Light is Life – Mihail Vuchkov

The original language of this article is English. If you read it in another language, it means it is an automatic translation.

by Madalina Dragos

Mihail Vuchkov is an amazing Bulgarian visual artist and the author of the art exhibition “The other Bulgarian Women,” a highly discussed event in the Bulgarian media because the artist used trans women models to create his compositions. 

I think that every artist in the world has at least one other artist, contemporary or not, whom he reveres in terms of his artistic work and is influenced by it in one way or another.

In this case, Mihail reinterpreted some works of art by the famous Bulgarian painter Vladimir Dimitrov (1882-1960), who during his lifetime was called Maystora (The Master) for his talent.

Like Maystora, Mihail, through his compositions, wanted to bring to light “the human and nature” their coexistence in harmony, the only true way in which they can exist together! 

Mihail’s style, regarding these compositions, is unique, called by himself Analog-Naivism, each composition in the series of nine being made up of several photos superimposed on thin plexiglass layers separated by flashing LED lights.

I think that beyond all the controversial discussions surrounding this exhibition, the culture of art has been enriched again by these compositions that have a dynamic character from the first to the last layer, by their very nature, inviting us to an inner introspection on what we should have developed in each of us, qualities such as empathy, respect, honesty or courage.

The interview is divided into three parts, considering the multiple nuances that can be deduced or that are the basis of these wonderful works of art, and I let the reader get to know Mihail through it.

The artistic side

Q: How many sheets does the installation have? How did you come up with this idea?

A: There are nine artworks; eight of them are portraits, and one in which the compositional characters are the girls who participated as models in the exhibition.

Nine is my favorite number, so that was a starting point for me when it came to how many artworks the exhibit should have.

The idea came to me almost ten years ago, but the main reason for creating this particular technique was my desire to recreate the paintings of Vladimir Dimitrov Maystora.

But I wanted them to be in a form where the public, the people who will see the artworks, would have the feeling of these photographs as paintings.

When I was shooting the material, I took some time to think about what could make my photos look like paintings. The trick about painting is “dimension” (dimension of space) because in paintings, you only have two dimensions, but we have the feeling of three dimensions. So that was my starting point, I took all the shots, divided each dimension into a personal layer, and it gave me this feeling that I wanted the audience to have the three-dimensional feeling.

Q: Why the number nine is your favorite? Do you like math?

A: Let’s just say that I find math everywhere, but unfortunately, when I was in school and university, math was not my favorite science. In my school years, I wanted to apply for architecture, but because of math, I couldn’t pass the exam, so it was something I still regret (I really like architecture).

Tesla discovered, and after him, many other scientists, that everything in the world, galaxy, and space is divided into three, six, and nine. So those numbers are the basement of the world as we know it. I respect Tesla a lot, and I regret his death for his inventions (for conspiracy, he was probably killed because of them) because the world was changed by him at that time, and probably, we would now live in a completely different humanity.

So, I took these numbers to make my life easier, and every time I have to choose, for example, seats on a plane or when I retouch my photos in Photoshop, I always choose the numbers 3, 6, 9, or numbers that can be divided to them.

I like 9 because 6 and 9 are two numbers that together make the shape of the galaxy, whatever galaxy it is. Because 6 as a number (in the sense of a spiral) leads from the universe to its center, but 9 as a number leads from its center to the universe.

So, I love the number 9 because it is a number that gives energy to others rather than entering.

Q: LED light / how was the order of the lights chosen?

A: First of all, I want to say something about the LED lights. The idea of involving LED lights in this project came to me because I felt that something was missing, that special thing inside the compositions capable of attracting all the attention of everyone.

Also, because it was just a portrait, a single fragment of the time continuum that shows us a woman dressed in folk clothes, and that’s it! For me, it was very important to strengthen this connection between the public and my artworks. I was thinking about what could be that thing that makes the relationships in our life stronger, and I realized that it is communication, so through different situations, we see others (friends, families, lovers, etc.) through different emotions that make us know them better. Then I thought that I wanted to put my models from portraits in different environments (I was wondering how I could put the same lady in the environment of winter, summer, or night and so on..) because, in life, everything is light; I answered to myself that I need a changing light. After choosing the light, I decided that I would like to have a time factor because the goal was to have the colors fade into each other in time, different from the time continuum from layer to layer.

That’s why I came up with the flashing LED lights and also this interface software/hardware that one of the engineers at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences created especially for me.

Q: Are your compositions all inspired by Bulgarian Madonna (Vladimir Dimitrov)?

A: The “Bulgarian Madonna” is the name of one of Maystora’s most famous paintings, so it’s just a painting, but all my works are inspired by Vladimir Dimitrov (Maystora).

