There You Are – Bulgaria in Venice
It took an extra year, but the 59th Venice biennial finally opened last week. As always, there was more to be seen than a person can absorb in a few days. In addition, the festive social distractions of the opening days were a pleasant challenge. After scrolling through my pictures, wondering what to select for this report, I decided to dedicate it to the contribution of the country that brought me to Venice in the first place: The Bulgarian Pavilion with There You Are by Michail Michailov, curated by Irina Batkova.
Participation in the Venice Biennale has not always been obvious for Bulgaria, which certainly has nothing to do with the big amount of great and interesting artists whose roots originate in this country. Michail Michailov is one of them, though not dominantly present, but the more visible to those who pay attention.
Until this biennial, I wasn’t aware of Mikhailov’s existence, which probably tells more about me, but also has a beautiful link with his work: it seems to merge with the environment it is created for, including the spectators who become part of it. It is an investigation into the meaning of the so-called meaningless. An attempt to find answers to fundamental existential questions about who we are as human beings and what we are doing here on planet earth, or even beyond that, as energetic particles floating through space.
In the exhibition catalogue Michailov declares: “I often ask myself what is real and what is not, or what makes sense and what does not. What makes something to be declared as ‘important’. In this context, I then also ask myself what actually has value and why.”
At least these thoughts do make sense, already at the entrance of the pavilion. Here, parts of everyday objects that we tend to use to hang “stuff” on our walls, the walls we inhabit, to make ourselves feel “at home” and parts of tools we’re used to use to “clean” those spaces between our walls, are transformed into objects of which merely shape, material and structure seem to matter instead of their former practical function. This transformation forces the spectator to observe the objects from scratch, as a newborn. Forces, because it’s needed to actively turn a switch to unlearn a broom is not a broom, but wood and hair in a certain shape, corresponding with its surroundings.
I turn around and behind a glass window, I look into an almost infinitely deep white box. In the back the artist’s head sticks through the bottom. His eyes half shut he seems to be far away from the here and now. In that sense, the title There You Are might be a reminder to be more aware of our true selves and our presence in the present. Another “exercise” in this, we experience in the next room.
Here, in a literal sense, the stage is set for the trail of remains that we creatures leave behind on a daily basis, just as long as it takes until our bodies are entirely transformed into it. With utmost precision (what we recognise as) hair, dust and bits of fluff are drawn in pencil on a white surface. A substance that we are used to perceive as dirt and wipe out of our existence with objects made of wood and hair in a certain shape, in this way is presented as an extraordinary phenomenon, which it might well be. At the same time, looking at the detailed hyper-realistic drawing makes one feel the amount of time the artist must have spent with his pencil on the surface, like a report of the dust settling and time passing.
There You Are is a total installation that connects time, space and entity, and reveals a parallel world to those who take time to look at it.