Sophia Bulgakova

we all woke up today from some kind of explosions

Abb. / Image: we all woke up today from some kind of explosions (2023 - 2024), ©Sophia Bulgakova, commissioned by Growing Pains

Text by Maria Vtorushina

Sophia Bulgakova grew up in Odesa, a Ukrainian metropolis, port, and cultural centre on the shore of the Black Sea. Today, Odesa is constantly being targeted by Russian missile attacks: the port stocks with grain are the primary target. But also the city centre of Odesa, which is under UNESCO cultural protection, is being shelled, along with the residential buildings where civilians live.
Since leaving Ukraine in 2014, Sophia Bulgakova has been in touch with her childhood friends Di and Li via a telegram group chat. “We all woke up today from some kind of explosions” is the first message Bulgakova received from her friends on that chat on 24 February 2022, when the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine started. This message serves as the title for her project, which is a conceptual diptych, manifesting as an audiovisual installation and a publication. The audiovisual part of the installation ‘We all woke up today from some kind of explosions’, created in collaboration with Ymer Marinus, premieres at Künstlerhaus Bethanien.

While we’re discussing with the artist how she aims to present the project at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, I wake up from the same explosions. But it is already 21 March 2024. Between 4 am and 6 am, Kyiv is hit by ballistic missiles. My friends’ flat is ruined, they evacuate; my mother, who lives close to that block, doesn’t answer the phone calls. And with that terror, happening here and now, and being simultaneously reflected in Sophia Bulgakova’s project, the primary act of the artist’s or the writer’s job is to look without turning away from the horror. Not to submit to the desire to escape from reality into the imaginary or poetic world. Since the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, we have had no choice but look closely into the things that are so violent that no media is able to reproduce. The first act of seeing, of waking up and opening the eyes, is to endure the constant pain from releasing the responsibility of not just evidencing, but being the participants of the war — against our choice. For those who observe the wars through photo and video reports, anything we would tell, and present is just one more footage, among millions of pictures. As Susan Sontag said, “they have little effect, and there is something innately cynical about their diffusion.” But for us, those who wake up from the explosions, bearing witness and seeing images also means navigating the concrete effort: where and how to protect the loved ones, where to volunteer, whom to support, what to rescue, how to show solidarity.

Though it’s impossible to train the gaze to see everything that those who wake up from the explosions see, it’s possible to imagine how the vicious circle of “regarding (observing)” the pain of others can be broken with radical compassion. A metaphor of such restructuring of the observers’ gaze is one of the components of Sophia Bulgakova’s project. The artist’s publication includes stereograms that require a concrete effort from a viewer to see the message:

1. Hold the stereogram in front of you
2. Relax your eyes
3. Look through the image
4. Wait for the words to come into focus

Sophia Bulgakova is a Ukrainian ArtScientist, interdisciplinary artist, and activist currently based in the Netherlands. Sophia works with art, technology, and contemporary social structures focusing on the relationship between cultural identities, perception, and imagination. Through various sensory inputs in her installations and performances, she engages viewers, impacting their ways of perceiving reality and exploring new possibilities beyond it. Sophia studied sculpture in Kyiv and then got a foundation diploma in Photography and Time-Based Media at the University of the Arts London in the UK. After that, she graduated from the ArtScience Interfaculty at the Royal Academy of the Art and Royal Conservatory in The Hague, the Netherlands. Her works were exhibited at Ars Electronica Festival (AT), CTM Festival (DE), Sonic Acts Festival (NL), Baltan Laboratories (NL), Mediamatic (NL), and Ningbo City Exhibition Hall (CN), among other places.

Maria Vtorushina is a curator, researcher, and writer. In 2023 they were the editor-in-chief of the Artslooker Magazine; from 2016 to 2021 they led Kyiv Art Week as the artistic director. Holding an MA in Art Theory (National Academy of Visual Arts, Kyiv), Maria received postgraduate training at Maastricht University (FASoS). Currently they participate in the Rave Scholarship program by ifa at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin.

12.04. – 05.05.2024
Tue - Sun: 2 - 7pm
Admission free