Interview with Dimitar Pijev

“Everything has the potential to become art sooner or later, or a material for art”

Jamsina Tacheva Talks with Dimitar Pijev, one of the jury of the essay contest “PORTALS”

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Hi Dimitar, where are you right now and would you mind introducing yourself – what should the readers know about you before they continue reading this interview?

Your quesitons are finding me in the frost-bound Sofia. I just finished reading one of the most exciting and moving novels I’ve ever read – “A Home at the End of the World” by Michael Cunningham. I’ve been wanting to read it for a long time and would never get a chance to, but it was definitely worth the wait. I recommend it highly to all who haven’t read Cunningham, I find it better than his much more famous “The Hours.”

Now back to your question – I think by now everyone must have figured out what I love to do most. Reading is an integral part of my everyday life and work. Perhaps because it makes me go to unknown places and strange minds; meet people who I’d never meet in everyday life. Actually, I love to travel, both with books and by more prosaic means of transport such as airplanes and trains. Traveling gives me energy and whenever I return to Sofia, I always look at the familiar streets and people with a new pair of eyes, which is a great feeling.

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You say you love to travel. Did you go to Shanghai on your last trip? What’s your impression of this place?

My trip to Shanghai was imaginary. I did it as an experiment with my own self and my imagination and described it on my personal blog. But someday I hope to physically go there. Otherwise, my last trip was to Istanbul, this summer.

It was the second time I went back to this extraordinary city which I really like a lot. I wanted to stay longer, because the first time I only spent three days, but now I devoted a week to it, which is the minimum for such a place. I went to places I had seen already as Topkapi and the Blue Mosque, and saw some new ones.

I was especially impressed with the Dolmabahce Palace. Although it’s just an apology for Versailles, there is something in it that fascinates you. I guess it’s the proximity to the water and the view of the Bosphorus. Besides that I visited unique art galleries in Istanbul, the kind of which we can only dream of in Bulgaria – four- or five-storey buildings, with huge halls. The lighting inside is simply indescribable. You have to see it to know what I mean.

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What is one thing you can never go on a trip without?

I’d never go on a trip without three things: my trusty Moleskin, clean underwear and of course a book.

How would you characterize a good traveler – which are errors that s/he should avoid making, and the most important qualities that will be helpful to her/him?

A good traveler has to know how best to choose their clothes for the trip, so s/he can be prepared for any situations and surprises. When you travel, you need to both be comfortable and feel elegantly. In short, don’t betray your style. I don’t like the crowds with thongs, short pants and worn-out shirts at the airports. Back in the day, in the ’50s and ’60s, people used to pay special attention to their clothing before a flight.

They would make it a point to look good and I think that got lost with the people traveling today. So the most important qualities are that the traveler have a sense of direction and style. Think of Phileas Fogg, who had to travel around the world in 80 days. He would never part with his Victorian clothing – a cylinder, starched white shirt, his coat and cane, because these things are part of his nature. A true adventurer never leaves his essence and character at home, but always takes them with him, to whatever part of the world he may end up in.

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Is it difficult to write about art? What do you like most about this part of your job?

It’s hard to write about art insofar as you have to be really well informed about and aware of not only what is happening on the art scene, but also of what is happening in the wider world. Especially when it comes to modern art – it’s not just an airlock that exists somewhere out there, separated from everything and everyone as a beautiful jewel, but the rhizome of intertwining themes, influences, topics and areas of life.

How can you understand or interpret the works of Maurizio Cattelan, for example, if you don’t know the context in which they were created and which often goes beyond the narrow confines of art, because both for him and for many other contemporary artists, it is woven from matters of political, economic, philosophical and social nature. So, in order to write about art, you have to be sort of like a sponge and absorb everything around you – the important and the insignificant, the good and the bad, the sublime things and the trash alike.

You can’t afford to say, for instance, that street art or reality culture are garbage and don’t deserve your attention in the way Picasso, Rubens or Botero do. Everything is important, everything is vital, it’s part of our culture and, ultimately, of ourselves. And everything has the potential to become art sooner or later, or a material for art.

