Nedko Solakov. Review by Elke Couchez
‘Enjoy if you can, I’m tired’: Nedko Solakov (°1957, Cherven Briag) concludes an intensive collaboration with the curators of S.M.A.K. (Ghent), Ikon Gallery (Birmingham), Museu Serralves (Porto) and Galleria Civica (Trento). Each space has exhibited an extensive retrospective of his works made between 1980 and 2010. Inclined towards the ironic and the absurd, ‘All in order, with exceptions’, the first retrospective of the artist in Belgium has a highly political undertone.
At stake in Solakov’s drawings, paintings and installations is the search for a proper stance towards the communist past of his native country Bulgaria. This question is never postulated directly, only by using a strategy of dissensus, a political tactic by which the artist constantly undermines his own statements. Each statement put forward in this show thus becomes almost immediately an understatement. By adding hilarious comments on the museum walls - like ‘mistake’ or ‘fuck, I look like an official artist’ - Solakov makes side notes to his own artistic practice. The arisen footnotes form a meta-commentary, which is also noticeable in ‘Folders’ (2011), a bookcase containing files for each year of Solakov’s artistic practice. Next to the pictures showing his work, the artist mocks the public, the curators and above all himself in sharp-witted slogans and musings.
Solakov plays a similar dialectical game while exploring the possibilities of drawing. Because drawing is a constant process of adjusting and reshaping, the artist keeps his graphic lines from outlining a fixed form. In this way, drawing is a political medium, for it questions the established forms of the visible and perceptible. In other words: in drawing and redrawing lines, Solakov creates a dissensus. Another indication for the political character of drawing in the oeuvre of Solakov, is that the picture plane doesn’t conceal previously made gestures. In his work ‘Our family (over naked body, 1986-87)’, he paints a comical portrait of a family over a rejected work depicting a slug. Under the thick layers of paint, the outlines of the slug are still visible. Painting and drawing thus manifest the potential to write and rewrite on a picture plane that never forgets. What is underneath still dictates the present condition of the artwork. This can be read as a metaphor for Bulgaria’s communist past, which - even when the result is ironic, poetic or absurd - determines the choices of the artist. In this way, the drawings and scribbles reveal the artist’s fears and frustrations regarding this past that never can be brought to a close.
The exhibition in S.M.A.K. shows an artist searching for an attitude towards history and society. Solakov himself claims on a wall that as an ammonite, a stuffed duck or a snowflake, he could establish a more suitable relationship with his surroundings. Though absurd and full of humour, the artist is totally engaged with society and demands a similar attitude from the viewer. By taking a step back from the actual situation, he questions it without making compromises. Isn’t absurdity provocative’