Marta Djourina & Boris Kostadinov
Six Eastern European positions in Scope BLN
At the heart of EE TETRIS is our intention to present several Eastern European artists, connected to the Berlin cultural scene.
From the very beginning, we decided that the project would be as democratic as possible and open to different interpretations and conceptual upgrading. Therefore, the exhibition does not aim to be comprehensive in terms of the number of authors represented or the conceptual directions of their works. It has nothing to do with the "classics" of the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century — "Eastern European artists presented in the West." EE TETRIS rather focuses on the individual practices of some artists coming from Eastern Europe and taking place for years in the cultural context of Berlin. We show individualities, without looking for generalizations, about Eastern European art placed in a Western European environment.
Following on from this idea, comes another important feature of
EE TETRIS, namely that the exhibition provides a platform for six independent artistic positions without necessarily bringing them within any of the ideological, political or social doctrines – nor those of our time, nor those of the recent past. Not by chance, the invited artists belong to a newer generation that comes after the generation that is more associated with the "manifest" construction of the image of Eastern Europe to be presented to the West.
Therefore, the questions we asked have a qualitatively newer nature, such as: What characterises the specific professional practices of these artists in their current social, cultural or institutional environment? Do they relate to the idea of community? Do they have an active interaction with the countries they come from and what does it mean? How has the reality of the Berlin art scene influenced the specificity of not only their art, but also the strategies and principles for its public presentation?
We started to arrange the "blocks" of the EE TETRIS project, inspired by the symbolism of this iconic game. We found symbolism, both in its structure and in its history.
Tetris is a game that is very different from anything known up to the time of its creation in the 1980s. Apart from being the first video game created beyond the Iron Curtain and breaking into the West, most video games up until then were based on common raid, conquer and destroy themes. In Tetris, it's the opposite — construction and the logic of creation are in the foreground. Still, the gameplay is not that encouraging for the player. Just when you manage to arrange the perfect line of blocks, it immediately disappears... What remains visible are only your mistakes, what you failed to consider and foresee. You don't enjoy what you have achieved, but you try to correct your mistakes.
Often the fluctuations or career development of an artist who has left their home country and moved to live elsewhere is at the heart of this imaginary Tetris. The desire to understand the logic of the processes, the desire for the perfect integration of one or another "block" in this new and unknown system, by predicting and avoiding the error, are something very characteristic.
But wouldn't the surest mistake be to try to rationalise what the mind stubbornly rejects? Like the madness of war, aggression, destruction and pain? Can horror be aestheticised through the eerie symbolism of a burning earth? Daria Koltsova creates her stained glass works that abstractly document the fires raging in the occupied Ukrainian fields. The beauty of these objects placed in the white cube of the gallery is unquestionable, and at the same time, the astonishment and sense of insurmountable weight, realising the real military actions that provoked their creation, is indisputable.
The history of the Tetris game has its symbolic meaning deeply rooted within recent history of East and West. Created at the height of the Cold War, the fight over its copyright shows how the two systems are beginning to learn from each other. The West discovers a world in which the individual does not matter at all. It has no right to intellectual property, which only the state can dispose of. On the contrary, the East is receiving one of its first practical lessons in capitalism and at the same time realising that the great collapse of the system is inexorably approaching.
The Eastern European socialist everyday life of the late 1980s, with its dream of the Western consumer world — precisely this moment of refraction and realisation is fixed by János Brückner's painting installation. It constructs a nostalgic memory of the "perfect Eastern European home" of the time of advanced socialism, where the main colour inspirations come from illegally infiltrated capitalist advertisements or from the glossy pages of some West German magazine.
It wasn't until the fall of the Iron Curtain, in 1989, that the creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov, was given the opportunity to leave the Soviet Union, immigrate to the United States, and finally receive some kind of reward for his work.
The topic of travel, relocation, following personal dreams, the desire to find yourself in a world that offers you something more than what you have in your home country and at the same time the constant return and departure, provoked Marta Djourina to create her suitcase - "monument" as the ultimate symbol of the nomadic nature of the contemporary artist. In her installation, the technology of photography necessarily requires the condition of travel, literally and metaphorically passing through the scanners of multiple airports, conscious points of departure and subconscious points of return.
Of course, the new and unfamiliar environment is not always what you imagine before you actually get into it. The Tetris you have to arrange depends not only on your abilities or intentions, but also on cultural stereotypes, prejudices or fear of the "foreign". The funny doll from
Veneta Androva's film tells a story about the puzzle of societal stereotypes, acceptance, rejection and cultural clash.
