3 August, 19:00
Lecture and launch of the publication “А useless guide to Vartopo and its weeds”
Challenging notions of beauty and usefulness in our relationship to land and plants, Francesca Castagnetti and Andrea Popyordanova work on a collaborative publication about Vartopo, a vast meadow on the edge of Sofia which is neither city nor garden.The book investigates people’s natural inclination to collect, name and classify, and questions the language we use to talk about plants, as well as the values we attach to them. The publication is based on herbaria and botanical field guides, but challenges these formats and the way they mediate our relationship to plants. A useless guide to Vartopo and its weeds is an invitation to get out and meet a place through your own senses and impressions.
During the event Francesca Castagnetti will also share her experience as an ethnobotanist and ethnobotany’s relationship to plants and society.
The publication will be on sale during the event.
22 July, 10:00 – 12:30
Neither a city, nor a garden
Workshop with Andrea Popyordanova & Francesca Castagnetti
In Vartopo, Sofia
Meeting at 9.50 am at M1 Akad. Aleksandar Teodorov-Balan metro station, exit “Akad. Al. Teodorov-Balan”. We will be expecting you 10 minutes early so we can greet you and start the walk on time.
Bring comfy shoes (preferably not sandals, as sometimes the paths are overgrown with spiky plants), water bottle and something to sit on the ground with if you don’t want to get soil on your clothes.
The workshop will be in English only.
Free, but registration recommended here.
Francesca Castagnetti, an ethnobotanist from Italy, and Andrea Popyordanova, an artist from Bulgaria, invite you to join them on an experiential walk in Vartopo in which participants will be invited to read the city landscape through weeds and their stories. Vartopo is a piece of land on the edge of Sofia which has escaped conventional development: it is neither a park, nor a part of the built environment. The walk will be around 2 hours, and will involve knowledge sharing and practices that will help us tune into the place with all our senses. We will get to know some of the plants of Vartopo, learn what their presence can tell us about the space they inhabit, and explore what plants can teach us about ourselves and the land. During the walk we will also venture into theories and ideas about new ecologies, ethnobotany, and our relationship to land and plants. At the end of the workshop, using a simple artistic technique, we will be able to take a piece of the landscape with us.
Vartopo is a vast meadow with views onto Vitosha, situated between Darvenitsa, Mladost and Studentski grad in Sofia. It’s a space designated as a green area according to the city plans, meaning that construction is not allowed within its boundaries. Since a great part of it is made up of private parcels of land which the city can not buy off their respective owners, the space remains trapped in a liminal space where it is neither a public park, nor a part of the built environment. Along its edges construction sites are growing, so much so that it is becoming difficult to find a way to get into Vartopo. Where the buildings stop, a meadow begins, home to many fruit trees, weeds, but also stray dogs, illegal settlements, two rivers, a monastery and much more. Contrary to a city park with curated plant species, designated paths and imposed ideas of value and beauty, Vartopo is whatever it chooses to be through the seasons, and in its own way it constitutes a fragment of what the Sofia plain used to be before becoming densely populated and heavily developed.
*The project is realised with the Culture Moves Europe fund.
Francesca Castagnetti is an ethnobotanist affiliated with the Centre for Biocultural Diversity, Kent, and an apprentice in community herbalism working interdisciplinary across ethnobotany, herbalism and the creative fields. She has been migrating with the seasons between Italy, the UK, Nepal and the Norwegian Arctic – from lighthouses to mountain villages. She writes, learns and teaches about plants and land based practices through apprenticing and ethnographic methods and through the theories of ethnobiology, political ecology and indigenous studies. Through action-oriented interdisciplinary research and community herbalism she is currently exploring conviviality, storytelling and ceremony as communal meaning-making practices, but also as ways to invite intentional and full sensorial engagement into our relationships to land.
Andrea Popyordanova is an artist and illustrator interested in drawing and publishing. Her interest lies in understanding how we live and impact our surroundings, how we connect to land and the stories of the past embedded in it; how we are constantly shaping, and being shaped, by landscape. Andrea was a participant in the first edition of Center for Social Vision, a spin off of Swimming Pool, in 2021. During her residency there, she invited people to a walk in an area of the city of Sofia with a lot of fruit trees during May and initiated the conversation of what our connection to them is and how well we know them. As a follow-up in December, she hosted a degustation of a slow-brewed liqueur, infused with flavours from 2022’s “city harvest”, and a chutney, made with a special recipe from Francesca Castagnetti.
