In the temple of Theodore Ushev

Where Art is emotion and excitement, not decoration.
By Aneta Nedyalkova

A Christian temple with an altar. Thermal blankets, those used for refugees, victims of terrorist attacks or frozen mountaineers, people in crisis. The blankets are the artist’s canvases, painted with over 10,000 figures, texts from the Bible and European poems. Voices of politicians come from everywhere. Lighting is dimmed. A visitor enters this temple with a flashlight and his path to catharsis begins.
Teo Ushev presented his installation “Like In a Dark Mirror” in Sofia City art gallery after six months of preparation. Everyone who entered the artist’s temple found the part of the exhibition his soul was looking for. Тhe impression is different for each visitor.“

The installation is my reflection on what’s happening in our lives. With all the scandals around us we cannot see the whole picture. We are so engrossed in the negative, every day plagued by the same problems, that we do not know how to get out and this is one of the meanings of this installation” explains the author. What do we lack to have faith? How do we deal with falsehood and hypocrisy? When is reality turned inside out and the virtual becomes more real? Such questions are asked by the artist in search of the truth. Theo Ushev is a graphic designer, poster/post maker and animator who lives in Canada. His last animated works – the short films “Tower Bawher” by Georgy Sviridov, the children’s “Queen” and “The Man Who Waited” based on Kafka’s text – won many prizes around the world. In 2013 “Gloria Victoria” was named Best Animated Film of the Year in the USA poll featuring 15 leading critics and festival directors. The film was also nominated for the Annie Awards (the Hollywood cartoon prize) in the same year the Canadian film Institute published a book dedicated to Ushev’s work. Last year Theo Ushev was nominated for an Oscar for the short animation “Blind Vaysha”. The film did not win, but the artist was invited to be in the jury for the best foreign language movie at this year’s Oscars. And in June 2018 the short was awarded a César, the national film award of France.

Ushev’s exhibition at the Sofia City Art Gallery was specially made for Bulgaria at the beginning of 2018. It will be shown in Quebec, Canada next year, and in 2020 will go to Annecy, France. But the installation will be different each time. Its dynamics depend greatly on the place and the audience. Everyone keeps his temple and his salvation within himself. In this variation, the exhibition lasted only three weeks. In the next installations the concept will be preserved, but the story will be different. In the last module of the installation, called “Confessions”, the viewer enters with a helmet, which allows him to put himself at the centre of a mixed reality. When he puts on the helmet, the visitor may sink, float or run into this capsule, but can never go out. He is blocked by a wire barrier, made not out of metal but people. Ushev’s mixed reality consists of different levels that never mix. This is a symbol of the three countries of Bulgaria that exist simultaneously and in parallel. “One Bulgaria is the thinking people who want to go forward looking at the future. The second Bulgaria is retrograde people who neither want this country to change or to get worse. And a third, in which people are indifferent to the other two, and think, closed in their own cocoon of careless everyday life, that nothing depends on them,” explained the artist. He thinks of himself as an individualist and says he would have lived more easily if he could work in a team. Of course, he is now working with Bulgarians, but he is always looking for supporters, not people from a particular nationality, race or religion. Although the exhibition seems tragic to some, the author does not think its common expression is pessimistic. “Through such actions we can change the minds of people and they start to act. Because everything depends on us. The only bad thing is the people who do not believe, do not act and do not try to change,” says the artist. He is convinced that empathy will save us from retrograde isolationism, renew inspiration, and with it – a return of faith.

Maybe at that point Theo Ushev will withdraw from the bank account, so far unused, where he symbolically keeps a sufficient amount of money for a one way plane ticket to Bulgaria.

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