Curator: Rosa Martínez.
Espacio 1. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Madrid. March 11th - April 27th, 2003.

Nedko Solakov was born in Cherven Briag (Bulgaria) in 1957 and graduated in mural painting at the Academy of Fine Arts of Sofia in 1981. Through his strict technical training, he acquired a number of stylistic resources which would prove useful to him during the nineties, the ebullient days when he burst upon the scene as a conceptual artist. In the Bulgaria of the mid-eighties, the State-run Artists’ Union still kept an iron grasp on commissions, exhibitions and contacts with foreign countries. During this period, artists kept their reputations alive at engraving and graphic arts biennials while the notions of conceptual art, installation, performance and site specificity, were beginning to defy established practice. Solakov played an active role both in the foundation of independent collectives and in the emergence of experimental art in his country.

The year of 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, symbolising the collapse of Eastern Europe, to which Bulgaria was not immune. The projects of this time bear witness to Solakov’s transformation. View to the West (1989) consisted of the installation of a telescope on the terrace of the Artists’ Union. As it looked towards the West, its field of vision took in the red star still crowning the building of the Bulgarian Communist Party’s headquarters. Top Secret (1989-1990) took account of his own life in the form of index cards and was tantamount to a review and affirmation of his individuality. Naked Body (1987) was a small painting which has since been destroyed. Depicting a snail stripped of its shell, it was an allusion to the existential, political and aesthetic divestiture of the time. This divestiture marked the birth of a new direction towards other developments, for the desire to link up with the international scene, the awareness of his own potential as an artist and a tremendous will for survival would carry Nedko beyond the narrow limits offered him by post-Communist Bulgaria.

A Life (Black & White) (1998-2001), presented at the 2001 Venice Biennial, is one of the most relevant examples of how far Solakov has come since those early conceptual exercises. For the full five months of the biennial, day after day, two workers/painters would constantly repaint the walls of the exhibition space in black and white following each other. The borders between the black and white zones changed every time and moved slowly and constantly, like a Malevich in motion, in words of Juan Manuel Bonet. The circular process of accumulation of layers, of eternal repetition after the manner of Sisyphus, conjoined the time of the performance with the enlargement of the painting’s space, making the piece into a strange allegory of the abyss, of the meaninglessness of work but also of the possibilities as regards scope and variation existing in the process of repetition. Any of his other projects belonging to the nineties shows how his creative maturity is based on the superb combination of his exceptional inventiveness, his sense of irony and his skilfulness in both drawing and stage-setting. His great versatility to leave his mark on all nature of structures is clearly noticeable in the project, On the Wing (1999-2000), consisting of writing sentences on the wings of Lux Air planes. When the passenger, settled comfortably in his seat, looked through the window, his attention became riveted by short, amusing stories which fuelled his fantasies or drew him into fictitious dialogues.

The Bulgarian art critic, Iara Boubnova, has defined Solakov’s creation as “maximal art”, rightly placing him at the opposite extreme of the matter-of-fact aspirations of minimalism. To Solakov’s mind, what the viewer sees is never “only what he sees” but a cue which leads him to associations, evocations and a whole series of fantasies. This capacity to fictionalise any detail from the world in which we live has led him to address the most varied of themes. He has carried out many projects in the form of installations because installation is an unequivocally baroque, narrative and interactive medium, availing itself of pre-existing objects and rearranging them in a three-dimensional space of which the viewer and his tour of the work also form part. Solakov has made fascinating criticisms of the art institution in Mr. Curator, please… (1995) and in The Collector of Art (Somewhere in Africa there is a great black man collecting art from Europe and America, buying his Picasso for 23 coconuts and his early Rauschenberg for 7 antelope bones…) (1992-2000). The same may be said of his projects revolving round the desire, not “to be somebody else” (a rich hero, a famous actor…), but “to be something else”, as in the installation he executed in 1996 for Manifiesta 1, This is me, too…, presented in a circular room at Rotterdam’s Natural History Museum. Solakov turned into a snowflake, a dried flower from a herbarium, a stuffed duck or a fossil, leaving behind him evidence of his various transmutations in the form of sculptural intimations, photographs, drawings, texts and so on.
To date, Nedko Solakov has presented just two individual projects in Spain: Romantic Landscapes with Missing Parts (2000-2002), exhibited in Espacio 1, and El Búlgaro-The Sensational Discovery, created for ARCO’s Project Rooms in the year 2000. In this installation, he discovered the figure of an extraordinary painter, a contemporary of El Greco, but unlike him in that his figures were chubbier. The works installed at ARCO were modest replicas created by Solakov because, even today, showing El Búlgaro’s originals proves controversial and risky, above all in Spain. Nedko explains:

