LETTER FROM SOFIA by
Where does education take place today? Also, what is the future of education? I was born in Sofia in the 80s, and I saw many of my friends (me included) going to the West for an education that was unconditionally considered up-to-date with a neoliberal world we were all dreaming for — hoping to either enhance our vita back home or join any of the established global art networks. Today, however, communities are heavily shifting, and information is easily retrievable at any place in the world. Under such societal framework, I’m glad to see in the realm of education an alert response by my colleagues at home that is not solely directed at circulating knowledge. I see them develop their own paradigms of pedagogy, visibility and politics. Also, there has always been that affinity to think of the Balkans as an exotic refuge ready to welcome any especially attuned capitalist. Well… as there is no outside to the world we live in, it seems like the Balkan’s enduringly ambiguous geography would rather open space for re-imagining of what we think we know.
For some reason I still hold on traditional institutions as the Bulgarian Academy of Arts, despite of it being blamed for being too conservative in its pedagogy, too hierarchical in its structures, and too disconnected internationally — probably same as many Eastern art schools. As I met artist and academy teacher Simeon Simeonov couple of months ago, we had a long conversation about body and abstraction, materiality and memory, environment and deformation. It occurred to me that the non-presence of the ‘contemporary’ may give space to questions beyond the global art economy. We also talked about teaching values as we work together on an exchange project between his class and Adrian William’s class at the Kunsthochschule Mainz. We created this program informally as a response to rigidness of the art school as other angles are desperately needed — and this is why non-institutional ventures become platforms that activate the new generation to resonate, network, and dream.
ROSSINA SHATAROVA AND NIKOLAI DAVIDKOV OF STUDIO PROJECTIRANE
For example, Studio Projectirane has started independently in 2012 within the University of Architecture, Civil Engeneering and Geodesy to be now officially integrated as a laboratory for experimental architecture and alternative educational formats. I remember joining one of the talks between artists and architects couple of years ago who were investigating the potentials of interdisciplinary and hybrid learning in the periphery. The studio — inhabiting a generous workplace with an outside working area — aims at giving future architects more sensitiveness as to what architecture can be, through mini-projects and practical activities that extend into scenography, graphic design and digital technologies. When asked about the future of education, co-founders Rossina Shatarova and Nikolai Davidkov tell me it is all about responsibility and getting closer to the real problems of the society, as well as re-inventing the university as a cultural institution.
Another learning platform, this time within the field of design, is the Know-How / Show-How Summer Program that has been running since 2015 as a response to official supportive structures that are laborious, inflexible and insufficient. It mostly references the Black Mountain College as well as Bauhaus methodology as transformed by Rietveld Academy or the Freinet education system because of their methodology of learning by reflective practice and interdisciplinary collaboration.
The program has become a research hub and open environment that takes place in different locations — this year in Little Paris, a vivid neighbourhood in Plovdiv. Its focus lays on cultural heritage that informs who we are as communities and cultures, while working with frameworks that define responsiveness towards the environment. “There is plenty of space and urge for new knowledge”, says Dima Stefanova, one of its initiators, who advocates for rethinking and reimagining a new habitat in a transitional place like Bulgaria.
A much-needed commercial project has been the recently launched space Generator. Situated a bit outside the city centre, it inhabits the generous spaces of a former factory plant. After a redesign of the space, it now includes an amphitheater, a library, a bar and a tropical garden next to a large free area. Almost on a daily basis, one can join workshops, symposiums, presentations or other events oriented towards new creative industries with focus on design and visual thinking, illustration, animation, interior design and marketing one’s own craft. Adriana Andreeva and Boiana Gjaurova told me that they would always choose incentives that make things more relevant to the context of the specific milieu and predicaments. And, it is about making people care for community, they say, while helping them to mobilise their own individual business strategies.
Viktoria Draganova is an author and curator based between Frankfurt am Main and Sofia where she is the director of Swimming Pool Projects.
But let’s go back to the very condition of what education is. On a high amplitude is the work of philosopher, artist and writer Snejanka Mihaylova, who is currently involved in the MA program ‘Master of Voice’ at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. She has been working for a while on hybrid formats, between research and performative practice, testing it as an aesthetical framework for both an experience and educational model. ‘Acoustic Stage’ (together with psychologist and film maker Lubomir Draganov) is an upcoming workshop at Swimming Pool, which will explore this methodology. Asked about the future of education, she told me that she cannot imagine it, but that the future is in education. And, education is a learning to listen to an interior movement and resisting the fact that we often identify learning with information and not with embodiment. “It is not a practice of conservation but situating the process of learning in a person. This future is the person as a promise. And the future of education is in the engaged remembrance of what is to be a human being.”
Photo: Lyubov Cheres
Text: Viktoria Draganova