The Edge Museum or how legends are born by Diana Popova 2016

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The Edge Museum, or how legends are born The Edge Museum

The “The Edge Museum” exhibition brings me back to two questions about contemporary Bulgarian art – one is the avant-garde, and the other – the museum. And it reminded me of an event on October 20, 1989, as it was recorded in the Diary of the “Earth and Sky” exhibition. It was about the discussion of this exhibition on the roof of 6 Shipka St., which raised the question of whether what was shown there was avant-garde. Different opinions were expressed during the discussion – I quote:
“The avant-garde is on the crest of the wave (Lachezar Boyadzhiev),
the avant-garde is always protest and rebellion (Philip Zidarov),
the avant-garde is not for purchase (Andrey Daniel),
the avant-garde has a sense of historicity (…).
But since it was not clear whether what was shown on the terrace was avant-garde, there was a proposal to vote. Unfortunately, this did not occur and the issue remained open.”

I share this story – one of the many indicative of the excitements of the young artists from the second half of the 1980s and early 1990s, that were busy creating the so-called “nonconventional forms” at the time. Using previously unknown means of expression, these artists introduced the art of installation, happening, performance, video, and more in the Bulgarian art practice. These forms were well received by the public and the media, but were also under constant scrutiny by “friendly fire”, so to speak, by the classical artists at the time. For the audience and the media, what they did was undoubtedly avant-garde, but their colleagues in the classical genres challenged it with the words “This has already been done.” We lacked self-confidence perhaps, or audacity, or maybe, involved in the so-called “nonconventional forms, we were just too busy to tell them: “Painting has already been made as well, and sculpture has already been made – and that was even centuries and even millennia before Bulgarian artists picked them up”…

“This has already been done” – “Yes, but not in Bulgaria.”

In fact, the short answer to “This has already been done” would be – “Yes, but not in Bulgaria.” Therefore, and already from the distance of time, I, at least, have no doubt that this was avant-garde. Young artists from all over the country, united in groups and individually, introduced not only new forms in Bulgarian art, but introduced such forms that could respond immediately and adequately to the social unrest, to the events in our country, that was coming out of the isolation in the socialist bloc and was beginning its difficult path to freedom and democracy.On their own, these new arts symbolized change – quite a radical change in tune with the one in society. From the point of view of art itself, things were a little different. I have written many times that for Bulgarian art the so-called non conventional forms were a kind of language acquisition. A new language that had to bring out Bulgarian art from the decades of isolation and present it in an adequate way on the international art scene. It was not easy, many tried, but few managed to “speak” this new language. In the end, however, it was they who laid the foundations of contemporary art in Bulgaria. And here we arrive at the place and role of the Edge Group in these processes. The group made its public appearance relatively late, in the early 1990s. Bear in mind, however, that in those dynamic times, the months were long periods, let alone the years. In any case, members of the future Edge Group have been involved in avant-garde processes in various formats since the mid-1980s.

At that time, the breakthrough was mainly happening through groups of like-minded people at certain locations. They arose constantly – sometimes with a leader, sometimes without, some more permanent, others rather temporary, for one or two actions, sometimes even just for one exhibition or for the creation of one work. These groups had varying degrees of maturity, depth, and interest in new forms, and this inevitably affected their work. Their work was based mostly on improvisation and game, in which the successful findings were rather exceptional. When the Edge Group appeared against this background, it immediately stood out with its depth, presented in very well thought-through, clearly focused and precisely executed works – whether it was installations, actions, exhibitions or other projects. It is said that the criterion of whether you really know a language is to be able to write poetry in it. In that situation, at the very beginning of the 1990s, when in the general avant-garde process most artists were still learning the new language in art, the Edge Group was already writing poetry in it.Exactly how – one can see that in “The Edge Museum”. The very first exhibition which the group presented in Plovdiv in March 1990 – ”Symbols and Signs” was striking and complete. The works of each of the artists and their place were very well thought-out as in harmony with the overall space. The exhibition was related to the symbolism of the communist regime, but it also went beyond the current unrest in society. If we only look at the central composition of Kolyo Karamfilov and Dimitar Mitovski, consisting of three idols of different material crowned with sickles, hammers, and the middle one – with the rays of a five-pointed star, the impression is like of an eternal and fearsome image of primitivism and barbarism, “dressed ” in the specific ideology of a given period. Therefore, they remain relevant and influential today, more than a quarter of a century after their creation.

Individually, the members of the Edge Group were already well-known young graphic artists and painters, and continued to participate as such in collective exhibitions. This is why it was interesting to see how their personalities were literally unified in their work as a group – each with their own place and an extremely important role in the whole. And while in the exhibitions – “Opus Probect 93” (1993), “The Ideal” (1992), and “Large Photography” (1991), also presented in “The Edge Museum” – their individual styles were clearly distinguishable as part of the unison, in the happenings and actions the group manifested itself as a single artistic “organism.” Unlike other groups from the period, where it was generally known who was the leader and who was the engine, in this respect, being the most numerous (12 people), the Edge remained a mystery. One of the many mysteries that at least I did not want to solve for myself. This was because I was impressed by this monolithic community of such bright and different personalities. [A community which was] As if embodied in their action at the Plovdiv railway station in 1991: in the waiting room, in this most transitory and impersonal place, diverging lives and destinies, a light board repeats insistently. “We’re each a small light, and together – a bright light.” The Edge Group. In this space of greatest alienation, characterized by its neglect and hopelessness, turned into a metaphor for the country and the society back then, the group appealed for togetherness and meaningfulness. Even now the video of this action, on display in “The Edge Museum”, is still so impactful... As well as the other works shown in The Ancient Bath. And if they remain relevant today, it is because of their artistic qualities and ideas embedded in them, which overcame the social unrest at the time while pushing away from it. This is how the Edge Group was writing “poetry” in the language of the so-called non conventional forms. Finally, let me briefly mention the museum. Recently, a lot of exhibitions of the museum type are being organized – of individual artists, of groups and collectives. Which is normal: we have entered the times of anniversaries – of our contemporary art and its creators. But it is precisely these exhibitions that highlight the lack of a museum of contemporary art. There is a building with such name in Sofia, but the institution “museum” is missing. And the basic function of every museum is to collect, preserve, research and promote materials of cultural value. The lack of such an institution for our contemporary art means a lack of history that would place the avant-garde and the processes there after in the timeline, to appreciate them according to their role and place in the development of art.

The exhibition “The Edge Museum” symbolically and temporarily fills this gap – it presents works preserved in their original state as well as works restored by the group. And some have been lost irretrievably. For example, some of the photos from the Edge In the Back installation are missing – as far as I know, this work was the last collaboration of the group in 1994. It was displayed on the windows of a collapsing building in Plovdiv’s Old Town… And so we find ourselves in a strange situation, that the avant-garde from the past is writing its own history and making its own “museums”. To remind us that it had existed and that exists now. To collect, preserve, research and promote its own works. Or, figuratively speaking, to continue to act as an avant-garde, when it should already be in the classics – properly collected and historicized in the museum. I think that perhaps this is how legends are born...

The article was published in the Culture Portal on September 16, 2016. It is republished here with the permission of the author.