ROSSITZA TODOROVA: TRANSLUMINAL
Rossitza Todorova is undoubtedly a multi-media artist. She makes use of mediums as disparate as painting, drawing, sculpture, found objects, printmaking, artist books, and even an occasional foray into installation-based projects. Her work is about creating dynamic cartographies that include references to the landscape, the passing of time, memory, the constructed environment, and the collision of motifs that are both architectonic and gestural. This wide array of approaches is not undertaken just for the sake of developing a virtuoso hand with different types of mediums, but because however fixed or stable any image may appear to be in her art practice, Todorova is actually mapping different kinds of activity, whether visual, psychological, or even biological. And it is this nexus effect, or the intertwining of varied concerns, that motivates her use of different material supports. How Todorova got to the place where all of these elements interact to form part of a greater whole revolves around the question of time, torsion and transversal relations. That is because these are the themes that have been the driving force behind her work for more than a decade, and which also inform how we understand her latest installation piece, "Transluminal", which is a dynamic synthesis of Todorova’s past concerns and present interests.
But in order to grasp the trajectory of Todorova’s art practice it is important to begin by looking at her earlier series of black and white drawings, which are labeled “Dust to Dawn” and “Windscapes”. Through these exploratory works Todorova found not only what would become a subject of deepening inquiry with each passing year, but she also created something like a working method for capturing the evolution of forms in motion and the process of terra-forming in particular. Highly impressionistic and somewhat abstract in nature, these drawings hint at the interpenetration of forces, the superimposition of nature and culture, and they openly embrace the use of stark contrasts. Both visually compelling and conceptually rigorous, these interrelated series talk not just about regional concerns, but they do so in a way that is quite unexpected.
This is because it’s obvious that these early images are not abstractions of big city skyscrapers, and they don’t carry a semblance of oceanic forms or forested regions either. And yet, their identity doesn’t serve so much as a marker for the Midwest or even the Southwest per say as much as they hint at the kinds of transformations that occur in the landscape as we pass through it with a backward looking glance. If anything, Todorova's drawings act as a travel log of sorts, or a kind of Rorschach test that gives the gestalt impression of how new construction projects are raised, and old forms melt into the horizon, crumble with the passage of time, or are simply reclaimed by the desert floor. They are, in a sense, process-based drawings that aim to capture the re-appropriative effects of urbanization as a series of topological transformations that distort our memory and our ‘felt’ sense of time and space.
Thus, when Todorova began her third sustained series of works, aptly titled “Peripheral Space”, it was no surprise that she kept all the graphic punch of her these first two series but introduced a new vocabulary of rich color and nuanced textures. These features make up the other side of our spectrum of embodied experience and represent an expansion of affective means and timely themes. With this bold new departure in her work saturated elements pushed up against spindly wire-frame forms, printmaking processes mixed with every other imaginable medium, and the sense of space Todorova was working with suddenly become more compressed and sedimentary, almost like digging through compositional debris. The layering of forms from this period of production in her art practice speaks more about the idea of growth as a process of unforeseen mutations then say, evidence of ‘city planning’. This is perhaps, because her juxtapositions are abutted, or even overlaid onto one another in a way that creates a kind of visual duplicity, or a series of dual markers, that are not unlike what the architectural theorist Charles Jencks called ‘double-coated’ meanings. In fact, it is not just Todorova’s formal improvisations which are so impressive, but the many ways in which they are implicated in the construction of forms that are always already caught up in a dialogue about the city center and its periphery, apexes and outliers, high rises and flat thorough fairs.
Thus, having achieved a pictorial language all her own, Todorova only further complicated her relationship to regionalism and city sprawl by overlaying her compositions with a few additional elements. This is perhaps most clearly on view in “Tumblers” where Todorova not only lets gridded hand-cut forms spill across her canvasses, but, she also introduces three dimensional elements into her work in order to ask questions about design and preservation, formatting and presentation, the flat picture plane and the pop-up quality of constructed elements. As such, it is hard not to look at these works or her book projects --- which turn the modernist grid into a flexible form of origami --- and connect them with the advent of ‘new systems’ thinking in architectural design.
