Charlottesville artists, Roger Williams and Victoria Long (a former New City Artist in Residence at The Haven), received a small grant from the Charlottesville Sister Cities Commission to react creatively to the cultural landscape of Charlottesville's sister city Pleven, Bulgaria. A successful Kickstarter campaign covered their remaining travel and in-country costs for this trip to Pleven in April 2014 (like, as in, they're in Pleven now).
In order to introduce Charlottesville to the cultural landscape of Pleven, Victoria and Roger will exhibit photographs, drawings, print, and a short film at The Garage in January 2015 and produce a limited edition book with the Virginia Art of the Book Center. Since this project puts the "City" in "New City Arts," we'll sponsor a public artist talk with Roger and Victoria during their Garage exhibit in January 2015.
In the meantime, via our blog, Victoria and Roger have written a few words to keep you in the loop during their travels.
As our train made its way from Bulgaria's capital Sofia to Pleven, we passed steep cliffs, small villages, crumbling industrial buildings, signs for Coca-Cola, graffiti, and horses pulling carts. The lasting impression from the train ride is that it was exactly that -- or at least more so than the impression we have been left with when riding Amtrak back in the USA. The ride was satisfying to that expectation one has when first boarding a train: the rattling of the cars was loud; the windows were open due to heat, and passengers hung out of them, laughing and calling to one another; the landscapes were dramatic, with cliffs and tunnels, and quick shifts between the urban and rural. We ate belinski (a kind of pastry dough filled with cheese) and shared a second-class compartment with four strangers, who slept and spoke quietly to one another. As we approached Pleven, it started to rain and we stood in the corridor to lean out a window and look. Then the train stopped at its platform in Pleven, and we got off. The signs we looked to were (of course) all in Cyrillic and no one at the station spoke English. You could say that we were lost. What are we doing here?
We came to Pleven to creatively react to its cultural landscape thanks to a small grant from the Charlottesville Sister Cities Commission and support from about 100 backers of a Kickstarter project that we launched. Our trip has been helped by volunteers from Pleven's municipal arts center led by Vladimira Jordanova and Anita Toncheva. They have generously volunteered their time to guide us around the city. We are grateful to the staff at the America for Bulgaria Foundation for connecting us to them.
Looking ahead to our stay in Pleven, we are planning to photograph, film, and record the people, sights, and sounds of the city. To prepare for this trip, we each separately and coincidentally read The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. It helped us consider what one searches for when he travels and prompted us to think about observation. After our trip to Pleven is over, we will produce a collage of audio recordings, a book at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, and an exhibit at The Garage in January 2015. We know that our visit to Pleven will be too brief to do more than capture our fleeting impressions of culture here, but we'll do our best. We are conscious that so often people default to thinking that "culture" is the sort of thing that can be put in a display case in a museum, that it can be pointed to. "Look at that traditional folk costume" or "Stand in front of this monument while I snap a photo," for example. But that's just a fantasy. Culture is, of course, more intangible, layered, and ever-changing than all that. We only have to try to describe the culture of Charlottesville to our new friends in Pleven to illustrate the challenge to ourselves.
The morning after our arrival we walked to the Church of Sveti Nikola to attend an Eastern Orthodox service. People came and went, lighting candles and kissing icons, while priests led a kind of call and response and a choir sang in a way that was both haunting and beautiful.
We can't wait to share more about our sister city with everyone back home. We'll write again at the end of our trip with more updates from Pleven!