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Visual Seminar

Duration: 2003 – 2005


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split between the same outdated legacy and the newly imported and no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

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