This is because Todorova asks us to engage with distributed systems for weight and balance that mirror many of the new modes of building associated with parametric, blob or emergent architecture systems that have disrupted the modernist city skyline. Even Frank Gerhry is notorious for taking inspiration from crumpled up pieces of paper to build massive structures and some of our most noteworthy postmodern museums. Only here, Todorova’s works invite us to think about the same play of form in our own environment, and perhaps, in a way that has more to do with Greg Lynn or Peter Eisenmen’s aesthetics than someone like Gehry.
Afterall, Todorova deploys the grid and its ability to tumble, torque and turn-about as an interactive system of architectural structures, making “Tumblers” her first series of baroque fusions between painting and sculpture, atmospheric space and hard edges, rigoured compositions and spiraling geometries. Not only that, but in these works, the ground of the painting has become something of a literal ground upon which architectural elements are ‘framed up’ so to speak. In this sense, her artist book projects and “Tumblers” aren’t so much a thing to be read as they are objects of pure ideation and participatory relations, where the fixed nature of the pictorial has been displaced by a sense of movement, time and variation. Or, if we want to make a more explicit reference to the politics of the landscape, we could say that Todorova’s painterly grounds have been co-opted for the expression of further ‘developments’.
Thus, when Todorova begins making a full scale installation piece like “Prospecting”, she isn’t just talking about the idea of re-appropriating the landscape as an abstract process connected with conquest and capitalism. Instead, her installation makes equal use of digital mapping techniques and the aesthetics of virtual reality in order to give us a more human experience of how these technologies feel against the shifting silhouettes of the desert landscape. In other words, Todorova is gently intertwining different ideas of time, history and profiteering in order to help us think about how the present emerges from the intersection of environmental interventions as well as the aesthetic discourses of art, architecture and design.
This is perhaps the great purchase of a piece like “Prospecting”, which openly acknowledges how increasing gentrification, real-estate investment firms and big business play a concrete role in the reconstruction of our ‘social infrastructure’ and our psychic space. Thus, “Prospecting” plays with the history of investitures that make up the enterprise we call ‘culture’ by overlaying the aesthetics of virtuality onto the ideological bound space of the white cube. One could even go so far as to say that just as land developers draw lines in the sand to divide up different public parcels, and governments draw up lines to demarcate geo-political territories, Todorova applies this same degree of abstraction to her subjects and spaces, ultimately allowing us the opportunity to think through the attending contradictions of habitation on both the local and global scale.
But of course, Todorova’s reflective forms act as a kind of meditation and/or mediation about these ongoing transformations, implicating the viewer within the activity of the architectural gaze. In her installations we see through forms, we see ourselves reflected in different forms, and we participate in the absorption of surfaces activated by light as well as its absence. This is the critical punch behind her work which courts a dialectics of diachronic imagery that stands over and against the reductive logic of expropriation in any or all of its manifestations. In this way, we can say that Todorova is developing an artistic program that plays with the idea of creating architectures of awareness.
And so, it should come as no surprise that following a work like “Prospecting” Todorova began to play with shaper contrasts in both form and content. In series such as “Folding Time” and “Fold and Cut” she has introduced the projection of crystalline stones and black interloping forms to create a diamond like web of material and conceptual contradictions. These include a passing sense of celestial bodies, the cast shadows of mesh geometries, and even a reworking of that most ancient of forms, the pyramid. But all of this is done under the auspicious dictates of a kind of technological design that issues from the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. So rather than reaching into the immediate desert in which we are located, Todorova instead introduces the highest level of dialectic dissonance in these recent projects because the ancients also professed an obsession with the stars, with gemstones, the passing of cycles, and the existence of monumental structures. The question of what endures, of the symbolic import of representing time, and even of making built monuments that are created with the aim of resisting erosion and other entropic effects allows us to see how Todorova’s work is not just an incisive commentary on the values attributed to two very different civilizations, but also, on how power and structure inform the creation of modern and ancient cultures alike. These are the folds and cuts that are introduced into the notion of time by Todorova’s uncanny use of triangular forms that echo the pyramids spread out over the surface of our planet, and many of which, have even been discovered lining our ocean floors.