Four of my works recreate four of Maystora’s paintings, and five of them are just inspired by his artwork.

Q: Do all the sheets in composition have the same image or almost the same?

A: Every work of art is still an image. Imagine painting someone’s portrait and dividing it into a different dimensions, then printing them on 16 layers, so it’s a still image, the image doesn’t change by itself, but the colors inside of it can be changed.

It was also very important for me to create something that was like a bridge, a link between the old view of art and modern art, because I found, from my point of view, that there is a gap between modern art and art from before.

When I was working on the project, it was important to create something that would influence people vitally and done in an analog way.

Q: Was your photos edited in a program (if yes, which one?)

A:  The idea about my photos was that they had to be very pure. When I was photographing them, I didn’t even want my models to wear make-up; I wanted them to be very natural because worldwide, there is a stigma that trans women use a lot of make-up to emphasize their femininity. That’s why it was very important for me to use no makeup or very little, just because I wanted to bring out the nature of their beauty.

In the end, I did some retouching of the photos in Photoshop, but something like brightness contrast adjustments or color palette collection in a very small amount of collection, because like I said, I wanted it to be very natural.

Q: What do you think about the implication of technologies in the creation of art?

A: Technologies are an indelible part of our lives. Keeping this in mind, no matter what kind of art we make, except for the music which is unique in its non-existence in nature (which makes it the greatest art created by humans, all other art is just a copy of reality), we see that technology is indestructible.

I think that modern art technologies are very involved in the process of creating art. So yes, it is a normal and logical way because it is part of our life.

Q: If I am looking at first glance, your compositions look like collages, but then the background gives depth to the plastic space how did you do that?

A: I want to say something very important here; there is a certain point at which the viewer has the full perception of what he can see in the artwork, an appropriate distance for to look at works of art (to have a complete vision of what the artist wants us to see).

During the exhibition, in front of each painting, a seat is placed so that it is at that specific point where the viewer will sit and see the full impact of the painting.

Of course, as humans, we are very curious, and here it was as I predicted it would be; namely, everyone will want to know the secret; how was this done?

If the viewer stands up and only changes the angle of observation, he will see the additional components that will give him an insight into how the artwork was made.

If you see all those systems of layers, which constitute each work of art, yes, it’s like a puzzle, like a collage, but when you see them all in front of each other, they become a three-dimensional image.

The secret is, even if in photography we only have two spatial dimensions, in the image, we have all dimensions (1st dimension, 2nd dimension, and 3rd dimension), and the most logical way to divide an image is to do it in a way that our human vision accepts reality. So that was the logic when I split the image into those different layers.

Q: What do you mean by Analog Naivism!?

A: Analog Naivism is an interesting name for my style because of that:

In Bulgaria, at the beginning of the last century, there was a tendency to have in the house, especially in the provinces where the villagers had blankets (tapestries) on their beds with drawings or, let’s say, an image made in a naive style inspired by nature( sheep on green fields/hills; rivers with fish in them, and so on ) that is a very sweet and romantic style.

Whenever I went to visit my grandmother, she also had a picture like this on her bed, so obviously, this kind of picture stayed deep in my mind and is stuck there. As an art consumer, I don’t like the naïve style, but no matter of what now I think that the naïve style is like a hyperreality, a reality made to be sweeter and kind.

As an art consumer, I don’t like naïve style, but regardless I now think that naïve style is like a hyperreality, a reality made to be sweet and pretty.

When I split my images at those different dimensions, I emphasized the 3D effect (in reality, you have this perception of 3-D, but when you split an image made in 2dim into several images to get that 3-D feel, the result is even stronger than in reality).

That is why I have that feeling about the naive style because it is more than in reality and, of course, analog because there are no digital technologies in the compositions.

There are small devices that coordinate the lights in the compositions, and that’s all, the image is analog because it is printed on the Plexiglas layer, so we don’t have anything digital to represent the images, but the final look gives us a feeling of something digital.

When we sit in front of it, we have the feeling that we are in front of the TV or some kind of digital screen, but at the same time, there is no digital element there.

Because we have the digital feel created by analog, I decided to call this style “Analog Naivism.”

Q:  We can find in your artworks motifs like flowers, women, fruits, and trees where the accents are on faces and hands, there are a lot of symbols for them, which is the most important for you?

A: For me, it was not a matter of choice because I followed Maystora’s works, and for him, the most important thing was to represent the beauty of patriarchal Bulgarian women.

Maystora (Vladimir Dimitrov) had the philosophy that human beings and nature must exist in a very strong relationship.

