A conversation with Diana Boneva in connection to the exhibition Positive at Credo Bonum Gallery
Vessela Nozharova: Where did this interest for the visually handicapped come from?
Diana Boneva: This interest is from when I was a child. I came across a TV program about children who read Braille writing with their fingers. Years later I saw a very strong photograph done by a friend of mine, who is a very good portraitist. The portrait is of Galina Krasteva who afterwards became one of the participants in my exhibition and from whom everything else started. I was very affected by her aura and decided that it is time to do something in this direction. Galia is born visually impaired, but she possesses an incredible spirit and a thirst for life, as do all the participants in this project.
Now that I think about it, the world of the visually impaired has always been of interest to me because I am sure that their world is very different from ours as to images, imagination and even ideas. If you enter a cave without any source of light, you will find yourself in total darkness. For some people this is an element that accompanies them throughout life. We shouldn’t forget about this. Now imagine how from this darkness images emerge, without ever having the means to see before…It is like creating something from nothing. But this nothingness actually holds a great potential which is just waiting to be revealed. This is why the idea was directed towards the quantum theory where I found much interesting common ground.
Vessela Nozharova: As a visual artist and a person who works with images, what was your approach in talking about a world devoid of images?
Diana Boneva: Maybe it comes from the fact that it has always been very interesting for me to investigate the invisible zone of being. What each person is, but so often conceals behind a mask of behavior, manners and the expectations of society. I have always had a great curiosity for the imaginary and mental element that puts in motion everything else. The spirit! This is why the world of the visually impaired has been so intriguing. They don’t have images or matter as we understand these terms. We perceive the world first with our sight, then with all our other senses. While with them everything is perceived through the other senses – sound, touch, taste and balance.
Balance is a good word! Here I should mention the film I made with Bogomil Karkov who also has never seen during his life. In it he reveals what his world looks like. In the beginning he tells us how he imagined a public coffee machine looked like – with a small person inside of it, hastily making coffee and serving it. He talks about his first flight. About the difference between what he thought was an airplane when he was a child formed by touching a plastic toy and the huge scale of the interior of a real plane. He shares with us his dreams – how everything in his dreams is real, how he senses the presence of people, of physical touch, how he sees the places he has never been before or at least hasn’t seen. He moves with the help of a cane and can drive a car. Once more the question emerges: which world is more real? Our world of images, invisible to the visually impaired or their world as they see it and invisible to us. Should we limit ourselves to reality the way we are used to seeing it?
Vessela Nozharova: The exhibition actually delineates three portraits?
Diana Boneva: Yes, in the process of work the three audio-visual portraits were formed. It was important for me to show also the difference between people who had the sense of sight and later lost, and those who never have been able to see. Two of the participants are born without sight and two lose their sight in incidents. One of them is Svetoslav Tzvetkov who loses his eyesight in an industrial incident, but in spite of many longstanding attempts to save his vision, from the recent years he is totally blind. This does not in any way prevent him from following his dreams. With his keen sense of humor, he is a favorite of young people. This is how I found about him. From our first encounter when I offered him to make two films together, he responded: “You got it! And you will help out to popularize our sailing team.” Thus he became the second cameraman in the video installation.
In the end, they really are three portraits.
Though there is another person who is part of the installation. He was my devoted assistant in my work with echolocation. Pancho Karamanski loses his eyesight at age 10. Pancho is a young person with a strong positive spirit and an open mind. He is proof of the idea that when someone is open to the world, all sorts of miracles happen. I learned a lot about echolocation from him.
Vessela Nozharova: What place does echolocation have in the exhibition?
Diana Boneva: Echolocation is one of the methods for helping visually impaired people to orient themselves in the space around them. When I decided to do this project about people with this problem, I started reading a lot. I found several articles about echolocation. I was really inspired because this is a method that lets them become much more independent and take on activities that by rule someone has to help them with and they wouldn’t be able to do by themselves. In other words, they can ride a bicycle, climb, skate, hike and, all in all, freely move through their surrounding space. The method of echolocation requires greater experience, a will, motivation and consistency, but when you get the hang of it, you really do become a lot more independent.
From my point of view, for them this spells out a very bright future. I am a person of action, I love to engage myself with different things all the time, aside from my artistic interests I myself love hiking, climbing, practicing yoga – all the things that additionally recharge me, award me with other emotions and help me in difficult situations. They help me push my limits and to continue on ahead. I think that it is important for every person to have such an opportunity, even if one has to put oneself on the brink of the impossible in order to conquer their fears, to achieve what they desire. That is why my wish was to create something that would give a visually impaired person a starting point. All visually handicapped people employ echolocation, but it is more passive – only by using the sounds of the surrounding environment.
For the project we made an echolocation installation in the form of a game to provoke them to consciously apply this method and actively employ it. Active echolocation includes the producing of sounds by the person, by clapping or clicking one’s tongue to aid one in familiarizing oneself with the objects surrounding them. i.e. with the reflection of the echo from the objects, one can grasp their distance, size, form, material of the object.
Vessela Nozharova: How did you go about in choosing the media? Was it important for the works to be very visual?
Diana Boneva: For some time I have been engaged with video art. The camera is my brush. Therefore, on the one hand, I wanted to make a video presence in the exhibition. On the other, the visually impaired cannot see the works, but they can hear them. For them it is crucial to be able to hear what is happening in the gallery. It is a fact that they cannot physically see the images, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot experience what is happening in the gallery. The audio picture takes them to the place of the event.
The media that I worked with gave me the opportunity to direct the visitors to use their other senses and not necessarily their sight or their touch. The possibility of using one’s hearing, for example, and for it to grant you some kind of a picture, a reading of the environment, already takes you to another level. In more obscure moments you become more concentrated, you start sensing your footsteps, certainty takes on a different dimension and you begin reading the other signals.
My goal was to create an environment that on the one part is informative for all the visitors and on the other for it to be comfortable, perceivable and useful for the visually impaired, and third, for it to give the other part of society a better understanding of the world of people with visual problems.
The visually impaired or, in general, all people with specific needs live in an extremely isolated society which, in my view, is a bit artificially imposed. With this exhibition, I wanted to create preconditions for people to be able to freely communicate, to think about the fact that if something is lacking, it does not mean that it is necessarily a hindrance or a problem and that maybe it can serve as a transformation, a provocation, a stimulus for evolving, of creativity, for seeking new approaches and solutions.
Vessela Nozharova: Do you think that your exhibition is a stage towards something bigger or have you exhausted in some way your interest for the world of the visually impaired?
Diana Boneva: Interesting question. At this point of time it is difficult for me to say for certain what will happen from here on. For now I would like to show the exhibition in other cities. I have an idea about the video installation – to show it in different places outside of the gallery format as a charity event.
My interest for the visually impaired was not exhausted and it is a question of time that I take to exploring this subject again. For now I would like to go back to some smaller projects which I ceased in order to realize this exhibition.