There are many other interpretations that are also a good fit with her works too. One could of course, go on here to provide a Deleuzian read of how these two pieces play with haptic and optic qualities, or better yet, how they are one of the best representations of the play of territorialization and deterritorialization we have by a multi-media artist today. And, we could also draw comparisons with twin projects in other cities, like the psycho-geographies of Franz Ackermann, Julie Merhetu and a whole host of other artists who are introducing us to new ways of thinking about representing time, space and structure. Or, one could provide a more historical reading of her works and their relationship to automatic drawing, the history of abstraction and the landscape, and even permutations in how we think about temporality in artistic practice and how it is represented in three dimensions, four dimensions, and beyond. And while this would certainly be informative, one can already see how all of the influences, paradigms, and ideas mentioned above are not only on display in these works, but throughout her entire oeuvre. And while she still has plenty of room to grow, to challenge herself, and to re-invent her artistic practice time and time again, there is something that sets Todorova’s particular working program apart from the artists mentioned about, and it is something very specific.
A great deal of the abstraction that happens under the moniker of psycho-geographies, from the situationists forward, is focused on the critique of the type of enclosures that are created all around us by culture. Of course, here the word culture refers to what Guy Debord would have called the society of hyper-spectacle, had he lived to see the rise of interactivity and social networks, and which Deleuze rightfully deemed to be the advent of control societies. Only here, in the desert, with Todorova’s work, we are treated to something else entirely in terms of detourned forms. And what that shift in emphasis consists of in Todorova’s varied projects really emerges out of a deconstructionist ethic toward form, aesthetics and culture, and as such, it is set along ‘other’ lines than the projects mentioned above. These are lines, that as Jacque Derrida himself might say, are supplements to the international discourse of dialectic cosmopolitanism that trades on every greater architectonic inversions, more and more stylistic skins, and a kind of hyperbolic formalism that often makes today’s ‘star-hitects’ into victims of their own success wherever some of their most controversial building projects appear to be caricatures of their own civilization. That is to say, what is now permitted as being sensational architectural design, which is quite admittedly made of disposable forms, frontage and an aesthetics of framing devices, is itself somewhat of an ahistorical aberration in building techniques.
Not only that, but many of today’s most noteworthy architectural styles seem to emerge out of a neo-Platonic realm that is an absolute expression of increasingly levels of abstraction alone. In other words, instead of serving as a type of archetypal modeling for emergent relations in the natural world, the gestural sweeps of todays most written about building projects belong more and more to the simulated worlds of video games and virtual realities, i.e., an irreal world of computational design. Another way of saying the same thing is that while today’s reigning schools of architecture and architectonic painting are entering a high moment of ever greater ‘complexity and contradiction’, these hyperbolic investments in a type of formalism freed of any constraints concerning utility or essentialism are not grounded in thinking much beyond the horizon of the times we live in, or what the philosopher Hans George Gadmer would have called the hermeneutics of understanding as a historical mode of investigation. In other words, hyperbolic formalism mirrors the unpredictability of hyperbolic capitalism, and the spiraling forms that are the dominant motif behind this new aesthetic in folding architecture and folded forms in post-postmodern painting tend to mirror the spiraling effects of our economy, our ecosystems, etc. In other words, as a motif, ‘the fold’ has as much to do with the density of enfolded forms as it has to do with the unintended consequences of their chaotic expansion.
