Why Bulgaria failed again to participate in the Venice Biennale?

Venice Biennale, which is considered to be the mother of all Biennales, is one of the major events in the art world.  Since 1895 the exhibition in the Lagoon has been playing an important role in the international art scene and over the years became a must to participate and be seen there. The significance of exhibiting at this event is more about a country’s national identity and values and goes beyond focusing on the singular artist.  In recent years we have seen countries from complicated geopolitical territories and frontier spaces such as Kosovo, Maldives, Bahrain and others. As the years have passed, the applications for participation increased and with them challenges with space in the Lagoon. This gave birth to different pavilions across the island. However, Giardini and Arsenale are still the heart of the Biennale where artists and curators reflect and provoke the socio-political debate, act against unfairness and push boundaries.  Some example are the 1974 edition of the Biennale, which was dedicated to Chile in protest against the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. For example, in 1993 the artist Hasn Haacke smashed the marble floor in the German Pavilion, which previously has been commissioned to replace the parquet floor in the building by Hitler, in 2009 for the first time two national pavilions collaborated together on a single exhibitions – the “Collectors” and in 2015 India and Pakistan jointly are presenting “My East is Your West.”  After setting the scene and emphasizing the importance of the Biennale the question has to be asked, where is Bulgaria in all this? Bulgaria has had a trouble relationship with the Biennale of Venice.

After being away from the scene for over 20 years, they came back during the 52nd edition of the Biennale and featured artists such as Pravdoliub Ivanov, Ivan Moudov, Stefan Nikolaev.  In 2011 Bulgaria created a scandal because the Bulgarian nation wasn’t aware of the fact that the county was taking part in the exhibition. The Bulgarians learned about this from the Biennale’s website when the list of countries was published. Questions such as how and why were lost in their complex government apparatus and little interest was shown by the culture ministry. After the scandal and the international discussion, the Ministry of Culture established a committee, of which primary members were the artists Latchezar Boyadjiev and Stanislav Pamukchiev.  Their main goal was to establish guidelines and rules regarding how to present Bulgaria in the Venice Biennale.  A year later the Ministry of Culture dismissed their proposal and shelved the possibility of Bulgaria taking part in the Biennale for the foreseeable future. Various excuses were produced such as uncertainty in socio-political climate, the lack of funds and so on.  There are questions to be asked and answers to be obtained. Unfortunately, the shadow over the creative industry in Bulgaria is growing and the example of the non-participation in the Venice Biennale, which has a huge world resonance, is one example. It is never easy to write about a “failure” especially when we are talking about a national member of the European Union with such a rich culture heritage.  It is not easy and it is especially painful when considering its history especially the fact that Bulgarian culture and religion resisted five centuries of Ottoman invasion and managed to preserve their unique culture and the identity.  Bulgaria is a place where contemporary artists with international significance were born, artists such as Nedko Solakov, Christo Javacheff, Pravdoliub Ivanov and many others.  And yet, contemporary art is still not on the radar of the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.  In 2013 the artist Robert Baramov was present at the Venice biennale as a one-man pavilion and was handing out a paper with the tricolor and with a political message “Declaration of war.”  The concept of the artist’s project was the “war” between contemporary art and the Bulgarian government.  In 2015 Baramov is participating again with a conceptual project. This time the artist has sent a letter to the curators of the national pavilions at Venice Biennale proposing airspace of 125cm3, which will allow Bulgaria to be part of the atmosphere of the Biennale, at least.

Perhaps Bulgaria needs to continue to wait for a better time, but when is there a better time for culture?