Does creative writing interest you?

It does, of course, although I’m more committed to journalistic writing. Creative writing requires you to have lived long or wild, in order to have something to tell your readers. I think that oftentimes the courses in creative writing emphasize beautiful writing, correct expression, etc., which is important, for, but I think it’s even more important to share something new and valuable with people. That’s the point of writing.

The world is filled not only with literate writers, but also with brilliant writers, and yet how many of them have something to say? Writing isn’t graphomania but something way more. A revelation, maybe. Real writing uncovers you, it pinpoints all your wounds and internal anguish and makes you the most vulnerable creature that has ever lived. Graphomania, on the other hand, casts shadows and darkness, because it’s insincere, inauthentic and artificial. It’s an exercise in style, a hollow shell without content and, therefore, the exact opposite of art.

That’s why when I write, I prefer to send a message, not just to produce words. Our consciousness, history and civilization are clogged up with words. Therefore, every writer is accountable to his/her own self and to the world about the words that come from under his/her hand. If they are too many or meaningless, they pollute, much in the same way greenhouse gases pollute the atmosphere. I dare say that I am a supporter of the idea for ecology of words. Better few but sincere, genuine, pulsing with meaning, than many, beautiful and meaningless.

You graduated from the Italian Lyceum in Sofia and have studied in Italy, but in your work you use English extensively. Is there a difference between the two languages for you? Do you like any of them more than the other?

They are two completely different languages. I use Italian and English equally extensively in different situations. I’ve never broken my connection with Italy, not even for a moment, I owe a lot to that country because of the education and of the person who I am today and who I would not have become if things had turned out otherwise. I’ve often been told that when I speak Italian, my voice sounds one way, when I speak English – another, and with Bulgarian – a yet another way. It would surprise me at first, because to me my voice always sounds the same, and I don’t think I have a latent form of schizophrenia.

But over time I started noticing that about other people and that’s perfectly natural, because when you speak a language, you don’t just put certain words together, but interact with the culture, consciousness and thinking behind it. It’s truly schizophrenic at times, but it’s terribly liberating, I mean the ability to jump from one culture to another, to look through more than one prism and more pairs of eyes. I can compare it to the feeling you get when you change from one style of dressing to another – everything about you changes – your gestures, your gait, the body movements and facial expressions. It’s as if you’ve become a completely different person, because your body stands and looks one way when you’re in a jacket and a shirt, and a completely different way when you’re in your pajamas or jeans, for example. Same goes for language.

Why did you choose to become one of the judges of the essay contest “Portals” and how did you first meet Victor Mazhlekov?

I chose to join the contest because I liked the idea and because I like Victor’s art. These two reasons were sufficiently strong and convincing to make me accept the invitation with enthusiasm. I met Victor thanks to Petya Kokudeva, who is also a judge of the contest.

Do you feel his art close to your own worldview in some way?

Yes, definitely. It’s like walking into an extraordinary world, inhabited by strange creatures and stories. As a journey, and you know how much I love to travel. Without suggesting superficial associations, I’d say I like Victor for the same reasons I like Hieronymus Bosch. I identify with his themes and characters.

What would you wish the participants?

Less graphomania and more authenticity. And may the best win.

Do you have a secret favorite pastime that none of your friends has a clue about?

No, with me everything is in the light of the sun. I have nothing to hide. My friends know everything about me – what movies I watch, what books I read, what music I listen to, what places I love, etc. And I don’t hesitate to remind them of that if they accidentally get distracted:)

Will you have time to relax during the holidays?

Oh yes, for me the holiday has actually already begun. With a pile of books and magazines on my nightstand that I’ve planned to read. That’s connected to my work, but I don’t look at it that way because it’s a great pleasure for me.

What do you want for yourself in 2013?

I wish myself true friends and to never lose myself. Oh, and to meet the French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan. No biggie!

Jasmina Tacheva
Public Republic