That is why, when Todorova ventures from the themes of urbanism and development, into looking at the relationship between time and nature, not to mention the new valorization of varied structures and folding forms, she isn’t just leaving us a trace of the artistic impulse or accelerating the drive toward aesthetic improvisation that was the concluding denouement of twentieth century formalism in both art and design. There is too, in her work, a serious question about chronos in the largest possible sense of the term. In this way, her project is very close to the argument made by Marc Auge about the growing construction of ‘non-places’, or ‘timeless’ homogenous, non-descript environments that replicate the aesthetics of massification and industrialization the world over.
In other words, the acceleration of the building of forms allows Todorova the opportunity to make a series of acute aesthetic interventions as a means of asking questions about the present. Her most recent work, "Transluminal", could also be seen as referring to this phase of rapid ‘construction’ in our culture as being something akin to a ‘transluminal phase’, which refers both to describing points that meet at regular intervals in a cycle, (on a graph where a sine wave would cross zero), and transluminal energy, (TEQ) which is a kind of quantum model that describes how physics could move faster than light. It isn’t lost on us that both of these definitions converge when we think about the aesthetics of building in what is otherwise considered to be a culture of disposability that represents both the zero degree of waves of formal ‘development’ within the logic of late capitalism as well as constituting a trend we need to escape from at somewhere beyond the speed of light.
Thus, with “Transluminal”, we are entreated to think about the dialogic contradictions of living in this time and in this place, as it is evidenced in the mixing of motifs like the hourglass, desert sands, projected filters and connective structures. But of course these structures also stand in for a series of strictures in Todorova’s work too: the hour glass as a keeper of nature and time, but also as a space that symbolizes how we are running out of time; projected gems as a way of symbolizing wealth and power, but also, the ill-effects of fetishizing empty signifiers; the infrastructure of pyramid like forms that gesture toward a history of the most stable structures that have ever been erected, but also serve to remind us that the folding models of architecture that dominate our time are diametrically opposed to the durability of post, lintel and block construction. Even the rise and fall of Todorova’s diamond moons, which actually function like so many black suns punctuating the horizon of lost civilizations, provide us with an inerrant reminder of folly and wobble, tilt and axis, and birth and death, all of which have a symbolic import of the greatest possible measure.
This is because the symbol of the black sun is esoterically understood as being something of a doppelganger of sorts, a negative image of the positive emanation of our material world, or what we would today call the sign of a parallel universe where the laws of our world function in exact, but inverse measure. Only, Torodova has given us a view of this phenomenon by using the revolving image of a black gemstone sun that is perpetually turned over by the outmoded technology of a slide-changing carousel. This too, has its significance, as the rotating in and out of images could be seen as standing in for the transvaluation of the same symbol by different civilizations. Afterall, the black sun is as much a sign of the power that the eclipse held as an object of fascination for much older cultures as it is a symbol of transition, transformation and something that reorients us toward looking skyward even today. But what we miss about this phenomenon is that the same hysterical manifestations that haunted the ancients still persists under the gemstone sun of Todorova’s lunar cycle too.
In this way “Transluminal” is about seeing though the substantive forms and beliefs of our times, just as trans-illumination refers to light passing through a solid substance to illuminate it from within. As such, we can say that the impulse behind Todorova’s chosen motifs all hint at using the values of the past to evaluate the present as well as the eclipse of spiritual values that accompanied the rise of industrialization and materialism in particular. The black sun as a power within what Jung called the archaic or collective unconscious has been transmuted in our times to carry the same connotations of frenzied buying on “Black Friday” and momentary insanity following stock market crashes like we had in the past on “Black Monday”. Of course, both of these “Black Swan” events still give rise to sacrificial trampling’s, the first in pursuit of door busting deals while the second occurs when the Bull market goes bust, often leading to more than a few suicidal leaps from tall buildings as financial fortunes are driven right off a cliff into the abyss of worthless portfolio options. It would seem the lunary impulse, from which we take the word lunacy, hasn’t waned so much in our culture as it has simply collectivized its expression by other means. In this way, we can say that “Transluminal” also trades on the most well know definition of the term, which is that of being a lumen, or a unit of measure that describes how much light is cast across a certain area. But one can be sure that the use of so many inverted formal propositions in her work also refers to the moments when we lose all sense of measure, and struggle to regain it, both on an individual and collective level. Beyond this, her choice of title also seems to have something to do with how much light the past can cast on the present, and how we can confront the dark sun of our times as a an aberrant system of belief, or an episteme that has many unfortunate consequences if we take it to be the only valid world-view.