I can say that the most important elements in my artwork are flowers and fruits. Since the national symbol of Bulgaria is the Bulgarian rose (Bulgaria is the largest producer of rose essential oil on the planet and has the most beautiful rose valley, “Bulgarian Rose Valley,” a national symbol), for me, the symbol of the rose is the most important of all.

For Bulgarians, the rose is something very important; it is romantic, it smells good, it is beautiful, and it represents the beauty of Bulgarian women.

Q: Do you paint/draw in a traditional way?

A: Yes, but I haven’t done it in a long time. In the course of my education, I went to the high school of art, and at the University, I did theater and scenography, so I could draw and paint in the traditional way, but I switched to photography and image editing.

Q: In your composition “The Seven Maidens” we can see in the last register (in the background, because I think it’s the last layer in the composition), some parts of the separation of light and dark from Michelangelo’s “Creation of the world”.(From this point of view, what do you want to convey, or let’s say to express, to us?)

A: The main reason for using this image is religion. In Bulgaria, our official religion is Orthodox Christianity. So, I have never understood how it is possible for the “most faithful” people like church officials and priests to question and spread the idea that God’s creations have no right to exist. In my opinion, this is blasphemy. Because as far as religion is concerned, everything comes from God. So, with that snippet, I want to remind you that we must not forget to respect everything on this planet and not be selective about who has the right to exist and who doesn’t!

The emotional side

Q: What is your biggest fear?

A: I have to make a small remark about fear!

In my country, when I was in the first grades of high school, there was something like Facebook back then (before the Internet), but it was on paper, at that time it was called Lexicon, where everyone wrote. You can imagine that at the beginning of the Lexicon, you used to put your photo, a life motto, and things about yourself (favorite color, where you are from, what you study, and so on). The philosophy of Lexicon was the same as that of Facebook, you gave someone your Lexicon, and the other person gave you theirs.

And in the Lexicon, there were many questions, but when I was asked about my personal motto I always wrote “The Life in fear is a half-lived life”.

I don’t even know how I came up with this motto or where I heard or read it, but I’ve always believed that if you live in fear, you’re not living at all. Because “fear“ is not a good adviser, let’s imagine a very simple situation:

You are on the rocks at the seaside with your friends, and one of them says “let’s jump off the rocks” and fear will stop you from doing it, you stand on the shore watching them jump, but you won’t jump with your friends. They’re having fun, and you’re only taking in half the moment because fear stopped you.

I have a lot of fears like any human, but I try not to have the feeling of fear and not to be afraid. 

I also try to be aware at all times because awareness makes you think about the facts and in this context will help you make the decision on how to do something in the safest and most appropriate way, but “doing”, in time, what fear will make you stop.

During my life I have spent a lot of time thinking about fear, I even had a solo exhibition called “Get Solve the Fear” where I photographed famous Bulgarian people six women and six men with or about their biggest fear.

This project took me almost two years to complete, but it was very interesting the process of creating it involved so many conversations with my models about their fears and how they started to have them.

In my life, I have realized that beneath every fear there is a fundamental fear, which is the fear of death. We have this fear in our DNA, so no matter what kind of fear you have, if you keep asking, “why do I have this fear?” you will learn that all of this stems from our basic fear, “the fear of death.”

Of course, I am not different from others in this regard, I have this fear of death, but I try to work with myself and think about death almost every day because it is very important for me to become a good friend of death, and I think it is very important for everyone to make this friendship with the death in our minds. There is only one way to make this possible, thinking about death!

I also have another very big fear, which is losing my sense of self. We analyze ourselves and can say, for example, I am smart enough; I have some talents; I have some negative sides like I am too aggressive, and so on, doing this analysis about us almost every day we try to be realistic about who and how we are!

If you are not realistic about yourself during this analysis and there is no one to tell you that you are wrong about how you think you are, the situation can become very dangerous.

My fear is to stop being realistic about myself or my opinions.

There’s even a Madonna song from the album “Confessions on a dance floor” where the lyrics say, “you’re not half the man you think you are,” so that’s why I try to analyze myself every day and very tough about it to not lose a sense of myself and who I am and where I am in life.

Q: Which of the human emotions you can’t stand?

A: First of all, I want to say that all human emotions are part of us, even if they can be considered positive or negative, it is the same as our qualities, it is the same as our desire to accept and know ourselves.

Each of us has good and bad sides, in terms of accepting ourselves and others, we must accept both good and bad sides, good and bad qualities, and good and bad emotions because only with everything we are one hundred percent “complete painting”.

