The Delocalizing Gaze (Luchezar Boyadjiev reshuffling the city)
The artist of today is not one who is creating but one who is reshuffling signs.
Leonardo or Shakespeare would be at best producers of decorative
kitsch, at worst – ideologists fortifying the trust in the
system. Already in the 50s and 60s the Situationists found
themselves in this impasse – the world overflows with meanings;
there is no more nature that one can model. They offered
two alternatives: the detouring (détournement) of the dominating semiotic order and the construction of situations.
The detouring has been practiced ever since Dada (take Mona Lisa, paint moustache).
The construction of situations provides a certain totalizing
element. The main work of art is life itself, which is being
organized as resistance to the dominating symbolic order.
But what is life? Unlike their predecessors – Wagner, Tolstoy
and Bogdanov – the Situationists did not believe in the mystical
substance of the subject. The stage they were to perform
their detours could only be the material trace of living,
the city. The total spectacle which power is organizing for
us is unfolding in space, resistance will have to unfold
in space as well.
What do we call a city? The city surrounded with a magic furrow, and which can
be undone only if the furrow is ploughed in reverse; the
City of God as a moral, utopian task; the city of fraternization,
the collective feeding ritual founding the inhabitants’ fraternity;
the city that is constructing triumphal arches to welcome
the ruler which it is to “wed”; the temple-city, the market-city,
Since the middle of the 19th century the city has been encompassing man with
an ever-denser wall of virtual images. By this I mean images
of things we know to be located elsewhere. The Neo-Classical,
Neo-Gothic, Neo-Baroque or Neo-Byzantine styles in urban
construction that were meant to legitimize the new forms
of statehood are good examples of that: here, in the modern
city, you read architectural quotations from other epochs
suggesting tradition, stability and so on. Take advertising,
take the increasingly rapid changes in the fashions for cloths,
cars, goods, names of restaurants and the exotic cuisine
served there… – more and more otherness is injected into
urban space. This is the very definition of urbanity: a space
saturated with otherness (The city is the motherland of foreigners,
says Montesquieu). Therefore, adding a virtual dimension
to the city spectacle intensifies the city principle itself:
more and more otherness per square inch.
The city is a total spectacle and, as Guy Debord used to insist, a spectacle
signifies passivity; the spectacle is a kind of a social
relation, which transforms the spectator into a submissive
consumer of meanings. There is only one way to resist: the
detouring of the mighty streams of signs in order to construct
situations through which the individual will disturb the
total spectacle, they will create unexpected semiotic contexts
and re-appropriate the space that has already been expropriated
What exactly the Situationists had in mind when they were talking about constructing
situations, is hard to see today. The main thing, though,
is that these are non-spectacles. Power is staging triumphal
arches and fields of Mars, but instead of freezing in reverence,
you are drawing around idiotic zigzags, trying to pee somewhere
in the shadows.
| Hot City Visual. Detail - Hot Line for Visual Irregularities
The urban reshufflings of L.B. are thinkable only in the context of the total
spectacle, in a world that has been filled up with meanings.
There are digitalized soldiers, Gypsies and stray dogs peering
through the windows of the residency of the Swiss Ambassador
in Sofia. A century ago this would have been considered a
critical-realist action – harsh social reality is reflected
and framed in didactics by the humanist artist.
There are no social suggestions in the works of L.B. since social layers themselves
are not related in a hierarchy. There is nobody to sympathize
with anybody else. One day the Ambassador turned up in Sofia,
whether via Swiss Air or the computer, it doesn’t really
matter – it is as simple as that. Some are here, others are
there and the question is not about who is happier than somebody
else but about the arbitrary way in which they are differentiated.
Spatiality is articulated differently. Instead of isolating myself with fences,
instead of piling up feathers and straws in the nest of my
private world, today I am piercing its walls with as many
openings as possible. The space, which is the most intimate,
the most “mine”, is where there are the most screens, frames,
windows, etc., i.e. it is the space saturated with as much
otherness as possible. In other words, the urban principle
has been transferred to the private sphere; the private is
urbanized, it becomes a coexistence of otherness. Or to use
the language of an earlier work by L.B., my intimate space
is the space where images from a different space where I
used to live can be projected. This is how things are seen
by psychology. Unconsciously in a new home we always look
for traces of the old one, which is the source of the strange
un-coziness (which Freud calls das Unheimliche) caused by
forgotten infantile fears and suppressed desires. The literalization
of the memory, its projection on a semi-transparent screen, abolishes the dramatic tension between memory and forgetfulness.
The time (of forgetting, of remembering) is shortened, and
the two spaces coexist one next to the other. One may see
it as a kind of depressive surrealism.
Let me emphasize that this is not about illusion. A full transfer into the other
space, as can be experienced in holographic shows at theme
parks or under the helmet of the computer simulator, would
still be part of the spectacle. The aesthetic the artist
is searching for is in the literalization of the single-spaced-ness,
in the shock of curtailment of time.
The post-local society provides you with opportunities to be constantly elsewhere.
In the intimate space of your room there is the TV or computer
screen where various political, scientific, intimate, etc.
events take place. You sit at a table with some people talking
on the phone to others. You look for the most exotic touristic
stage in order to feel you come from somewhere else. You
hunt for signs of the latest fashion; you fall in love with
new sounds, and new food... This is a continuous absent-mindedness,
or rather, split-mindedness.
