Transition from ...

Transition from Manual to Automated Control

2008, installation

The installation consists of neon figures and letters mounted on a steel framework and controlled by an analogue system of switches, six TV sets of different make and age, six DVD players, vintage furniture.

Size of neon structure 300 x 400 cm.

Perched on a two storey building at a busy crossroads in the city centre of Sofia there is an imposing timeworn neon object that nobody seems to notice. One of those artifacts, that are so “in your face” and at the same time remain obscure, it is a good example of the way human awareness works. Noticing or not noticing, remembering or forgetting, searching for explanations or being indifferent are all a matter of choice, whether one makes it consciously or not.

This enigmatic neon relic was the starting point of Petko Dourmana's installation Transition from Manual to Automated Control. A working neon reconstruction scaled down four times, and installed at ground level, makes it approachable and observable. It consists of three circles – red, yellow and green, positioned in the left side of the tableaux, representing the colours of a traffic light, the words “stop”, “caution” and “go” in the middle, at the level of the respective circles, and a figure of a traffic policeman on the right. The colours change, and with them the three words turn on and off accordingly, and the posture of the traffic policeman signals “stop”, “caution” and “go”. The change of the lights is accompanied by the loud mechanical noise of an electrical relay turning this overwhelming system of neon tubes and light into a relentless timekeeper.

Similar in format to Kutlug Ataman's Kuba, the installation features also six video interviews, each shown in a different setting, consisting of a tv set, side table and an armchair. Each of these environments mimics a time period from the 60s till today and altogether, they form a group portrait of the people living in the apartment block opposite the original neon structure. The older occupants remember when the neon was installed and tell their interpretations of the reasons for its installation, the younger ones and those who recently moved into the building speculate about the motives for its appearance and its function. Just as the neon structure was the starting point of the installation, the artist’s questions about it are simply a starting point of story-telling, expressing opinions and making assumptions, related to a time long passed, the immense changes the city experienced and of course the societal transitions during communism and after its fall.

Looking at the city from their different windows, the occupants of that apartment block make up a multifaceted and ambiguous image of the city. Starting in the late 60s, when there were almost no cars on the streets until today, the repeating element in their stories is the flicker of the neon “traffic light” structure – real or imagined. The angry recollections of its blinding light and unbearable noise, the sweet memories of it as a token of progress and innovation, the fantasy of it being brought to light again, together with the title of the installation help the viewer to finally figure out what the real object stood for. A celebration of the transition form manual to automated control, something between an instructional and educational tool, a monument, or simply an instance of communist propaganda, the neon tableaux was inaugurated in 1968 to mark the appearance of the first traffic lights in Sofia and to explain the meaning of their changing signals.

text by Margarita Dorovska

Transition from Manual to Automated Control was first presented in the exhibition "Stay, Stay, Stay", which took place from 11 to 25 October 2008 at the Former Central Bath House in Sofia, Bulgaria (and currently Museum of Sofia). Later on the installation was displayed in public space, in a shop window on Maria Luisa Blvd, Sofia (2008 - 2010).