Ilian Urumov: A nation needs art to build stability, which politics and economy can in no way provide


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Platform for Arts, Institute of Art Studies, BAS, did a series of exclusive interviews with this country’s leading artists and art historians about how does it feel to make art amid the coronavirus pandemic, about its impact on culture and long-term implications.

Ilian Urumov studied Textile Design at the College of Arts in his hometown Sliven and Painting at the National Academy of Art, Sofia. He had seven solo exhibitions, author of theatre and film posters; set designer of Macbeth (dir. Tedi Moskov); A Desert Circle by Dimiter Kabakov, Pure Love based on Ireneusz Iredynski’s play, etc. He worked for the film Love, Boyden by Borislav Mihailovski. His latest solo exhibition was titled The Horizon Exhales a Promise. Presently, he works on his series The Quill. President of the UBA representation in Sliven.

Q: What are you doing now during self-isolation at home? Are you making the best use of your time?

A: I am at home, in the comfort of my family, of unfinished conversations, of books unread to the end and films unwatched to the end. The other important isolated island of refuge is my studio. I am painting vary much and very concentrated, this is my personal escape from the follies of the society.

Q: At what point of your work were you caught up in the COVID-19 crisis?

A: At 6:37 pm on 13 March, while mounting an advertising, I realised that I would not return to my routine work next Monday not on a whim, but because of some employers who are not visionaries. It’s a shame and a pity. Then this period evolved into a new and refreshing stage in my creative career.

Q: How did the pandemic change your everyday life, professional agenda and decisions?

A: I was engrossed in long delayed or abandoned projects. In two months alone I painted more than in the last year. I am working on two series of experimental paintings, regardless of being watched live or online.

Q: Do you have a room of your own to work in or you find it difficult to isolate yourself, taking care of young children or students?

A: I mentioned above my other ‘home’, i.e. my studio. In that space I express my discontent or concerns most strongly, clearly and sincerely. Emotions should break through the picture rather than in the newsfeeds. That’s constructive.

Q: What smouldering problematic subjects surfaced as a result of self-isolation and with all activities across Bulgaria and the world cancelled?

A: This is an impossible question. We have been alienated and socially distanced for year now. Presently, it is already in an organised manner, somewhat legally, almost of our own volition. The world is already officially not the same and interesting stories of its interpretation are coming out, but I am a traditionalist and have liking for the eternal subjects. One can rely on them even after, say, centuries. Culture across the world has reached stalemate, which in Bulgaria means below the level of the Dead Sea. A colleague offered an incredibly good comparison with The Silence of the Lambs. Sincere, but very unequal struggle for survival.

Q: Your opinion about the impact on creative and research quests and the long-term implications?

A: I think that on certain initiatives and reflective people the impact will be positive. No recipe, no vaccine. We can right now particularise art, because artworks and authors are concentrated and available to look at from our sofas. Trends and styles are surfacing, which we have missed. Now we have enough time to assimilate them carefully. New forms of digital marketing are emerging, persons supporting culture (mostly influencers). Alternatives are sought for art to continue to exist, to be preserved though not in the forms known until now. The fact that people are staying at home and they need beauty there gives a certain advantage, which is, of course, terrible, when it comes to concert halls and theatres…

Q: Where do you expect to get support in the declared state of emergency over Covid-19?

A: A helping hand is at the end of your own arm. I am sorry, but it’s a fact.

Q: What about the therapeutic role of art in the resocialization after the pandemic ends?

A: It seems I am giving answers in advance… I already mentioned people’s need for refinement at their homes.A nation needs art to build stability, which politics and economy can in no way provide. Art provides a means of identifying any civilisation for the simple reason that it creates artefacts and if they were valuable, nobody would venture to destroy them. History is replete with such examples. A fascinating artwork may give an impetus to one’s personal development and keep one’s internal harmony in balance. Getting home after a long day I always look at the same picture, each time spotting different details, but it unfailingly comforts me.

Q: Any ideas about how to resume this country’s cultural activities after the end of the pandemic?

A: A plenitude of ideas. During the total agony of this country’s cultural activities, a group of colleagues established a platform to present fine art. We achieved far more than we ever supposed. Presently, we are developing this platform towards a working business endeavour and a virtual and possibly, a physical gallery too. Now we, gallerists and curators, will reopen the spaces closed two months ago, but it is unclear if they would not be just gloomy crypts. They need visitors to thrive. Let’s not delude ourselves, cultural life will never be the same again, but we have to do our best for art to exist. If for no other reason than because of ourselves.

Ilian Urumov: A nation needs art to build stability, which politics and economy can in no way provide

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