the neighbours


bulgarian pavilion at the 60th venice art biennale





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@ Sala Tiziano at the Centro Culturale Don Orione Artigianelli Fondamenta Delle Zattere Ai Gesuiti 919, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy



about the neighbours



The Neighbours is a multimedia installation about how we remember, carry and forget trauma. The exhibition excavates the silenced memories of survivors of state violence from Bulgaria's socialist era (1945-1989) and explores its troubling legacy in the present.

During this period, countless individuals were sent to forced labour camps without trial, faced imprisonment, systematic persecution, forced resettlement and ethnic assimilation–political dissidents, peasants who refused to give up their land, artists, queer people, Muslim minorities and everyday people who defied the regime’s ideology.

Drawing from extensive scholarly research, more than 40 interviews were conducted by the project's creators.This multidisciplinary study reimagines the survivors' domestic environments—the very spaces where these interviews took place. Through the interplay of video projections, ambient sounds, and artefacts recovered from the former sites of violence, the installation visually juxtaposes the camps' material world with the space of the home, evoking how traumatic
memories permeate daily life while inviting the audience to bear witness.

Created by a team of artist-researchers working between the archive, the ethnographic encounter and the studio, The Neighbours unsettles the distinction between scholars and artists. It portrays the role of art in tying together knowledge production with the ability to capture affect–something that often cannot be directly documented or made present.

By bearing witness, viewers engage in a symbolic act, recognising the importance of testimonies in shaping historical narratives and collective memory—sometimes against the grain of historiographies that question
their status as evidence. The installation offers a way of confronting and working with denied histories, cultures of silence, purged archives, and histories subjected to both past and contemporary political pressure. In so doing, The Neighbours challenges prevailing narratives and takes a vital role in unsilencing.

The installation spans three rooms, reflecting three ways of remembering the lived experience of state violence. It is based on a theoretical framework developed from the interviews of survivors conducted by the collective.

In the living room are the voices of those who remember and have been vocal about their experiences both in the public and private spheres.

The bedroom holds the words of the survivors who speak for the first time about their experiences—those who had previously been reluctant to speak out of fear, or simply because they had never been asked.

The kitchen embodies the wordless laments of people who could not speak — those who perished, those whose memories had been lost, and the details of their experiences permanently silenced.



Bibliography


Julian Chehirian. “Excavating the Psyche: A Social History of Soviet Psychiatry in Bulgaria.” Culture, medicine and psychiatry vol. 42,2 (2018): 449-480. doi:10.1007/s11013-017-9559-2

Krasimira Butseva. “Vernacular Memorial Museums: Memory, Trauma and Healing in Post-Communist Bulgaria.” Museums & Social Issues 16, no. 1 (2022): 41–56. doi:10.1080/15596893.2022.2097396.


            



The Neighbours - 2024