I just came back from my one-month stay at the World of Co artists' residency in Sofia, Bulgaria, which has been a fantastic experience.
I was one of the first-ever six residents to visit World of Co, a brand-new project put together by an enthusiastic, Sofia-based team with previous experience collaborating in similar initiatives abroad and who felt that Bulgaria was lacking a space where local and international art practitioners could meet, learn from each other, and create lasting links.
As any new and ambitious initiative, World of Co is in the process of changing, expanding and building on previous experience. Personally speaking I found my stay incredibly rewarding. We went on day and weekend trips away from Sofia to key locations in the history of the country like Veliko Turnovo (Bulgaria's historic capital), Koprivshtitsa (home to revolutionaries who plotted to gain independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s) and Plovdiv (Bulgaria's second city and an ancient Roman metropolis). We learnt the basics of traditional crafts like weaving (with Velika Stoeva), felt-making (with Marieta Nedkova) and wood-carving (with Steliyan Steliyanov). We were given unrestricted access to the National Art Gallery and had the enormous pleasure of visiting the restoration department where staff labour over centuries-old Orthodox icons and other treasures. We had the chance to meet internationally established practitioners like conceptual artist Pravdoliub Ivanov, sculptor Todor Todorov and visual artist Daniela Todorova, and glass artist Angelina Pavlova. As our shared working studio we were offered access to Kushta Creative Hub, a multi-purpose space run by an incredibly friendly and welcoming team (and a few cats!) which made our stay really unforgettable and gave us an insight into the underground Sofia art scene.
The fact that a group exhibition was planned at the end of my one-month stay was a definite incentive for producing work (This will be the case at the end of each month, so the exhibitions may well become a fixture in Sofia's art calendar). My intention was to let myself be inspired by Bulgaria and Sofia and, besides learning about the country's historic and cultural legacy, I was particularly interested by the visual culture of Eastern Christianity, the icons and murals that cover the interior of Orthodox churches and monasteries and which I find extremely powerful in their hieraticism (for anyone interested I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Boyana church and the Alexander Nevski cathedral in Sofia -along with the outstanding icon museum in the cathedral's crypt- and the spectacular Rila monastery, about 120 Km to the South).
When time came to get ready for our final exhibition, the chosen space was the Cosmos Co-working Camp in central Sofia, which is no ordinary exhibition venue but worked terrifically well and the opening was not only incredibly fun but also very well-attended. In fact I had such fun in Bulgaria and was so happy to meet not just my co-residents but lots of other people associated with the residency that I extended my stay for a few days and felt very sad when it came time to return to London. Now that I'm back I can fully appreciate how much the residency renewed me and helped me think again about art and my own practice.
From here a huge thanks to the World of Co organisers (Lidiya, Stella and Daniel), to my co-residents (who are now friends, Hochul Lee, Patrice Robinson, Yeon Jeong Yang, Bethany Walker and Evelyn Wong) and everyone who made the experience so incredibly fun and enriching.