What are the things that bind and tie us to the Center for Social Vision, the platform we launched in late 2021? This is a document of a recent meeting with participants in the first phase of the Center, held in late April. The purpose of this conversation was to once again raise some of the key themes we've been discussing over time, but also to allow us to summarise some of our thoughts alongside our involvement in the program. Questions were posed by Viktoria Draganova, the initiator of the platform.
What makes a place a 'center'? And what then is a 'center', what type of organization, structure, institutionality emerge? If 'center' is that around which we gather, then – thinking with Bruno Latour and The Parliament of Things – who do we influence each other? Don't we, indeed, produce through our very association what we gather around?
Ivan Bonev For a place to become a 'center', it needs to bring together people with a shared vision and interests. The more different people contribute, the more the place becomes a product of its participants, their center. The participants must be like-minded so that together they can pursue common goals, to create something more than what they started with.
Dima Stefanova Or maybe people with a common intention, because we all have different backgrounds.
Ivan Bonev Or with shared values? I think that's why we came together and responded to the invitation (to participate in the Centre for Social Vision - ed.), because we all see problems and potential, generally things that we would like to change in the context of the social. The desire of each of us to contribute to one of the next steps in these processes is, I guess, the reason we are here.
Filip Boyadjiev For me, people are what make a place a center, I would even say the person. The energy that swirls in the collaboration between individuals is the force that can focus or defocus. I would also add that even if a group starts without the mindset to build such focus, but manages to channel the things that unite and the calm in the differences, it is inevitable to arrive at a center. Formal or informal, it doesn't matter.
Vasil Vladimirov 'Center' for me is more a symbolic concept than a spatial one. My first association with the center is gravity. People, events, ideas, and organizations gravitate around a center. In this sense, a place becomes a center when it starts to bring together different meanings, practices, and experiences. As well as when it creates a field for mutual existence in the context of a common, larger and more inclusive plan. The center is inclusive and balances different ideas and voices. The center, or the pool in this particular case, as a physical object and institution, acts as a facilitator. Not that it doesn't have some autonomy, but in my view, a center is the collection of projects, initiatives, and individuals that it supports, manages, and facilitates.
Ivan Bonev I'm reading Think Like a Mountain (Aldo Leopold, Think Like a Mountain, Penguin Books Limited, 2021 - ed.) and the very first pages talk about some cranes living in a swamp. It describes how each generation of the flock leaves its bones at the bottom and they become the foundation of the next. I like that as a metaphor for the processes here - we will be the first to leave something at the bottom of the empty pool, and someone will step on it later to dig it up, build on it, or shape it in some other way.
Andrea Popyordanova Maybe it's also about forming traditions. It's not necessarily, but that's how it worked for us - our meetings were at a certain time every Wednesday, with certain topics and people.
Slava Savova I imagine a 'center' as a school from which many threads go in many directions, a kind of knot in which many skills and perspectives are intertwined – in this case on social processes. And it seems to me that these threads are already visible, in our conversations, in our contacts outside the 'center', projected onto new initiatives.
Stefan Ivanov I liked the metaphor with the swamp. It's nice that there is a pool, which is not metaphorical. It seems to me that it doesn't matter who contributes what exactly because the process itself is going on, even if the pool is empty, even if there is disagreement about the process - it is happening.
It's encouraging that even in some untimely times, in times of pandemic and war, we keep talking and everyone keeps asserting her theme and ground. When we encounter some foreign space, creativity, or values, we try to enrich our territory without harming someone else's. And, it is gratifying that we find some common ground.
We don't stay in some no-man's space, but we negotiate what it is, we talk, we share, we negotiate it. Everything can be a 'center'. I generally don't like the very notion of 'center' because it implies that something has priority over something else that is not in the center, but there can be a 'center' in the marginal fields, there can be in the corner. As someone with all kinds of anxieties, I like to sit in the corner, watching and listening. And really, it was very interesting for me to watch and wonder if we can fill this place, this pool and 'center' with our actions, with our talk, and what will happen. Another thing I liked is that this is also a project that is horizontal and radically inclusive, but also anyone can speak, not speak, or even refuse to participate.
Rumena Kalcheva So far we've outlined the things that we contribute to this center, but I was thinking actually that each of us personally took something and learned something, and grew in some way in our project. We came in here with different ideas, and what each of us took from the others, and the 'center', is a community of our own making.
Dessislava Dimova 'Center' is a somewhat wishful name, symbolically, negatively delineated in a project like this, which is so emphatically 'decentralized' and deliberately lets centrifugal forces take it as far as possible. Centre will, I think, take on its full meaning later, in the impact of these conversations on our work individually, in the eventual change of environment.