I can’t say that this is an emotion, it’s probably a quality, but I hate from the bottom of my heart a lie! This is something I cannot accept because, for me, the truth is very important, and this is the main drive of my life, to always tell the truth and be a true person at every moment. Because if you lie and if you don’t tell the truth, you first misunderstand yourself and confuse others.  Of course, I don’t like people who like the process of lying because as a person, when I meet someone, I give that person all my trust, and I’m willing to believe anything, so if I found out it was a lie it’s very disappointing.

I can’t stand aggressiveness and lack of communication skills.

Q: I understand that (in this case) it wasn’t about the art and the artist, it was about supporting a cause. Do you think art itself can solve problems like homophobia/transphobia?

A: I believe in this one hundred percent! Art is a very big thing, we have many different forms of art as cinema; music; theater; opera; paintings; the fine arts, so art is all around us. If you see something unacceptable in the art, you will start thinking about it. 

Sometimes when we don’t know something, we are very afraid of it, and we don’t even give ourselves a chance to think about it, but through art, we accept those things as something artificial, not real (when we know something can’t be real, our fear of that thing is not as big or we are not afraid at all), so without fear we have this content to think of it as something artificial that gives us the freedom to think freely about the subject or a theme presented in the art. That’s why I think it’s possible and we have, from ancient times, so many proofs in this sense.

For example, when nudity was forbidden by religion, during the renaissance, painters began to draw or paint nudity in their paintings, after the renaissance nudity became something normal, something not so forbidden as before by the church.

So, we have this openness in our history of art that through art, we can change perceptions of humanity.

Q: Your exhibition clearly resonated, and yes you achieved visibility, do you believe that human hatred or anger, abuse, or even indifference can be pierced through art?

A: No, I don’t think so! I believe, as an artist, that the purpose of art is not to be a thing that makes or adds beauty to some space. This kind of thinking about art is a very flat one. Art itself should create emotions, emotions that have many versions but which can be positive or negative. If the art creates emotions at this stage the art already has completed its work.

I believe that art has to go through the following steps: create emotions, provoke reactions, provoke actions and create discussions in order to fulfill its meaning, so for me, in this sense, there are no good or bad reactions because in the world of art there is only one important thing and that is the “spectator”.

Only the viewer is supreme in art, not the critics, not the gallerist, or the people who run the galleries, and only his opinion matters.

When you stand in front of art, there is only one important thing: what do you think about it; how do you perceive this kind of art; what kind of emotions does this art create inside you? If to the viewer that art is amazing or that art is not good, that’s it! No one can tell him, for example, that this kind of art costs nothing or is not good at all!

Only we as viewers can be the judges, and this is why in a way I don’t like the critics of art and the people who are, let’s say, explaining the arts to other people. For me those professions are part of our civilization without the world can live very well.

Only we, as viewers, can be the judges, and that’s why, in a way, I don’t like art critics and people who, let’s say, explain other people’s art. To me, those professions are part of our civilization, but the world can live very well without them.

I’m being a bit harsh on this, but that’s exactly what I believe.

Q: You’ve worked so hard on this project, have you become attached to any of your compositions, which one do you like the most and why?

A: When I saw all my artwork in the exhibition set up the way I thought and imagined it would be on display, it was like a dream come true for me. At that moment they received a whole new way of life.

 Because when I was working on them, I was working piece by piece, so I spent a lot of time communicating with each of them, but separately.

When I put them together, of course, they started to have a new life, a new look, and I started to see them in a different way, so I started to have, shall we say, some favorites.  Whenever I was talking to my friends as we walked around the gallery trying to pick our favorite, I realized that every time we picked one of them, just walking to the other corner or seeing another one, I was like, No, no, no, not the previous one is my favorite this one is!

At the end of the day, I realized that I don’t have a favorite because when you sit in front of a work of art you’re going to be influenced by it in a very powerful way that makes you like it, but if you do two or three steps back and you will see the whole exhibition you can be focused on another work of art and for a few seconds the other can become your favorite and so on.

My answer is both yes and no, sometimes I can say I have some favorites but at the end of the day, they are all my favorites.

Q: Your models were exposed not only in your compositions but also throughout the story. How did they feel after the exhibition?

A: For my exhibition, I created a short 47′ long documentary film about them, so in the first place not all of them wanted to participate in the documentary because they didn’t want to draw extra attention to them.

Out of eight people, only four of them decided to participate in the film and the same four came to the opening of the exhibition, all the others did not want to participate because they were too scared of the reactions of the nationalist groups, the reaction of the media, the protests, that’s understandable because all their lives they have fought very hard to find their way to live in our country, so they are very scared that this attention can destroy everything they have built so much and so hard.

