BY ALL MEANS SPICE IT UP, 2010, video installation

Dr. Gatev belongs to that rare breed of artists who come from nowhere. Nothing can be brought forward about them—either from their biographies or by studying general societal factors—to explain what it is that they actually do. It is the easy product of a “high natural intelligence”. Dr. Gatev arrived in Bulgarian contemporary art in the dynamism of the 1990s, and quickly commanded a tangible presence. It has stayed on, due in equal measures to his personality and his idiosyncratic works of art, some of which have served as yardsticks to this day.

His latest work, the video installation By All Means Spice It Up, is a fitting sequel to his art from some 15 years ago, which the current exhibition presents in its entirety. Shaped up by visual simplicity and inspirational weight, the project also carries a storm of meanings and a bit of murkiness. The visual text is stripped down to its basics and comes across as somehow lacking any particular sense, stating its facts impersonally and laying bare the irony. Fused through a distinctive method of construction, these qualities go to make a self-portrait which doubles as a lucid and ironic commentary. The question is, on what.

I think that besides being a spoof on how painting is done in the “right”, you-ought-to-paint-in-harmony way, it is also a video showdown, primal and brutal, of two fundamental takes on life. (And the student of human development might argue that here two opposing anthropological types are presented that mould two ways of living.)

The first image in this one-on-one shows a pole that is being driven into the ground. A metaphor for the laying of a foundation and its subsequent protection, it reflects the Christian idea of what history is and how men come to terms with time. On the other side appear the washing machines that periodically “cleanse” the human situation, and it is suggestive of the cyclic rotation of mankind within an eternal set of fixed circumstances. It is, by and large, the view maintained by the majority of Eastern religions.Dr. Gatev sees these two forms of behaviour as life’s driving forces, but he has reduced them to household banalities. This banishes them farthest from the ideas of the beautiful and the cultivated that traditional art is built upon. They belong in the modern “spice up zone”, in which the key is provided to figuring out contemporary art and where the truth about living is revealed in a raw, even merciless, technique. In By All Means Spice It Up Dr. Gatev juxtaposes two mundane images that stand for two ways of living which cohabit in our increasingly unwelcoming environment.

Ruen Ruenov