In his project for the Bulgarian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Alexander Valchev explores a world centered around the multilayered and contradictory relationships, full of conflicts and tension, between 21st century humans and the technologies they themselves have created.
The work consists of a spatial installation designed for this specific site. With the help of selected elements and symbols, it creates, on the one hand, the impression of a sort of “sacred space,” and on the other, the illusion of a three-dimensional algorithm. In the context of a reality that is becoming increasingly digitalized, the algorithm has not only taken on a cult status and begun to determine an enormous share of modern life, but has also almost turned into its metaphor.
Are We the Champions? is a project in which Alexander Valchev, employing various artistic media – sculpture, photomontage, video, objects – gives (visual) expression to the hopes and fears connected with the process of digitalization, which in the meantime has begun to influence spheres of life considered until recently to be inviolably personal. In the previous century, probably only a few visionaries could really imagine our present-day progress and the opportunities brought about by new technologies, as well as the practical inconceivability of everyday life without them. It is namely this fluctuation – the blurred boundary between the hope for a better life and the fear of the lack of an alternative outside the network – that determines both the artist’s approach to his work and his choice of materials and structural decisions. In the world of computer programming, an algorithm is a stable, strictly defined sequence of steps leading to the solution of a given task. In the world of the artist – it is more like a fragile construction made out of (“analogue”) cardboard and cardboard boxes. This is the ubiquitous packaging in which our dreams and desires, generated by an artificial intellect, arrive to us in the form of products and consumer goods. Products about which we convince ourselves / we have been convinced that by possessing them, we will be happy: objects (fetishes) which serve as our “shield” against the outside world, foods that make us “champions,” “medicines” that make us resistant…
Alexander Valchev’s installation is accessible; its entire intellectual and emotional perception is possible by means of physical contact with it. By moving through the space, viewers find themselves in a world in which nature competes with industry, and personal space has been taken over by social media and video surveillance; language is reduced to symbols. The work’s impact comes from the unexpected combination of elements which, on both a conceptual as well as on a purely material level, are usually considered incompatible – as, for example, Olympic circles of barbed wire, or a cardboard obelisk, at the top of which the expected hieroglyphs or inscriptions have been replaced by emoticons. And the opposite, too – the ones and zeros of the algorithm are replaced by words and sentences. The work deconstructs the classical ideas of technological thinking, which makes a digital model of matter. Here, however, matter, influenced by digital constructs, transforms all by itself into a means of creating “digital” realities.
As a part of modern society and a participant in its processes, Alexander Valchev contemplates the direction that humanity has taken. The artist’s musings, clad in visual form, are not necessarily pessimistic, just as the direction is not necessarily dystopian, but at moments, the sensation in the installation is that of a space whose elements, taken from real life, are slipping beyond human control. What are the roles of artificial intellect and technology, and will we succeed, with their help, in preserving nature, in creating the ideal human? Will we defeat our fears? Alongside the euphoria of progress also lurks the question: Are we the champions?
Ilina Koralova 2021