The City Art Gallery in Sofia, Bulgaria is a little building located in the City Gardens. The quaint structure was home to a casino till 1944 and wasn’t transformed into a gallery space until 1970.
On my visit, The Collection of New Acquisitions of 2012 – 2013 was on display. The space within the gallery walls is of a manageable size, and the art displayed was a collection of contemporary pieces strictly by Bulgarian artists.
I came across a vast collection of thought provoking pieces, and was very impressed by the collection as a whole as the variety was diverse both in subject matter as well as medium. Materials ranged from white chocolate to a collection of films juxtaposed side by side using vintage televisions, and everything in between.
Of all the pieces displayed the one that stood out from the crowd was “The Kid” by Georgi Georgiev (Jojo) conceptualised in 2013.
The piece depicts a young male figure partially covered in body art and giving himself a tattoo on the sole of his foot.
The figure’s posture mirrors that of “Boy with Thorn”; a piece that is first recorded to have been seen in the Hellenistic period. The original piece is of a boy removing a thorn from the sole of his foot.
This has been recreated throughout art history for years. It had first been recreated in bronze and marble in early Roman art creating a snowball effect of several reinterpretations right into the 20th Century when figures were mass-produced and kitschified into popular household items.
What Jojo has achieved in his re-creation is not dissimilar to many before him. “The Kid” is very much a contemporary take on a piece that has come to reflect the various times in which each re-conceptualization has represented. Jojo’s piece not only illustrates the posture, look and feel of the original work; it also echoes a sliver of contemporary youth culture. (I say “a sliver” because to say all youth would be a gross misrepresentation of the many ideologies and life-styles that today’s youth represent)
Before I make my next point, let me step back from this piece for just a moment to take a quick look at the root of tattoo culture. If you look back into tribal history you will find that tattoos have been around for quite some time. However, their purpose in some contexts has changed. Various cultures around the globe have used tattoos as a form of tribal and hierarchical identification. The design and placement of each marking was highly symbolic and placed an individual into the dynamic of the collective whole that tribes adopt in order to survive. If you take a look at tattoos now though, for the most part, their purpose is to set the individual up to stand out of the crowd as opposed to become part of the collective. Unless the tattoo is related to belonging to a particular group, its purpose seems to indicate a need to be different.
That being said, the painted surface of “The Kid” has been partially covered in tattoos. This can be seen as essentially a representation of the infliction of pain in order to prove oneself as an individual. That’s all well and good, however, the figure whose position mirrors a piece where a boy is removing a painful object from the sole of his foot has been recreated to depict a boy who is giving himself a tattoo on the sole of his foot! Can you see the stark difference? Not only are we seeing a representation of the infliction of pain but we are baring witness to the idea of such a dire need to prove oneself different that one is willing to self-inflict this pain in order to do so.
On even closer inspection, you can see that the tattoo being fashioned is that of an anchor. So is this individual trying to set himself apart or to be accepted/anchored to what’s perceived to be the “norm”?
Now, I realize this opinion is very subjective, and I may be reading far too much into this piece, but the way I see it: this is a cry for help. I feel as though this piece is a wakeup call. It begs the question: Why? (Again, I am only seeing this in the extreme not as a general viewpoint on anyone who happens to have a little ink.) Why is it that some individuals, regardless of age, feel so hurt that they have the need to inflict physical pain upon themselves?
The fact that Jojo is able to create such a dialogue with his viewers is the very reason why his sculpture is so effective.