The reactions of the models who attended the opening of the exhibition were amazing. They enjoyed the exhibition, and the artworks and were very happy. The others supported the exhibition through media like Facebook and Instagram, but not physically. Everyone loved the whole exhibition, and the artworks and were very grateful that someone decided to do something to break the stigma of trans women in Bulgaria.

Q: Looking back at humanity’s behavior, do you think we are more empathetic than our predecessors? Do you think empathy is enhanced by external or internal factors?

A: We are usually used to say that the world is not going in a very good way and that the future is not so bright, that we are going very fast towards our end, but it does not make sense from the point of view of history because if we have to give real conclusions about time we must be precise and we must use factors and facts.

For example, never in our history has humanity been so large, we are almost eight billion people now, and let’s say all of the Western world, Europe, the USA, Australia, parts of South America, parts of Asia, Japan are states which provide a very nice life to their citizens.

In our modern day, every person who belongs to the middle class lives almost like a queen from the Middle Ages, because we can imagine that in our apartments we have absolute comfort, in our refrigerators, we have food from all over the globe, we sleep in textures and wear clothes of different materials (very fine materials) something that in the middle ages if you had to achieve, probably only the royalty and their entourage had.

So, in the Middle Ages to have everything we have now, just in an apartment it was very hard work to get it, to ship it, to create it, but nowadays every one of us in the middle class has the same standard as royalty before.

It is something that I believe that the better we live, the greater the empathy becomes because misery itself cannot create anything good.

Misery by itself can only create destruction on every emotional, and material level, so I can say that we as mankind choose what we want to be as kindness if we want to respect each other and therefore create democracy there where in a democracy the main goal is respecting the freedom and will of others.

After we choose what we want to be, we feel empathy because there is no other way, I think, or we will self-destruct.

Of course, there are plenty of examples that can spoil my opinion, there are many unhappy people around the globe, and there is much injustice in the world, but at the end of the day, we all believe regardless of our actions that empathy is something worth fighting for.

So yes, I strongly believe that nowadays we are more empathetic than before.

Q: Do you like flowers (which one and why?)

A: Yes, I really like flowers. I love gardening and probably all Bulgarians do.

It is an interesting fact that Bulgaria and Greece are in 1st place in the European Union in terms of private property, so more than 70% are owned by us. 

This is something related to our history because in a cultural way for those nations like Bulgarians, Greeks, and Balkans in general, having property is one of the most important things in life, so even nowadays generations, the new generation, they are born into families that already have a lot of property.

So, when you have a property you should do something with it, almost all of us have a house in the province with a garden, and almost every Bulgarian has a connection with nature.

Most of us grow our own vegetables, most of us have gardens, and we are very connected to nature, to flower gardening.

We used to say that Bulgaria is paradise on Earth, regardless of our very bad politics, let’s say, fake democracy, we are in love with our country and we really believe that Bulgaria is the most beautiful country in the world in terms of its nature.

Bulgaria is very amazing, a small territory where you have everything you want and imagine the planet can have: rivers, forests, mountains, fields, flowers, and our land is very rich in the soil so everything is tasty.

So yes, I like flowers even though I am growing some on my balcony but with the ages, I started to like roses the most because they are not pretentious and they have good straightness towards heat or wet clime atmosphere, and you don’t have to pay so much attention to them in the regard to keep them healthy.

So yes, I like flowers, I even grow them on my balcony, but with the age, I started to like roses the most because they are not pretentious and have good resistance to a very hot or humid atmosphere, and I don’t need to pay so much attention to keep them healthy.

At the same time, roses are beautiful and their fragrance is incredible, so in the end, I become a real Bulgarian and my favorite flower is the rose. 

Q: When I think of fear, I think it is the worst feeling that can be felt, you said that fear is a driving force and it comes from the core of our actions, I think in that core we must have the truth. What do you think about the truth?

A: I believe that this is the only way to be, “Truth is the only way!” 

We have in Bulgaria a proverb which says that: “The lie has short legs and the truth catches up with it!”

If you want to live a peaceful life, the only way to have it and sleep well at the end of the day is through the truth, which means you are a true person in all your actions or reactions, so there will be nothing wrong to think about. 

Truth equals freedom, anything else is not freedom. Yes, we know freedom is an abstract concept but it’s the freedom within us that matters, if you feel free within yourself then you are free regardless of the restrictions of society or walls or anything else and the shortest way to feel free within you is to tell, always the truth.

Q: If you had to imbue art with a virtue, what would it be and why?

A: This would be aesthetic, because aesthetics is not something precise, but if each of us can have a sense of aesthetics, it will change us in every way. For me, aesthetics is one of the most important things because it can be found everywhere.

