Before leaving the UK I found a few architectural tours that looked worth investigation so decide today will be a day of action. I look online for alternative Plovdiv and find a map of in the city which will take me round the the buildings made during a brief period when a couple of architects were inspired by and made their own Bauhaus style buildings. This tour takes me out towards the south east of the city and I come across a few soviet style administrative buildings en route, their scale and geometric surface decoration do not quite overpower the buildings around them but add to the rich texture and variety of the cityscape.
Much of the city is in the stye of French second empire style, 3 and 4 story buildings with tall windows and shutters, elaborate floral decorations, painted in soft blues, pink and ochre.
Pavements, railings, gates are all elaborately patterned and brightly coloured. I find about 5 buildings which have distinctive Bauhaus features, airy and rounded balconies, regular plain facades, flat rooves and yet there is not a white wall in sight ! These colourful houses, like many others elsewhere in Europe, are often private commissions and set on the edges of cities. In Plovdiv however they are rarely elegantly sited on large landscaped plots like Le Corbusier’s villas, but sit hunched up alongside other suburban villas that vary in age and style. I roam around their edges photographing their good sides, their weird side entrances and their profiles, though I’m not sure why I am attracted to these buildings. They follow a clear sense of purpose and function which is appealing yet these particular examples break some modernist rules, appear lived in (rather than being machines for living) and exude a lived-in-ness, being embedded in vegetation, decorated with abandoned bikes and garden chairs, and entered via rusty gates, like a regular house.
After midday we get into the gallery, it is rather late and the floating fabric piece looks too small in the space, the fans are working but the whole thing lacks visual drama. As a form of space interrupted it is flimsy. I am sharing the space with N who somehow got in the day before and stretched his massive black and gold drawing all around the walls, dominating the space. People like the work but it’s not disruptive enough. I need about 30 metres of fabric to create the necessary drama, but it is a concept that I can return to at a later date.
There are many artists in a fairly small space and it fills up quickly, overflowing by U.K. standards, but it looks dynamic and there is a pleasing sense of energy. The work takes many forms and represents a range of experiences including a sound piece of local conversation, watercolour paintings that are residues from a performance, pavement rubbings, wooden sculptures, spectral photographs, neatly arranged disembodied sleeves, a slide show of olympic futile endeavours, body scans. It is very hot in the gallery and I spend the day trying this and that, up and down a ladder, cleaning, fixing, unfitting, redoing, trying something else. I quite enjoy this time, being suspended in time and space, but I know I can’t make it bigger. By 5 it is done and the gallery looks good- buoyant and vibrant, not everything is resolved or finished but it feels alive.
Hot, weary and with the stormy weather drawing in we hunker down with pizzas, beer and rakia. We watch artists’ films, listen to music and watch the assistant curator’s the slides of his outdoor pursuits – maneuvering kayaks, walking up ragged mountains, climbing frozen waterfalls, swimming in dark rivers and photographing smiling children who have eaten their dog and this last slide quietens us with shock.
The last day, we are all a little distracted, wanting to finish and finalise work in the gallery. So much rain has fallen that the roads are ankle deep in water. Lying in bed listening to the rain on the roof I suddenly think of a way to complete what I am now calling, the stones in my pocket project – I will deliver the the wrapped stones back to their place of origin and photograph them. This could lead to a small book. They don’t really fit in my pocket so I stuff them in a bag, they are really heavy. I dart around the city between showers, placing them carefully back where I found them, and then stand back to take photographs of them in their new guise. I feel a little self conscious scrabbling around on the ground but most people are too busy to notice. This feels better than trying to resolve the unimpressiveness of my attempts to defy gravity with a piece of fabric in the gallery. I save a handful of wrapped stones to exhibit in the gallery – they look modest but steady. Here I am again though, facing my tendency to be excited by everything, squeezing a lot into a little time, and overreaching myself and realising this rather late in the day!
The rain continues and we hang around the hostel in a listless way. I pack my bags again and again. H tells me that her driver will take me to the airport. At 6 we venture back to the gallery for the PV – it looks alive and people are peering at the work. But I have to say goodbye and leave for the once the week flight out of Plovdiv. There is a pleasing feeling of communal effort, shared endeavour and mutual appreciation – good notes to leave on. The white knuckle drive to the airport is thrilling; the driver is negotiating evening traffic, driving rain, and enormous puddles all whilst checking his phone every 3 minutes. He grins at me in a friendly way when we get stranded briefly in a torrent of water that engulfs the car. I feel very small in the big seat of his big black car and I sit very still. He leaves me at the small new airport and I buy a small bitter coffee and sit quietly waiting for my flight.