Milko Pavlov in conversation with Philip Zidarov

M.P.: There are myriads of invisible paintings in existence. We succeed in capturing a negligibly infinitesimal part that is absolutely necessary for human life. This invisible reservoir constantly nourishes and supports us, on the one hand; on the other, it provokes us and imposes a certain sense of weightlessness, regardless of the particular circumstances in which we live.

An infinite sea of images – simultaneously appearing and disappearing – that is impossible to perceive, so we content ourselves with distorted depiction-fragments and, insofar as these fragments succeed in suggesting the fullness of the whole/the unfathomable, to that extent they are also convincing. It is clear that events allow only a small part of themselves to be captured; in this sense, reproduction of the invisible becomes an instrument (limited in itself) of cognition and, regardless of whatever technical or scientific progress, the main content becomes lost in conjecture. Cognition, for its part, irreversibly changes the world and thrusts us into the unknown – where the essence of reproductions proves to be: the successful always include the thrillingly unknown, whether they narrate or synthesise. Irrespective of the extent to which a final form (in this case, the reproduction) embodies something infinite, questions remain open as to whether this final form is a fragment of the infinite, whether it is variable, to what extent it is cognisable, and whether it can act outside the parameters it has communicated to us, viz., beyond its own description. Myriads of unpainted pictures exist. And the more we draw them, the more numerous they become.

P.Z.: The question is: where do these depictions exist? Is it consciousness that shapes them into an image, or are images deciphered by consciousness? Of course, in the latter case, the level of deciphering, which is most probably a variable quantity, cannot in the least be determined. And it is precisely the ‘X’ part of this equation that represents the reservoir of invisible paintings. The most faithful analogy remains the allegory in Book VII of Plato’s The Republic: humanity resembles a group of people who spend their entire lives in a cave and perceive reality only in the image of the shadows that the light of the world outside casts on the walls of the cave. In the previous Book, however, there is the Analogy of the Divided Line representing the exemplary ratio of the visible to the intelligible sections of the universe, thus postulating transcendental relativism and the boundaries of cognition itself. In this sense, each painting turns out to be an image consisting mainly of its ‘unpainted’ elements, of an innumerable number of doors on the latch, each ready to be opened, and leading to new images. The art of our times in the wider scope of the ‘modern epoch’ has imposed three of the most aggressive methods of travelling (or sinking?) into the maze of the ‘story within a story’: conceptual art and its derivatives (Marcel Duchamp), actionism (Yves Klein) and ephemeral structures (Christo).

M.P.: In the context of this conversation, we cannot escape the question of whether time is information or communication: what part is possible to perceive, or to realise a priori that information is, in fact, misleading. Deformations are a superficial element, without which, however, any sort of communication is impossible, whereas it is existentially necessary. Art becomes possible at a point of ‘communication breakdown’, namely, in a state of paradox. The objects are the same, and at the same time they are not: they speak a language that we understand, but that is impossible to trace logically.

I do not remember the motives that, in 2005, made me begin dating in the future, but the exhibition milkopavlov-thelargesizedrawings 2012–2030 at SCAG [Sofia City Art Gallery] was the first result of this process. The pretension of mapping different points of the unknown produces images that would in no way be different from those that are dated ‘in our days’. At the same time, the artwork usurps the right of ‘bilocation’ – to be simultaneously here and now, and where it came from – a right inherent in everything in the observable world. Thus, the notion of contemporaneity extends its parameters beyond measurable time; it overcomes the syndrome of periodicity expected of it, without any danger of self-destructing.

P.Z.: This tactic in itself contains a paradox. It is not possible to determine with certainty whether time informs owing to the possibilities for communication it provides (consistency, causation) or whether it communicates with the information it contains. It seems that this state is identical to Heisenberg’s equation illustrating the famous principle of uncertainty in quantum mechanics: ‘The position and momentum (the product of the mass and the velocity) of an elementary particle cannot be simultaneously determined; if the position is determined, the momentum cannot be found; if the momentum is measured, it is not possible to determine the location.’ The game of dating ‘in future time’ is probably closest to manipulating the conditionality of what we accept as a reference point (the Christian chronology system, the Islamic, Jewish, Roman) because the starting point is always different (and strictly personal). This also applies to the pretension of mapping the points of the unknown, as, at the instant of their ‘mapping’, all unknown points become known, i.e., already discovered.