For example, when you cook, you can give your guests/family/friends amazing food in a way that tastes or looks.

If you have a sense of aesthetics you will never cross the lines of bad behavior to become very aggressive or something exaggerated because aesthetics means harmony, so if you have a sense of aesthetics you will be harmonized in all your actions, how you look, how you cook, how you dress, how you talk and so on.

This was also one of my aims in my exhibition. For me, the most important thing was to create something that was bigger than people’s politics or positions or philosophy, because aesthetics is more than that.

So, I was thinking that if a hater, let’s say someone who is against different sexualities, came and stood in front of my artwork, I was sure that that artwork, regardless of his philosophy, would influence him in some way good, only because in all my works of art there is only harmony and aesthetic combination of colors.

That’s why I think aesthetics is something very important and can solve most of the problems we have. If you have to teach our children anything, it will be to develop their aesthetic sense.

The social side

Q: What do you think about democracy?

A: Bulgaria has a new democracy. We are just now realizing that we have to fight for our democracy every day. Democracy is not taken as given it should be guarded by every citizen. Democracy gives us the opportunity to build the foundations of bridges and that is called dialogue, which is a wonderful thing. Democracy gives us the chance to celebrate that we are all human, regardless of our differences.

Q: As I see it, the social uproar created by your event may have one or all of the following reasons: trans women as role models/inspiration/exhibition date and place/money from the Ministry of Culture/misunderstanding of uniqueness/less respect for art, artists/envy and malice/manipulating people/thinking “my rights are fairer than your rights”/lack of empathy… What do you think artists can or should do (because you believe in the power of art!) for making things better?

A: I am very passionate about the social part of my exhibition because as I said before in different interviews as well, the social (activist) part of this exhibition is the first and the most important goal of this event because I always involve the social in my art.

So, for me, art itself (as I said in one of the previous questions) has to change something in our perceptions, of our society, or give us different perspectives in order to fulfill its function.

I do not believe in art that is created only for beauty only to make space beautiful or to make space, in this sense art that does not change perception and challenge the brain is stillborn art.

Of course, art is supposed to make changes in our perceptions in our society, but here we run into a huge problem that any type of art faces these days, which is related to modern art itself.

In modern art, we can observe a process that I think is very dangerous because we cannot withdraw from our materialistic world, related to the observation that nowadays in any part of art (music, painting, sculpture, architecture…) the main purpose of art is to make money, to be liked by the public, to be liked by the critics instead of developing something better for future generations.

Nowadays, artists think (see) the process of artistic creation as a project, as something whose most important part is to be liked, to make money, thus omitting to influence the public with new ideas, with a new philosophy, to break certain boundaries or to make the audience to think or challenge them to think!

In our modern societies, as in Western society, the consumers of arts (different arts, of course) do not form a very large part of the whole society, most people consume art like cinema, TV serials, and music. There are not that many people with an appetite for different kinds of art.

If you haven’t experienced or tasted a lot of art, of course, it’s hard for you to form an opinion about this kind of art because you are a very small amount of it, and so, for those people, the opinions of critics are very important because they trust them (they only need to read the critics’ opinion to become theirs).

So, I think modern art is becoming more of a business than the art itself, and in these terms, the main purpose of a business is to make as many people rich as possible, but this kind of art does not make room for a new philosophy, for new innovative ideas, for the deconstruction of what we know and you are only following the audience.

This is something very disorienting because the public should be following the art and the artist and not the other way around.

So, yes, artists should implement in their art new ideas, new philosophies, new ways of perceiving reality, and giving us new perspectives.

I don’t want to say that every artist in the modern arts is like this, but lately, we can clearly see this tendency, which is very destructive.

Q: The master himself was a very kind/generous person (To feel good, we have to be generous with each other!), do you think artists are more generous people than others, is it creativity or is it to do with the conditions in which do you live?

A: It is a personal matter. We can’t put artists above one line, of course, it’s about how you were raised, and what is your personal philosophy on life, but one thing I can say for sure is that no matter what kind of art they make, artists try to understand and to know the human soul more closely than others.

In order to achieve this, you have to be open-minded to accept different forms of human souls, in this regard I can say that by themselves the people who are into art or making art are consuming a lot of art and are supposed to be more generous, in another way they will not be able to do this.

To achieve this you have to be open-minded to accept different forms of human souls, in this sense I can say that by themselves people who are into art or make art or consume a lot of art should be more generous, otherwise they won’t be able to do that.

Q: How do you see people organizing socially in the next few (future) years?

