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  • Writer's pictureRekha Sameer

Dare-Zine Art Residency: Review by Rekha Sameer

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria 2024

Up Down is a site specific work created for the very first art residency curated by Djuli Hadjolyan - Editor-in-Chief of Dare-Zine, an art print magazine, located in Bulgaria. Having arrived from a long flight from India to Sofia via Istanbul, the city of Sofia seemed so experientially different from Mumbai, my home city. Greener, quieter, wide roads, old buildings and markets full of local grown produce. My mind still full of the buzz and noise of Mumbai, now had a chance to slow down. Next leg of the journey was on a 3 hour bus ride towards Veliko Tarnovo to begin the residency. The entire bus journey was on a road surrounded by green hills on all sides. Having reached the place of stay, an old building surprisingly modern within, I got myself introduced to the other artists. After brief introductions to artists from Egypt, Dubai and Bulgaria, it was time to walk and explore the place. Steep landscape with the centre at the bottom of the valley; countless stone steps leading up and down the valley, terracotta rooftops gliding into each other, long metal drain pipes in a geometric grid, snaky river meandering leisurely, paving stones perfectly regular, interspersed with intriguing gutter and water meter covers. Rotund bodies occupying street corners and benches. Young blonde women with babies criss crossing streets towards the ice cream shops and restaurants. Shop windows showcasing clothes, toys and Made in China dolls bobbing their heads rhythmically to every passerby. Green wall of trees surrounds the sunny valley like a cool blanket.

Having just delivered a lecture on Site Specific Art, I was feeling the pressure to produce one in the 2 days before the final show. I realised that the art, I make must reflect the strain of walking up and down 50/60 steps every day. Day one went in exploring the local art shop and hardware shops (usual artists hunting grounds). I started playing with a blank canvas, white card paper, glue and trying to learn origami on YouTube. Limited space to work in the shared kitchen, not wanting to mess with paints, the first decision was to use paper to create forms such as steps, roofs, gutters and pipes. Second decision was to retain the integrity of just one colour to maintain focus on 3D forms on canvas and to the singular reference to Veliko Tarnovo. Origami forms take years to master, hence the decision was to retain a handmade original feel to the work. The steps folded using a metal ruler had regular folds to start with but seem to increase in width gradually. I realised that it accurately depicted the metaphor of how exhausted I felt mid-climbing and the last few steps seemed higher and wider. The use of similar technique of folding but positioning it at different spots on the canvas changed the steps to rooftops. The regular paving stones leading down the different paths were placed in such a way that they were subtle and needed the viewer to move closer to the canvas. The gutter covers reminded me of some of the dour faces of the people walking around in the centre. I left enough gaps between the forms for the shadows to occupy.

The final layer was to find the right position for the work to exist and for the viewer to engage. I chose a spot outside in the terrace and serendipitously, the natural light and shadows of trees dancing on the canvas made the work a fluid kinetic Site Specific work indeed. The viewers said they recognised their town and resonated with the message of the work. The title suggested by one of them was ‘горе-долу’ (gore dolu). When asked ‘How are you’, the usual Bulgarian responds with ‘Up Down’. The artist, the site and the art outcome have come a full circle indeed.


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