Contemporary art in Sofia
With the generous support of Stroom Den Haag and The Mondriaan Fund I’m working on an art project with my grandfather, who lived most of his turbulent life in Bulgaria, as a starting point. I didn’t know him well because I grew up in The Netherlands and I never even learnt the Bulgarian language. More about this project and its development you can find on my personal blog Traces of my Bulgarian anarchist grandfather. For Jegens & Tevens I thought it would be nice to share my last post, a report on three contemporary art spaces I visited in Sofia. And, if you don’t have any plans yet this summer (forget Documenta and Venice Biennale, Sofia is hot!), there’s an event coming up where you can experience it yourself:
In this post I will briefly report on three independent art spaces I visited; Æther, Swimming Pool and ICA Sofia (Institute of Contemporary Art). The first two had an opening during my stay. Starting from scratch without many contacts in this city I found it hard to find these spaces. There aren’t many of them, which certainly has to do with the little governmental support they get (compared to a country like the Netherlands) but in a way it all feels very exciting and I have the feeling we can expect a lot more to come in the near future. The list of art galleries in Sofia actually is quite long, but the first online impression of most of them doesn’t feel very innovative nor contemporary. On the other hand, I’m sure there’s a lot more going on then I could have seen these two weeks as a visitor and I’m soon coming back to find out.
Below you’ll find a photo report and a summary of the identity of these spaces as found on their websites.
Æther is Situated in the center of Sofia and is led by Voin De Voin, who’s a (brilliant) artist himself.
“In its essence Æther aims to connect scenes, places and art practices to create space for dialogues between West and East through the visions, critique and works of the participating artists.
One part of Æther is a project and exhibition space <Æther immaterial>, which calls out to emphasize the importance of the produced meanings, their motives and origins. It offers the visitor a view on more complex processes such as creating itself, rather than focus on its sellable values.
Another part of the space will function as a showroom and shop <Æther physical>, where thematic propositions form a collection, that will be both on display and for sale. Æther is a wish to add a mark to the cultural landscape of Sofia; a place where people can discover, get acquainted and engaged in the subjects proposed by the collective and create new memories, not necessarily to preserve, but more to question the Now.”
Æther had an opening of Ghosts in the rain from Nicholas McArthur and I had the chance to see a bit of the previous show Appetite from Martin Penev as well that was still installed downstairs a couple of days before.
In large rough drawings McArthur told a story on a world taken over by pollution. Beside drawing he does a lot more, It’s worth taking a look at his website.
Swimming Pool is also located in the city center of Sofia.
From their website: “Swimming Pool is a project space in Sofia. Its program is dedicated to artistic, curatorial and philosophical research. Its activity encompasses exhibitions, performances, screenings, public programs, and collaborative projects.
The premises of Swimming Pool are located on a rooftop in the very city center of Sofia. Built in 1939, they consist of several rooms and terraces with an empty pool.
Since the founding of Swimming Pool in 2014, Viktoria Draganova organizes its artistic program.”
At Swimming Pool there was an opening of the groupshow My Dear Provincialist with works of six Bulgarian artists; Valko Chobanov, Krasimira Kirova, Dimitar Shopov, Trifon Tashev, Martina Vacheva and Ina Valentinova. Swimming Pool is worth a visit not only because of what is shown, but also because of its surrealistic setting in a bright top apartment in decay consisting of several terraces with an empty swimming pool outside and a stunning view over the city.
ICA (institute of Contemporary Art) Sofia, led by Iara Boubnova, probably is the most “institutionalized” of the three art spaces I visited.
Founded in 1995, they operate from various locations at home and abroad. In 2009, a permanent exhibition space in Sofia was added, ICA-Sofia Gallery. From their website: “The opening of the ICA–Sofia Gallery was made possible by the dedicated conviction of Slava Nakovska and Nedko Solakov that it was not only absolutely necessary to have the gallery but that it was also possible to realize it in the rather thin and amnesic Bulgarian cultural space and especially by their strategic and persistent efforts on its materialization.”
On show was Mission Failed of Zoran Georgiev. “The show is showcasing not only his reactions and thoughts on the often mythologized center-of-the-art New York City but also his full set of experiences as a modern day artist-nomad whose life cannot be restricted to only one place, territory or cultural tradition.”
Currently ICA runs an educational program for visual artists, Close Encounters – Visual Dialogs in which amongst others Martin Penev, Ina Valentinova and Dimitar Shopov (all mentioned above) participate.