Exhibition view, Sofia City Art Gallery, 2007
Video stills
Video still
Exhibition view, Sofia City Art Gallery, 2007
Video stills
Exhibition view, Sofia City Art Gallery, 2007
Map (total view)

Background Action, 2006/7

Spatial multimedia installation in four parts

· Slide show (mapping a film production in time and space)
· Nine channel video installation (extras talking)
· Photo/video installation (one vs. many)
· Spatial video installation (being everywhere at the same time)

In April 2003, less than a month before the Iraq War broke out the filming of one of the most expensive Hollywood movies of the time began – Troy by director Wolfgang Peterson starring Brad Pitt and Eric Bana. It was dedicated to Homer’s famous epic of war of the same name.

Krassimir Terziev’s documentary, Battles of Troy (2005), and the installation based on the latter, Background Action (2006-2007), are an account of the Hollywood production in the “Making of ...” style. Troy was shot on locations in Shepperton, UK, in Malta and Baja California Sur in Mexico. The main battle scenes were first to be shot in Morocco but due to the break out of the Iraq War, the producers moved to Mexico – a place of cheap labour for the US-American film production. However, Troy not only was shot in a country of cheap labour, but more people were shipped in, paid so little that it was affordable to transport them all the way from Bulgaria, 16,000 km away. With the help of the National Sports Academy in Sofia, 300 Bulgarian extras were recruited as an “elite army” because their appearances looked more like the Greek, respectively Trojan faces than those of the Mexicans. They were first paid $12, and after a strike, $22 a day. Their physical looks turned out to be of little of advantage to themselves, but greatly to the benefit of the entire endeavour.

Krassimir Terziev’s work traces the format of the “Making of ...” film back from promotion film to documentary. Through interviews, geographic maps, scenes from the movie and shots from the set, he describes the micro and macro structure of the global economic and geopolitical relationships of the film industry. While superlatives of the type “the most expensive movie of all times” should guarantee its success, Terziev focuses on exploitation and profit-making from people’s misery. It is not the director or the stars who are interviewed for this work, nor the producers or special effects experts – instead he interviews the Bulgarian extras. The silent bodies of the movie here not only tell about their own experiences. They also add images from Mexico in which for some brief seconds they are indeed the stars.

Background Action reveals the multi-layered interweaving of the filmed legendary war and the real violence taking the form of exploitation, of physical exhaustion in the heat, the accidents on the set, the social and in some cases physical conflicts within the ethnically diverse crowd of extras. And besides the fact that the filming of Troy coincided with the outbreak of an actual war, Terziev has drawn a number of other analogies between the Hollywood production and military operations. For instance, the Bulgarian extras were chosen by military experts. The maps with which Terziev visualizes the global operations during the filming of Troy resemble the plotting of military operations.

The "battles of Troy" were not just for cheap labour, but also in the name of attracting attention. The Turkish Ministry of Tourism and Culture, for instance, wanted the scenes to be shot on the original locations of the events – the Hissarluk mount in Çanakkale. But their efforts were in vain. Even the opening of the movie was not there but in Berlin, between the Sony Center and the Museum of Ancient History. Çanakkale received the Trojan Horse built for the movie. In Berlin Heinrich Schliemann’s Troy returned back to itself. Wasn’t Troy a German adventure, a German legend?

The adventure in Battles of Troy as well as in Background Action, however, is a journey into precariation, a kind of tourist precariation. The battle was taken up by bodies of low pay against other bodies of even smaller pay. "Sometimes it did seem like a battle between the Bulgarians and the Mexicans," Borislav Limonov said. Terziev places the Bulgarian participants in the focus of this adventurous conflict without taking sides himself. Instead, he leaves the ambivalence of the situation open: on the verge of exploitation, competition, gullibility, narcissism and the desire for self-assertion.
(Excerpt of the text: Iris Dressler, "Precariation Now!", in: Extra Work, Stuttgart 2007)

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