Monday, June 8, 2009

Gypsy Wagon Prophet Theater


While living in Sofia I became interested in the Roma community of the city. They are most visible traveling the streets in their horse carts collecting scrap material from the trash or work sites. This marginalized community is living on the periphery of Sofia’s life in ghettos, economically impoverished and socially separated. In Sofia they are the only people still using horses, so there is a historic chasm between the Roma and the Bulgarians who drive cars. This mixture of contemporary and historic technology that can be observed in Bulgaria was my initial inspiration for creating The Gypsy Wagon Prophet Theater.
I wanted to give a voice to the Roma people by using their own traditional sayings. These sayings such as “What is a lie to you, is truth to me” contain clues to the history and identity of the Roma. See video.


I used a video projection of a slot machine on a screen mounted on a horse wagon. The slot machine spat out Bulgarian Roma sayings as the wagon traveled through Sofia. The wagon traveled through zones forbidden to Roma wagons by the decree of the mayor such as the square in front of the parliament building and other center city locations. The sayings become scrambled with time as the words start to be randomly selected by the slot machine creating a sort of chance poetry.


To me the slot machine represents chance of birth, profiteering at the expense of the poor, fortune telling. The horse wagon represents a marginalized minority holding on to their historic way of life in a sea of contemporary society represented by the cars.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sofia Underground Performance Festival

This week the Sofia Underground Performance Festival is happening here. It promises to be quite an eventful and interesting week in Sofia.
I am doing a second annual performance with my pal Rebecca Parker - 24 Hour Conversation as well as organizing an electric KIDS performance exchange with my good friend Emcee CM. He is organizing a KIDS has some work to do schedule of events in NYC and we thought it would be nice to set up a virtual bridge between Sofia and New York and give people a chance to collaborate. We hope to have the website function as an open ended space for performance instructions and documentation that can be used by folks from all over the world. On May 23rd the Gypsy Wagon Prophet Theater will be traveling the streets of Center City Sofia

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Temporal Monuments

The name of my project in Sofia is Temporal Monuments. It has moved dramatically from my initial intention of doing video projections on buildings. Living in Sofia for a few months I have become increasingly aware of people begging in the streets, selling flowers on the corners or plying any kind of skill such as playing the accordion and dancing or carving wooden figurines.
While some might find this unsightly I see these people as survivors. I see Roma wagons cruising the streets for recyclable goods and I think about sustainability. These goods would otherwise find their way into a landfill somewhere. When there is a lack of resources sustainability becomes about survival.
These people on the streets of Bulgaria living by their wits are just making ends meet, but as a result not putting the kind of pressure on their environment most people of means do.
So this begging and hustling I see as hopeful. It’s like fishing, hoping to collect a bounty, something positive, helpful to one’s survival. It is about being opportunistic, working with what you have. In academia it’s called writing a grant proposal, here on the streets there is a more immediate and pressing need.
These are the people that I am interested in establishing a temporal monument for.


I found a headless monument in the park on the corner of Pirotska and Opalchenska Street and thought it would be a good space to honor regular folks in. An older couple told me that on top of it used to be a bust of Georgi Dimitrov – the Bulgarian Communist Dictator. After Dimitrov’s death a mausoleum was erected in the center of Sofia where he lay embalmed like Lenin on Red Square. Post communist political changes saw the mausoleum demolished.
I was later told by a policeman who was half-heartedly trying to stop us from completing our project that the bust was of the Russian writer-philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev who’s writings were based in Christian Spirituality. He was a Marxist and a revolutionary who gradually walked away from the radical Marxism of the Bolsheviks and found himself on the “Philosophers’ ship” of the exiles the Bolsheviks sent out of the country.
Both contenders for the monument were tied to Marxism, a philosophy promoting the equal rights among people.
So a temporal monument to the people at this spot seemed appropriate. I asked some friends to work on it with me. We created a set of stairs for easy access, cleaned graffiti from the monument, laid flowers and made a plaque to the Bulgarian people. You can see the video of the project and some photos I posted below. If you are in Sofia you can go to the site and take a picture of yourself on the base. Send it to me if you do. Here is a map of the location.



Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Are they biting? Кълве ли?

Кълве ли?/Are they biting?, Performance, Sofia, Bulgaria, March 2009

To make art in Sofia I am looking for the spaces between spaces. I am trying to figure out the potential, the possibilities. I am searching for the margins of the built environment for the places not yet resolved. Those spaces are alive with possibility. Can you catch fish in a puddle in Sofia? No, but you can catch lots of smiles, greetings and the proverbial Кълве ли?(Culve li?), Are they biting? What are you getting? Som (catfish). They are bottom feeders – opportunists. Just like so many have to be. It is a fruitless activity, but somehow full of hope. Yes. They are biting. The opportunities to be inspired, to figure it out, to create are everywhere in Bulgaria.


Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse,
Berlin, Germany, March 2009

For the Fulbright Conference in Berlin I created a performance at the Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse.
In many countries especially in the West, begging is considered a contemptible occupation practiced in order to receive money dishonestly for obtainment of food, drugs or alcohol. Historically however, the western tradition has been known for respecting beggars such as Diogenes of Sinope and Lazarus. I am the least of these, were the words Jesus is recorded as saying in the bible about less fortunate people, beggars included. In many countries of the east like India, Japan and others begging can be considered a spiritual occupation, which frees the beggar from material concerns such as labor for money and keeps them on the path to enlightenment.
My decision was to beg for something considered non-material – a word. I was interested in the attitudes and behavior of people towards someone in a position of a supplicant. What kind of poem could come from the words collected in a specific location in a specific city? In this case, it was the Friedrichshtrasse train station in Berlin.
The experience was humbling. Many people did not realize I was begging for a word, did not look at my sign and thought I was asking for money. They avoided my gaze, completely ignored me, or walked a large circle around me. I felt that I was putting them in an uncomfortable position of having to make a decision about giving. On the other hand, twenty-eight people chose to give a word. This relationship between those in need and those with resources plays out on a regional and world scale and the decisions to give or not to give are crucial to our future.


Art Removal Poster, February 2009

In Sofia, we have formed Brigada which is an Art Taskforce consisting of a group of art students, graduate students and professors. All the members of Brigada are artists willing to work in new and collaborative ways. They are left to right: myself, Boyan Dobrev, Radostin Vasilev, Nikola Grozdanov, Ivan Genov , Stanislava Penelova.

Art Removal

Performance, Video Installation, Art Removal Taskforce, Union of Bulgarian Artists, February 2009

So far Brigada has completed one Art Removal Project in Bulgaria. The project consisted of erasing a photograph of the Soviet Army Monument. The projects intent was to satirize censorship. I find it ironic that during Soviet times Socialist Realism was the accepted art and most others were censored. In this case a piece of Socialist Realism art is getting censored.
The idea for Art Removal came from an experience with censorship I had in the US. It stemmed from indignation by shop owners regarding street art a group of my students created to help homeless people. In response to the negative reaction we created the Art Removal Taskforce. The Taskforce is a satirical representation of agents of censorship. Art has been a powerful propaganda tool for many centuries. The removal of art has also been a powerful way for various interests to assert themselves and squash dissent and varying opinions on their rule. For instance, Hitler instigated infamous book burnings. He censored, banned and held exhibitions of Degenerative Art, which he considered most modern art of his age. Likewise, despite worldwide protest the Buddha statues of Bamiyan province, Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 as they were considered idols.

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Art Removal taskforce flyer, February, 2009

Spine at the Lunar Eclipse

Thanks to my fellow students at the Fulbright International Summer Institute in Triavna, I experienced a new way of working. I was looking for a way to create, think, enjoy the collaborative moment and release the control – trust others. We created a performance in a square in Triavna, which inspired me to work outside the realm of galleries and museums and bring my art into the everyday.
The students created one-word responses to the word hate that were then created into the following poem which I wrote onto their bodies in the Triavna Town Square.



Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Can a Mongolian, Bulgarian, Russian-American and a Czech dance together?

I have been taking Bulgarian folk dancing lessons at the language school. Our teacher Rositsa (Dew), is incredibly passionate and knowledgeable. She has studied folk dancing since the age of 5 and brings great skill to her teaching. We went to a folk dancing concert at the National Palace of Culture, which completely blew my mind. The dancing, costumes and music were great. The performers were skilled and the Bulgarian Horo is a fitting dance for the kind of communal lives people in the villages live to this day.
It is the kind of Cultural Capital that cannot be measured in lev or euro.

I thought I would show a few steps to our 5-month-old daughter and she picked it right up.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Walking through Borisova Gradina I came upon the Mound of Brotherhood with two freezes on either side.
They looked like standard soviet era sculptures until I noticed a hand seemingly signaling for help between two figures.
I climbed up on the base of the monument and found a woman’s figure hidden behind the rest of the sculptures.
Looking closer at the figures in the sculptural group I saw that they were missing either limbs or weapons.
I assume someone has been hacking them off one by one in the middle of the night to sell them to the recycle yard for a few lev. On the other hand maybe an artist who creates bronze sculpture has found an abundant supply of her favorite material. Or maybe a peace lover who is sickened by all the gun toting decided to disarm the figures to promote his pacifist views.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Borisova Gradina

I have been walking in this beautiful park on my way to Bulgarian language classes. It has an abundance of busts of famous Bulgarians. The busts are in various states of grace or disgrace, based on their political affiliations I suppose.

