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    Elena Panayotova

    An Artist’s Statement

           I was born in Sofia, 1964, to a family of artists. My parents were free-thinking and very tolerant, and their spirit was perhaps what marked me the most in my early childhood, despite the fact that those weren’t easy times to live and work in. I was surrounded by love and attention, was allowed to participate in the conversations and discussions of “the adults”. No one imposed upon me any prescriptions on what’s right and wrong, or any rigid life lessons. My parents didn’t push me to become an artist - I was free to become a mathematician or a chemist as I wanted to; yet I was always encouraged to examine everything analytically, methodically, with a sobering sense of humor and healthy degree of self-criticism. With that amount of freedom to explore, surrounded by beauty and all kinds of wondrous things, I was keenly interested in everything.

    I started drawing when I was about twelve, focusing at that time on mastering my skills. My father was a man of strong character and high ethics, and so never interfered with my artistic quest. He was an example for me on how to aim for the highest in any given situation. Thanks to a certain degree of strong-headedness, I allowed no one to meddle with my work, hoping somewhat naively to discover the nature of things all by myself.

    During the Communist regime, education was rather conservative and scholastically quite boring. But it taught us discipline. Information about the contemporary state of the arts abroad trickled in with considerable delay and often in a “filtered,” i.e. distorted form. With the fall of communism in 1989, however, an avalanche of free forms and ideas flooded in, and the new dilemma was whether to fend off that influence or take the road less traveled and break free into an unfamiliar search for (new) forms of individual expression and concepts.

           In a sense, I don’t have the ambition of always being recognized as an author, for fear that I might fall into a routine gap or the trap of rehashing already solved problems. This is why some of my works may seem very different from one another. Being an artist to me is not an occupation; rather, it is a way of life full of amusements. I’m not interested in pleasing the tastes of a large audience - the appreciation and support of friends is often enough. Imperfection and fragility are sweeter to me than pursuing grand and absolute values. What I value the most is interpreting my visions, mutating familiar forms into something unexpected, using different media, materials, and approaches. It’s a never-ending play, a never-ending pleasure, a continuous dialogue between me and the challenges I set myself. Sometimes work can be like a straight-jacket, so I need to ease up the tensions. Discipline and permanence are a daily routine. And the pleasure of experimentation is boundless.

    Although great skill is necessary, artist’s dream remains to be one of innocence and purity. For all the technical mastery one might possess, an artist still wants to retain the curiosity, visual and emotional freshness, and unmediated intelligence of a novice. The main task in art, in my view, remains to explore freely, work with dedication and love, and realize that every detail in life is meaningful. It is a natural duty of each artist to observe and register the processes that occur around him. And to react, even not always in a rational way, to what happens. In such stormy period as in the last decade, full of political changes and social shocks, of turning pints in public spirit, challenges and victories, people react differently and learn to develop their own characters. In this sense artists have even higher responsibilities; art attempts to answer questions that appear important for more and more people, outside the constant target art audience. Arts rather inspire and provoke new points of view, ideas, sentiments, ways of observation, of analysis and synthesis.

             For me the notion “work of art” has lost long ago its elite sense and now sounds pretentious and hollow. I am trying to attract audience not as passive viewers, but to take a role in the whole process of creating and building up the work; I often intentionally provoke it to sometimes spontaneously reach and modify my idea. As a matter of fact artworks today should be aimless and senseless without close relation between artist and audience. ‘Cause I take freedom as obligation Of much greater importance is the mutual  exchange of ideas, views, opinions and information, that help to build contacts or to break them, to turn the art piece into a visual proof of the moment, or into a process of common knowledge.

    In the last 4 years my work has changed a lot, it “acts” already not only in gallery spaces and museums but has stepped beyond the narrow frames of commonly accepted aesthetics and simple beauty. I continued working on photography, painting, objects, texts, and started using video and sound elements in my installations. I am searching this equivalent contact with the audience as well as with people involved in my last works (prisoners, street children, homeless people, broad acquaintance) through various projects such as States Of Freedom, radical:vaguely, The Bulgarian Landscape as a Methaphor, A Dream Come True, The Movable Peninsula. I also try to provoke reactions on different levels and to shatter the accumulated prejudices. A closer look at the life changes, we are used to be with every day and can not notice and realize clear enough.

    I am highly interested to get acquainted with people of different backgrounds, to get familiar with their (hard) way of life, provoking them to confess sincerely their secret thoughts, dreams and desires, consisting probably from very simple things.      

    My personal contacts with artists based in other countries, of different cultural backgrounds and aesthetic views brought to a lot of common projects and exhibitions. In the last years I was active as a curator along with my own artistic work. The opportunity to travel and get to know the art scene in Europe and America has been profoundly beneficial. These contacts and friendships are, I’d say mutually enriching. My experience in international projects and festivals of contemporary art have been a chance to exchange creative ideas, and an inspiration to reflect upon art and my own growth. As the boundaries between countries and cultures grow increasingly narrower, the insistence on national specificity and artistic identity seems less and less relevant. 

    I don’t want to reveal everything, to provide answers to questions such as “What does that represent? What do you mean by that?” I am only interested in the natural rhythm of shapes, lights and shadows, reliefs and forms. No knowledge is ever complete, and in each work, panel, frame or object, too, there is something that is only suggested, a fragment alluding to what cannot be seen. What has to be continued.


    January 2004