How back can one roll the years? Which point of time one chooses to identify as a past, a history, a completed event? When is one ready to recollect neglected memories?
Essay by Bayryam Bayryamali
Instead of giving distinct answers to these questions, in her work, Krasimira Butseva offers a disordered story encompassing different generations, mixing the voices of the narrator and interviewees, recounts the experiences of those who are dead and those who are alive.
In her video installation End of the Technical Check, Butseva reverses the events as they were documented by the Bulgarian National Television. This piece sets the tone for the project “Balkan Mine”. The film challenges the spectator to unlearn, unsee, undo all one knew about the past. It situates a space for a search for potential history. A history that does not look at society through the dichotomy of victims and perpetrators, but with civic imagination.
A different set of questions would guide us to understand Butseva’s ceaseless attempt to grasp the murderous legacy of the communist regime of Bulgaria: Why does she want to wake up the dead and interview them? Why do her tears in Bulgaria fall from her eyes as if her eyes are fountains and her cheeks are their sinks? Why do the young people of Bulgaria know barely anything about the atrocities of the communist regime?
To answer all that, the artist deploys tools used by folklorists, geographers and field researchers - she listens to the stories of survivors, observes places where traumatic events happened and collects personal documents. While the video piece Christmas night is a re-enactment of a traumatic night that the artist was told about, in Rituals she explores the ancestral heritage and customs derived from those who passed away. In both, Butseva reconnects with the history of Bulgaria for which she was not aware of or that which she inherited but was always deeply buried in herself. Both pieces attempt to materialise and perform the consciously and unconsciously inherited trauma that has long been fissuring Butseva’s life.
In the video piece, Wide Field one can simultaneously see the artist walking in the snow towards the Balkan somewhere around Bulgaria while her grandmother is singing an old partisan song. As her ancestors hid in the mountains from the communist repression, Butseva’s grandmother is praising the deed of the Red Army who saved Bulgaria from fascism. Butseva attempts to hide in the mountain as some did before but fails. Instead, she decides to come and look back because she can never reconnect with what happened just by re-enacting these events. Because Butseva’s Balkan is not just the geographical parameters of the physical space. It is a Balkan that had been long ruptured, fragmented and dislocated. Her Balkan contains stories of brutal repression and stories of silence nostalgia of the communist past while her practice tries to find a bridge between them.
In her next video piece Balkan Mine, Butseva explores the history of Bulgaria under communist rule without succumbing to the traditional state narrative of the one-dimensional dichotomy of victims and perpetrators. She asks questions that should not be uttered. She challenges the notion that the lives of people who have experienced state violence do not have part the pages of the history books. As she interviews a history teacher in the video, the piece questions whether people who lived under the communist rule do not belong to the pages of history. Instead of condemning the rule of the land of the 20th century, the piece enables the spectator to understand, to eempathise, to listen to thos who have lived, suffered and have been loved.
Butseva’s Balkan is a conjunction of many languages, stories, oral histories, magical rituals, and translations. Her Balkan hides in itself narratives that haven’t been explored by those historians that serve and legitimise the state. Those historians have not written or deliberately missed writing about the state crimes under the communist regime. As Butseva did not know enough about her past and the lives of her ancestors, she cries in a different manner in Bulgaria. She cries and she does not belong to an imaginary reality where the past is erased and not talked about. There is a hollowness that embodies her existence, there is inherited trauma that she does not know how to address.
Through this piece Butseva enters the space between the artist and the historian. She looks for a new medium in order to write history. In her practice, there is an interest for the human being in their entirety, seeing one as more than a victim, with respect and imagination. Not only she explores their subjects, ideas and actions, but she also dwells into their mental states, emotionality, and habits. She imagines these dead people whom she wants to interview as complex characters. To reconnect with her Balkan, Butseva has to become the historian herself. She needs to listen, to account and to recollect the memories that are not part of the official state discourse. Only through understanding the existential reality of her ancestors, Butseva can let go of the past. Only through accepting that history is not a science of previous events, but on-going ones, events that leave their marks on us through various generations, Butseva can move forward.
Through this exhibition, Krasimira Butseva offers us a glimpse of her reclaimed Balkan. Balkan Mine, Balkan Yours, Balkan Ours.
Exhibited at Balkan Mine solo exhibition at EEP Berlin, including the works Balkan mine, Balkan ours, Ascending glorious and End of the technical check.