On the other hand, I am not convinced that art is being created in the zones of disintegration of the possibilities for communication, because art consists of 100 per cent communication, mostly as a means (or experience) of the author, the artist, to communicate with himself. (This reminds me how, at the time, on every cover of the adolescent magazine, Cosmos, Marx’s popular notion that there was nothing else in the world but moving matter, stood out prominently). The very process of communication, for its part, whatever it may be, becomes pointless without causation, while the hypothetical, parallel bilocation of aesthetic or intellectual communications can have its closest analogue in a time traveller who encounters himself. Regardless of the incognoscibility of time-space, it implies the theoretical possibility of containing a potentially self-destructive paradox – for example, if, in the encounter with himself, the traveller in time kills his avatar, then he would not be born, and the meeting would not be (have been) possible.

M.P.: In Plato’s cave, ‘the light of the world’ (to use your expression) causes the existence of shadows. In the same allegory, it is also mentioned that there are people who go outside and see the light. When they return and try to convince the others that there are only illusions inside, they are put to death because they have become uncomfortable for the system, which, for Plato, is called the Republic. In his concept of the ideal republic, he recommends that the poets be expelled, i.e., the art provoking public communication is discriminated against and subsequently declared a harmful illusion. That is why I prefer to call art the moments, the actions of ‘communication breakdown’, contesting the established communication system inside the cave. Perhaps it is not accidental that, at approximately Plato’s time, the ancient Judaic doctrine prohibiting images was also formulated. In that epoch, they were already exhausted of meaning by Egypt and Babylon; besides, in Egypt, the archetype of the matrix is contained, about which, even to this day, discussions are held at different levels. It is interesting to me that the new ideas for the world of that time appeared in marginal spaces – a principle that seems to be valid even to this day. We all know that, in a broader sense, the wars forand against the image (relevant both to the painting and the art of painting) continue, even now. Conceptual tendencies are essentially Platonistic, excluding the depiction of rational formulas. They are interesting in those cases where they succeed in overcoming their own borders, when they progress beyond their own concept and allow for ‘the light of the world’ to be seen – when, through non-pictorial means, the sense of a painting is achieved, and the hegemony of the shadows is disputed. However, the general level of these quests actually turns out to be a rather hollow and easily digestible conceptual academism (again, Plato!). At the profane level, the coincidence imposes itself that those radically against the painting (as a means of cognition) prove to be the Protestants, Nazis, Communists and Islamists. Their concepts accept the painting solely in its capacity as a combative (doctrinaire, dogmatic, propagandist) device, and virtuosically manage to use it in this direction. It struck me that if Plato chases the poets out of his Republic, to Lenin the artist is ‘an idiot, but useful’, while with the Nazis and Islamists, variants are lacking.

continues… Shadows are being acted out better and better; ever-new and exciting ways of play-acting are being contrived – in line with the permanent struggle of ‘new versus old’. Society, it seems, does not want to look at the light, preferring to exist in a state of zombified conformism. Still, there is light – sometimes it scarcely percolates through, while sometimes it blinds the viewer. Of course, it is a paradox, but I do not think this is a tactic, although it seems to be. The view that the paradox is ontological is confirmed by the fact that a coexistence, a parallel course of two mutually exclusive processes, is constantly observed – on the one hand, the cosmic noise coming from all sides simultaneously, constantly and evenly, and suggesting a sense of infinity; on the other, the Big Bang and the expanding universe provide the justification for the assumption that there had been a beginning. The paradox is not even fixed – it constantly changes its parameters, as the basic principle of quantum mechanics shows us. (In the process of observation, the observer changes the observed, and vice versa.)

For me, Heisenberg marks the beginning of the end of the Age of Enlightenment when he says that ‘science is a sweet drink, the first gulp of which will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.’

Before him, Nietzsche declared God dead, and even before that, Marx had read somewhere that, in the world, there was nothing else except eternally moving matter, which is more or less according to Newton. The questions, however, of which is the driving force that moves matter, and what matter actually is, remain an aspect of the same paradox we live in.