A: This is a topic that I am very interested to discuss with my friends and, also, I like the future as a topic (interested in reading, teaching, cinema). There is something that I cannot understand from the beginning of the connection, with these topics, in my life and it is:

“Why do we as a society represent (talk about) our future in such a bleak way?!”

Almost 97% of the time when we imagine the future we don’t imagine it to be so bright, but I believe (and some may accuse me of being too optimistic) that the future will not be so bleak, because we have something very unique as humanity and if we are honest about “who we are, we know how bad we can be, we know all our weaknesses”, we strategize and try to create the world by rules, by walls in the sense of suppressing all bad parts.

I think this is something very important, which will lead us to a brighter future because we look at our past, we see that we can be very bad as humanity to ourselves, and this honest overview of our witnesses gives us the chance to make adjustments to create something brighter. So, I expect harmony in the future.

I believe that in a very short time, no matter what part of our society we are from (we are rich or poor or middle class), we will see that we cannot exist apart from each other, and also as humanity, we cannot exist apart from nature. 

So, the only way to survive and the only way to have a bright future is to achieve harmony, because I think we can’t be so stupid as to set fire to our own carpet on which we are laid.

Maybe I’m a dreamer in a way, but I believe that in a very short time these movements that push us to harmonize with ourselves and the planet will become a stronger voice and we will all be on this side of development.

Q: The purpose of your project was to support and increase the visibility of trans women, which you received but also a lot of negative reactions. What has this negativism added to the lives of trans women, good or bad?

A: This is a question that was widely discussed in the Bulgarian LGBTQ society in those months when the exhibition was at the top of all media in Bulgaria. Of course, there were some people who said “Now with this exhibition, we’re going to attract more hate towards the trans community than before,” but I’ve always had a very nice and short answer, I think, about that:

There are only two ways:

– Let’s imagine this, trans people live in the shadows, but under the shadows, there is no bright light, that is, if they will only live in the shadows (so as not to attract additional hatred towards their persons) they will not be able to take advantage of the world outside the shadow, such as being equal with others, expressing oneself, walking freely, enjoying the sun, and so on.

Of course, every decision comes with responsibilities and for the advantages, there are some disadvantages. If you want to be an equal part of our society you cannot hide, otherwise, you will never be an equal part. So, the first step is to step out of the shadows.

-How the majority can accept you if they don’t know you! If they can’t see you, they can’t recognize you.

So, for trans people and for the majority, this protest was very important because we can’t accuse the majority of being intolerant if they have never had any contact or connection with the trans-gender society in their lives.

No matter the kind of reactions, positive or negative the result is a positive one because for the first time in our history the topic of transgender went into national news for a long period of time (the T letter from LGBTQ was always suppressed more than the other ones). I think that all that was happening was for the good!

Regardless of the type of reactions, positive or negative, the result is a positive one, because for the first time in our history the topic of transgender has entered the national news for an extended period of time (the letter T in LGBTQ has always been suppressed more than other). I think everything that happened was for the good!

Q: Can the principles of democracy such as freedom and equality be respected/achieved in a society driven by political interests/craving for power?

A:   It is very thin ice which is found everywhere not only in Bulgaria. All politicians use topics like these for their own purposes.

Over time, this fact has happened and will happen again. Let’s think, just a hundred years before, if you talk about feminism being part of human rights, this topic was used in a political way.

I have a very clear statement about how politicians use the subjects for their own interest, at the end of the day over time when generations change, everything goes with the death of the generation, but the ideas remain and become reality.

Just a hundred years ago, our society was quite clear that women are not equal to men, but a hundred years later this is unacceptable (even to be as a personal philosophy or some kind of belief, when it comes to equality between men and women it will be seen as inhuman thinking or retrograde thinking).

When I was making this exhibition, I imagined that in 120 years, when people will talk about equality between different genders and sexualities, they will have the same perception as we do now about feminism, and in the future, everyone will see this struggle of ours as something completely incomprehensible. They will think about how it was possible for humanity not to accept different people and diversity at that time in human history.

So, in that sense, regardless of how politics will use and for what, these topics if part of their platform is to be tolerant of different people and support diversity, I found that more important than their personal interests.

Q: Do you think that it’s an education issue that we live in an apparent democracy?

A: No, it’s not about education. I will answer this question as an example.

I was born in communist Bulgaria. I have a very clear feeling about that period because when the transition started in 1990, I was 10 years old, so my memories are very clear about communism and the whole transition process in our country in the last decades.

Nowadays we have the first generation born into money. Before it wasn’t like that, everyone was almost equal, but now people who started their own businesses in the ’90s got rich and their children are born in a very good financial environment.

