WATER TOWER ART FEST: Day 2

The presence of the work of the video art pioneer, Bill Viola, at this year’s Water Tower Art Fest is a big achievement. It symbolises a milestone in the development of the festival, over 8 years from grass-root beginnings. An even bigger achievement though is that the festival has retained the feeling of being spun from a web of sheer love of, and commitment to contemporary art.

The program does not feel at all predictable or safe. There is a sense that things could happen in unplanned and unexpected ways- things could even go wrong! A lot of freedom is given to the artists to decide how they install their work, and even to respond to the situation and produce work during the festival itself.

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It was this feeling of real diversity and unexpected contrasts that defined the openings last night at Serdika Underground and Expo Bath Sofia (a very stylish bathroom showroom!).

The two venues are directly next to each other, but could not be more different. Serdika Underground is a perfect location for Bill Viola’s work ‘Visitation’- cool and dark, it feels like a catacomb, infused with spirituality. The opening, as you can imagine, was very well attended and we are really looking forward to going back to view ‘Visitation’ alone in the deep calm of the underground ruins. There was more great work nestling deep in Serdika Underground, but more on this in a later post.

By contrast, the Expo Bath showroom is a very unusual space in which to view art- to be emotionally involved amid the minimalist toilets and hot tubs! But for the right pieces, it works- it really works.

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The context of this chic bathroom showroom made Raquel Esquives‘ hand embroidered, life-size ‘Silhouettes’ even more poignant.  Raquel’s silhouettes remember the ‘disappeared’ people that were lost during military rule in her homeland of Peru. The fragile and intricate bead-work and embroidery remind us that each lost person, despite becoming only a number in official records, was someone’s child- a being with all the complexities of human emotion, love and pain. In the clinical white showroom the silhouettes also remind us of the tensions of capitalism and the value we place on the lives of individuals. ‘Silhouettes’ is quietly powerful- there is a great write up on the work by Anne Taylor of Aratoi here.

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The workshop of SHODO (Japanese calligraphy) held by Ueta Hiroshi was a great success as a wonderful introduction to this well known, yet little understood art form. The workshop invited visitors to contribute to a large-scale composition of an old Bulgarian poem translated to calligraphy characters. Hiroshi told us what each character meant and the scale of the painting allowed participants to really feel the movement and personality of each character. There were lots of laughs and smiles as people splashed black ink onto the giant paper in an attempt to correctly copy Hiroshi’s professional calligraphy.

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We are looking forward to two more openings this evening at the Old Foundry and Hall, where we will be showing a new video, ‘Josephine and the Leopard’ made with the artist Jade Montserrat, and realized through Crescent Arts. We have an exciting continuing collaboration with Jade and look forward to sharing more on this soon!

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