How do we identify ourselves, to which groups and communities do we belong, what do we believe in, and what are our values? The answers to all these questions are hidden in the streets of the cities we create. These shared urban spaces are, on one hand, a projection of our inner world, but on the other hand, they become a powerful political instrument because, consciously or not, the urban environment in which we grow up has a tremendous influence on the formation of our identity and allows the shaping of the idea of society.
Even the political neglect of the urban environment and the lack of a strategy and plan for its sustainable development has an impact on the population. For example, neglected public spaces might instill tolerance and acceptance of destruction and chaos in citizens. Or would they have the exact opposite effect and provoke a desire for change and care, for self-initiative? Looking at the current civic activities in Sofia and beyond, we inevitably notice one such phenomenon that evokes various conflicting emotions and division in society – the monuments. More precisely, the monuments inherited from our recent past, testifying to our sordid relation with the colonialist empire, the exposure of which has gained new relevance only recently, in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
These politically highly incorrect and historically inaccurate monuments seem to be at the core of the polarization of our society and act as a metaphorical wall of division between the ‘parallel realities’ in which we live and whose existence takes us by surprise us ever a new, as we only confront it again when we see the latest election results. Should they remain or be removed? This is a question that is present in the public discourse for over 30 years, alas to no avail. Public debate fails to lead to any action. Making a collective and general decision, changing, and recontextualizing appear impossible.
And time passes, generations change, new children grow up on MOCHA, drink beers, and ride skateboards among the sculptures of the Russian soldiers. And even though they may eventually know how controversial these figures are (if they haven’t skipped their history classes), they are somehow okay with them, accepting them, tolerating them, sharing their urban environment with them, and not objecting to doing whatever they want under the watchful gaze of the soldier with the submachine gun towering over them. And so, the Russian occupiers, although petrified, continue to occupy our public space, and together with it, our (sub)consciousness.
However, this political passivity regarding dealing with the historical trauma in the urban environment manages to provoke a special kind of civic self-initiative. The monuments in question have recently become more of a décor on the stage of an ever-louder public voices, giving expression to different civic positions. Continuously attacked (and then repaired), lynched, doused with paint, scratched and covered with graffiti, this public stage manages to give expression to the collective desire for change through acts of disobedience – something that is vital, especially during time of official politics’ inaction.
This dynamic is at the core of Luiza Margan’s exhibition, in which she studies the relationship between public and private space and how the urban environment influences and performs within the re-formation of cultural identity. However complex and intertwined the threads of Luiza’s personal history might be, they always seem to start from or lead to the question of the role of historical narrative, social and political aspects of change, and the clash between East and West. A fundamental part of her work is precisely the exposure of structures related to political, social, or economic oppression through the deconstruction and recontextualization of spaces, found objects, materials, and (cultural) images.
In the exhibition “Red Lines,” Luiza Margan pays respect to the gestures of resistance against dogma and delusion by taking them out of context and giving them the “central stage” in the exhibition space. She invites us on a speculative journey into a realm where Soviet monuments are removed and recontextualized, so that history can be learned, and community traumas healed. The exhibition invites us to imagine the hypothetical relocation of these monuments, albeit fragmentarily, and their placement away from public space. It provokes us to notice and appreciate acts of resistance and civil action, also reminding us of how important art, culture, and the urban environment are for the formation of cultural identities and how easily they could be instrumentalized.
– Marina Slavova
Luiza Margan is a visual and conceptual artist of Bulgarian and Croatian origin. After studying painting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, she continued her academic education in the department of Performative Arts and Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria, where she then permanently relocated.
Through her sculptures, installations, films and interventions in public space, she examines the discord between official and invisible histories, power relations and ideological systems inscribed in public space and collective memory.
Her works are represented in international public and private art collections, including the Generali Collection (Salzburg), the Museum of Contemporary Art – Belvedere 21 (Vienna), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Zagreb), Tobacco Museum (Ljubljana) and others.
Besides numerous awards, she received the Fellowship of the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York in 2008 and the 2019 Fellowship for Visual Artists at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. Currently, Luiza Margan is the 2023 Artist-in-Residence at the ZF Art Foundation in Friedrichshafen, Germany.