Hristo Botev

Bulgarian poet and revolutionary

Idiot of Idiots

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two Cities

Stray dogs fly between the buildings like ghosts - invisible
they are meek
or otherwise disposed
they pick at the falling from the bone
decomposing corpse of socialism

In the same space are the hip-hopping
gucci wearing
disco dancing
money passioned young Sofiantsi
hungry for the smell, feel and taste of the falling sun

Sofia Graffiti

There is a certain veneer of graffiti that covers Sofia. Wherever you go the old monuments and sculptures carry this veneer. To me it represents those young people whose forum is out in the streets. They have no respect for the old monuments and speak a new language those monuments can’t understand.

Red Army Monument, Sofia

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dreaming of Sunny Barcelona during demonstrations

On my way from language class on January 14 I saw a group of young people walking in the street on Evlogi Georgiev blvd. They walked in front of the cars and some of them dragged a trash container into the street and dumped it. The drivers seemed fairly placid and amused by the demonstrators.
I met a young man in their midst who told me that he was demonstrating against the government. He spoke broken English and was surprised that I could understand him. He said he learned English from playing video games on the Internet. He was 22 years old, homeless for the past 6 years and living under a bridge behind the National Palace of Culture. He offered to show me where he stayed. We walked to the center of town where the demonstrations started that day. The police had an area cordoned off near Rakovski Street and all the demonstrators had left.
My companions dream was to go to Barcelona and work. He had a good friend there who was going to put him up. Sunny Barcelona was the place he would find work, companionship and happiness for sure.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

First Email Home, January 12

Hi all. My wife, four month old daughter and I got into Sofia to find out the Russian government has stopped all natural gas deliveries to Ukraine and Eastern Europe in the middle of a cold, snowy spell. This caused Bulgaria to loose all of it's heating fuel. Our apartment was being heated on about 1/2 capacity and the place was 60 degrees when we got there. A little scary with a 4 month old. Yesterdays deal the Russians worked out with the Ukrainians fell through so we are expecting more energy problems. The apartment is pretty warm at the moment because Bulgaria bought surplus oil for heating from one of it's oil refineries but anything can happen at anytime here. We are keeping our fingers and toes crossed because we don't want them to freeze off.
Met with my mentor yesterday. He is a great guy. He is going to help me get some contacts and have some exhibits when my projects are finished. He is taking me to the Soviet monument graveyard, so I am looking forward to seeing Marx, Engels, Lenin and other dignitaries in different forms of disarray. I might do a project there. He is also doing some traveling for these interactive CD ROM 360 panoramas he creates for the Bulgarian Ministry of tourism, so he wants me to come on some of those treks. He has made about 300 so far and they are really cool. You can virtually walk through some amazing historic sites and see beautiful architecture dating back to the Ancient Thracians - contemporaries of the Ancient Greeks. I want to be careful not to leave my wife and baby alone for too long, but he said the longest trip will be two days, so I will probably pick my spots and go on some of them.

Wednesday I'm going to his house to do a presentation of my work to the students in his Visual Semiotics class. The National Academy of Art where this class would normally take place is not heated and neither is his place, but I think it's easier for him to heat his apartment with a space heater, so the students voted on meeting there. I can go right after my language class, since it's just two bus stops away from his place.

Had a fun day in my first Bulgarian language class today with another Fulbrighter who just got here. She is here with her husband and daughter and is doing research in history on Nationalism in Bulgarian politics from the turn of the 20 century until the fall of communism I guess. She is great. The language class is harder than I thought it would be. I have an advantage over the Germans and New Zealanders we are taking the class with because I know Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet, but it's still not a peace of cake.

Went to the police station to register ourselves as tenants with our landlord Kamen today. Kamen means Stone. (They have some beautiful old Slavic names here like Ognian - fire, Tsvetan - Flower, Lyubomir - the Lover of Peace, Iskra - Spark and so on.) Registration is a leftover from Soviet days, when the government kept tabs on all citizens and foreigners.

After registering went to a great new tea house right across from our house. Kamen said it was a Turkish restaurant at one time. They have great teas and it's non-smoking, which disappointed Kamen, but made us very happy. It's the first place in Bulgaria that I have been to that does not allow smoking.

We are having a great time. Wish you were here.