Corresponding to all this, but even more declaratively, is shown in the work by Saša Tatić. She creates huge "posters" in the form of photography studio backdrops that verbalise her personal "immigrant laws." The installation invites the audience to actively participate by using this background for selfies and thus associating with what is written on it. It turns out that the personal has become the valid for many others who share a similar personal story Anton Stoyanov's works weave the biography of their author into themselves. The artist used the classical technique of Eastern Orthodox medieval painting to create their speculative, "metaphysical" essence. Thus, he deliberately declares his origin from a particular topography, with its cultural, religious and historical traditions. These works demand respect—manipulating our subconsciously encoded one or another attitude toward spirituality, mysticism, or religion. The images of the "saints", however, are directly inspired by the problems of climate change, which are seen through the prism of Berlin's subcultures.
The music for the video game Tetris has its own curious evolution. Russian folk songs, arrangements by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as compositions by Hirokazu Tanaka and Doctor Spin have appeared over the years. This mix of eastern sound welcomed by western taste, we could use as another metaphor, suitable also in the analysis of the EE TETRIS project.
The exhibition presents a group of artists who originate from one of the Eastern European countries, but who work in a Western context, absorbing its institutional practices and working models. Although they have retained some of the ties to their origins, they still mainly use their international professional network created after their relocation to Germany.
And this actually distinguishes them to a significant extent from their colleagues who live and work permanently in one of the Eastern European countries and whose practice is, of course, different – as a result of a different social, political or economic reality.
These, as well as any other possible future critical observations and analyses, turn out to be extremely important in the process of adequately analysing, understanding and defining the problematic of the complex Tetris of contemporary Eastern European art. The exhibition
EE TETRIS gives the possible start / restart of such an artistic-research discussion.
Text by Boris Kostadinov
FROM YOU TO ME
Welcome to EE TETRIS, an exhibition that explores the personal experience, identity, and narratives of six artists, originally from Eastern Europe and the complexity of their biographies and artistic practices within their current context of Berlin.
Since 2009 I have travelled every year up to 10 times between Berlin and Sofia, trying to define the notion of home, spreading myself between two places that split my emotional belonging, always missing one or the other.
The repeated pattern of travel ingrains itself at some point not only onto the emotional turbulence of nostalgia and belonging, but also onto my personal artistic practice. The status of transit has recently become a tool of investigation and a time to create my most recent project, also on display at Scope BLN. Somewhere between an airport, a subway station, one bus ride away, between two homes where my name still hangs on the doorbell, at one of these “non-places” as Merleau-Ponty describes them, the notion of a constant transit and an overlapping cultural identity becomes the strongest. These “non-places” being a place of disenfranchising but also of longing, of togetherness, we all move as masses, passing through them. They serve only the purpose of a backdrop for what unfolds is up to us.
Even during the pandemic, there were several curious stories where airlines provided alternative “travel” experiences to fulfil the modern need to fly somewhere new: passengers could book an in-flight experience, e.g. get on a plane and enjoy the in-flight meal-deals while the plane is still grounded, not allowed to take off due to current pandemic restriction. An even stranger notion berries the second option on the menu: an in-flight experience where the plane takes off, circles around the airport airspace to then land back to where the journey began. A full circle with one purpose only - suggesting to the mind the idea of being transferred somewhere else. In an age where we are used to travel sitting down and in just a few hours, what happens to our cultural, biographical and social belonging, while our bodies are being “transferred”?
Berlin has long been a magnet for artists from all corners of the world, offering a dynamic and inclusive environment that fosters creativity and dialogue. Just like the pieces of a jigsaw, everyone seems to find their spot in the city, no matter their interests and expectations. Berlin has carried this illusive idea as the free creative capital where artists thrive and the scene supports everyone's equity for years. But what happens within the microcosmos of the day-to-day artistic practice? EE TETRIS focuses on the perspective of six artists in particular, who bring their unique point of view, rooted in their cultural heritage and shaped by their experiences of relocation and adjustment.
Just as the opposite of the notoriously popular game Tetris, the notion of having control and building row by row your surroundings, the exhibition offers alternative ways to connect and build our own narratives as individuals coming together. In analogy of the game itself, if you have chaos coming your way, is there a need to put something in order or place yourself somewhere? In one way or another, the small pieces end up fitting together.
By entering the individual spaces and facets of EE TETRIS, you are invited to embrace the spirit of unity and cultural exchange that defines our interconnected world. The exhibition serves as a platform for dialogue, fostering understanding and collaboration among diverse audiences. It encourages visitors to recognise the shared humanity that connects us all, regardless of our origin or background. We were inspired to create a space for reflection, celebration, and appreciation of the multicultural tapestry that defines Berlin today.
Text by Marta Djourina
Veneta Androva’s film reveals in a humorous way some of her personal stories and experiences after moving to Germany.
