The reason for this conversation with Dimitar Palov and Darina Palova, organizers of The Old School art residency, is the exhibition entitled Ritual rEvolution, which may be seen between October 5 and October 15 at The Laboratory Sofia. It is the most recent, up-to-date event in the timeline of The Old School art residency, but it also forms part of an overall concept, which commenced back in 2010. Let us begin at the very start in order to get to the present time at The Laboratory Sofia.
Tell us about The Old School art residency …
Darina: In 2010 we set up The Old School art residency in the small Bulgarian village of Gorna Lipnitsa. The idea was to gather artists from Bulgaria and the entire world in a beautiful location, where they would have the opportunity to generate new ideas, take inspiration from nature and the rural lifestyle, and by interacting with the local community.
We started in a simpler way … It then turned out that this was neither interesting for us, nor in line with the goals and ideals that we share. Therefore, we put in a lot more imagination, ideas, and concept, and using the eight-year experience we had, we turned the art residency into a unique location and event without peer either in Bulgaria or worldwide.
When I think about The Old School art residency, I remember an old motto of the punk movement, which says: „Be reasonable – demand the impossible!” and believe it very much suits us. However, we have upgraded to a different level because apart from asking for the impossible, we take steps towards achieving it.
What did you accomplish with your work of setting up and developing the art residency?
Darina: I can use three words to describe what has taken place over those eight years, thanks to the creative energy we developed at The Old School art residency, which would be: rebellion, transformation, and pioneering.
Why rebellion? Because we believe that sensible living, in conventional conditions and within the status quo stands no chance of changing the world. When we are talking about rebellion, it is about a creative, artistic rebellion, which aims at changing the ambient reality in a creative way.
Transformation because thanks to what went on with the residency in recent years, we see from the perspective of our experience that it is possible for a small community (such as those residing in Gorna Lipnitsa) to be changed solely owing to art. This is also largely aligned to our initial ideas that art is a means capable of transforming the ambient world, changing the human being first. There is a big difference between how the village and its people looked back in 2010 and now. Thus, the transformation effected by the art residency has certainly been a significant one. It can be sensed not only by the locals but also by the artists, who come to visit each year, and by the village guests.
Pioneering because we are attempting to walk new roads and create them. We are not following someone’s ideas, rather, we are being followed now, and the events currently being created are probably provoked by the beautiful parallel reality we managed to create through the art residency project in Gorna Lipnitsa.
Based on our ideas we also created some documents, which are ground-breaking as well. They are „2012 Manifesto of the Old School circle about the Beginnings of the New World”. Therein we proclaim our ideas and principles – about how we believe the world should exist, how it needs to be arranged in order to be more successful and, naturally, a much better place to live in. Furthermore, since 2013 we have been working on the creation of the so-called ritual art, i.e. we dared create a new art movement.
The theme of this year’s Art Residency was Ritual rEvolution. What meaning do you ascribe to those terms and what interaction plays out between them?
Darina: The ritual revolution is an artistic revolution. It seeks to change the established order and norms through the power of artistic methods and intensity, not through arms and strength. This takes place firstly through an internal, personal revolution. I believe that the old clichés and paradigms will burn in that artistic fire, to call it this way, in order for that new, awakened child-world to be born, as it is in line with the times and the place were changes occur.
Dimitar: We brought together two elements – revolution and ritual – into the Ritual rEvolution theme. Revolution as a way for building up change and ritual as something more sacred, more personal, which moves in another dimension.
Why precisely ritual revolution – because we place creativity in the fundaments of this revolution. And what is creativity – it is a process of creating something, which has not existed up to now.
We believe that every human being is a creator. Creativity is embedded into each and every one of us. The issue is whether this originally embedded behaviour can be put to use. We believe that creativity is a way and method to construct the world, to change, and to resolve each issue.
We look at creativity from another perspective as well – can every one of us be a creator in their daily activities? A creator, who is a worker, bread baker, seller, head of an organization, politician…That particular, originally embedded quality to be the guiding thing in what we do day in, day out. Then these would be the fruit of a creative act, they would be art and not as a goal unto itself, but one that yields tangible results.
We placed an artistic experiment to underlie the theme: is it possible to develop the creative potential of each member of any society, is it possible to create a creative state, which would be guided by a creative government, which carries out creative economy, tourism, education, etc., set up a creative union of states, set up a creative Europe and a creative world?
Creativity is most prominent in art, where it is presumed that the creative element exists by default in its most stripped-down shape. It is exactly for that reason that the artists looked at the Ritual rEvolution theme and through their works interpreted the idea how the world should be changed and created through creativity.
During the exhibition at The Laboratory Sofia there will be a seminar/public lecture dedicated to Contemporary Art as a Form of Dialogue and Creation of Europe, as well as a curator tour that will display, from the perspective of the residency curators Radoslav Mehandjiiski and Teodora Konstantinova, creativity and active social policy as a means for creating present-day Europe.
Tell us about the Ritual rEvolution exhibition and the visual artists taking part in it.
Darina: It is an unconventional and interesting exhibition, which is placed in the beautiful alternative space, The Laboratory Sofia. The exhibition is organized with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture, within Republic of Bulgaria’s Communication Strategy for the European Union.
