Tues 21 May
It’s hot already so I make an early start and head out east towards the cemetery (an old family habit). It is huge, scruffy and busy. Shoulder high wildflowers sprawl across the site, littering the paths, choking the graves. Everywhere I look there are crimson poppies, marigolds, pink mallow and something tall with tiny yellow flowers. People are milling around with fresh flowers, buckets of water and brooms.
Further south is a nearly complete, but now abandoned stadium. Strutting rusty steel rods poke reach towards the sky, and twin staircases illustrate their mode of production, one all skeletal rods and the other solidified with concrete. Half baked and semi erect it is an oasis of calm but I can see no way in and my photographs don’t convey its sleeping grandeur.
Back at the hostel we meet up and then walk crocodile fashion to a local gallery for presentations by M and R. It’s cool in the gallery where we are invited to look into a room of serious children who are standing at easels making large paintings inspired by their favourite painters. We assemble in another cooler darker gallery where the work of the self taught Encho Pironkov is hung. A member of the Plovdiv school in the 60’s, his paintings hang heavily on the walls around us, the subject and the paint fighting to gain the upper hand.
M presents a European wide project, a video version of exquisite corpse. Each artist responds to a few frames from the previous artist and then adds something of their own- this is really interesting and I’d like to try it ! The images flow and flood the screen, sounds leapfrog over each other and meaning makes a fleeting appearance.
Then R talks keenly about her collage, she is quite sciency in her approach and explains how the process of cutting out one image to insert into another is something akin to the holes found in the space-time continuum. I feel a bit confused, understanding the idea intuitively rather than verbally, yet she is knowledge about the physics of this and we are all straining to keep up.
On one of the many hills surrounding the city we find a a busy restaurant and we sit at one long table looking out over the buildings amassed in regular patterns below us. Waiters in embroidered waistcoats serve our food as the sun begins to sink, again, behind the distant mauve hills.
Wed 22 May
I head to the west of the city in search of some brutalist architecture. After a few misguided detours I walk along along the tree lined path which leads to the Relaxation and Culture Park. Ahead is a low white structure, crouching like a spider on an open expanse of concrete -the Fraternal Barrow Memorial Complex – where rest the bones of the fallen from numerous wars and occupations and broadly celebrating Bulgarian independence from the Turks and the Soviets. Angular arms of concrete plunge into the earth and form a subterranean circular stage which is lined with clunky figures that are lit by sharp triangles of sunlight. The angular panels are decorated with orange, pink and green graffiti tags. Under the shade of a nearby tree I sit and eat cherries, watching the people pass. I look at the children on bikes, with dolls prams, laughing in groups or skipping along with families.
Atop the Liberators Hill is a 15m tall soviet soldier statue, the Alyosha monument. I can’t avoid him he is right in the path on my way back. Commemorating the 1944 Soviet invasion of Bulgaria towards the end of the Second World War, he is also insistent reminder of recent occupation. It is very hot as I climb the uneven steps that run up and up past crumbling stone cottages. The air is scented with honeysuckle and jasmine and at the top teenage boys lark around in the Alyosha’s deep shadow as the city glints and glimmers below.
I point at and buy a random pastry at the bakery, expecting it to be filled with some form of cheese, I am surprised to find a frankfurter. I queue up and attempt to ask the guy squeezing fruit for a peach drink but his irritation quickly puts me off and I point at a grapefruit. Despite the plethora of fruits pictured on his sign, it’s clear he only has oranges and grapefruits.
The afternoon is troublesome. I bought some fabrics in the second hand shop, now they are washed they look dull, unsatisfactory. Ideas are coming and going very quickly and after a couple of hours contemplation they seem both flimsy and clunky. I find it difficult to think without spending time in the space.
Each day at 6 we gather to hear three presentations and today it’s my turn, it is over quickly but it’s good to see and hear about the other artists, their ideas and practices – there are expressive painters, abstract thinkers, collaborators, an opera costume designer, performers, conceptual jokers and digital explorers.