Emil Mirazchiev was born 1960 in Plovdiv. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia. His works in the field of contemporary art contain installations, video art, photography, lithography, handmade paper and objects, for which he has gotten many awards. He is a member of the avant-garde art group “Edge” from the 90s. Also, he is the director of the Art Today Association (Center for Contemporary Art in Plovdiv), which he initiated.
Kaleidoskopyian: You are the head of the Art Today Association, an association for contemporary art. It is located in an ancient Turkish bath in Plovdiv. What do you exhibit there right now?
Emil Mirazchiev: Right now we can’t exhibit anything there because it is too cold. The building is quite old and we tried to make renovations the last 20 years, however the conditions are not so good. We will start with the exhibitions in spring and they will be until October/ November – it depends on the weather.
K: Do you focus mainly on Bulgarian artists in your exhibitions?
EM: Not just Bulgarian. Everything! Bulgarian, international. But actually one of our projects, called “Art Positive,” is only for the local artists. It is a special project because at the beginning we started with the week of contemporary art, and we saw that the local audience and artists were a little bit afraid of what we were showing, because we also did the first project for new media and electronic art and when they came inside and saw the TV and some projectors they said “What is this? This is no art!” They were…
EM: Yes, they were shocked! Because this is something in which they are not educated. And this was the reason we decided to make this project - “Art Positive,” just for the local artists. We wanted to work with them and educate them. This is like a laboratory for contemporary art.
K: So do you think in general that people in Plovdiv don’t have such a big education in art?
EM: Well, it depends on what kind of art! There are two schools for art, one of which is the Academy of music, dance and fine arts.
K: So it is more about the traditional art and not about contemporary art?
EM: Yes, actually it is very strange because the teachers from the university tell the students “Don’t go to the ancient bath, it is something dangerous!” This is something very funny, but now step-by-step some students that finish their education there start to present their ideas and want to participate in our projects. We see that they have ideas, but they have no education and experience with contemporary art. Therefore we work together with them and help them to realize their ideas. But the last two years things are improving because they start to learn about video arts, that’s a big step in a more contemporary direction.
K: This year the Lummix light festival will take place for the first time in Plovdiv. You started an open call for artists that want to participate in the festival. What can we expect from the artists from Plovdiv in this discipline?
EM: Honestly, 10 years ago we made an exhibition which was part of “Art Positive” and the topic was also the light, with many light objects and installations. And I expect also these artists to exhibit something, but now two days ago there was the deadline.
K: How was the feedback so far?
EM: The result is not that amazing and I have high standards and I set a lot of criteria. But anyway there were also some good suggestions and I think it will be nice and interesting. We also got some suggestions for the public space but now we have to be precise in which ones we will choose. Some of them are on a really, really high level but also quite expensive and now we have to calculate. As an art director I think it will be a really good festival because maybe you know that every month a new light festival appears somewhere all over the world. Most of them present only the technical progress but my idea is also to keep a high level of art.
K: The concept is not only about art as a way of self-expression, but also as a tool for social change in the Roma district Stolipinovo.
EM: Yes, because I believe that the light is a very good media to involve many people. I believe that the Roma people in Stolipinovo will do a very good art piece. There will also be an installation in the public space and they have to choose the space, they have to do it themselves. There will also be a concert with music, dance and visualizations with light – a result that combines all kinds of different arts.
K: It is quite an open-minded concept. Before I came to Plovdiv I made research about the city and one of the things that German online newspapers told me first was that there is Stolipinovo which is a Ghetto, a no-go area because it is too dangerous. What would you tell these German journalists if you could meet them in person?
EM: I don’t know, what kind of journalists these are, maybe they're right? For the capital of culture 2019 we went to Stolipinovo with some German consultants to break this Ghetto and to open the Ghetto, that people from there will go to the city and that people from the city can go there. And now we have different examples from people that start to organize themselves and start to work there. There is one radio in Stolipinovo, one guy from Austria realized this project with the support of the Austrian government. Now he also works with the people from Stolipinovo to educate them as journalists. I was there and I gave them an interview. This is part of the small steps that can develop this place in a social, economical and also political way. Because if this radio educates Roma people they can work and earn money – the natural process. We also made workshops for them about light art and educated them about this topic. They can realize something on their own afterwards and the best artworks will be exhibited in the center for contemporary arts afterwards.
K: Still the different ethnicities of Plovdiv live segregated, but the slogan of the capital of culture 2019 is “Plovdiv together”. What do you think, how much progress in uniting Plovdiv can be made until 2019?
EM: This is very funny! From the beginning when we chose this slogan “Plovdiv together” I thought that this is too avant-garde for our city. It sounds simple but it is very difficult to do it. The people really love their city but working together is hard. Even with those people from the ghetto. One year I was the art director of the foundation Plovdiv 2019 responsible for the program for the capital of culture. Our idea was to really work and to do something in this ghetto. I think that the power of art and culture is the right thing at this moment to open the ghetto. But people here don’t know how to work in this project because they don’t know how big it is and how far you have to look for. We have to look on a far horizon of 5-10 years. Not only do we have to work on this project, but we also have to use it to create an infrastructure to push the society in a creative way.
K: Plovdiv is developing right now and offers more cultural activities than before. How big is the impact of the capital of culture?
EM: Plovdiv is a good place for art. If you look back for 20 or more years you see that here something different is happening. We studied in the University of fine arts in Sofia and when we came back to Plovdiv there were only exhibitions with paintings, sculptures and graphic arts. We started to present different kinds of media, like performances, happenings, installations and videos – all media. It was very good because there were only very few artists groups like this in the country that were doing something different. This year we have the idea to make an exhibition-Museum with this group to present what has happened 26 years ago. In a pubic conference we also want to explain how the politics spoiled this period of arts with not giving any support for contemporary art, not buying any artworks, not exhibiting anything in the national and city galleries. Now we want to reconstruct this period in an exhibition. It will be not only about art, also about history.
K: So there is an offer of contemporary art in the city, but do you agree that the audience is quite small?
EM: Yes, because there is no education. Plovdiv isn’t a big city, there is an audience but it is not so big. If there would be an education for contemporary art, people would start to be more interested. This is a problem caused by the ministry of education. But the situation is not that bad. When we started more than 25 years ago people said that we are crazy. Now also media is reporting about contemporary art, which shows that the society nowadays is more open. It’s a pity that the ministry of culture doesn’t understand what the meaning of contemporary art is.
K: So the governmental support is quite bad for contemporary art and you depend more on foreign support?
EM: Foreign of course! From the municipality we have a small support this year they cut our support more than twice but from the government there is no support. Ministry of Culture – zero. Now we have a support for Lummix from the EEA grants and we can realize the festival this year.
K: What is the potential of Plovdiv, the capital of culture 2019?
EM: I see that here is a creative potential but the problem is that the politicians start to think that they know everything and they want to change the cultural program. Because of the capital of culture 2019 politicians say “oh you have to take a smaller position because this is very important!” Even the mayor said “I am responsible for this project!” and I tried to clarify on Facebook that it is the artists that are responsible for it, the people who really realized the application of the culture program! They have to support it but not to own it! If they support the full program it will be good but if they try to change it in a corruptive way it will turn out bad. Sometimes the politicians have bad consultants that give old fashioned ideas. That is dangerous for the project. But as long as we keep the project in a contemporary way it will be really successful!