The third and so far biggest edition of the FIG. festival for illustration and graphics takes place in Sofia from 24 March to 2 April. Over the course of 10 days we have the opportunity to attend two group and one solo exhibition, a series of workshops, film screenings, talks, a performative dinner, a book launch, and the first ever print 'supermarket'.
We talk to the founder and director of FIG. Vasil Vladimirov about the ideas behind the festival and the necessity of sometimes getting it wrong.
This year the festival's slogan is: "There must be some mistake". What are the topics it refers to?
The general theme relates to error as something that can initiate an unlearning process. Unlearning from social, political and economic dogmas or even those related to our culture. There are concepts and beliefs that are strongly ingrained in how we live, work, relate to those around us, and on a more global level, the way we care for nature, how the world is organized iconically and politically. Some highlights of the program that deal with particular aspects are the group exhibition, "A Typo in the Book of the Self," which questions the capitalist and highly individualistic perspectives on taking care of ourselves, our bodies and minds; a workshop led by the Know-How-Show-How organization, which questions the limits of graphic design and the rules imposed by market and educational systems. "Good Plumber, Poor Typographer" by Emir Karjo and Lukasz Matuszewski explores the differences in education and visual culture regarding typography between Western and Eastern Europe (respectively the places where the two authors studied and grew up) and whether things are actually more inferior or done wrong in the East. The Raw Lab collective's solo exhibition explores the limitations of artificial intelligence and innate errors, which can lead to interesting results though. Molly Rose Dyson's talk, Oops I did it again, discusses error as a process from the perspective of a graphic designer and illustrator's practice. The theme is quite universal and present in each of the events.
Are there taboo topics in illustration in our country that need more attention?
I don't think there are taboo topics. Maybe some more experimental approaches are missing and also a variety of styles. But I don't think that's a case in illustration and graphic arts only, but in visual arts in general.
How do you perceive mistakes as a part of the process of professional development?
It depends on the mistake. It's even a bit hard for me to answer, because when I think about some mistakes, they were so much a part of the process that I can't even accept them as such. There are some that are more irredeemable and make you want to eat yourself. Right now I'm working on taking mistakes not so serious.
What is the added value of the festival and what gaps does it fill in the art scene?
On the one hand, the festival presents both the audience and the participating artists with a challenge of what they mean, what the limits are and what the potential of the mediums of illustration and printmaking are. On the other hand, the festival forces us to embrace error - the thing we all run from - as something positive that can help us imagine new worlds, beyond the dogmas I talked about above. Also, many of the festival's events provide an alternative education that does not fit into an institutional framework or one set by market principles. Our workshops always have a small fee so that they are accessible to people in unprivileged positions who lack quality access to culture and education. We want to increasingly develop in this direction and would love to hear any perspectives on how we can best achieve this development.
Illustration and graphics are almost everywhere and in everything today, but just before let's say 40-50 years ago they were a profession for few. Now it seems to be the opposite - there are many illustrators, graphic designers, etc. How do they manage to stand out and what are the main characteristics that attract the attention of your team in the festival selection of artists?
We understand and interpret these genres quite loosely, as you can probably tell from our programme. In this regard, our attention is drawn to artists who in some way challenge understandings of what these genres are, what they are used for and what impact they find. Authors where illustration and graphics are present as a means of expression, as a starting point or sometimes an end result, but are not strictly limited by the use of techniques and media that are associated with conventional understanding. And otherwise artists who have an established and recognizable style that is not subordinate to what is currently trending. And last but not least, authors who use their work to tell stories and make a statement. This year, I think we've pushed the limit quite a bit, and there's hardly a single artist in our exhibitions who only does illustration or printmaking or graphic design. This also allows us to show a variety of artists and to seek and find those from the broad spectrum of visual arts such as sculpture, new media, animation, photography, installation, etc.
What shouldn't we miss from the 10-day super-diverse program of FIG.3?
The programme is quite tight and balanced. It's hard to prioritize, but Molly Rose Dyson's talk (March 30, 6.30 PM, Hyperspace Social Tech Hub) will be quite interesting. She is an illustrator, graphic designer and art director with a diverse background and has worked for world-renowned clients as well as having her own art practice. Another highlight was certainly the screening of Girls in Film (26.03., 20:00, Bobbina), an international organization dedicated to the distribution and production of films by women, trans and non-binary people. They have curated a special selection of animated and digital films, and their representative will be on site to talk about them after the screening. The event is a great opportunity for young filmmakers to meet and make new connections. Each workshop is very interesting and provides an alternative education as well as an opportunity to create collectively. Tickets are still available for some of them. Don't miss the exhibitions at KO-OP, Posta and Punta. At Posta, The Tiny Art Gallery will be showing their first group show with 24 artists!
Details of all the events in the FIG - Festival of Illustration and Graphics programme can be found here. If you can't make it, there's probably some mistake.
Vasil Vladimirov is a freelance curator and coordinator of the KO-OP programme. He is the founder and director of FIG. - a festival for illustration and graphics in Sofia. He is co-founder of the website www.beduende.com. In 2021/2022 he is a fellow of the Centre for Social Vision program at Swimming Pool. He has participated as a guest curator in the Month of Photography festivals in Bratislava and International Photography Meetings in Plovdiv.