Communication Front 2000 Book, "Crossing Points East-West"

Why 'Communication Front'?

[Crossing Points East-West]

"In the 'free world' of Western Europe, they're not welcomed with open arms at all: Western Europeans used to readily sing praises to the dissidents and refugees whose struggle went to corroborate the correctness of their own journey; they do not need crowds seeking jobs, doubtful individuals ready to sell everything at any price. Irreproachable when they had been slaves, their Eastern brothers and sisters became undesired in liberty. In a word, after the fall of the Wall there was no one around to rejoice at the former victims and to reward them."

Tzvetan Todorov [1]

Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Welcome to the Communication Front 2000!

I am often asked the question: "Why 'Communication Front'? The word 'Front' sounds rather aggressive."

Yes! – I then answer, indeed, it's not accidental that we chose the word 'FRONT,' as a kind of 'aggression,' just like the conditions of media practices and contemporary art not only in Bulgaria, but more generally in the Balkans, are an aggression. These less than favorable conditions are reinforced by the lack of substantial interest from the outside. Communication Front is indeed radical in terms of the local cultural sphere, because it is aimed at the inside and the outside and tries to circumvent the established local rules.

Over the last ten years the public language in Bulgaria has dramatically changed. There are of course two sides to this question, but despite the frequent and mostly well-founded criticism, there is no doubt that the positive aspects of this process outweigh the negative. The meaning of many words has been deeply compromised by the previous system of government, the communist dictatorship. These words, overused to the point of saturation and laden with meanings by the old system, have practically disappeared from public space. I am speaking of words like peace, solidarity, comradeship, etc. One of these words perceived as symbols of the old system is 'front,' even if the word in Bulgarian has several meanings. Bulgarian public opinion connects the word with the largest mass movement and public organization in the country in totalitarian times, the Fatherland Front.

Founded a few months before the end of WW II, the organization was supposed to symbolize the wish of Bulgarian citizens to set up a broad front for the nation-wide struggle against fascism and capitalism, and was afterwards turned from a militarized into a civic organization. It's main role was then to observe and publicly blame unconscientious socialist citizens, like those who would listen to foreign radio stations like the BBC, or who would try to obtain and distribute any other sort of forbidden and dangerous information, like jokes, forbidden books and other items undermining the socialist morality. As a matter of fact, almost to the fall of the Berlin Wall, membership in the FF was mandatory for all Bulgarian citizens. At the same time, formal and long-term membership in the organization signified that you were not eligible to be admitted into the Communist Party, which granted membership only for special and confirmed merits. After all, the members of the Communist Party were the elite of the society. These historical facts are sufficiently absurd, ridiculous, sad and tragic in themselves.

We came to an agreement that there would be a particular touch of parody in the combination of the words 'FRONT' and 'COMMUNICATION' in the public space in our local context. Opting for the present name of the project we decided in a way to try to rehabilitate the meaning of the word 'front' in Bulgarian, putting a completely new interpretation into it while at the same time making a deliberate reference to the history outlined above. We wanted to use 'front' in the double sense of 'face' and of the military term, in order to lay the grounds of the international project for electronic and media art and culture Communication Front.

At the same time we were fully aware that the 'Local Community of Media Artists' was barely noticeable at the time in the art scene, as it went through its period of 'political, historical and chronological inadequacy' with respect to the global process at the time, with the sole exception of a few prominent figures such as Iliyana Nedkova, Luchezar Boyadjiev and Ventsi Zankov who presented a more playful, provocative and critical approach toward cybernetic culture and the electronic online environment. As a matter of fact, this situation had its objective reasons. At the time, the access of the local artistic community to technology was not only substantially limited but non-existent as a dimension in their professional lives. In this line of thinking, I would like to quote the critic and art historian Svilen Stefanov:

"Even today you will easily notice that to the extent that our institutions engage in cultural exchange, this exchange is unable to disrupt decency in the sphere of art by introducing radically innovative elements. The Other is accepted only to the extent that he resembles us. If the qualities of a foreign cultural product are beyond the discriminating capacities of our institutions, it is not recognized as such."

In the same context, in his book 'Cultural Dimensions of the Visual,' published by Graffiti Publishing House, Sofia in 1998, S. Stefanov further remarks:

"These elements of profanization on an institutional level are due also to the fact that 'senses' need to be cultivated, which is a long and laborious process. The current distrust of the West toward us is due also to people in peripheral and marginalized situations simulating structures of meaning. The semantic clusters are superficially emulated while no one has any idea of the actual functioning of these structures. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall came the time of getting to know each other. History shows that this is often not a one-way process. It is known that a few years after the discovery of America, while the Spaniards were dispatching committees to ascertain whether the natives have souls, Indians were drowning white captives to see if their corpses would undergo decay.

In the concrete case of the Balkans, things tend to be even more undefined in terms of assessments, since cultural peripheries are most often semi-transparent to the outsider's gaze."

A large part of the active creative activity of the contemporary artist is directed to the 'inside' of the art system itself and caters for its inner functioning. His efforts are mainly directed towards integrating himself into the system, maintaining certain established norms, statutes and hierarchies defined by the institutions, such as the large biennials, important international exhibitions and conferences, prestigious galleries, the few collectors of contemporary art, some museums…

The social life of the artist turns out to be more of an incessant inner struggle within the art system. His work with information and communication is rather oriented inwards, towards strengthening and regenerating this structure.

The overwhelming influence of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art until just a few years ago is a well-known fact. It was the only institution funding contemporary art in this country. That undoubtedly gave it the status of the most powerful structure shaping and influencing the development of the policies in contemporary Bulgarian art, which is characterized by a lack of interest in multimedia and in the electronic online environment. At the same time, the Ministry of Culture and other smaller organizations, entangled in their numerous problems, played the part of passive spectators and had no wish to take the initiative and energetically intervene in the sphere of art.

Perhaps this explains in part the generally positive attitude of the Bulgarian community of media artists toward the Internet. They see in it a powerful instrument for developing and democratizing the existing system for disseminating information. Naturally, this increased interest led to distinct novelties in the strategies for presenting and financing projects of Bulgarian artists and organizations. The wish to bypass local state and non-governmental institutions in the field of culture and art is only too apparent, given their passivity and complete lack of interest in new media in the arts. The local art community has entered a period in which we can discern the appearance of global traits and tendencies that stretch beyond our idea of being self-sufficient, in an attempt to overcome at least in part our provincial problems.

text by dimitrina sevova

Translated from Bulgarian by Ivan Ivanov and Alain Kessi


Notes

[1] Tzvetan Todorov, In a Foreign Land (Bulgarian edition; not available in English), "Open Society" Publishing House, Sofia, 1998; for the French original: Tzvetan Todorov, L'homme depaysť, Editions du Seuil, octobre 1996.


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