WE NEED THIS: the 8th Water Tower Art Fest begins

WTAF 02Adrian Åsling Sellius (Sweden) records sounds for his performance “The Holistic Detective Agency” at Hall

It is 11pm outside a beautiful disused water tower on the outskirts of Sofia, and it has just started to rain. As people begin to drift away from the opening party of the Water Tower Art Fest, we find the festival organiser, Nia Pushkarova, loading wet tables and chairs into her hatchback. This determined, ‘make-it-happen’ attitude has defined the spirit, and the success of the Water Tower Art Festival. In the current economic and political climate it is a wonder that this festival happens at all. Six days of contemporary art in abandoned temporary spaces all across Sofia- talks, installations, workshops, parties and new friends. We are here for the festival’s 8th edition, from 20th-25th June 2014.

WTAF 01Artist Johannah Herr USA collects earth for her site-specific installation at the Old Foundry

It feels so important to be here right now. The Water Tower Art Festival has a feeling of real purpose- an uncompromising belief in a better future and a rejection of cultural elitism.

The festival has only just begun, but excitement for what lies ahead is certainly in the air. One of the young volunteers, a student from Sofia, told me that contemporary art is not popular in Bulgaria, and until visiting France she had no idea that performance was an acceptable form of art. The opportunity for her to perform at a festival of contemporary art in her own city is empowering. ‘We need this’ she says, and I really believe her. Water Tower Art Festival provides a space in which to express dissent. Just to hold such a festival, which is contrary to popular local opinion, feels brave and radical.

As well as showing the work of established artists (this year Bill Viola shows his piece Visitation), Water Tower Art Fest nurtures young artists from across Europe. It was one of the first exhibitions Andrew and I had of our video work, in 2011, and the connections we made with other artists and organisations then, are stronger than ever today. As participating artists we are lucky enough to receive the wonderful hospitality offered by the festival- and it’s almost entirely female team. The many friendly volunteers help the artists to navigate public transport, install their work and choose food from Bulgarian menus! Connections are made on many levels. Despite what I have heard of the local opinion, I met locals at the opening last night, unfamiliar with contemporary art but alive, friendly, and interested enough to come and see what is going on.

The seeds for change are there but they need to be cultivated. For the past two days we have watched artists create and install work in the abandoned spaces around Sofia. Just witnessing this process, I was moved and inspired. The artists give life to the idea that a new vision of the future can be born inside the remains of the past.

We look forward to the days ahead… join us if you can. More information and program.

WTAF 04Artist Lars Asling (Sweden) makes something from found objects for “The Holistic Detective Agency” at Hall

WTAF 03Liesbeth van Woerden (the Netherlands) hangs her photography installation “Healing injuries” at the Old Foundry

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