A conversation between Martin Penev and Viktoria Draganova (curator) at the opening of the exhibition “An Object of Concern” on 17 May 2018.
Viktoria Draganova: I guess most of you know the work of Martin Penev, because in the last two years he has realized several solo projects in Sofia: ICA, Fridge, Atelier Plastelin, Æther and at the very beginning at Vaska Emanouilova Gallery. For me, this exhibition is an overlay, deepening and continuation of an artistic quest, of a conceptual narrative. That is why I agreed to make a project here too – because I am interested in this gradual passage through spaces and their binding through an artistic practice. In other words, I guess that for all of us, familiar with Martin’s work, it’s a pleasure to keep thinking of the world with Martin. Which is the starting point for in this show?
Martin Penev: Thank you very much for the invitation and the trust. Somehow I liked the challenge of working with this space, which has its own features that it is not a white cube. The basis on which I stepped was the desire to incorporate this space into my concept; to somehow invade it, obscure it, assimilate it. In fact, this is where I start building an intimate world with a core and volumes, surfaces and the membranes, including intermediate, border zones for communicating with the outside world, which I conditionally called “out” and “inside”, though this “out” is not alien but personal.
Viktoria: Another opposition is “light-dark” … In the text I wrote to accompany the exhibition, I decided to start with “out”, talking about the glamorous surface, how and especially what we communicate. Where did your story go?
Martin: I started from the inside as a gesture towards something in the throes, but in fact my work strategy is related to dichotomies, clashes, and division of things like “beautifull-ugly,” “good-evil,” “up-down”. I started from “inside” and “ugly,” and followed “out” to be something pompous, glamorous, animated.
Viktoria: I started with the outside because it seemed to me that the one that scares us is probably already out there, even if it is gold. The flags are as if they belong to an air castle, and as if this exhibition has no access to any reality, we even deny any reality and set only a fantasy. In it we have these flags that communicate, but they are empty, they have no signs in themselves.
Martin: They do not say because they themselves are the message. I do not use them for communication, but I use them as a sign per se. There is no need to have anything on them. They are the ones. Lack of answers why this is so, and that’s where it is; this void is the intermediate one; the one between tension, energy, some layers that are phantom – that’s what excited me in my original discovery as an idea.
Viкtoria: And, in the space in-between we can probably find ourselves, but can you imagine how we’re dealing with both parts of the show and what kind of narratives come to our minds. Does it matter to you what a visitor can project into the installation?
Martin: In the space in-between is the answer to the question of the meaning of life and other jokes, but I do not have a plan to predict what a possible scenario or code the viewer is presuposing. I rather enjoy the personal freedom of interpretation. So, the space in-between was extremely important as a find.
Viktoria: For me, this space is also very interesting. We talked about the fact that the opposites, the more extreme, the more they do not allow us to think and feel them. Our whole sensitivity in some very clear polarizations disappears. A norm is set. And, here we encounter a reversal of “inside” and “out”. Tell me a little more about what we see inside the exhibition space?
Martin: There has been some kind of trouble inside, for which there is no clear answer whether it happened yesterday, 20 or 50 years ago, but that volume that is standing there has been re-empowered by means of handyness. As you strengthen the shelter after a storm, it is not clear whether the storm was last night. The lack of answers there was also interesting. Is this a monstrosity, a dacty defect is something that has been sustained for years or happened yesterday? Is there any remark that something worrying has happened or is being discarded as an old habit of continuing to struggle in some way?
Viktoria: I thought of this performance by Joseph Beuys, wo spent couple of days with a coyote in a room as they gradually got used to one another (I Like America and America Likes Me, 1974). I suddenly wished for me when this creature appeared a week before opening of the exhibition, to spend some time with it. I had the feeling that the more time we spend, the interweaved we become, and the more sympathetic. I wondered if this was about something else or myself. Maybe both.
Martin: Both. The creature inside itself also relies on strong dichotomies. For example, there is “organic-inorganic”, “live-dead”, “found naturally-fabricated,” but the system I build it is associated with inconvenience. All the tools that make up the object or volume actually cause a nuisance to matter, but end as something extreme that we can recognize as a being. Once we recognize it as a being we become empathic and this empathy is directed at smaller objects that somehow cause discomfort. For me, this is a very interesting field of research – how can we torment a matter so that warm, human feelings start appearing. I will try to continue working in this direction.
Viktoria: I am interested in the layer of mythological – the gold, the deer … I wonder how mythology appears in your work and what function does mythology has today.
Martin: The standard sign of any mythology is something that transfers us easier for us in the field of concepts. This relaxation makes us nervous, not in the irresponsible sense, but makes it easier to chew up what is proposed for chewing and that is why I use a fabulous, mythological motif – deer, flags, castle, enchantment, etc. Maybe I very much rely on the child in the viewer.
Viktoria: It seems to me that in this exhibition are mainly included unrecognized narratives that are somehow broken and referenced. The very space with this empty pool functions in this way from the beginning – it not only promotes fantasy or imagination, but it is also political in some way, because in what we imagine and dream, we actually, on the one hand, set the world in which we exist, on the other we allow for difference. For this exhibition it was important to happen here in this way.