What has been key for you in the projects we've talked about from the beginning that have gradually emerged as part of the Center for Social Vision's public program?
Stefan Ivanov For me the conversation is key. It's very important, at least for me, to talk about one's ideas and explorations and to get reactions, be they polar, and to have someone say 'that's very dumb' and another say 'that's very interesting'. There are both, the extremely negative and the extremely positive, but they can give rise to a desire for affirmation, resistance, or some kind of change. For me, the most important thing is to be able to talk about whatever it is that the artist and the person are drawn to, whatever is on their heart, imagination, obsession, or interest.
And as I was thinking about the art of conversation, I came across a very good definition, eloquent and clear, of what a boundary is in communication, "A boundary is a distance from which you can love yourself and another." And I wish that were much more apparent, because there are extremely strong economic, social, and all sorts of disparities, and many people are forced, when having any conversation, not to love themselves. I sincerely wish that more people had the freedom to love themselves and each other, and not be forced to only love the other or hate them or themselves, for one reason or another.
Andrea Popyordanova On how we talk: I work with maps in many of my projects because a map communicates very quickly, of course, faster than text. The accumulation of information itself is fascinating - after each walk (see the project "The Orchards of Mladost" - ed.) I dot the map and gradually you can see a build-up in everything I learn and discover. I like that there is just marking of ideas - a map doesn't tell everything - so people reading or using the map later can see the place through their eyes too.
Stefan Ivanov One of my favourite maps is a 17th-century French character map, the Carte de Tendre. There is a lake of indifference, a sea of despair, there is a desert of erudition, and there are all sorts of crazy maps of non-existent places - like in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. For a city, there can be a map of streets and squares, but there can be all kinds of other maps: of trees, intimate maps, and others that are extremely subjective. As in The City and the City, the novel by Chyna Mieville, where there is another city, they are in the same place at the same time. Interestingly, there can be dozens of other places in one place, and very often these other places, networks, and structures are not cared for very much, they're not watered, they're not developed, they're not flourishing, but there's enormous potential in them. As long as it's clear and acknowledged that they exist at all, of course. And that there is an achieved or won consensus that they are important.
Dima Stefanova Talking about potential, we are trying to see things from a different perspective. We try to understand the invisible connections to make them visible. In this regard, process and exploration are very important for us. Asking questions is our most powerful tool when we want to dig into this reality, the needs, and the problems.
Ivelina Gadzheva I would add that what brought us together here and is a fundamental part of our practice is the search - we didn't come here with ready-made laws or statements, but we are all searching both in creativity and in artistic research. Because the answers are not constant, they will always evolve.
And if I can ask you directly the central question for us: what is social for you?
Andrea Popyordanova For me this moment with the social is probably the most difficult in my whole project and in the work, which involves other people who are outside my environment, and doing something outside, not at home, watching from a distance. I was nervous about the idea of asking questions of strangers. It's very interesting though, and I think you can make the most inspiring discoveries by interacting with people or an environment. To do that it has to be on the spot and involve a lot of time.
Ivan Bonev Part of my day job as a designer is to work with a wide range of people. From those who can afford to hire a team of architects or graphic designers, to those who have to organize the design activities, to every single worker who has to implement the intentions of the team. In this process, you have to be able to translate the intent and the end goal into many different social languages. Accordingly, you are faced with many different perspectives that will find different positives and negatives in every detail of the whole. Communicating the same thing in multiple languages is both challenging and enriching, but on top of that, it gives a very good insight into the different social strata and manifestations of our society.
Ivelina Gadzheva In design, the question is what is the meaning of what you create, who will use it, will it solve a problem for someone, and will it contribute to a better life. It also asks the question does a service help people and who are these people - do we know these people and their fears, and what they dream about. It's important to look for the right question to solve the right problem.
Dima Stefanova Particularly in the context of the education program, it's important for us to experiment with different approaches and make the potential of a place or a situation visible. I would give some examples with the last project where we tried to create an inventory of a neighborhood in the form of skills, and materials that are not used. This is also a kind of map, which Andrea has already talked about, and in graphic design you're always looking for a structure, to set a framework, to set the conditions for revealing that potential, and for making certain connections and creating new ones. These are the things that we explore in the knowhow showhow program through different focuses and themes.