14 June, 18:30
Ecology and Art – New Models
A conversation with Miroslava Petrova from BALKANI Wildlife Society and Vladimir Ivanov from WWF Bulgaria
Miroslava Popova from Wildlife Association BALKANI Wildlife Society and Vladimir Ivanov from WWF Bulgaria will introduce us to the work and challenges facing two of the most active NGOs in the field of nature conservation, which includes not only environmental protection, but also the study and restoration of natural ecosystems, as well as the development of plans and legislation. Their work is particularly interesting in being part of the most active civic organisations which engage communities to solve local environmental problems. They also have considerable experience in collaborating with various NGOs, institutions, businesses and the media.
Miroslava and Vladimir will also talk about the five-year international WaterLANDS project, aimed at restoring six wetlands in Bulgaria, the UK, Estonia, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands. These days it was announced that the winning artist in residence in Bulgaria is Maria Nalbantova, who is also part of New Ecologies. The discussion will seek to answer the question of the place of art and the artist in conservation and science. What is the difference between artivism and the use of “slow” art – the latter of which explores, seeks conversation with communities and insists on sustainability of forms in order to formulate messages to the audiences?
Vladimir Ivanov has been working in communications in the fields of conservation and environmentalism since 2007 and has been part of the WWF Bulgaria team for the last ten years. His experience in journalism and mountaineering motivated him to start “translating” the complex expertise of nature conservation for different audiences. As a mountain guide, Vladimir witnessed at first hand the frightening effect of human pressure on forests and rivers, and as a media person, the absence of the issue from the hot topics.
Miroslava Popova is part of the BALKANI Wildlife Society's team and is responsible for the organisation's public image, social media and media relations. Since 2021, she divides her time between BALKANI WS and TAM Veliko Tarnovo, a space for culture and social initiatives, which allows her to explore the Bulgarian contemporary art scene.
10 May, 18:30
Introduction to Speculative Ecology
Kosmotehnika (Konstantin Georgiev and Alexander Popov)
Kosmotehnika works at the intersection of science fiction, social science, and the humanities. Its collective is made up of linguist and science fiction scholar Alexander Popov and anthropologist Konstantin Georgiev who read, write, and teach together. They take part in the New Ecologies program with a conversation on grounded speculation as a method to understand all that surrounds us.
13 May, 18:00
Conversation with Dimiter Kenarov (during the European Night of Museums)
When we mention Sofia, we almost never imagine a river. Rivers, we are apt to think, are mighty and wide, and run through other European cities: Paris, London, Prague, Vienna, Belgrade, Kiev. Sofia is a city of mountains, valley-like, self-sufficient and self-absorbed, slightly overbearing, misanthropic, "Shopski". The rivers bring the influences of the outside world down their course, connecting and binding, and Sofia prefers not to concern herself with such things. Rivers are for balks.
In fact, Sofia abounds in rivers, though no ships or boats float on them. Take a walk through the parks - Borisova Garden, South Park, Vartopo - and you'll see their waters meandering along as yet untapped beds before being straightened and chained into what we now call canals - pitiful wads at the bottom of stinking stone sarcophagi, down there under the Eagle and Lion Bridges. What's it like to go up (or down) one of these rivers? Is there still romance in their outflows? What do the rivers of Sofia tell us, and is there intelligible speech left in their murmurs? Dimiter Kenarov will try to answer these and other questions during the talk “Sofia's River/Babble”.
Dimiter Kenarov is a freelance writer, translator and journalist.
17 May, 18:30
An Integrated Approach to Ecology
Ventzeslava Kojouharova from For the Earth (Za Zemiata) Environmental Association
In the framework of “New Ecologies” we invited the environmental association “For the Earth” and Ventzeslava Kojouharova to speak about an integrated approach to ecology that includes the social and economic environment. “For the Earth” is an independent non-governmental organisation, uniting the efforts of people committed to working for an environmentally friendly and equitable life on our planet that excludes the exploitation of people and nature. In recent years, the association has also frequently worked with artists on issues central to their work. What is the understanding of ecology that they, as an environmental association, share; how art responds to the topics, goals and activism that they set for themselves and what are the challenges/opportunities when working with artists – these are just a few of the questions identified for the discussion.
Ventzeslava Kojouharova has experience of working in the public, private and non-governmental sectors in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom. She joined “For the Earth” (Za Zemiata) in 2021 as part of the Energy & Climate team with a focus on fossil fuels phase out and just transition.