We are here at the heart of progress. Freud says, my daughter, for example,
is in the US, but she could call me any time over the phone.
And this is progress. But is not progress itself – the steam
engines, the ships, etc. – the cause of father and daughter
being thousands of miles apart? The undertaking is rather
ambiguous: on one side progress is separating us, but on
the other it is connecting the newly formed fragments. If
the world was not fragmented then space would be a pile of
huge unarticulated lumps (Freud and his daughter happily
living together); however, had technical means not provided
for a new kind of fragmented togetherness, then the world
would have been as atomized as Hanna Arendt describes it
in the totalitarian society (the two are irreversibly separated).
Since L.B. does not want to waste our time, he expresses
this complex concept through the instantaneity of the “cut
and paste” command.
By dissolving into fragments you are slipping out of the place where they can
get you, in order to avoid sanction. You are no longer where
they are looking for you; you have projected desire onto
another self. The freer you are, the more fragments there
are. At the end of the process there is the total collapse
of space, everything has infiltrated everything else according
to the rhizome principle. Everybody is simultaneously everywhere,
i.e. nowhere. At this point, the word “sanction” has no longer
any meaning, because everyone has found themselves at both
of its ends – they are at the same time sanctioned and sanctioning,
an executioner and a victim. That is the utopia point. You
are never separated from anything, but you are never irreversibly
linked to anything either; you are not dead, but you are
not really alive either.
One can get to the utopia of mono-space through the high technology of the first
world, as well as through the entropy of the third world,
i.e. as much via division, regulation, and articulation,
as via interiorization, imitation, ambiguity. In the first
instance the subject keeps the process increasingly under
control that is symbolized, say, by the scepter of the remote
control, which makes it possible for them to zap faster and
faster from screen to screen; in the second instance the
subject has less and less power to stop the avalanche of
announcements on the trees, stenciled T-shirts or neighbors’
parties from invading his/her world. This stems from the
ambiguous core of desire, which asks for the sanction and
at the same time wants to avoid it. Needless to say, the
two processes are simultaneous, i.e. if high up on top of
the buildings more and more specific advertising campaigns
are unfolding, then low down in the gutter, a deeper and
deeper visual mud is being deposited.
The reshufflings of L.B. follow Nietzsche’s logic: what is shaking should be
shoved away. If the locations in the world surrounding us
are irreversibly sticking together, he is there to give a
hand in order to get rid of the last remaining principles
of differentiation. Take the horizontal. At the accessible
to the human hand locations on the lower street level people
are pasting self-made advertisements. The higher you go the
more you need ladders, permissions and scale; with height
the prices get higher as well. High – expensive, low – cheap;
high up are the all-powerful corporations, at the lowest
level is the neighborhood craftsman. The natural grinning
Roma ends up on the façade usually reserved for transnational beauties; the neighborhood key maker is
taking over the place of the Philips logo.
The reshufflings performed by L.B. reveal the arbitrariness of this seemingly
physical reality. Did we not think until recently that it
is somehow normal that there should be sacral places, festive
places, market places, and intimate places? Christians oriented
their graves to the East, Muslims avoided urinating in the
direction of Mecca, and geomancers built their houses according
the earth’s magnetic fields. Then, one day somebody put an
icon in their living room, while somebody else installed
the bowl of their lavatory without using a compass… Then
there came L.B. and out of an anonymous window on the Parliament
building somebody hung their laundry, while on top of the
Presidential office building a new neon sign “President AG”
appears. Everything is possible especially when everything
is virtual. By the way, there is another literalism here
because “virtual” means “possible”.
Now we understand why L.B. has become so addicted to the computer that he even
uses it to draw the houses of the Old City of Plovdiv from
life. The computer is the very form of confusion - it is
the collapse of space. I do not have in mind monumental illusions
built up by power with a lot of money, equipment and ideological
investment, but an amateur, almost childish game – he can
steal the figure of the Tsar Liberator off his horse, he
can put guards of honor in front of the key maker’s “office”
not to convey some glorious idea, but just in order to confuse
the places. Purposefulness without purpose.
Do we need different spaces in order to be human? Is the collapse of space not
going to cause the disappearance of desire as well, which
is, as Lacan says, motivated by prohibition, by otherness?
I do not know if the digital pantheism of L.B. has a critical potential. In
a way, there is no other artist who is less critical in the
traditional modernist sense of the word. You just need to
recall his work where he calculated the exact cost of his
creative persona to foreign sponsors. His main method is
to stage depression, his own absence – look, there are two
colliding spaces but I am not here. On the other hand, the
“I am not here” could be interpreted as an accusation against
a world that has left no room for me. It is the aporia we
now know to have no answer.
The problem of the Situationists was that the spectacle spilled over the whole
social sphere. It is not just diffuse, as Debord has it,
in the sense of being scattered around in fragments. It is
reflexive in the sense of being interiorized. The spectacle
is everywhere because humans self-stage themselves everywhere.
They see themselves in images, roles, and narratives (including
the narrative of the constructor of situations who is struggling
with the spectacle). Because the problem is not in the saturation
of reality with meaningful objects, but rather its transformation
into an object of the all-seeing gaze. The problem is cultural
panopticum. The noble savage of Rousseau found himself in
a TV game where the most natural one will get the big prize.
In this sense, in playing “everything is possible” we speak
not so much about the world, as about the new way in which
we see it: not as a reality, but as a possibility.