The sculptor and artist Stefan Nenov enjoys sculpting in wood. The Bulgarian national lives and works in London, where much of his time is spent pondering over the concepts in his art followed by other hard grafting. The artist is full of acceptance in one respect. You see one thing is to express something very accurate through your art. Another is to accept the fact that everyone else has a different frame of reference and projects their own meaning into your art. That will always happen regardless of whether the artist titles the work or invests time fine-tuning the concept to include the exact right amount of everything. It leads other artists to create work that might appear to have a point or narrative, but is intended to remain an unsolvable riddle. That, of course, is equally fine.
The aforementioned projection from the viewer is perhaps the beauty of art when it really succeeds as art. I.e. it engages you to fill in the blanks and leaves at least something for the imagination to crunch in much the same way that darkness does in Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro.
Thematically Nenov’s work addresses the combo of us and our pervasive media simulacrum:
Internet and the new technologies are my main sources and provokers of ideas. It is interesting to observe the way our society communicates and what decisive influence the Internet technologies have on our unconscious mind and direction in life.
Stefan Nenov, 2014.
Whatever Stefan Nenov does, it appears to be marinated in wit as a sort of visual pun or ironic kitsch reflecting where civilisation has arrived at. The resultant objects are poised between ridicule of our space age and confident, skilful, execution. Call it serious fun if you will. For there is serious side to it as well, and a very deliberate choice of objects: “For a long period in my practice the structure of the computer, keyboard, screen, the inner world of Internet, all icons, pixels – all these elements were present in my sculptures”, Nenov adds.
The Sculpture Kiss The Pixels (see image above) exemplifies how much online- and mobile pixel display have become an integral part of us. We have embraced it in so many ways that a fair number of us have even dated in cyberspace. At the same time academics have spent valuable ‘air time’ explaining that both of the terms virtual reality and augmented reality are tautological. According to them, everything is just reality — albeit a reality made by humans who have automated some humanoid technology to make our irrational limbic system respond. In Joe Bloggs reality, Joe looks at a real screen that displays real surrogate content mimicking our physical environment to some extent. The only really disquieting thing is that Joe Bloggs does not wear academic goggles, and that academics know they have a point, but not quite what to do with it.
The State of art
The title speaks volumes in its own right. Seen from within the goldfish bowl of online- and conventional media, it might hint at the art market as a post-modern freak show that an artist must navigate. In the same token, it is a product of an age where you could witness a Thai elephant receive in excess of 9 million Youtube™ views for painting with its trunk.
In this sculpture, the cat is doing some one-legged balancing act you’d expect to see in a circus, and its tail is holding a loaded paint brush. Other than that it appears wrinkled and stripped off. It is deliberately contrived.
Speaking of contrivances, someone came up with the bizarre idea of breeding almost hairless cats in the 1960s. Fast forward 50 years, and today there are proud owners of these miserable existences that ‘allegedly’ have to wear clothes at times. It holds up a mirror to society and what it has become in terms of exploration into unfamiliar ethical territory held against allowing all that is possible just because it is possible. For anyone familiar with South Park, there’s an episode in which Bif wants an elephant to make love to a pig. After a failed attempt, the gang visits a mad genetic scientist who, besides having cloned Stan, has found time to create all ‘useful’ animals with four pairs of buttocks. Our age glosses it over with humour that exaggerates the absurdity, which in turn is the only tactics that actually works. We have all grown cynical and ‘compassion fatigued’ with mass media and digital media bombardments, with emotional rape, and countless appeals to take action to save our planet. This is why a sculpture like this – however innocent looking – is so tuned into who we are tomorrow.
Legends of ambition
Two male Miniature Pinschers – again as inbred as humanly possible – are both suspended mid air or held up by their – you’ve noticed – own streams of urin. This is the proverbial pissing contest we are all too familiar with as fueled by ambition and a fair dose of testosterone.
Here we have a crown and gilded nickers – the official term is lace lingerie for women. But that is a red herring worth frying because coupled with its title, this piece commands our attention.
Does the title refer to some royals or could it perhaps refer to gentlemen with acquired and camp taste receiving a respectful nod of acceptance from the artist? Maybe something third? We know not for certain, but none of the reigning queens known to man could have embossed such a firm Brazilian arse with their flat buttocks. Simply it is hard not to smile back at this cleavage that could swipe credit cards. However, it transpires that the artist very much wanted to refer to lust for women as sex objects though not in a male chauvinistic manner but a reflection (if not celebration) of it as undiluted girl power.
Then notice something is amok in the floral stuff underneath. What you initially thought were pinkish rosebuds soon resemble something entirely different.
The fall of Icarus
In the transliterated version of Icarus, the plot about the Greek mythological figure is perfect for societal oppression. Simply it prevents people from getting ideas above their own station. I.e the more uplifting advice from Daedelus of not flying too low to the ground was censured out from the original myth. Hence, popular perceptions of the plot are now best summed up as: don’t fly to high or your new-fangled wax-winged technology will melt and you will plummet to the ground and die. Shelley obviously compared notes when she wrote Frankenstein with her take on science and technology going all awry. In comparison, Stefan Nenov’s detailed sculpture incorporates the technological aspect. You notice the splash, and the carefully carved Corinthian ornamentation that might be harking back to ancient Greece. Then the latter is transforming itself into circuit board endings with their conductive traces and vias. Again a tongue in cheek narrative that brings the same old judgement call on experimentation smack bang up-to-date.
On being a sculptor
The artist is mainly using wood as his medium of choice. His sculptures – meticulously planned – eventually take shape and colour into amazing objects that provoke us and toy with our perception. The affinity with wood is remarkable and Nenov’s fondness of wood has to do with it having been a living and breathing organic material. Secondly, it is great to carve and shape, though it takes years of practice to master well. Using wood is a collaboration where you can work with and against the grain. Finally, when you succeed with wood, it commands a certain presence in a space, though it is difficult to explain why.
You can find more information about the artist and his art by visiting his website or facebook page.
All images by courtesy of the artist © Stefan Nenov, all rights reserved.