What I can observe now from the people of that generation (at the end of the ’80s, ’90s, and in the millennium), talking only about those who have a very good material status, they are really very beautiful, well dressed, have a good education, they are polite and all of this kind but from the moment of their life they never fought for anything and I see the lack of any flame inside of them to do something bigger in life because they always had everything.

I see within them a stillness of emptiness, and they have not even the feeling or the knowledge for what cause and what they should fight for. 

It is just like a democracy. If you have never fought for democracy or been part of the process that is essential and binds democracy, then you accept democracy as air, as something that exists by itself without your influence.

When people do not fight for democracy or have no attitude towards these processes, they can easily lose it and of course, there will be always on our planet people who intend to use every process for their own good.

We are now facing a huge problem because we are losing a very large part of democracy. 

Democracy has recently become more dictatorial than itself, today more so in the last three years, I have seen so the mantra that democracy is “follow the rules”, “follow the rules”, “follow the rules”, we have to respect the institutions and everything is about that and not so much about freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, processes that question the rules, processes that lead us to think more about major issues such as: do institutions serve society or do they give more power to those who lead them.

So, because people who are born in a functioning democracy, have never fought for democracy, they don’t have this passion to guard it and I think democracy’s chance to survive is on the shoulders of new democracies.

I see this right now in our country that we have been fighting for this democracy for the last almost 30 years and we are becoming very excited about this feeling of freedom because I can say for myself that I have been protesting all my life (starting at the age of 14 or 15 years) protesting for something. Even today we have protests in Bulgaria because we never had a real functioning democracy which is why we were very determined to guard it.

In all societies with old democracies, we can see that the new generation, as I said, does not have this feeling of guarding democracy and because of this they are very easily manipulated and everything that is shown before their eyes (new rules, new way of life, new society) is part of democracy and we have to accept it as well. They don’t question the facts, they just follow the rules, they follow the institutions, it’s like we’re creating nonthinkers, and that’s, I think, the most responsible part of having such weak democracies in some places in the world.

Q: Perhaps art is the highest form of democracy; what do you think about it?

A: Yes, we can say that because in art everyone is free to do what they want, but in democracy, it is not like that. If you have to translate this in a political way, we will be in anarchy rather than democracy, because in art there are no rules, you create the world that will exist in your art, so it is closer to a dictatorship than democracy ( in art you are the ultimate God who creates everything, in a way that art is meant to be).

So no, in a way art is democracy in terms of freedom, but in democracy, there is no complete freedom, so no, art is not like democracy!

Q: Can art be a bond of social cohesion?

A: Yes, it can, because art leads to discussion, and that is the only thing that brings people closer to each other (through discussion).

Q: What advice would you give to a young person?

A: Lately I’ve been working with very young people, and something I clearly see as different between my generation and theirs is that they are not suspicious like us. Probably because we were born and raised in a transition period, we were always suspicious of everything, like no matter what or who was going to say, you never believed it to be true, so you were always aware and also looking for facts to prove to ourselves that what someone tells us is true.

So, this suspicious way of living had a very positive influence on us because we were always thinking and trying to find the truth. To find the truth you had to inform yourself, and see some situations because to be honest, there is no ultimate truth in the world. If you want to have a big picture of the case, you should see it from different points and this is the biggest difference between our generations because nowadays I can see that young people can very easily take everything as truth.

I want them to be more suspicious in order to have a clearer picture of the world.

Q: Your exhibition was very beautiful do you think it’s a matter of thinking in people’s minds when it comes to how they relate what is beautiful or what can be beautiful?!

A: I think that sense of beauty and sense of right and wrong is given to us from the moment of birth. Unfortunately, after that, too many people and systems influence and mold those senses into different forms. I believe that even the most unscrupulous criminal realizes that what he is doing is wrong. I think the viewer can see what is beautiful and what is not, regardless of the opinion of art critics. We should believe in our inner senses because art is a personal experience. The only thing that matters is how the person consuming and experiencing the art feels.

Mihail Vuchkov graduated in Spatial Design from the St Luke National High School for Applied Arts, Sofia, as well as in Stage Design from New Bulgarian University. So far, he has had three single-artist exhibitions: Drugness, United in Diversity, and Shake the Fear.

The artist wants to find as many people as possible who have similar ideas about gender equality and the beauty of art. People who can help “Other Bulgarian Women” spread the message that people need to stop questioning the rights of human beings to exist.

After the show in Sofia, the exhibition was invited by “What You See Festival” so this autumn “The Other Bulgarian Women” will be presented in Utrecht, Holland.

“The purpose of art is to cause a shift in stiffened layers”- Mihail Vuchkov (Mísho)

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