The exhibition presents the works of the artists, who took part in The Old School art residency in Gorna Lipnitsa last summer. They are artists hailing from the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria.
Freddie Darke is an English artist, who attempts, through his “Steps” installation, to provoke the viewers into thinking about their own potential. And, making a comparison with the so-called butterfly effect – how all of our daily deeds, thoughts, actions, and rituals may at one point transform into something so much bigger. Become a maelstrom of events and revolutions. There is a lot of optimism in his work because it suggests that each one of us depends not only on the present time but on the future one as well. What he says about his work is that he hopes it will cause enthusiasm towards recognizing what could be called “the magic of simplicity” or the “epic nature of the ordinary”.
Payel Sutradhar, who graduated in France, staged her “Unity” performance in Gorna Lipnitsa. For the purpose, she used Bulgaria’s national motto, Union Makes Strength, aiming to show that when united, we are indeed stronger and capable of working miracles. She collected clothing from the locals of Gorna Lipnitsa to make a ladder, which symbolizes unity. Further, she made a beautiful pathway in the schoolyard from collected natural elements, with the viewers of the Art Residency’s closing exhibition walking on that pathway hand in hand, thus entering the school building to create the so-called sound of unity. And as Payel says, unity may transform our world into a genuine paradise.
The name of our participant from France is Chloe Sassi. She is a performance artist, who created two video works within the residency’s framework – “Revolution” and “Gifts”.
“Revolution” is interpreting the idea that revolution is not just a tool to change the established order but a circular movement. It arises out of nothing, swirls into a dance of energy and euphoria, and then returns to serenity. It is precisely that the dance of revolution that she re-enacted with the involvement of young people in Gorna Lipnitsa by way of a performance held in the village’s community centre: “Dawn – 1887”. With her work, she makes a parallel with the idea of Claude Levi-Strauss that world history usually has two states – so-called „cold” and „hot” history. While hardly anything happens in the cold history, with serenity reigning supreme, hot history, where revolutions belong as well, includes periods of dramatic events.
In her other work, “Gifts”, the French artist created a pagan alter ego bestowing honour to the dead people, specifically in Gorna Lipnitsa. However, it is a metaphor about how we should be thinking of the people, who in pursuit of ideas give up their lives in both revolutions and wars.
The ritual collaborative duo L.Y.R.A. from Bulgaria is also a participant in the exhibition. They have been working on the creation of ritual art since 2014, creating their large-scale ritual works, which resemble sanctuaries. Those combine elements from both science and occultism. The purpose of their works is actually to transform a certain object: a politician, an artist, a way of thinking.
Their latest production “Perfection is not an Accident” aims to create the creative person of the future and as they believe that each one is a creator – we could say that they aim to create the human of the future times. The installation is a combination of paintings and collages replicating the five basic qualities, which the creator of the future must possess in order to create and build the new world. They are: bravery, knowledge, love, rebellious spirit, and the skill to make connections, to unit. Of course, those qualities are not exhaustive, they may be further developed.
The performance artist Paula Belli made a dance wherein she put together gestures of pleasure, asking the Gorna Lipnitsa locals what pleasure means for them. According to Paula, we can very easily display a negative emotion, we may even mourn in front of others but somehow we limit ourselves when it comes to showing our true emotions, what really excites us in the domain of pleasure. Thus, by creating this dance performance of pleasure, she actually demonstrated that liberation from taboos is a form of mental revolution.
Dimitar: Since it was established in 2010, we have always had various disciplines in The Old School art residency, looking for the display of creativity in various artists. This year was no different. We had a musician, who was one of the Bulgarian participations in the residency – Vaiana Tasheva, а.к.а „NETTLE”. She created a song called “I Came out of Love” in the residency, its message being precisely the creation of creative unity, a community of humans united by an idea, which, however, is aimed at change and building up.
The next Bulgarian participation was of the sculptor Ivan Ushev, who made a kinetic sculpture powered by wind. The crucial element here is the inventiveness required to make each and every revolution happen. The audience’s stance towards Ivan was very interesting. To them, his kinetic sculpture “Moved by the wind”, which can be seen during the exhibition as well, was of great interest. I dare say that during those years we managed to unearth the creativity of each one of the people, the viewers, and the local community. The Gorna Lipnitsa locals somehow began having active dialogue with the artists, observing what they are doing and using creative methods in their daily lives in turn.
The last participant to be included in the exhibition is the poet Arturo Desimone, who wrote a poem dedicated to Gorna Lipnitsa, complementing it with drawings wherein he looks at topical political issues in a humorous, playful manner. The poem and the drawings will be part of the exhibition.
How many exhibitions has The Old School art residency presented over the years?
Darina: Upon conclusion of each art residency exhibitions are now traditionally staged throughout the country. It is the 26th consecutive exhibition we organize. We have staged exhibitions almost everywhere in the country, starting from Gorna Lipnitsa, Pavlikeni, Veliko Tarnovo, going to all of the country’s biggest cities – Stara Zagora, Russe, Plovdiv, Varna, Bourgas, and Sofia.
The project “Organization and holding of exhibition “Ritual rEvolution” in the city of Sofia and the town of Pavlikeni” was realized with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture within the framework of the Communication Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for the European Union.