“I am telling stories in space” – Interview with Nedko SOLAKOV

By Anna Savitskaya - Tuesday, November 18, 2014
“I am telling stories in space” – Interview with Nedko SOLAKOV

Nedko Solakov, a Bulgarian artist, well known for his narrative works, combining texts on life observations and all possible media he works in, gave an interview to Artdependence Magazine.

“I am telling stories in space” – Interview with Nedko SOLAKOV

Nedko Solakov, a Bulgarian artist, well known for his narrative works, combining texts on life observations and all possible media he works in, gave an interview to Artdependence Magazine. Fears and concerns, expectations and disappointments – all range of human feelings find reflection in Solakov's work. Humorous and melancholic at the same time, the works tell each viewer it's own story. Artdependence had an opportunity to talk with Nedko Solakov about his education, exhibitions, themes of the artworks and stories behind them as well as his extensive archive.

Artdependence Magazine: The first question is an obvious one, of course, it is concerning your website: the official and non-official part. Is it criticism of your government in its whole or how the Bulgarian government deals with art policies?

Nedko Solakov: Yes, it is a sarcastic comment towards all Bulgarian institutions, which are supposed to support contemporary art, in particular what I am doing. During all these years I got zero support. That official "entrance" to my website serves also as a first, basic line of defence against superficial journalists who want an interview—quite a few during the years when we met have said "You know, there is something wrong with your website, it's under construction". Then I show them the door.  

AD: In the 80s before the decline of the communist Bulgarian regime you were already a respected artist.  An important moment at that time was the critical exhibition The City? in Sofia.  How do you reflect on that time?

NS: Bulgaria has a unique development; we had no underground art before the changes. Back in 1986, an art critic (Philip Zidarov) approached us—five young, relatively successful and respected young painters—with the request to do a show under one condition: to have no paintings in the show. It was extremely stimulating for us and during the course of the next couple of years we were preparing the show, very excited. We ended up with installations, of course. The show was called The City? and it took part in the summer of 1988. We did several projects together in the following years. What we did is considered to be the "avant-garde" for Bulgaria, but not done by underground, non-official artists, but by relatively successful young painters. The other four artists now are respected professors in the Art Academy in Sofia, only I have no title. I am just Nedko Solakov.

I miss Socialism, maybe…, 2010

Wall painted in Chinese red, vinyl stickers; nine sofas presenting the nine Chinese characters constituting the phrase 'I miss Socialism, maybe...'; twenty-one second-hand monitors of various sizes, twenty-one films on DVD; felt-tip pen, handwritten text on wall, overall dimensions variable
Installation view: I miss Socialism, maybe…. solo exhibition, Galleria Continua / Beijing, 2010-2011
Courtesy: Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins
Photo: Oak Taylor-Smith
AD: Your drawings are the fundament of your oeuvre; it is more than just a drawing. It is a one-page story, in which the lines (text) play a huge part. It forces the viewer to think about your work. Is your purpose to question the viewer or to make your own statement?

NS: It goes both ways, together—I question the viewer with my statement, if we can call it that way. I prefer instead a statement of simple "stories". I believe that in my drawings neither the image is an illustration of the text nor the text is a simple description/caption of the image. Usually, whenever I am asked how would I describe what I do, I answer: “I am telling stories in space”. The drawings, even though not really dealing with 3-D space, have their own, mixed together text/image/text/image space.

Lost Meanings (#8), 2011

Sepia, black and white ink, and wash on paper; from a series of 12 drawings, 19 x 28 cm each
Courtesy: Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins
AD: How would you define the main themes of your artwork?

NS: Strangely enough, I have to think about this, I don't have an immediate answer. Which means that I don't really define—at least for my internal use—main themes. I am just telling stories with visual means and from my long experience I can tell that the more personal they are the more interesting they are for people. I respect the audience, even with my most arrogant towards the audience works, I still do this out of respect to the viewer.

AD: Is your work more humorous or more melancholy?

NS: It seems, both. The stories may look funny but underneath almost all of them is a kind of sadness, or melancholy, to put it more mildly.

Paintings with No Texts #9 (A Dead Moon), 2012
Oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm
Courtesy: Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins
Photo: Dimitar Solakov and Irena Ashikova
AD: In one of the interviews you said that you got really passionate about art only after the third year in the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia. What was the turning point for you?

NS: I graduated mathematic gymnasium in my home city of Gabrovo (with golden medal) and then applied to the Art Academy in Sofia, for mural painting. So, the first two years were constant labour to "reach" the level of my colleagues who had graduated from special art schools before the academy. Actually, from today's point of view, what they showed (to me) at that time was just a routine. And around my third year in the academy I started to feel myself in more friendly waters. Around that time I started making small paintings that had stories in them, still no text. Nobody really taught me how to make painting composition, which was good. But I still use the rule that our old professor used to teach us, the muralists: no matter when you, as an artist, enter the artist/architecture connection, you are always second, first is architecture. I still use this when I tell my stories in space, no matter if they are big narrative installations full of "stuff" or discreet "A (not so) White Cube" type of interventions, which are almost invisible. I always first obey architecture, then it is easy—if I did well my job, I am the "winner" in the end.

