August 1971. Alzek Misheff, already in the water in Koper, Slovenia, was just about to swim the 15-odd kilometers to Trieste. But then, by chance, an elderly couple passed by, walking along the deserted shore, and told him to get out of the water straight away – yesterday they had seen several sharks, a rarity in the bay. Misheff set out across the mountain, and after wandering for around 40 hours, finally got to Italy…
A convinced and motivated abstract artist in Bulgaria, Alzek Misheff found himself in the swirl of conceptual art, then prevalent in Italy too. He joined the art scene, but instead of an analytic approach he chose titles which he staged, developing an approach of his own: taking the title literally. Hence also the inevitably paradoxical humour and self-irony, position, aesthetics, ethics. In 1975 he was invited to the Trigon Biennale in Graz, where he showed a series of photographs entitled How to Fly with Fins (later, in a village near Milan, he attempted to fly with fins for real, attached to a cable between two telegraph poles). In 1976 he was included in the seminal book Europе/America: Тhe Different Avant-Gardes by Achille Bonito Oliva (Milan: F. M. Ricci). In 1977, he built The Swimming Pool (15 x 5 x 1.30 m) in one of the large art galleries in Milan, in which he swam 100 lengths of butterfly. My Lies, a bilingual book in English and Italian presenting some of his realized and new projects, was published in 1979. On 2 May the same year Alzek Misheff staged Music from the Sky – four helium balloons, with a diameter of six meters each, were raised at a height of 30 meters from the ground at the four corners of Milan’s Piazza del Duomo. The music that sounded from them was literally music from the sky: photographs of three galaxies “translated” into sounds by a computer (with a memory of 70K!). A few months later, a version of the same project was staged in San Francisco, followed by a third one in Irvine, California.
1982 – “Swimming Across the Atlantic” (or the birth of fake news): three years of preparation, 12 exhibitions and five days of swimming in a pool on the liner Queen Elizabeth 2 from Southampton to New York. 1983 – “Swimming Across Milan”: one hundred swimmers painted with a brush on paper, each measuring 6 x 3 m or 12 x 3 m, installed on billboards. 1984 – “500 Young Faces”: portraits of real people, represented with their first and family names and painted with a brush, measuring 2 x 2 m each, exhibited simultaneously in Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Torino, with a total painted surface of approximately 5500 sq m – the first social “physical” network, predating Facebook by 25 years. 1985 – in Grenoble, “150 Faces”, parallel with a solo show of paintings from the cycle Drippings From the Swimmer at the city’s Museum. 2000 – participation in the Venice Biennale with the concert “Proliferating Truth of Sentiment”, performed by Misheff’s quintet of improvisers, “The Swimmers”, whom he conducted, diving in a transparent cylinder full of water and small fish. 2007 – second participation in the Venice Biennale: closing concert at the pavilion dedicated to Joseph Beuys, performed by the Orchestra Italiana di flauti under the baton of Alzek Misheff, who played with his infrared controller Lightning 2.
The exhibition at Swimming Pool, “The Newest Small Paintings of the Swimmer”, includes two groups of works: The first, called by the artist “Abstract Landscapes”, features landscapes that aren’t abstract at all. The second, called “Mirages and Reminiscences”, addresses the topics of some of his major projects realized in public places.
– Alzek Misheff
The exhibition “The Newest Small Paintings of the Swimmer” at Swimming Pool is the first exhibition by Alzek Misheff (b. 1940) in Bulgaria since he left the country in 1971. Earlier this year, we met Alzek at his home and studio in Acqui Terme near Milan, got closer to his vast oeuvre spanning five decades, had intense discussions and also decided which works we would like to show in Sofia. For us, it is a chance to continue to study the empty pool as a space of the possible and impossible – and to attempt to trace back the history of thinking and imagining of pools, and now also of swimming, through the thought of an artist whom we feel so close. Misheff’s work is a practice of enactment, self-irony, and above all, invention. With such swimmers, the pools will never be empty.
Curated by Viktoria Draganova
Our thanks to: Maria Averina, Mariana Svetoslavova and AGITPROP.