Laugh laugh laugh! It is a tickle on the soul, a flux of sparkling water through the veins, a blow of fresh air in the dusty labyrinth of our minds, a massage for the heart, a rain of light on our thoughts, an explosion of colors, a small funny earthquake that shakes our existence and pushes our self towards the never ending realm of imagination. Laugh laugh laugh! The best act of the human being, an often underestimated cultural value that here in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, find a proper tribute in the Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire, an unexpected institution devoted to showcase, promote, and preserve humor and satire in the fields of fine arts, literature, folklore, photography, and cinema. The Earth’s globe with cat eyes and ears, to “see and hear” the world’s humor is the emblem of the House. It was inspired by the mascot of Gabrovo: the cat.
The Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire is a cultural center, combining features of a museum and an art gallery. Besides the permanent and temporary exhibitions of humorous and satirical works of art from Bulgaria and the world, it organizes contests and festivals of humour such as the International biennial of humour and satire in the arts, The Blagolazh national meeting of story and joke-tellers, Carnival of humour and satire, World fine arts exhibitions and competitions. The house promotes publications about satire, humour, and related topics.
The Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire collection is impressive. It includes over 22 000 caricatures, 1000 picture works, 1000 sculptures, 9500 photos, 200 posters, 300 carnival masks and costumes, for a total of 51 620 pieces, made by over 9000 artists from 173 different countries. The richness of the collections gives the opportunity for a constant update of the expositions. During its almost 40 years of activity the Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire organized over 500 exhibits in Europe, Africa, North America and the Middle East. Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire is equipped with a specialist library. There are no secret formulas to convert a stone into a piece of gold here, nor strange and forgotten rituals of ancient religions. There are simply over 1000 volumes and periodicals in 35 languages, to honor, explain, analyze, and keep memory of the art of laughing.
Brief History of the Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire
Please, do not laugh at that, but the story of the Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire began on the back of some sheeps. On the 14th of November 1882 the Kalpanov family, resourceful businessmen from Kalapani, a village nearby Gabrovo, opened the first woolen textile mill factory in Bulgaria. It was a good choice. The fur of that sheeps made their fortune. The business flourished and the family could enlarge their activities. In 1891a joint-stock leather company was opened, and in 1927 the factory opened its door. The building was designed by architecht A.D., from the town of Shumenr, and won medals and certificates from various national and international exhibitions. It looks a pointless story, a joke, but please, keep following this trace of words, all is about to be clear…
Since then the factory would keep changing over the years to come under a new social, economic, and political order till, on the 15th of June 1955 when, due to the Nationalization act, the property was nationalized and, finally, it stopped its production, leaving the building empty and silent. Nobody knew at that time that the sparkling sound of laughing was about to replace the noise of the engines…
The 29th of October 1973 was a day to remember: Mr Stefan Faratunov, chairman of section Humor and satire of the Town Art and Culture Council, and Mr Kolyo Atanasov, chairman of the Culture Workers Club in Gabrovo, presented a proposal for the foundation of a House of Humour and Satire.
“It is common knowledge that if we want to accomplish high goals, to be well ahead of the others, we should aim high. What is ordinary is ordinary; at best it can make cities ordinary, lacking character. Even the best idea, implemented only halfway, particularly in the deep country, bespeaks a ridiculous provincial push that could only compound provincialism […] when everything is realized indeed, the House would have every reason and prerequisite to easily establish itself as a branch of the Academy of Sciences. There are scores branches and subsidiaries in this country studying varieties of corn, sunflower, tobacco, tomatoes, and what not? Why shouldn’t there be one focused on humour and satire?”
The great speech easily convinced such spirits accustomed to take humor and satyr into the highest regard: with a big laugh and manifestation of the greater enthusiasm the project was accepted.
The 1973 project had monumental proportion, it would be a sort of temple for laughing. It encompassed: Exhibition rooms, an administrative block of offices, depositories, library and reading rooms, a Cinema hall, a commercial area and a cafe, a summer garden, the Park of Humour, a Hotel, the Variety theater and hotel, a huge Conference hall, and last, an underground garage
The project was done, everything was planned… and never constructed. It remained suspended in the ethereal realm of the imagination, together with angels and fairy, a luminous example of the highness reached by the spirit and… never grasped on earth. Or simply a joke? The leather factory built in 1927 (do you remember the sheep?) was renewed and adapted to guest the House of Humor but in a smaller scale, The House we laugh in today is just a part of the whole complex originally planned. Actually the House of Humour and Satire includes 10 exhibition halls, totaling some 8000 sq. meters on 4 floors, conference hall, Cafe (semi-bar), souvenir shop, Experimental satirical variety theater, a Library, The Park of laughter.
Before we showcase you Gabrovo Musuem House of Humour and Satire and its content, we would stop a minute to reflect about this innate, beautiful act of freedom which is laughing. There is no better way to do so than using the very same words of the House.
Laughing as a guarantee of freedom. Some concepts from the Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire
We start off with the words of Margarita Dorovska, director of the Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire: “What are the gains from Laughing? Laughter does not solve problems, but renders us bigger than them. It provides higher perspective. To laugh in the face of someone or something is a matter of attitude and a way to go forward despite adversity. It is a survival strategy. The world lasts because it laughs, says the motto of the Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire, coined in the earliest days of the institution by Bulgarian satirist Radoy Ralin ad publicized for the first time 44 years ago at the first Gabrovo Biennale.”