In the film, an animated character in the shape of an absurd but also friendly creature, is the protagonist. Combined with a whistle and music in the background, the “doll” gives the viewer story after story while smiling and speaking in a high-pitched voice.
This combination of absurdity and humour can’t leave the viewer without a giggle.
At first glance, these stories are funny, but they actually describe incidents that are indicative of the conservative paradigms of our society, misunderstanding and non-acceptance of diversity.
The contrast between “sympathetic” form and not so “sympathetic” experiences are the conceptual approach to the construction of this video work.
Stretch & Release, 2021, 3D animation, 10 min/loop
Basement Life combines the visuals of 1990s West-European TV commercials with the format of the wallpapers of that era. It used to be a common thing to cover one wall of a concrete block apartment with wallpaper in a single large design of a tropical beach. It was the manifestation of a dream, a desire. The imagined but never experienced beauty of the “good life” amid the realities of Eastern Europe. The small apartments had one of their walls looking onto that fantasy of the “sunny side of things”.
János Brückner’s series of paintings Dreams catches the moment when memories fade into dreams and as such return to the everyday. He grew up in the former Eastern Bloc and as a child was absolutely mesmerised when he first saw Western commercials on TV. The series of paintings reconstructs visuals from that specific era with a special painting technique which the artist calls Human Printer. Blurry uncertain contours, vivid colours, happy but at the same time somehow sad moods, fading bodies under a never-existed sunshine. Still beautiful – as just a dream can be.
From the series Dreams: Basement Life, 2023
Travel Light is a piece turning Marta Djourina’s constant travel into the subject-matter and context of creation. The artist travelled from Berlin to Sofia and sometime later from New York to Berlin using her luggage as a pinhole camera. The camera’s “eye’ is open from the moment she leaves the door, to the moment of arrival to her final destination. The duration of the exposure matches the duration of the flight with all the choreography of traveling — the airport as a non-place with all its structure and bureaucracy, borders etc. The resulting photographs are archives of time, while the suitcase gets “discarded” after it has done “it’s job” to host the light sensitivity material.
In her Photographic Memory of (E)Motions, Djourina brings the suitcase back into the foreground. What we see is a cast made of the suitcase’s inside, previously inhabited by the photo papers, solidifying the volume of the camera. The suitcase is simultaneously a collaborator, companion of travel and works independently as a test instrument.
By turning traveling itself into a productive time to produce the artworks themselves, Djourina also questions the context and ways in which art is created these days.
For One + All Marta Djourina invites the residents of Scope BLN’s building to share a personal object of high emotional and personal value with the artist, allowing her to borrow this item during the working process. Using the notion behind the photograms, usually unique photo works that capture with the power of light and shadow the outlines of various objects by an immediate touch between the object and the surface of the photo paper, Djourina adapts the technique into a digital space — the scanner, a home device popular to everyone. Thus, the artist collages personal memories, present moments, past and future emotions associated with the objects.
Photographic Memory of (E)Motions,2023
Summer 2022. Ukraine’s harvest became the new battlefield. The land was bombed, mined and put on fire. Farmers, volunteers, and firefighters spent days and nights on the burning fields. News reports looked like scenes from an action blockbuster. It was hard to believe they were real. Goldfields turned into burned darkness. A treasure became ash.
The wheat field is a crucial part of Ukraine’s iconography. One of the two stripes in the national flag depicts a wheat field, another - the sky. In Ukraine, bread has always been a fundamental symbol of life. No significant event happens without bread.
Daria Koltsova grew up with stories about the Great Famine of 1933 and how her grandmother’s large family survived the winter thanks to a 50-litre-bottle of wheat, luckily hidden from the Soviet authorities. Each day just a small cup of cereal for them all to survive till the next harvest.
Today, the artist looks at the burning fields and creates her stained glass works. A burnt blackness with only a few yellow spikes left. A terrifying image of a destroyed sacredness. The single, fragile golden ears that survived the fire almost miraculously are the new symbols of the power of life. Anger gives energy to keep fighting.
A Poem Of The Black Field, 2022-2023
The series employs the iconographic representation of sacred motifs painted in the traditional Byzantine orthodox manner with gouache on heavy blocks of wood and enhanced with platinum leaf. Using the archaic, pre-perspective visual language, one of the oldest in painting, the artist is looking into the past in attempt to influence the future. Stoianov connects biblical narratives and figures with the microscopic world of insects to rewrite that narratives. New martyrs and miracles are needed to save our world. The depictions should remind viewers regardless of religion or cultural background, of the fragility of our ecological system, in which even the smallest creature makes a “divine” contribution and becomes worthy of worship.
Dawn of the High Priest, 2023