Luchezar Boyadjiev

Luchezar Bojadjiev is an artist whose career spanned the transition from communism to post-communism in Bulgaria, and while much of his work reflects an ongoing interest in the notion of transition, it equally reflects an interest in breaking out of the institution and Cold War binaries of East and West, toward a more global orientation.

Luchezar was looked to as an authority figure in the art scene in Bulgaria in the 1980s. He had left Sofia in 1980 and lived temporarily in New York City, accessing all that the art world had to offer at the time. When he returned to Bulgaria, the contemporary/experimental/unofficial art scene was just burgeoning, and Luchezar brought with him information and advice from the US on how the art world ran, and how to navigate one’s way into it. This was information that could be put to good use at a time when Bulgarian artists were just beginning to find their feet on the global stage, and understanding the role of a curator or function of a residency was valuable knowledge that came in handy for those artists who chose to access it.

Luchezar has written and thought a lot about his position as an artist from “the East,” including not only the challenges for artists in the position, but also the similarities between the situation of artists in the West and that of the East. For example, in terms of commonalities, he mentioned that “The most enlightening moment… was when we realized that thousands of artists all over the world survive only because of residencies, state support in the form of stipends (see Holland in the 1990ies) or purchases of art works (see the FRAC system in France), and so on. The socialist system of support for the arts, as we had that before 1989, was flawed (due to its ideologically motivated background), yet it was there and to our amazement we learned that the West does have a lot of practical knowledge and experience in the field.”

That said, his 2000 piece Gast-ARTbeiter (a play on the word gastarbeiter, “guest worker,” commonly associated with migrant workers from the East in the West) uses a collection of receipts for hotel bills, flight tickets, and per diems to illustrate the manner in which he was reduced to a “valuable commodity” by the Western art world who effectively paid for his physical presence at international exhibitions, conferences and events. After realizing that all of the money spent on him had been used to bring him to places outside of his country, he decided that maybe it would have been better if he had simply received those funds as a salary. In his words: “Maybe, I said to myself, it would have been more honest and definitely better for me, if all this money was just given to me to spend here in Sofia – it would come up to $12,000 or $15,000 per year – a nice sum by all counts.

Nowadays, and perhaps as a result of these early encounters, Boyadjiev is critical of the “East/West discourse,” which he sees as “deeply outdated.” In his site-specific installation, City with a View (2008), he arranged several cinema chairs on three different rooftops in Jerusalem: five with a view to Mecca, 2 with a view to Moscow, and one to New York City, fracturing the binary gaze to produce a more global perspective. The cinema chairs emphasize the fact that “Usually it is the rest of the world that sees Jerusalem only (or mainly) through the eyes of the media on the screen of the TV monitor during a broadcast of the news.” Likewise, it is the East that has often been viewed by the armchair traveller as the exotic other, as the West projects its desires for the socialist utopia onto the East. His installation, however, allows for a more panoramic view from a location that is neither East nor West, but simply somewhere else.

Luchezar uses his art to not only break out of normative constructions, but also to bring people together, as in his Artist in Residence project, where he invited four young artists from places affected by the War in Kosovo – Skopje, Belgrade, Pristina and Tirana – to the National Gallery of the Jeu de Paume in Paris. Not only did he connect these artists by bringing them together, but he also provided an an educational experience for them, as they had to learn how to explain their work to the visitors who came to visit them in their spaces.

Luchezar told me that he is interested in “decentralizing the institution” by “going local.” As he once wrote, “As part of the so-called West I am very much interested to know about the Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem and so on art scenes.” More than anything, I think, Boyadjiev wants to be able to practice his art free from any labels such as East/West/Bulgaria or otherwise. In his words, ““I just want to ‘art.’ ”