Question 1. Ralph Rugoff writes that this year’s exhibition, entitled May You Live in Interesting Times,‘will no doubt include artworks that reflect upon precarious aspects of existence today, including different threats to key traditions, institutions and relationships of the “post-war order.”’ How do you feel that the work that you are presenting as part of your curated project responds to this set of concerns? (Or, for curators, how do the curatorial choices you have made respond to this set of concerns?)
Vera Mlechevska: I’m very proud to represent my country. Bulgarian participation in Venice this year is important for me mainly because of how it happened. For the very first time we had a transparent open call and an independent jury charged with the task of appointing the participants. This exhibition was financially supported by the state, which is a good sign. The state officials recognised the necessity of supporting contemporary culture, not only historical heritage. That is a very important step for our internal state of affairs. It means we live in the present, not in the past.
Talking about state presentation, we should not forget that we are not necessarily bound by state frontiers. We often share the same problems with some very distant territory. For instance, what is central to our project is the means of production and how we value and consume the material world. This isn’t a local topic at all: we produce goods meant to last only for as long as they remain beautiful and attractive. The concept of their production is focused entirely on the surface. That is all these products sometimes are—a bare surface.
Lazar Lyutakov: I understand the curator’s set of concerns also as a reflection on conflicts between individualism and community, nationality and globalisation, aesthetics and ideology. The exhibition How We Live in the Bulgarian Pavilion is an attempt to adapt to the materiality of the everyday in that context.
Question 2. What does it mean for you as an artist, a curator, or a curatorial team to represent your country? How does the structure of the Venice Biennial, with its individual national pavilions, influence your choices as a participant? What does it mean, in terms of the current state of European and world politics, for us to emphasise national representation in the arts sector?
Lyutakov: Working in the national pavilion at the Biennial is definitely an opportunity that carries with it a certain symbolism. To me, this structure of national pavilions is an interesting framework which offers the potential to comment on our understanding of nationality and representation. On a number of occasions countries were represented by ‘foreign’ authors. I myself have been living abroad for many years and I feel an active part of the scene both there and in Bulgaria.
Rada Boukova: This question of representing a country or being able to speak on behalf of your country is a vast one and probably comes up at each edition of the Biennale. It resonates even more today because the notion of ‘nation’ is closely linked to belonging to a state and the rights that this state can guarantee us. In today’s global world, we are not equal according to the nation to which we belong. It is curious to know that for our project we have chosen to work only with the budget that the Bulgarian state has allocated for its national participation. This provoked many topics for discussion. The way the pavilion project has been carried out has had a boomerang effect and has raised the debate about what culture is, the role of the state in culture, and public cultural policy. Somehow it is a desirable influence since the beginning of our project How We Live.
Question 3. How do the choices you’ve made in your national pavilion relate to recent developments in your artistic or curatorial practice? What do you hope that your creative decisions in this project will contribute to your work going forward?
Lyutakov: My works here are a series of objects interpreting and building on work from 2017. It was the result both of my interest in materials, form, the creative process and of my desire to explore the link between the way a given commodity is produced and the way it is distributed and the market relations that are at work in that process. I chose this work because I wanted to take advantage of the specific context shaped by the city, the Bienniale and the national representation, and include those in the impact this work has. I often change and develop my works after I first present them so for me this is just a stage in a continuous process.
Boukova: Before participating in the Venice Bienniale, I used to define my artistic practice as an ‘anti-studio practice’, because not having a studio practice appeared to be the best guarantee of never ever repeating myself… for my practice to become its own private academia being then the worst thing that could ever happen to me.
That’s what I used to think… For the first time, when reflecting on how to approach the work for the national pavilion, I found it relevant to settle a creation protocol, a ‘studio practice’ consisting of the infinite combinations made possible by the filling of a ‘golden number’ pattern structure with samples of coloured extruded polystyrenes, a widely used and cheap isolation material.
As well as during the Biennale, How We Live exhibitions are being shown in other cities: HWL#2 in Marseille at Art-Ô-Rama Fair, 29 Aug–1 Sep; HWL#3 in Paris at Institut Bulgare, FIAC, 18–21 Oct.
In collaboration with The Tropicool Company, I am currently preparing a film, Two or Three Things I Know About Rada Boukova: Art, Polystyrene and Philosophy, based on Jonathan Chauveau-Friggiati’s texts about my work in the Bulgarian Pavilion Catalogue.
Manca Bajec is an artist and researcher living and working in London, UK and Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Isobel Wohl is a visual artist and writer. She lives and works in London, UK and Brooklyn, NY.
For more information the Venice Biennale go to www.labiennale.org/en/…