Thus, with each particular choice, Todorova asks us to think about the superstructure of civilizations throughout time, and the hierarchy of motivated aspirations that kept them moving forward, or which allowed them to vanish, sometimes without a trace beyond their architectural contributions and their celestial record keeping. And in this way, Todorova’s certainly presents us with an art of high symbolism, but it is a type of symbolic value that trades on the fact that it might be high time to confront the digital modeling techniques of the present with the artifacts of the past, and especially those structures that have yet to fade from view. They are always there, as a layer of pentimenti just sitting underneath the surface of civilization, building up as a serious of tensions and counter-currents, like deep oceanic influences that only show themselves on the crest of rippling waves, like so many sand dunes in our desert life. But below the organic is the architectonic, in the form of shifting plates, and below that, deeper tensions still. The hot molten core of our planet is like the hot core of the symbolic commitments of any given civilization inasmuch as they provide a hard edifice that surrounds a center of activity that remains completely hidden, fluid and for all intents and purposes, is highly unstable.
And Todorova’s art is layered in this same way, because she asks us to question the seismic shifts of modernity and the building pressures of postmodernity, not to mention the reigning ethos of pluralism, as a mean of shifting through the problems of abstraction and perception here in our desert of sedimentary remains. Afterall, Todorova’s recombinant structures are about just that, the time that remains in the largest possible sense of the term, and what happens after a civilization reaches its greatest heights, or the high point of its totemic values, be they pyramidal, hierarchical, horizontal, networked, or otherwise. Perhaps that’s why so many of her projections resemble dark moons set against the stark white of the gallery space, or why she keeps bringing a sense of natural time back into dialogue with virtual spaces, or why Todorova mixes ancient iconic forms with modern folding meshes. It would seem, that all of this is done in order to give us a sense of forced perspective about how these elements misalign in the present unless we are willing to take a sideways looking glance at how anthropomophic our ideas about 'value' really are, or, at least how relative they can appear to be from one generation to the next, or even, from one civilization to the next. And of course, it goes without saying that some of the dramatically warped structures that appear throughout all of Todorov'a work allude to this not just by projecting radical juxtapositions, but by using suggestive transpositions of form and content that are never quite what they seem to be when we first encounter them. In this way, it’s safe to say that Todorova’s work is an immanently contemporary example of how artifact, artifice and aesthetic experience can collide to create a series of new meanings about so many interpenetrating topologies of contemporary life, and that our ability to think critically about the meaning of place and space is not just set against our immediate desert horizon, but against a much greater landscape of meanings that includes the great cultures of other desert civilizations that have continued to eclipse one another throughout the ages.
Bio: Rossitza Todorova, Tempe, Arizona based artist was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, raised in Reno, Nevada. She moved to Arizona to pursue her Master's of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Drawing from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, School of Art at Arizona State University. Since graduating in 2013, Todorova, has been stockpiling inspiration -- when she's not working at ASU Art Museum, teaching as an adjunct professor at ASU's School of Art, or creating new works.
Rossitza Todorova's work is exhibited internationally. Her drawings and prints are in the permanent collections of the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe, University of Arizona Art Museum in Tucson, the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada, and the Painting and Sculpture Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as numerous private collections. Todorova’s work has been published in “500 Artists Books: Volume 2,” “Studio Visit: Volume 25,” as well the “Fresh Paint Magazine: Volume 4.”