Mr. Francis McKee, writer, curator, and director of the Center of Contemporary Art in Glasgow states that: “Humour and satire subvert. In the submission for this biennale the sheer range of media and approaches embodied this subversion, challenging the orthodoxies of contemporary art, opening new fields of vision.”
The eminent Anton Staykov, artist, researcher, writer, and co-founder of the Comic Strips Section to the Union of Bulgarian Artists, analize humour and satire from a socio-political point of view: “In this second decade of the 21st century, the attentive observers of the overall processes in the field of culture can clearly see how social collisions, climate change and the increasing economic and political skepticism in the world have triggered an active response on the part of those who create art, in its various forms. Besides the traditional instantaneous (and to some extent momentary) reaction of cartoonists, satirists and authors of humorous texts, we witness, ever more clearly, the penetration of the code of the comic among artists of contemporary forms. The scope is very broad, from instant (and Instagram) photographs, taken with mobile devices, which reach a wider public or at least a circle of close friends at lightning speed, to more intricate and long deliberated social actions that require preparation, human and sometimes, considerable financial resources.
Through the instruments of art this socio-satirical pool of communications can easily incorporate works made with quick, amateur ingenuity that claim neither social nor financial returns, and also art works, installations, video and animated clips, photographs, performances, paintings and graphic woks that are professionally planned and immaculately executed. In view of the media, there are works realized both with classic techniques and with digital and interactive technologies. The objective is one, to provoke the views and make them laugh
Humour, and satire in particular, have their own value in this regard, in the sense of shedding new light onto the darker side of human living (and dying) under conditions that happen to be more grim, serious, and austere than actually funny or entertaining. Besides ridiculing cultural and social taboos at the roots of forbidding circumstances, humor and satire help us sharpen and adjust our often myopic visual and intellectual perceptions of the world to the extent that parallel processes of “exhibiting” something: showing what is otherwise underrepresented and kept below the radar of normative visuality by dominant masculine, patriarchal, white-minded, Euro-centric, colonial, perspective, they play a mediating function in the mechanics of power by discovering inadequacies out of everyday realities on the darker side of democracy”
For Marko Stamenkovic, art historian and curator: “Laughing in the face of somebody, unlike laughing behind their back, is a daring act. It requires dignity of both on behalf of the one laughing and the one laughed at. It is impossible to laugh in the face of a faceless opponent. Not by chance “losing face” is an idiom for loosing dignity, which in some cultures equals social death. To laugh in the face of someone or something alongside exposing and criticizing means paying regard and holding as significant.”
Laughing around the exhibition rooms
Despite the solid roof of the building, as soon as you step in the first hall of the Gabrovo Musum House of Humour and Satire, a joyful storm wet your soul. An umbrella is useless. The only way to resist is set up your soul with the darkest, most serious and scary thoughts, because this storm is made of a rain of sentences and proverbs, a wind of jokes and funny illustrations, taken from the great tradition of Gabrovo humour.
Few laughs further a surrealistic, colorful labyrinth of fake rooms filled with puppets, cats, and the strangest object, will finally destroy every resistance of your mind: the world is already upside down, there is no way to resist, and why you should? Why resist to the funny state of mind that allow us to laugh? As you go on, the imagination of artists from all around the world, surprises you through painting, comics, installations, video, statues, words. There is no pity in the Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire: humour spares nothing and nobody.
The dictatorships do not rise in their glory, a glory reached through oppression and violence. They are made smaller, weaker, useless, through the art of laughing. The humour lampoons capitalism and the many paradoxes of the Western democracies, systems that betray their own ideal of a just and inclusive society, creating immense gaps between rich and poor, systematically destroying the environment, making wars, rising divisions, stealing freedom in order to make of the human being a piece of a manufacturing process, a slave closed in a comfortable environment, in a life focused on collecting objects. Humour make us clearly look at the most secret processes of the power, in doing so, we acquire the clarity of mind needed in order to defend our self from its abuses. The art of humour is not afraid to face the most powerful power on earth: religion. God, the original sin, ministers, moral and ethic become a funny playground for the artists.
Everybody knows how sex can lead us to hilarious situation. There are no reasons to be embarrassed, sex, as everything in life, can be just a joke. Other simple situations of our daily, from the abuse of technology, the pervert mechanism of social networks, the relations we establish with our family or our colleagues, suddenly become clear, lost importance, take a size that we can manage: laugh is an essential tool to reach a healthy social life. Even the tragedy of the Alzheimer, become the subject of an elegant irony.
The emptiness behind the of concept of a beauty pageant to elect a new “miss”, death, life, history, economy, the strike of misfortune, become inspirations to laugh about the destiny of the humanity and our self as individuals. You, your thought, your fear, your beliefs, all we think and do is a playground for humour and irony.
Does it sound excessive? Every time we say “you cannot make a joke” or “you cannot laugh at that” we convert something into sacred, untouchable, we put it beyond our reach, which mean that we cannot criticize it, we have to accept it passively. “Do not laugh” has been one of the tools used by the power, both politic and religious, to make us bend the head, keep silent, whitstand: irony and humour are a guarantee of democracy, of freedom.
Park of laughter.
Is there a better place to let our laugh fly up than the open roof of the world? The park stands besides the Gabrovo Museum House of Humour and Satire. There are not only plant and grass here, but statues representing some characters universally recognized as heroes of laughing, as Charlie Chaplin, Don Quixote, and other funny subjects. The statue of Hitar Petar, a work of the Prof. Georgi Chapkanov, was the first work mounted in the Garden in 1981. Others eminents Bulgarian artists complete the “furniture” of the park.