Communication breakdown’ is the point of breakdown of public communication and opens the possibility of a sense of time of another order – not only for the personal use of artists. The Ancient Greeks had two concepts of time. If χρόνος is the measurable process (communication), καιρός is a place, a point, a zone that combines past, present and future. The paradoxical reconciliation of simultaneous non-simultaneity is accomplished precisely by energy. This is also the case with dating in the future. And my exhibition at SCAG was a process that ends in 2056 with an exhibition entitled 100 Years of Milko Pavlov in the same building, according to a notarised contract between the artist and the gallery. There was also an instructional video for reconstructing the visual situation. The risk factor is also included in the process – of course, it is not clear whether it will happen, and this is precisely what makes it interesting. Large-format sheets are impregnated with graphite by rubbing on different bases; this is the technique of ‘frottage’, known since the time of Max Ernst, who used it in small illustrations (and most children too have used it); in this case, the enlarging of the format causes an effect on the material and constrains the demonstrative narrative that appears in the mind of the viewer, and everyone sees what he can discover within himself. The first frottages, I remember from school. Although it was a newly-built edifice, the desks in the 112th School were from the period before the Second World War. Their wooden tops bore relief traces of pupils’ ecstasies and falls, favourite loo expressions, accidental layering, textures and fractures. And since I was not a good pupil (something not quite in order with communication), nor was I an eager beaver (some things are never learnt), I drew and doodled with a pencil (mostly Red Indians) and the surface of the desk constantly took part in the process. That is how my graphic experience as a doodler began; I continue it to this day, skipping time segments.

P.Z.: Quite a curious conflict exists between system and image. First, because the system itself, whatever it may be, has its own image through which it materialises in space-time. However, this image does not tolerate any image other than its own, because the (radically) different images create new systems, usually destroying the former. Thus, it proves to be a self-defensive reaction. And the more totalitarian a system is in a managerial, or the more fundamentalist in a dogmatic, aspect (which often turns out to be identical), the less tolerant it is towards ‘foreign’ images. The ‘own’, the tolerated images are those creating staticity and extra-temporality (or the stopping of time), while ‘the hostile’ have (or are falsely accused of possessing) the opposite characteristics. In the extreme iconoclastic version of the monotheistic religions – Judaism, Islam or radical Christian movements – the image has been turned into a symbol of the imaginary faith antipode – polytheism – and therefore socially fully ostracised. Ultimately, everything seems to depend on the type of ‘cave’ and on the rules in force there, of the realisation of communication inside (and outside) it. The history of civilisation and that of art (despite Plato’s fears) show quite a good synchronisation between art and a valid communication system. It was only the modern epoch that gave birth to the phenomenon of art against the system – it suffices to reread Marinetti’s Manifesto. However, with the establishment of a tolerant (or akin to it) social system in large parts of the contemporary world, art and artists cease to be a threat to its existence, and therefore the choice between radical and conformist artistic practices and behaviours has become a matter of the preference (or of creative potentialities) of the artist himself.

In this connection, it is more interesting for me to reason on art (and more specifically on the image) as an ontological category bearing a relationship to ‘the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything else’, also known by the name of God. Einstein had said that quantum mechanics explained many things, but did not even come close to the main question. Perhaps it is for this reason that I am more fond of Douglas Adams’ variant of the answer to the ‘eternal question’, which turns out to be: 42! And this seems to confute another of Einstein’s maxims, namely, that ‘God does not play dice with the universe’, which sounds like partial satisfaction owing to the failure, up to now, to refute his famous constant, E=mc², on which contemporary views on spatio-temporal cosmogony are actually premised. To cap it all, we must recall the strongest proof of the existence of God – that of Kant on the moral imperative, which, in a simple form, confirms the existence of God through the impossibility of proving His non-existence and linking it to Benedict Spinoza’s axiom, ‘Deus sive Natura’. In this connection, yet another interesting contradiction arises: if art is divine (Deus), but definitely created not as a part of nature (Natura), then, either art is not from God, or nature and God are simply not identical concepts. Perhaps this is the reason that God, in His monotheistic, prime-causal hypostasis in Exodus, 3:14 (‘I Am That I Am’ – ’Ο ΩN’) is without image, whereas art always expresses itself through an image, regardless of whether it is rational, irrational or ephemeral.

One way or another (especially regarding your own art-games), we cannot do without the two benchmarks of the eternal question – the model of God that is extra-temporal and has no cognisable formula, and the model of Einstein, which is relativistic, and in whose formula, time is a central component. If we consider καιρός as a place where the motion of time has ceased or has changed in direction as a consequence of energy, it turns out that the ancients had predicted the basic axiom of the Theory of Relativity. In another sense, the mental characteristics of art seem not to need the energy of black holes because they are in essence either extra-temporal (divine?), or fed by other forces – the Platonistic shadows, for example. However, I also think that these shadows are of a special kind – shadows that can leave traces. That is why the frottages too, through which you are trying to outwit the course of time, as we mortals know it, turn out to be part of the same game of shadows that is writing its infinite record on the fluid walls of eternity.

Conversation on „Brothers in Arms” at the Yuzina Gallery, 2012