Ikon presented the first major exhibition in the UK of work by Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov (b. 1957); a chronological survey comprising one work per year since he emerged as an artist c. 1980.
Solakov was a key figure in The City?, 1988, a seminal exhibition staged in Sofia shortly before the fall of the Communist national government. Local artists worked together to propose new ways of making and experiencing art, creating installations that were cleverly critical of the status quo. Some of Solakov’s paintings made around this time – with their tendency towards story-telling and figuration – were sometimes confused with a Soviet sanctioned style, yet in retrospect they can be seen as completely consistent with the candid self-deprecating approach that informs his artistic practice as a whole. For example, Fear (1987), with its isolated passenger in the belly of a jet plane, beautifully embodies the artist’s own fear of flying.
Top Secret (1990) is Solakov’s most famous work. It epitomises the emotional honesty and knowingness inherent in his practice and catapulted him to fame. Shown at the height of Bulgaria’s political unrest, it consists of a box file with cards inscribed to communicate his ‘shameful secret’, the fact that he had collaborated with the Bulgarian secret police as a youth during 1976 to 1983. He stopped voluntarily and no publicly known documents exist relating to his involvement. (22 years after the political changes in Bulgaria, in general the files remain closed). Made without coercion of any kind, Top Secret was a cathartic gesture, a means by which Solakov voluntarily unburdened his ‘hurting heart’, yet also smartly funny in its execution. Other works from the late 1980s, including My Conscience Tormenting Me (1988), a painting of the artist wracked with guilt, are similarly edgy in their disclosure.
After Top Secret, Solakov’s work developed an expressive range, perhaps exemplifying the complex freedom that his country now enjoys. Paintings and drawings take their place alongside photographs, readymades and other sculptural pieces, performance, video and installation. This ‘narration into 3D space’, as the artist puts it, extends to remarkable uses of existing interiors: the 2006 work Toilets is recreated at Ikon, a piece that involves inscriptions on and around fittings in the ladies and gents lavatories.
Solakov’s artistic output is prolific; his vast body of work is clearly evident in a display of archival folders, The Folders (2011), painstakingly put together by the artist, which document hundreds of works by him alongside pertinent facts relating to each year in question. At once very personal and encyclopaedic, this is the world according to Nedko Solakov, coloured by a characteristically melancholic sense of humour.
This exhibition was organised in collaboration with S.M.A.K., Ghent, Museu de Serralves, Porto and Fondazione Galleria Civica, Trento. The exhibition was sponsored by Deutsche Bank and supported by the Henry Moore Foundation.
Nedko Solakov’s exhibition is part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival (7–16 October 2011). www.bhamcomfest.co.uk
An illustrated catalogueaccompanied the exhibition, priced £45. Published by Hatje Cantz, edited by Ikon and co-produced with S.M.A.K., Ghent, Museu de Serralves, Porto and Fondazione Galleria Civica, Trento, it includes texts by Iara Boubnova (founding Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Sofia), Christy Lange (writer, associate editor, Frieze) and an interview between the artist and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (Artistic Director, dOCUMENTA (13)).
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