"There is too much hard-to-ignore evidence that El Greco himself was hiding behind El Bulgaro's personality. The production of all these elongated, slimy, unhealthy figures all day long, day after day, commission after commission, apparently placed an enormous burden on El Greco‚s psyche. Most probably, during the full moon, on those Toledo nights, the famous Greek would wake up acting like a lunatic, not capable of realizing what he was doing, and led by his subconscious impulses, he would enter his studio again (or another - still unknown, room) and start painting these mighty, natural-looking men and women, bites from daily life.
According to another (not yet publicly-disclosed) document, El Greco's second ego came from one of his grandmothers who adventurously moved to the island of Crete from Southern Bulgaria (which was at that time under Turkish occupation). It seems that this Bulgarian grandmother put a fateful mark over little Domenikos. The Bulgarian seed worked deeply in his mind during his early years in Crete, Venice, Rome, Madrid and finally it exploded in an unexpected, unpredictable way in Toledo. On some of the surviving works, there is the signature "El Bulgaro." Finally, the artist felt free to disclose his identity. The Bulgarian ego guided him through full moon nights when he sought spiritual balance. The limelight on El Greco's widely-acclaimed glorious altarpieces and official portraits found its counterpart in the moonlight illuminating the weird El Bulgaro‚s modest but no less honest little paintings.
An incidental witness of these activities happened to be one of the house servants who immediately reported to the family. The folks were horrified and at once called for the family doctor who performed an extensive treatment on El Greco‚s body (secretly, of course. The same doctor observed that a possible reason for El Greco's moonlight walks might be an overdose of the hot chocolate that he normally drank in the late afternoon. The drink was pretty new at that time, a fresh arrival from the new overseas provinces and therefore it still had not been examined properly). The family council decided to keep this second behavior of the artist a secret. The scandal that certainly would have arisen in the society of potential clients was something that could not be risked. Not to mention, the Inquisition authorities, even in those times, didn‚t like Bulgarians so much. Therefore, the already painted works were locked away in a safe secret place and the doctor treated the Maestro with a short series of highly-advanced hypnotism sessions (during which appeared the details of his shameful Bulgarian origin). The servant who witnessed El Bulgaro/El Greco in action was kicked out of the house. Unfortunately, in order to have some retribution, that dishonest man sold the idea for the peculiar co-existence of a Tall, Slimy, Elongated, Noble figure and a Flattened out, Mighty (fat) guy to a relatively unpopular writer named Cervantes or something. "

In Romantic Landscapes with Missing Parts, Solakov works on the clichés of romanticism and their various versions as they appear in everyday life. He makes a parody of the commonplaces shared by museum works and the reproductions found on the walls of hotel rooms. His point of reference is not the exoticism of Orientalist paintings, nor is it Delacroix’s excessive emotionalism or Goya’s biting satire. His source is Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes, which have become the paradigm of the romantic in popular imagination. The tiny figures lost in the distance; the icy dawns and the bleeding dusks; the contrasts between the infinity of the horizon; the pictorial mass of earth or the animistic projection of inner distress in the landscape, are all portrayed with a blatant delight in semantic games and an irony not exempt from melancholy. Nedko himself says:

The Romantic Landscapes with Missing Parts were executed in the murky winter of 2001-2002 up north in Stockholm in a nice studio at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. That was a very hard, horrible time for me, the conceptual artist who pretends that being classically educated in mural painting 20 years ago gives him some kind of advantage. Most of the time during these three months I was really pissed off by my inability to achieve in paint what I wanted (not to mention the bitter feeling that I was not quite sure what I actually did want). In such moments I had an enormous desire to close my eyes and have all these canvases, oil paints, brushes, easels, and palettes disappear so that I could again start dealing with ideas (mainly)˜a relatively easy (at least for me) way of working. But I kept doing the paintings, day by day, night after night, fiercely trying to accomplish them in an acceptable way for an audience like you.
Why am I doing this? I had been asking myself this constantly, when one day I realized that perhaps the reason for me to keep going was that I had the little hope that all the parts missing from these romantic landscapes (…) would have a better and more interesting life when left outside the paintings.

In the 12 works making up these series there is, in fact, an absence of some of the components necessary for a correct interpretation of the messages. The missing elements (the moon, the castle, the tracks of the exhausted pilgrim, …all the profound thoughts in the philosopher´s head) have escaped the limits of the canvas, where they appeared as part of a system of signs binding them to an enclosed, meaningful world, to scatter themselves round the museological space, filling it with humorous remarks about the new situations they are experiencing. To find them and follow their explanations, the viewer is forced to assume all nature of positions. Solakov thus triggers a process of physical and intellectual interaction with the work and creates a distance between the viewer and the illusion of a single, totalising perspective. He seeks to share a journey through lost time (the time of linear history and the illusion of progress) and to wander through the enlarged, disperse spaces of contemporaneity. His aim in doing so is perhaps to prove that it is not such an unpleasant experience to break away from a few established ideas and live at the mercy of the elements, away from the protection of the frame, without the certainties of the great historical narratives. Or perhaps he is trying to suggest that it is better to take it sportingly because, at least for the time being, there does not appear to be any other solution.

Through his choice of the cosmology of romanticism and the ironic deconstruction of its interpretation, Nedko Solakov creates a flow between the true and the false, between representation and its interpretations. He therefore fits in perfectly with the post-modern, anti-classical period in which the old aesthetic certainties are called into question. A healthy relativism paves the way towards a less monolithic understanding of reality while the artist is dwarfed by a landscape which overpowers him and lies beyond his reach. Unlike the romantic prototype, tortured and cursed, fearless and deranged, the post-modern artist is a fragmented being, at times lost, at times cynical but, in any event, a relativist with the ability to move in and out of a thousand different identities. This versatility shows that inventing stories, in addition to being a healthy way of spending one’s time, provides a sure chance of gaining new spaces. Or vice versa.

Published in the catalogue of the exhibition by Nedko Solakov at Espacio 1, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2003.