Focus New Ecologies

Part 3 | New Ecologies

Billy Mateeva, Elena Nazarova, Maria Nalbantova

4 July – 10 August 2023

22 July, 10:00
“Neither a city, nor a garden”
Experiential walk and workshop with Andrea Popyordanova and Francesca Castagnetti in Vartopo, Sofia (in English)

3 August, 19:00
Lecture and presentation of the publication “The useless guide to Vartopo and its weeds” in Swimming Pool (in English)

With the support of "Visual Arts" Program of the Ministry of Culture and "One-Year Grant" Program of the National Culture Fund.

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The third and final exhibition of the project “New Ecologies” presents works by Billy Mateeva, Elena Nazarova and Maria Nalbantova, which pay attention to the way we use nature, whether in a ritual or political context. Often instrumentalized, the nature is at the centre of utopian political ideas, used in the “innocent” rituals of diplomacy, or is inextricably linked to beliefs in which the culture–nature dichotomy does not exist.

“Prominent Branches” by Billy Mateeva refers to the state protocol and its seemingly absurd relationship with nature, using a banal gesture of diplomacy – the laying of tribute wreaths. Hidden behind the tenderness of the flowers, the human bodies in the artist's installation become one with the wreaths to form a hyperbolized hybrid.

Elena Nazarova put forth a question for our relationality with the “living” world, or presently – our disconnection from it, with the installation “Offering”. She turns us towards the human history of ritual practices of offering and humility. Regardless of the power dynamics, ancient civilizations, tribal or organised, recognized a set of natural forces that governed life en masse. Those were animate forces of creation and destruction, of life and death, of water, fire, earth, and storm, of the sky and the stars, and of the depths of the earth. The viewer is invited to engage in a playful exercise of constructing their interpretation of an altar or a shrine using a range of “tools” – objects (votives) common in ritual practices across histories and geographies.

Maria Nalbantova's “Sofia Grand Canal” is a project exploring repressive practices that threaten both the freedom of society and the ecological balance of our surrounding nature through the megalomaniacal geography change projects of the 1950s. The desire to reverse the course of rivers or to dig a navigable canal through the entire city sounds outlandish, but in the late 1950s excavation began on the “Pancharevo-Pavlovo Navigable Canal”, a “dream” inspired by Stalin's plan to transform nature at the cost of unpaid, partly superhuman labour. What happens and what are the consequences when certain political decisions interfere with the ecological balance in order to change the landscape entirely? The project builds on the net-art work “Sofia Sea” on the online platform EXN Lagoon, curated by Chiara Cartuccia in 2022/2023.

On 22 July, within the public program of the exhibition, Andrea Popyordanova and Francesca Castagnetti will organise a walking workshop in Vartopo, a piece of land on the edge of Sofia that neither is a park, nor a part of the built environment. Through a collection of plants, stories and sights, they will create a useless guide to an unused space and invite everyone to get to know it, as well as to contemplate on the ideas of utility, value and beauty in our relationship to land. The participants will contribute to their joint publication “A useless guide to Vartopo and its weeds”. The publication “A useless guide to Vartopo and its weeds” will be presented on 3 August and complimented by a lecture about Francesca Castagnetti's practice as an ethnobotanist and ethnobotany’s relationship to culture and science.

Billy Mateeva practices graphic design and art inspired by everyday life. With irony towards the sacred and confusing the unusual with the prosaic, she creates works with the sweet and sour taste familiar to her contemporaries. She participated in the exhibitions Sofia Art Projects II: Ruins and Empires, Largo of Sofia, 2022; FIG.2: My Head Is a Photodumb, Ko-op, 2022; Art Start: Emerging Artists to Follow, Credo Bonum, 2021, among others.
Elena Nazarova (1998) is a Bulgarian visual artist based in Sofia. In her artworks, she uses different media and techniques, choosing and adapting them to the message she seeks to convey. Leading her work are various contemporary societal topics. Among her solo exhibitions are: Rest Assured at Charta Gallery, 2023;TOWNSMEN at Collect Gallery, Istanbul, 2022 and at Plus 359 Gallery, Sofia 2021; VAISAKHA project in the former Murgash gallery, Sofia 2017, etc. She has participated in group exhibitions and festivals such as Istanbul Contemporary Art Fair 2022 / Collect Gallery; 14 Manifesta Biennial 2022 / ICA Sofia; Radical Imagination Art Residency 2020 / Goethe Institute with Ideas Factory & European Cultural Foundation, and others.
Maria Nalbantova lives and works in Sofia. She is working in the field of contemporary art, experimenting with various media and techniques such as: drawing, collage, objects, installation, video and photography. In her artistic practice Maria Nalbantova is engaging with social and political themes while responding to specific spaces where the context and the features of the locale became main aspects of her works. She is also concerned with the history of a particular place which become part of her works through the incorporation of found objects and materials, photographs and archives in the visual “flesh” of the piece. In 2022 she participated in two project within the nomadic biennale Manifesta 14 in Prishtina, Kosovo – the group exhibition “Self-Splaining (Triumph of Empathy)” of ICA – Sofia, as well as in the “Center for Narrative Practice” by invitation of the OGMS Gallery. In 2022 she also participated in the Media Arts Festival “Schmiede”, Hallein, Austria; the international residency “Art and Science Varna” vol.1 hosted by ReBonkers, Varna, Bulgaria; and she was an artist in residence at Residency Unlimited, New York as a winner of the BAZA Award (Bulgaria, 2020).