Head north today towards the Maritsa river and cross the enclosed river bridge. Tiny shops line the bridge so the river is invisible, the shops sell dresses, sportswear, mobile phones and tired women stand around talking. On the far side I admire the decorative horizontal bands above windows on the facade of the Grand Hotel Plovdiv. Its scale and bold geometry suggest an optimistism for the future
As I walk westward I notice numerous concrete rubbish bins and decide today’s project will be to photograph them. They have a monumental form yet remain mundane and easily overlooked. I notice that the bins have varying shapes and patterns in different parts of the city, some have minutely textured surfaces, others are boldly patterned. From a low viewpoint they retain a certain authority of form against the dull grey sky.
Lying down in the Archaeological Museum car park are 2 cats who look quite tired, their feet are dirty and they lift their heads slowly to give me a blank stare. Beyond the museum is an open square and in the centre, elevated on a plinth of shallow steps, stands the monument to Bulgarian Unification (1885). Having shaken off the shackles of Turkish and Russian occupation the sculptor Velichko Minekov portrays unification as female and sturdy, holding the wreath of victory aloft, flanked by enormous wings – she is about to take off, held back only by the leaden weight of the bronze. A group of school children run around her feet in the dull afternoon heat.
Going away from the city I walk towards the river, where the banks are engulfed in vivid green vegetation, the river itself a slippery black ribbon in the distance. It is still and hot, the sky presses down and I rest on a bench, watch the river, eat strawberries and sip the tepid water in my flask.
I search for Plovdiv Stadium, but get lost, backtrack and finally find it. A massive squat cylinder looms ahead surrounded by tall racket shaped lighting banks, without bulbs. Vertical strands of yellow steel hold horizontal concrete forms in tension. Three tracksuited men casually saunter out through the massive doors, their red faces suggesting activity. Inside sprinklers rock back and forth spraying the central grass arena, but the seating, which is just stepped tiers of naked concrete, is overgrown with sickly weeds. The red running track looks new and used – a part time stadium for action rather than spectators.
Further west is a vast manmade body of still water and while small freckled fish nibble at the weeds at the edges, the far distant oarsmen slowly, rhythmically row back to the boat house. I sit and watch the dark water, the slow- motion movement of the rowers and a girl who sits very still on the landing stage staring out.
Walking back to town and because I am more sure of the way, there is time to think about what it is am doing, reflect on how being an artist in residence works for me. Until now it has felt rather random, and me, restless, but I discern a pattern and methodology. Daily lists and excursions help shape a structure for exploration, facilitate the collection of images, impressions and experiences. Perhaps I am a flaneur roaming here and there, collecting sedimented histories, visual clues and fleeting impressions in order to orient myself. Place and space, time and matter, image and form meet me, sometimes head on, other times quietly in the shadows and out of this nebulous ‘collecting’ process something begins to grow. I see-saw between enthusiasm and panic.
This evening’s presentations are by the Bulgarian artists. M is first and his work has a strong graphic quality, industrial and in part elemental. Metalwork and minimalism come together as overarching metaphors.Paintings by I are strong, abstracted heads are framed by rectangles and squares or cut off from their bodies to float around the canvas. Real life seeps in through abstract forms and paint itself drips down the paper. The founder of this Project D shows his work next. It harks back to an industrial materiality, rough and tender surfaces vie for attention on flattened sculpture or beaten panels. Lastly its P, who’s work is like her, energetic and humorous skillful but not precious, seemingly light yet always thought provoking.
The evening meal is pasta, rakia, beer and afterwards we play boules using the torchlight from a mobile phone, and the Canadian artist introduces us to a very complicated scoring system.
A quiet start to the day with strawberries and cherries for breakfast and then spend a slow and reflective morning wrapping stones in fabric and sewing them. They look ok, the sewing is soothing but the results lack finesse and feel dated; they are tactile though and people want to pick them up.
At 2 pm N creates her performance on a rough bit of land near-by. She and others have spent the morning clearing bottles and rubbish to create a flat stage like space for her. It is dramatic, N is poised and in another world, she pours coloured water over the canvases on the ground and attached to the fence, and over herself. She sings in an unearthly way as she moves around the stage and we are all entranced. The heat bounces up from the rocks and insects buzz around our feet.
In the late afternoon I wander around a local supermarket, interested to see if Bulgarian mascara is more exotic or exciting than an English one – but there is only Maybelline. The allure of goods and artifacts from cultures different from our own works both ways I guess. At the end of the day we gather and have a BBQ in the garden. Charred meat is complemented with massive salads and washed down with beer and rakia. Am so tired.