Discussion (Property), 2007

An inoperative AK-47 assault rifle, metal, wood. 12 life-size drawings of recently manufactured Bulgarian assault rifles, executed by Mihaela Vlaseva and Svetozara Alexandrova, charcoal and white chalk on paper. The MP-44 (“Sturmgewehr”), graphite, black and white ink, wash on paper. 2 video films on DVD, colour, sound, looped, duration: An Interview in Bulgarian, 1:04 min, The Russian Embassy, 5:43 min.; one monitor, one plasma screen, two DVD players. Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, wall drawing (vinyl, based on the original drawing). Glagolitic & Cyrillic Alphabets, vinyl lettering on wall, dimensions variable. Felt-tip pens, handwritten texts (all vinyl, based on the original handwriting)
Installation view: Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind, 52. Venice Biennale, 2007
Courtesy: Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins 
Photo: Ela Bialkowska
AD: In 2011–2012 you had four solo exhibitions of your work in Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Fondazione Galleria Civica di Trento, S.M.A.K., Ghent and Museu Serralves, Porto, showing your artistic practice from 1981 to 2011. The idea was to select one work for each year. And the title of the exhibitions was All in Order, with Exceptions, except for the one held at Fondazione Galleria Civica. The works for the Fondazione Galleria Civica you selected yourself out of the “rejected” ones that also influenced the title All in (My) Order, with Exceptions. From the selections made by three different curators from the respective venues you had a wonderful opportunity to see how different your artwork is conceived and what each curator found more appropriate for the show in line with his vision. What was different about these four selections?
NS: The selections were different and not so different at the same time. Out of 30 years only four works/years were the same in all three venues, the curators’ choices overlapped for years 1982, 1989, 1990, and 1996. That was my personal motivation to have these four retrospectives, which were one retrospective and four retrospectives at the same time. Better quote here the concept that was on the back of the 400-pages big catalogue and was always displayed at the beginning of the shows:

It went like this—I prepared for the curators' meeting in my Sofia studio in early January 2011 as precise and concise visual information as possible for all the sensible works I have done since my graduation from the Sofia Art Academy in 1981. Thirty years of production, 5,683 files, 14.2 gigabytes altogether, put on fancy memory sticks for everybody. We went through all of them in two days (seeing also, in original, all of the pre-1989 works). At the end of the second day, all the curators came to a consensus and selected the best works for each year (I didn't interfere, mostly). You can see the selected works now presented as thumbnails on all thirty spreads related to the thirty years of art making. Later each one of them selected only one work per year; some works overlapped, some didn't. These works which will be presented live in the venues are nicely placed on many pages, with a yellow mark for Ikon, a blue one for S.M.A.K., and red for Serralves. Out of the broad selection, I made the so-called folders for each year, which the visitors can look through and read while sitting on the folders' crates. Some of these are also inside the book. As you can see from the title, all this is called All in Order, with Exceptions. But there is a special insert into this traveling show—in Galleria Civica Trento, I will do All in (My) Order, with Exceptions. I have selected works out of the works initially rejected by the curators, the best of the bad ones. They have gray dots. Enjoy, if you can; I am tired.

AD: And did you like the experience of curating your own show?

NS: I always curate myself, not only at Galleria Civica in Trento.

Knights (and other dreams), 2010-2012

Multilayered media, dimensions variable
Brothers Grimm Museum, dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, 2012
Courtesy: the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins
Photo: Ela Bialkowska, OKNO STUDIO

AD: You already have a huge archive of work, did you ever think of making a kind of digital public “domain” or is it more your own “box of memories”, private and intimate?

NS: The new (year 2011) work in that 30-year retrospective covering the 1981–2010 period was "The Folders", which were ... better quote their media description: “1353 pages, printed in colour, laminated, 29,7 x 21 cm each; collected in four sets of thirty-two folders, with yellow covers for Ikon Birmingham, gray covers for Galleria Civica Trento, blue covers for S.M.A.K. Ghent, and red covers for Museu Serralves, Porto; all thirty-two folders displayed in three crates, one for each decade, for viewers to view if they want to”. The crates, when opened, turn into comfortable seats, so the people can sit and look at what I have done during all these years and can place the original work in front of them, representing a certain year, into the context of all works I have done in that year, which are in that particular (matching the year) folder. So, all these 1353 pages are on my website but there is also an app for iPad dedicated to my "Knights (and other dreams)" dOCUMENTA (13) project, where I also included the Ikon set of yellow folders (into the dream of the very young artist in the last room of Brothers Grimm Museum in Kassel). Download the app for free and you can look at all 1353 pages, digitalized.

Personal site of Nedko Solakov is here.

Anna is a graduate of Moscow’s Photo Academy, with a previous background in intellectual property rights. In 2012 she founded the company Perspectiva Art, dealing in art consultancy, curatorship, and the coordination of exhibitions. During the bilateral year between Russia and The Netherlands in 2013, Perspectiva Art organized a tour for a Dutch artist across Russia, as well as putting together several exhibitions in the Netherlands, curated by Anna. Since October 2014, Anna has taken an active role in the development and management of ArtDependence Magazine. Anna interviews curators and artists, in addition to reviewing books and events, and collaborating with museums and art fairs.

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