Edno Magazine issue 76, pp 76-77
A Greek artist made a film in Sofia
Theo Prodromidis is an artist, working mostly with media. He was born in Thessaloniki, but he lives in London for 10 years now. Last autumn he spent two months in Sofia as a resident of the InterSpace Media Art Centre in the frame of the EMARE (European Media Art Network) residency. Theo Prodromidis graduated from the prestigious Goldsmith College in London. His work in the field of art is varied– he does photography and performances, he paints, from time to time he resorts to digital media, but he expresses his ideas mostly with films. For the first time he showed his works done in Bulgaria at the exhibition and events programme Stay, Stay, Stay that took place in the former Sofia Central Bathhouse (the old Secession building is now being renovated and will become a classy spa-centre and a history museum of the city). Theo presented at the exhibition a sculpture and collages. His works were something like a trailer to his film Je mehr es hervordringt that he shot during his stay in Sofia. Here is what Theo told me when I visited him in his atelier just a few days before he left Sofia.
How have you chosen to come to Bulgaria?
I wanted to make a film about Bulgaria since it entered the European Union. The subject that I explore in my work is the city – as an urban landscape and architecture. When I learned that there is an opportunity for a residency here decided to shoot a film about Sofia. I am interested in the way the city landscape has been changingin the last years. Another subject is the investment – not just in terms of financing. I mean investments in ideas, culture and art – for example an artist can invest in his work given value that gradually increases and at a certain moment it becomes an artwork with a critical potential. An investment can be something very beautiful. So my work in Sofia is an investment in the city.
Most of the people in the team you worked with were Bulgarians. How did you find them?
It was not very easy because usually I work with people that I know and in most of the cases they are my friends. When I arrived in Sofia the first thing I did was to take a bicycle and go round the city searching for places that I like and find interesting and also to get used to the people and the way they inhabit the city environment. Bit by bit I started to find the track, to get to know some people and to ask them about both life in the city and about the pragmatics of a production there. My initial idea was to do something related with the shopping malls that are being built now; I had in mind something like a performance. I wanted it to be based on the fact that the malls actually shift the centre of the city toward its periphery and become the new centre. But eventually I decided to concentrate on the new architectural characteristics of the city and in the city.
Where does your deep interest in architecture arise from?
What I want to research is why certain buildings inhabit a specific space in specific time. At the Stay, Stay, Stay exhibition I showed a sculpture which was the visual equivalent of the Europe Tower project in Sofia. I exhibited also altered found images of socialist buildings that I found in books published by the communist regime. I tried to apply aesthetic manipulation to these buildings.This action was very much influenced by the Suprematism and the result resembled a movie story-board – the triangles that I added to the pictures represented the camera, and the lines – its movements. My aim was to visualize a possibility in the buildings with the means of the cinematographic language.
Tell me more about your film Je mehr es hervordringt that you made in Sofia.
At the beginning of the movie we see how Linda, the main character, observes the construction site of the future Europe Tower in Sofia. In the next scene we land in Sofia Theatre where we see stage design students making a stage reproduction of the same building. This is the transformation of the building process into a scenic construction. At the end the whole process passes over into the music of the metal band that plays on a building block opposite to Sofia Mall. These three scenes are symbolically linked by the sense of the city they create.
What were your criteria in choosing the music?
I wanted to find the musical antipode to Europe Tower which is very pure in its form but at the same time very aggressive. For me metal music best translates the image of this tower into sound. In the last century modernist composers transformed the form into sound using serialist systems or electronic music. According to me, Sofia’s urban landscape cannot be represented by it. I had to find something more powerful. Another issue was that the metal music remains underground and very rarely reaches the mainstream. The bands that play such music are absolutely aware of the fact that they will never become very popular. I work often with musicians. I like to participate in the process of creating of muisic because it is similar and also different to the creative process of a visual artist.
Why does the main character in your film speak German?
This character is to a great extend autobiographical. The framework of the residency expects from me pretty similar things to what the character is doing– observation, transformation and the offering of an outcome. The choice of having the main character related to Germany is also because I came here thanks to the EMARE network that is based in Germany, in Halle where the film is also going to be exhibited next year. And the architectural office that designed Europe Tower is German as well. I think that Bulgaria has a long historical connection with Germany – also Sofia sometimes reminds me of East Berlin.
I was very impressed by the way language is used in your film.
The aim of the text was to function as Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt. Actually the role of the text is of relative importance to the action, but still it creates a totally different feeling of space. The fragments where you see photocopies with text cut the flow of visual pictures. When I use the word in my work I want to give it a very pure form and to represent it almost as an object. For this work, I chose pretty difficult texts – by Benjamin and Hegel. It depends on the spectator if the text will be useful for him/her. Actually it is almost impossible to understand these texts from the first viewing. It is more likely that they make one eager to see the film again. And these are texts that we read over and over again as well.
How do you find Sofia? Do you have a critical attitude towards its constantly changing landscape?
Sofia is a city full of contradictions. It is interesting for me how the political and historical context changes it. Capitalism transforms the city with slight regard to past and future but the development of the urban landscape is likely to be dependent on the political regime. It changes the strategies of how a building should operate for example – in the socialist times everything was grey and now there is the other extreme of the exaggerated gaudiness. I am not in to criticize but I am convinced that we should forge history in order to think of the future. My aim is to create aesthetical works that are like artistic reportages.