from 10 December 2011 to 18 February 2012

presence, a solo show by hr-stamenov

young european artist trieste contemporanea 2011



Previous editions of the award

Below we publish the text curator Iara Boubnova wrote for the twelfth Young European Artist Trieste Contemporanea, assigned on December the 10th, 2011 to the bulgarian artist HR-Stamenov. 

Look concentrated at the world and
look for a possible action that
probably never took place before.

Mark Manders, Instruction, 1998. In: Do It, Hans
Ulrich Obrist (ed.), 2005

HR-Stamenov is a Bulgarian born; Italy educated; based in Germany contemporary artist who is convinced that there are miracles indeed.

Among its numerous and vastly diverse qualities life today is characterized by an ever diminishing human ability to get jolted out of one’s senses, to be startled while missing a heartbeat and being full of irrational ecstasy. The world today is “defined” by an ever increasing perfectionism and obviously can be measured in all kinds of ways. At the time of overwhelming but superficial availability of information and universal access to it, it seems that we know more and more about how things happen. So, we do not see much sense in being either astonished or startled. Even when we cover in a matter of just a few hours thousands of kilometers while flying high above the clouds we tend to stay glued to a silly monitor or complain because of the tight seats. We hardly ever realize now that we are taking part in an amazing miracle – the act of flying!

Even art that has been for ages a mediator linking man with the world of miracles is ever less willing to take the chance of dealing with such functions. The anxious art audience of today is bombarded with images from all sides. She/he is navigating the visual sphere by force of habit and if you want to jolt him/her out of the routine you need to build up a special set of very complex circumstances indeed. In his concept for the famous exhibition Iconoclash at the ZKM in Karlsruhe (Germany, 2002) Bruno Latour, one of the curators of the show, defines our time as characterized by a “deep and disturbing uncertainty about the role, power, status, danger, violence of an image or a given representation…”. As interpreted by the artist HR-Stamenov the above requires the viewer be “pulled out” of the state of visual confusion by means of art. In this task HR-Stamenov is counting on the unique human ability to utilize the two seemingly opposite ways in which we experience the world; he is harnessing the rational and the emotional, the two hemispheres of the brain, do the job together.

The works of HR-Stamenov often constitute some kind of “effect”. This is not in the way known as the basis of the “society of spectacle”; his are closer to the effects of nature as researched and taught by the standard course in physics. Based on theories, scientific investigation, experimental material as well as on hypothesis and yet unproven suppositions, his works appeal to the tradition of emotion in visual arts as much as to the space of modern science and knowledge. In some way, the performative installations of HR-Stamenov, often in format of video, are emanation of the up to date knowledge visualizations. This is not simply a translation of fact into the language of visual art producing an artifact; these works exist in connection to causes, histories, experiences, relations, values, expectations, opinion and even prophecies.

A whole cycle of works is dedicated to teleportation, the old but as yet unfulfilled dream of generations of scientists, writers and sci-fi characters. The artist is using the word “teleportation” while explaining the mysterious disappearance of a train in Bulgaria some years ago with some kind of a light hole (W24° 58’59,43” N42° 07’55,29”, 2009-2010). The unexplored qualities of this phenomenon are making it a multi-exit space/time portal that is the reason why this train is making appearances at different places and in different times. Not without irony for the condition of the people’s minds of today that have been heavily brainwashed by the speculative mass media, HR-Stamenov is in fact “staging the conditions of possibility” for the phenomenon of this train’s appearance to be observed. He is choosing a moment and a situation to invite his audience to untraditional locations around Florence, Milan and Munich in order that they become eyewitnesses for the seemingly unexplainable occurrence (unlike going to an art exhibition with its predefined rituals).

Variable Physical Status (2011) is a short visual narrative about a typical Bulgarian politician (played by the artist himself) who finds himself in a similar situation to the one with the train – the figure of the politician disappears swallowed by light. The carefully chosen interior design of the politician’s office, the clothing and his tense behavior are possibly not the centre of attention in this work, which as usual for this artist, is accompanied by an almost fully convincing “scientific” description of the observed phenomenon. The second viewing of the work reveals further subtleties and one realizes that the logic of visual perception, which has been analyzed in art over the centuries, is used here with comprehension beyond the simple natural/scientific effect. As they say about the realistic theater – the author is very convincing through the use of detail.

