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Visual Seminar

2003-2005
View fellows & their projects
VISUAL SEMINAR

The beginning of the 21st century and the contradictory process of globalization have reshaped the relationship between visual culture, art, and social life. Visualization turns out to be more and more the dominant cultural code of the late industrial society. Nowadays one witnesses a new visual wave: in the global world the culture of the public image and the "society of the spectacle" (Guy Debord) are gradually transformed by the new complex structures of the "display", "interface", "billboard", scanned-and-sent images. Along with the home video, the video clip, and the post-MTV culture, along with the expansion of design, lifestyle and fusion cultures, these new visual-informational hybrids have started saturating everyday life. This social change redefines the role of visuality in contemporary society by giving new form to public taste. As main transgressors of dominant rules and limits in the contemporary visual sphere, artists should question this situation by challenging the automated visual habits of the "average citizen". All this is especially true of the East European societies in transition because  the public life and tastes in these countries also bear the marks of the communist visual environment - the burden of the totalitarian visual legacy is present in the urban surroundings, architecture, monuments and in the everyday material culture. Groups of visual bureaucrats and post-official artists are still using and misusing the old visual codes in favor of aggressive neo-nationalism and premature anti-globalism. Mass media in these countries, often populist and easily manipulated, circulate poor (and politically incorrect) imagery, split between the same outdated legacy and the newly imported and no less manipulative consumerist visuality. In this unfriendly context, the creative and innovative codes of the contemporary arts (with their specificity - mixing and transgressing systems of values, aggressive breaking of taboos, creation of new objects of desire, ironic quotations and multi-layered playfulness, etc.) are confronting a deficit of interpretation. On the other hand, given the generally poor level of the public`s visual literacy, one can say that the visual arts in these countries suffer a lack of "readability" and therefore cannot achieve a significant public impact. A further unfavorable condition is the lack of communication between the small group of internationally known visual artists in these countries and the critical minds there: one can speak metaphorically about a split between "visual" and "reflexive" elites - the academics and researchers in these countries remain isolated in their own field of closed academic debates with insufficient public impact. The links to cultural journalism in the mass media are either insufficient or non-existent, so journalism remains oriented toward the mass taste and cannot be an ally in achieving a greater public impact of advanced cultural activities. Thus, the potential of these critical elites to influence the cultural policies of the respective country, to be social critics and opinion leaders remains unrealized.

The project`s general goal is, firstly, to create a "shortcut" between artists and academics in order to reinforce both groups` public impact and, secondly, to create a channel for this impact by connecting them with the field of cultural journalism in the mass media. Thus, we propose neither to focus on the specific production of visual arts nor on specialized academic debates, but on their possible public interaction. The zone of interaction is broadly defined as the visual interface of contemporary culture (starting with the Bulgarian case) which is a zone shared with the public. The zone is observable in the city of Sofia. The public visibility as well as the potential impact of the "shortcut" would be facilitated by the involvement of mass media representatives in the seminar`s events. The ultimate goal is to influence the cultural policies in the country through debate and an increase of public literacy in the field of visuality.

To achieve these goals we are: 

- initiating events (artistic projects, publications, etc.) and/or identifying existing events that could provoke the beginning of such debate;
- involving the public into the debate by linking important events in the contemporary visual art with the whole visual "interface" of contemporary urban culture;
- facilitating new interpretative competence in the mass media by involving media staff on a regular and equal basis as participants in the debate.

The Visual Seminar Project deals with contemporary visual culture in the transitional society (based initially on the example of Bulgaria) in its relationship with the rest of the world/reality. The main idea is to establish a regular series of events, and thus generate continuous debate, in which several main elements would be interwoven:

Module 1: Resident Fellows Program;
Module 2: Guest Program - Visual Statement;
Module 3: Forum of Visual Culture;
Module 4: Publishing Program.

The Resident Fellows Program is the product of the integration of ICA-Sofia and CAS-Sofia activities and programs on a more theoretical level. Within a given year, it will host four resident fellows from Bulgaria for a period of six months each. They will come from the fields of contemporary visual art, other artistic areas, or academia. The resident fellows will have a stipend and will reside in Sofia for the period of their fellowships while working on a specific artistic or research project related both to the topic of the "Visual Seminar" project and to the other activities of CAS and ICA.
The idea of cooperation between academics and artists is based on the familiar experience of the Centers for Advanced Study in Europe and USA. Their established practice involves the artists` participation in the intellectual community of researchers gathered for other research, projects of the Centers for Advanced Study. They engage in, and contribute to, the debates and the heuristic atmosphere of the Centers and develop their own artistic projects based on this experience.

The other three modules are hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Sofia.

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