Dessislava Dimova Let's not forget that the social is also us, as representatives of what we do, in the various ways of socializing our work. The Center itself is a social experiment - organized by a specific institution, funded by a completely different one, with people with different practices, targeting even different social groups. Society is not outside of us. That's one of my problems with art in a public setting, the public is often thought of as something outside the art, and the artist is thought of as something outside the public.
Rumena Kalcheva When art goes outside the white cube of the gallery, many things change. The main thing is the contact with the audience. Because when a person goes to see a particular exhibition, they do so with full consciousness and intention. Whereas in a public environment he can be a casual passer-by by that art without having the preconception of any interaction with it at all. It is interesting to mention that the first conscious examples of art in a public setting in this country date back to the dawn of unconventional forms when these works were realized as a rebellion against the status quo when the thought of free creativity outside the "socialist realism" that dominated galleries and museums was the guiding principle. Then, as now, the provocation was of great importance in attracting the attention of the casual public.
Stefan Ivanov Something that irritates me a lot and I disagree with him is that a lot of Bulgarian art, no matter if it's visual, literary, musical, or whatever, is that it's disconnected from reality in a lot of its works, but that's changing now. I don't know why it has that disconnect from reality. But it's there. Maybe it's because of a lack of love or because we keep wishing we were somewhere else and the place we're in was somewhere else, but we're very ashamed and disgusted and disgusted. But lately, we are beginning to rediscover it, to tell its stories and our stories, to map it, to explore it, to use it as material for something, instead of making up and inventing another reality, replacing it in a compensatory way and so imagining something false, suppressing and displacing the concrete reality in which we live. I am glad that we are now getting closer to that reality. We decide that it is worthy of us, we are worthy of it, and what we don't like we can change. Or at least try to.
Rumena Kalcheva I'm drawing parallels here with the Out program and Mina Minov's project - he comments on the environment, but people react against the project itself.
Ivan Bonev I think the reason is that there is no practice of having these conversations in a public environment. The example I gave of how an architectural task has to be communicated with many different people illustrates well a similar situation, albeit in a different context. The artist who produces his art object is faced with a much more complex challenge in this case, where he has to communicate his ideas to not three, but thirty different groups of people, and find common ground with as many of them as possible to make sense of what he is doing. This is the translation that has to be made from the immaterial, language, and emotion, into the material, the object of art that is looked at and touched.
What are the challenges in the future and what prospects do you see for the Centre for Social Vision?
Jeni Decheva For me, one of the problems is thinking long-term, but in Bulgaria, working long-term is necessary - it has to do with motivation itself. Something that is a Centre could have that kind of thinking, where you can work on a project without it getting exhausted or wasted.
Ivelina Gadzheva I'm curious what's behind the lack of motivation. If I don't have any desire to do the work and put in the time, then we won't get anywhere - I'm talking about personal and collective motivation. And here I question the institutions and why it is lacking.
Stefan Ivanov A very close friend of mine had asked me many years ago why people in Bulgaria don't do what they should do, why, for example, writers don't write about what they see and what excites them. I don't know the answer. But at least for me, it is a fact that too few people, or almost no one, meet the definition of what they should be doing - there is a catastrophic mismatch between words and things, actions and roles, responsibility and duty. One of the most paradoxically difficult things here is how much effort it takes to achieve basic cooperativeness, a basic association. We are massively giving up the role we should play. And I find it hard to understand why.
Dessislava Dimova This is an important question. What is it that we should be doing? Artists are apparently supposed to be well-aligned with this internal 'should', and yet that's exactly what we fail to do. I think one reason is an outdated understanding of separateness. Art in general still feeds on the myth of individuality. But the artist rarely sees clearer and farther than the horizon of 'society'; cultural institutions are no better than pensions or transportation. We are connected in an ecosystem.
Ivan Bonev I see another explanation - after 1989 Bulgaria was liberated from a regime that dictated people's behaviour. Accordingly, the changes have led to a new redistribution of resources and the possibility for some people to use them for their gain. For others, determined to be idealists, it was not possible to participate in this redistribution and they were isolated. Thus, these processes in the 1990s broke a thread in the transmission of traditions - in crafts, science, and various spheres of society. Ultimately, such degradation of values leads to a crisis of professionalism, of the social, how we communicate, and a crisis of the commons.
We are not in a situation to renegotiate – we have to renegotiate from the beginning.
Dima Stefanova Because the social hierarchies have changed very sharply, they have degraded in no time and there has been internal chaos, both between the town and the village and between different communities. The economic stress disrupted this process even more and survival became a priority. Then very slowly the sense of these values, how important they are, came back.
Galena Sardamova It's as if we have to learn how to be collectively individualistic because this individualism here leads to infighting.