Another character that has disappeared through the light hole is the character of T.S. and he has transgressed not only the limits of the known reality (Disappearance of bio element into light hole / disappearance of T. S. / The phenomenon from 16:34’52. 29.03.2010) but also those of the single artwork by the artist. T.S. makes appearances in real but not sufficiently explored circumstances while being transformed into a ghost filmed by the artist on the roof of an ancient building (The spirit of T.S.). Naturally for a modern man to admit seeing ghosts is a rather suspicious affair. That is why HR-Stamenov supports his unique ability with historical evidence, for instance the photograph of The Brown Lady, an ancient British apparition that was shot by Captain Provand and Indre Shira in 1936 in Raynham Hall in Norfolk. According to the artist, when such a claim is supported and justified by historical evidence it becomes quite possible.

Usually HR-Stamenov is building up his scenarios himself. He is also engaged with the “staging” of the spectacle-evidence, with the selecting and preparing the locations, directing the links between the multimedia elements of his works, as well as documenting the results. Well within the postulates of relational aesthetics, the material embodiment of the project does not seem to be quite as important as the system of communication where he engages with his public. However, this communication is meant to not really provide information about where and when, as much as it is meant to trigger the synchronous workings of the two hemispheres of the human brain. In most of the art works of HR-Stamenov the evolving of the thinking process, the shifting hypothesis and the accumulation of evidential material is fixed in series of drawings with texts. These remind us of the pencil and chalk explorations of the early 20th century physicists (for instance, those involved with the Manhattan Project). Later in art, such visual format is associated with the lectures/performances of Joseph Beuys. In any event, the quasi scientific character of this kind of drawing is important in its difference from the more traditional type of artistic drawing of images. The nature of this documentation is a further confirmation of the “scientific qualities” of the finished work and each new addition to the set of “evidences” from researchers and historians makes the narrative ever more realistic.

HR-Stamenov is diligently striving to make light an equally important medium for the creation of his works and images. He is well versed in the role of light in the history of art. Nonetheless, the traditional treatment of light as “depicted” light or as “incorporated” light does not seem to be relevant for him anymore. Although one may choose to search for the sources of “his” light in the transforming power of the light of Mount Tabor made famous in the iconology and doctrines of some mystic sects within the Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the much closer predecessors of HR-Stamenov are the modern artists, the classics of research and investigation such as Josef Albers with his afterimage; Hans Hofmann with his hue generated spatial perception; or even Andy Warhol and his psychedelic color experimentation.

Art and science are still looking for their tight alliance in the works of this young artist who is challenging himself with combinations of newer media and narratives of various ages. In the installation Interference: Between Light and Matter (2009) the ordinary material presence of piles of flour within the exhibition hall is being physically changed under the influence of light, which confirms its potential to transform. In the cycle Space 0 Space (2010) the very perception of the viewers is being transformed. HR-Stamenov is actually taming the thunderstorm, in his own words describing the work. Instead of happening where mighty forces of nature see fit to “orchestrate” it (or even at a specially constructed setting in New Mexico after the decision of Walter de Maria), the thunderstorms and the lightening strike the interior spaces of a small Venetian palace or various houses in Turin. The unprepared passersby who witness the thunderbolt and the reflections of lightening through the windows might even feel like being kin of the ancient gods.

The taming of natural forces is a special theme in the context of contemporary art, which has been prophesied to experience the death of the author for a long time now… However, HR-Stamenov does not seem to acknowledge such a possibility; he is counting on the demiurgical potential of the artist creator. One of his most poetic works is a performative installation/video – The Nightmare of Prometheus (2011). The role of the Overlord is played by the charismatic Alzek Misheff, the well known Italian artist of Bulgarian origin. In the interior hall with the refined decorations of Palazzo Thea he is mastering the lightning and the thunder looking more like a famous conductor than like the threatening Nordic Thor or the “anthropocentric” Prometheus. With the help of sophisticated synchronization of audio and video equipment in real time, the artist-like-God is able to subdue the forces of nature almost completely.

In his newest work Presence (2011) for his solo show at the Studio Tommaseo in Trieste (Italy) HR-Stamenov is once again, although with a more modest set of associations, bringing the romantic project back within the space of contemporary art that is not really treated to much poetics nowadays. Counting on the interactive technologies, on the actual presence of the viewer as well as on the shadow of the ghost, the artist is indirectly confirming the influential statement made by Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

Iara Boubnova

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