Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"The rain will not erase it" - Interview with Mladen Alexiev (BG)

Mladen Alexiev (1980) is a theatre maker from Bulgaria. He partecipated to the Terni Festival 2014 ( with two different works called “Standing Body” and “A Poem”, giving the name “The rain will not erase it” to the entire Festival.

By Carla Capodimonti and Richard Pettifer
Available in Italian at 

Carla Capodimonti: I found your works about “walking” very interesting. In the history of art we can find a lot of examples and inspirations about walking: in 1921, Dada organized a series of guided tours to various trivial places in the city, in the 50’s, the Letterist International began the 'theory of drift' which turned into situations experiencing creative and playful behaviours and unitary urbanism. Constant reworked Situationist theory to develop the idea of a nomadic city (“New Babylon”) introducing the theme of nomadism into architecture. From mid-century, artists started to use walking in nature as art. In 1966 the magazine Artforum published the journey of Tony Smith on a highway under construction. In 1967, Richard Long produced “A Line Made by Walking”, a line drawn by trampling the grass of a lawn. Since 1995 the group Stalker conducted readings of the cities in different parts of Europe from the point of view of wandering, to investigate the urban areas and the contemporary transformations of a changing society.1

Did you find some kinds of inspirations from the history of art for your work called “A poem”? What is your definition for “walking poem”?

Mladen Alexiev: Actually, the starting point for the intervention “The rain will not erase it” is that I did in Amsterdam in the Autumn of 2013 and its follow up – the photographic project “A poem”, developed in collaboration with the Italian photographer Eleonora Anzini and presented in the frame of the last edition of Terni Festival - originate from quite opposite interests of mine. For quite some time my fascination has been not with the act of walking but, instead, with the act of standing. At one point in my practice I wanted to strip down everything I know about theatre-making. I was thinking – what is the minimum physical expression an individual can do without any special preparations, what is the minimum (political) statement a single body can make? And I have chosen a simple entry point – a body enters a space, its appearance is already a statement – inevitably.
It is not about the walking but rather for taking a stand. Literally. To hold yourself back. To make your body visible through imposed discipline. To leave it somewhere. To deny the body the right to move, to make an attempt to put it into halt. I am touched by the state of emergency that this simple act suggests.

So I am not interested in the history of art in the first place. At one point in the process, links and references naturally occur. But I find it quite suffocating to have it as a starting point. In the end, the history of art is a graveyard in which we find ourselves aspiring or ascribed to certain lineages, attempts and illusions. Our loves make it alive.

"A POEM” (Design and Text: Mladen Alexiev – Visual concept, photo & graphic design: Eleonora Anzini)

Richard Pettifer: This 'urban art' phenomenon. There is a kind of obsession at the moment about fusing art with architecture and urban planning in order to make it (art) functional again. In the words and images of “A Poem” we see perhaps something different, something more useless and futile, placed against the perceived progress of movement through different spaces of Terni. But these are just locals holding the signs of protest - there is no real activism (and no real action) here. Are there?

MA: Of course, not! In the photographic project “A Poem” we are using the protest signs, but with them we head towards something else. I have been busy with cultural activism in my country for quite some time and I am absolutely fed up with it. Why should we justify art in order to please some psychopathic bankers and short-sighted politicians? It is really fascinating how the entire cultural sector is ready to offer itself immediately, literally, to submit in front of its financial masters, giving up the very dignity of art-making.

So – no, I am not interested in reshaping the city in order to make the everyday environment more entertaining for the people, and to prove that art matters. Because it matters anyway. My entire feeling towards the so called “creative industries” is that they are offering to the population cake when this very population does not have bread to eat. I don’t see any point of concentrating on “creative solitions” within certain cases of misery when the real question should be – how come this misery got produced, how the present mode of governance has produced this misery, and how come it keeps going?

Gary Peters, Steve Purcell, Mladen Alexiev and Cristina Rizzo during the Mobile Academy of Terni Festival 2014 – photo: Carla Capodimonti
Our step is very very simple: Let’s take a stand for things that are out of sight, and maybe for things that even don’t exist. Not to protest against something but rather to underline our need to affirm things out of the actuality of the personal, social or political context.
CC: Regarding “A poem”, you wrote a sort of “status” for people who wanted to take part in the project. It had some questions to answer, such as “What would you like your life to be example for?” “What would you die for?” and “What is the most important thing in life for you?”
How was your experience in Terni, and did you find some differences between Italy and others countries in terms of expectations of life?

MA: Down there, are our expectations from life so different? I don’t think so. These questions are just triggers. The difference or the similarity in the responses is something that the group action of the poem is not concerned with. In the end, the responses are for the person to open for him/herself a space and (eventually) to connect to the suggested action of holding a sign in a public place. On the side of the participants, the importance lies in finding personal reason for making the action, and not so much in the words themselves. The people taking part have been asked to find a reason, but not to disclose it to us. It is important that part of the action stays only for the doer and we don’t use it directly as material.

RP: You created this work as part of a student program for Das Arts in the Netherlands. The organisers from Terni found it, and told you it fitted perfectly for the festival. Now it's on posters and T-Shirts everywhere, giving you a cult hero status on a local level. Were you worried throughout the process about your work being appropriated like this? Do you sense a contradiction between the work’s philosophy, and how it's being employed here in Terni?

MA: I did the intervention “The rain will not erase it” and yes, it suddenly got picked up by the team of Terni Festival as a slogan and an image of the edition this year. In general I navigate carefully with institutions since I know from experience how blind and harmful creatures they can be. In the case with Terni Festival I took it more as an experiment – how a single action could be taken from a structure and multiplied, how this other context will influence the project for further development, how I can revisit my initial drive for the action and open it up even more? Such questions. And I don’t mind to let them do that because I find their effort meaningful – the effort to bring contemporary performing arts to certain community which otherwise will most likely not know that they exist.

„THE RAIN WILL NOT ERASE IT“ (Design and Text: Mladen Alexiev – Visual concept, photo & graphic design: Eleonora Anzini)
CC: During the workshop with the Mobile Academy in Terni we spoke a lot about the role of the public, discussing about its position in the creative process, if it’s involved in the performance or not. We saw your work “Standing body” (a lecture performance resulting from a specific work for Terni Festival) in which the public was involved in the preparation and the execution of a non-protest walk along the city. What is your relationship with the audience?

MA: Good question. At the moment I can say it is complicated. I am in a process of revisiting my own drives – for art-making and communication. What I can say is that I am busy with providing and facilitating for the audience a particular perspective or atmosphere. This is where my current interest lies.

RP: And what is your relationship with your self?

MA: Well, we are fighting a lot, I guess.

Special thanks to: CAOS - Centro Arti Opificio Siri (Terni), Mladen Alexiev, Eleonora Anzini, Mobile Academy, Simone Pacini.
1 See Francesco Careri (2009), Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice

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