, of a goat?
VZ Lamb shoulders.
VZ Yes. Lines, archeology, something dug to complement, because it seemed naked and empty. At the end I made them, after I hesitated a lot.
JP The dog’s head is guarding the door?
VZ No, it isn’t. Here we are fond of the dog, I don’t like it. The audiences here like the dog. The big figure is appreciated only by those, who have a deeper understanding.
I tried really hard. And that’s the best I can do. It cannot be changed a lot. It’s difficult, in such a large scale.
For instance, with the neon sign – it can only be read during the night. It’s neon, made of light. Somehow it’s only possible then. This sign is very much looked for, people desire it. It’s strange – the sign in particular, to be the most wanted thing. The same goes for the sculpture.
JP To me, people are afraid of your art.
VZ That’s not true, I have many fans. There are fans of mine – young and enthusiastic.
JP What I mean is, it’s not easy to like such a thing.
VZ It’s hard, because it’s engaging. A girl said to me: I cannot understand why do people paint paysages – they are going to see them anyway, when they go out? I bring up invisible things and that’s got a meaning, while the opposite… Or nature morte. A vase with flowers – why should it be painted? Buy yourself flowers, put them in a vase. I am satisfied with the exhibition – do have in mind, that you are now seeing them all together, stretched, and all that. I didn’t see them that way. I fixed to the wall and painted. And afterwards I started painting the next one. When you see them together, it’s a big surprise.
JP Tell me about the working process, the act itself, you already mentioned some things. Gymnastics? Do you work on a frame?
VZ No, on a big ladder with a normal brush. Was quite a challenge, a lot of turpentine, rubbing and painting. I do the sculptures also on a ladder, but rather a small one – I had to reach out only for the head.
Aleksandar Juzev (who has been silent up till now, makes an excellent comment). Was it possible to use a hammer? I thought it was stone when I first saw it on the picture, but then realized it would have been extremely hard and expensive.
VZ Extremely expensive. Polished dark stone, a resemblance of Egypt. And a hole for the cable, so that the wing can be in light. That’s how I imagined the stone.
(In relation to the technique and materials the conversation runs off to the last monumental commissions and executions, which is not the actual topic now).
JP It’s a bit confusing – the wing thing.
VZ Nooo, that’s the best part.
JP Raises questions.
VZ A friend of mine told me: „If you have placed the other wing, I would have despised you”. No way would I put two wings! At first I was working on him and put the wing at the end…
AJ It’s a good thing you didn’t use stone. It would have taken hard drilling.
VZ The material matters. You cannot imagine it in bronze or other material. Aluminum would be nice. Anyway, it’s a nice sculpture.
JP If you say so.
VZ That’s my „final work”.
JP No, the end of the road isn’t here.
VZ The idea is that you close a problem, a cycle, once you’ve reached to an end. That’s not a research; it’s the Idea of the final work.
Maybe, you need to work at one and the same spot and see what you will get out there. I was spared from this trap – to sell. I thought about it. I imagined it. I do things and they start selling. I was probably going to do the same things over and over again up till now.
JP The style of Ventsy.
VZ Just think about it. The works start selling long after the exhibition, when you are in a middle of something else, it doesn’t affect the way you paint. I won’t start making toys now – it’s not about the ’95 pop art anymore. I am able to make them, but won’t. On the other hand, they are selling now.
JP Well, look when they started buying them.
AJ In fact, you said everyone does his/her self-portrait, one way or another.
VZ It’s inevitable. You cannot protect yourself. Everyone does it, without knowing. (Gives an example of Nedko Solakov and analyzes it).
AJ Looking for the works of the 90s – this would mean that you desert yourself.
VZ It’s quite possible. The pop art interested me, that’s for sure. I could easily continue doing this type of things.
AJ It’s nice that you didn’t.
VZ That’s what I am saying – that’s a kind of salvation.
JP Why didn’t you continue doing performances?
VZ It was another trap, because I was going that road. You start thinking about your next performance and feel it becomes a routine. Blood again, repetitions… You step into a scheme and can present such things, …to make up others.
AJ Nowadays that’s a trap, 100 %.
JP I am not telling you to get stuck in performances, but to not give up doing them. There isn’t a great painter who doesn’t do performances, less or more often.
VZ I haven’t excluded them as expressive means. I had an idea about Shipka. (Shipka Gallery and the headquarters of the Union of the Artists in Bulgaria share a common building in Sofia, translator’s note) It can pass and the thing, which provoked it, to age.
AJ Performances cannot be done at the moment.
VZ It’s bullshit. But that’s the easiest way.
AJ The very expressive means is classical already. Too classical.
VZ It’s not that. It’s not about expressive means. To me, the foundation of the performance lies in the consistence of the presence. It doesn’t matter how it will go. It has to do with what you say or do or don’t do, but it’s about saturation. That’s not the case in 99% of the performances, and the percent left is what matters. The very idea of what is perceived as a genre is institutionalized and diverts to crazy people. Some nuts do bullshit, only for the sake of the effect. That’s why Ivo Dimchev is great – no matter how do you call it. But he starts from there. I don’t know how he will put up with this. He’s in the scheme and the system will suck him up.
AJ I thought that way about Abramovich. She constantly evolves.
VZ That’s great. She put an end to the performance. She ended it. The artist is present. The end.
AJ A very strange end.
JP It’s not strange.
VZ There’s nothing to be done.
AJ Granny is a character. She turns around the attitudes of people. That’s the trap, because an end is put.
VZ Absolutely. An end – what can be done afterwards? After the „final work”? Maybe there’s a space for some gestures, as Rouen used to say, but this presence should be seen in them. Otherwise there’s no point and everything starts looking like an inappropriate circus. And there are great skills and even physics. The performance is in a very, very bad shape.
AJ A very difficult task.