New Connections with Æther
Inside the Eastern European Network

In 2020, Akademie Schloss Solitude’s Eastern European Network Exchange Program has been extended and new partners from Romania and Bulgaria have joined the program. The three institutions from Sofia, Æther, Swimming Pool and Radar, along with the Akademie Schloss Solitude and the Goethe-Institut Sofia, have created these new connections to draw attention to the cultural and artistic production of Europe’s Eastern peripheries and for mutual exchange. Each year, one artist from the partner regions will be invited for a three-month residency with the partners in Sofia and at Akademie Schloss Solitude. The Eastern European Network Exchange Program hopes to help create lasting communication networks as well as the exchange of knowledge and experience between disciplines and regions. On this occasion we are keen to introduce the new partners in a series of short portraits and interviews. Æther, an independent art space in the center of Sofia, will kick off the interview series. As part of the series Inside the Eastern European Network, we also would like to feature the video Past-Present: A promise? by Michaela Lakova. To watch the video please scroll down.

Æther

is an independent art space located in the center of Sofia, Bulgaria. It was founded in 2016 by the artist Voin de Voin. Since then, Æther organized numerous solo and group shows presenting the work of international artists, scientists, and activists. A hotbed for critically engaged artistic and curatorial practices, Æther conceives the exhibition space an experimental platform. In group shows like Out Of The Box or Chain Reaction (both 2019), it promoted collaborative practices to interrogate notions of artistic authorship in novel and innovative ways. In addition to exhibitions, Æther offers an extensive program of events, collaborating with many partners from Sofia and far beyond. In general, the art space engages with various formats to bring people together and enable critical discourse. This includes Sofia Art Week, a yearly event that invites practitioners from various artistic fields to Sofia to reflect upon contemporary culture and build common grounds. Following the ethics of micro-publishing and zine culture, Æther intermittently publishes Panacea, a magazine featuring a broad variety of guest contributors–a project by Victoria Kieffer. In 2018, Æther Haga opened, a sibling space to the Bulgarian mother ship in The Hague, The Netherlands. Run by artist Marie Civikov, the program of Æther Haga is closely aligned with that of Æther Sofia. With projects like Wild Wild Æst (2020-ongoing), Æther aims at fostering critical discourse on the relationship between »the West« and »the East,« assuming that the two cities of Sofia and The Hague may be regarded as symbols of this former dichotomy. Æther has initiated an exchange program that awards travel grants to artists to present their works in the respective countries.

What made you decide to open an independent art space? And why did you choose Sofia? You have lived in many European cities and have a large network. You could have opened an artist-run art space in numerous places …

It was a living dream of mine for many years to have a physical space where I could put all my ideas into motion and set a place for recollecting all the gained experiences and encounters throughout my life, both personal and professional. And to be honest it had an economic side too. Before I moved back to Sofia, I was living in Brussels, where I was involved with a space called LaValleè that has committed itself to strengthening the rights and concerns of artists and institutions in close relation with the Brussels art factory. But even in this circle, I could observe the struggle of the institutions. High rents in a context of fast gentrification were a discouraging obstacle to initiating a space in Brussels.

»The idea of a more direct and fluent dialogue with the public was also part of this moment. Besides many new physical spaces in Sofia addressing independent art practices, numerous other organizations and initiatives are contributing to that sector of culture’s growth and development.«

Berlin, where I also have gained working experience by contributing to a project rooted an art residency and a space called HBS, was out of question for me at this point. The overwhelming number of art initiatives posed the question if such commitment will add to the already blooming art landscape of the city, whereas Sofia had just a few independent art spaces at the time. The choice was made for me. I went back home.

Can you speak about independent art spaces in Sofia in general? Who else is around and what is the cooperation like? I would especially be interested in knowing about the publics that you generate. Do they differ from the people that attend commercial galleries and museums?

The independent art scene has been growing and asking for recognition for the past five years. It’s exhilarating and getting stronger. It seems like there was a necessity and the wish to make new voices heard – parallel to the old system and operating organs and institutions. The idea of a more direct and fluent dialogue with the public was also part of this moment. Besides many new physical spaces in Sofia addressing independent art practices, numerous other organizations and initiatives are contributing to that sector of culture’s growth and development. They are the important link that connects and creates a coherent layout of the marks on Sofia’s art map – presenting its surprising agendas. The audiences are definitely different. They includes young people and local community members, people from different fields who are already engaged and working with existing groups or organizations that are dealing with the task of social improvement.

Dark Age Romance, performance by Mimi Kritik (DE), 2018
The creation of illusions by Homs Arthaus (BR/DK), 2018
Opening of the exhibition »Would Sit Together/Departed Dialogues« by Ida Sophia (AUS), 2018
A decorated room with invaded ideas, the a project was realized by Eline Tsvetkova, Jakob Ehrlich, and Anastasija Pandilovska (NL/MCK/AT, 2016) as part of an inhouse residency, 2017
PIZZAG8/burn out by PCNC_BAY x BLUNT x SKENSVED (CAN/SWZ), 2018
Partytime with djs from Athens and Berlin, 2018
Our blood, ritual during an event by Julien Lambrev (BG), 2019
Preparation for live concert by Specimens (UK), 2019
Reading with the audience during an opening, 2019
At the bar with Lisette Smith (NL), curator and educator for SAW Sofia Art Week 2020, Fugitive School, 2020
Sarbrina Shray during the installation for a presentation for SAW, Sofia Art Week 2019
Talk with Valentina Sciarra (IT) during her solo opening AFSD, 2018
Opening time for Valentina Sciarra
Basement room, installation view with visitors of Michaela Lakova’s show- Past-Present Utopian dream for nu(un)clear future (NL/BG), 2018
ON TRACK by Marie Civikov (NL), installation view, 2018

With Æther it always seems to be about aspects of communality. Or maybe something of a live moment, something performative if you will. Would you agree on that? And if so, can you elaborate on this idea with regard to Sofia Art Week, a yearly event hosted by Æther that invites artists and thinkers to Sofia?

Absolutely, without doubt our work is based on the idea of belonging. In a segregated, patriarchal, and exclusive society, our work is to open a door to everyone that feels excluded of participation. The living (therefore the mortal) body, becomes the central object to all politics or what we can name as »the Political.« There are no politics that are not body politics. The very task of political action is to fabricate a body, to put it to work, to define its modes of discourse by which the body is fictionalized to itself until it is able to say »I.« That’s where performance, voice, and the presence of the artist(s) come together, forming an agency that triggers awareness and heads on to the road of change – internal, social, political at times spiritual transformations.

»Our work is based on the idea of belonging. In a segregated, patriarchal, and exclusive society, our work is to open a door to everyone that feels excluded of participation.«

– Voin de Voin founder of Æther, Sofia.

You founded Æther Haga with Marie Civikov. I was wondering how the two spaces relate to one another. Again, I feel that this ephemeral aspect is quite important for the two spaces: There are two physical locations, one in the east (Sofia) and one in the west (The Hague). However, the in-between of the two locations is that what you are working with. Would you agree?

We are working with the echoes and dissonance.
We are working with the idea of hearing rather than seeing.
We are fulfilling political and social imagination; that is, asking for an active participation towards equality, solidarity and finding ways to go ahead into maintaining broken connections and collective traumas.

In 2021, Æther will be turning five. Imagine Æther were a baby, what would you give her for birthday? Who would be invited to the party and how would you celebrate it? After all, what do you wish would happen to her stumbling into childhood?

Will will not give them anything this year. Everything they need, they already have: freedom. We will wish them to keep the eternal child alive, but also to fully realize their collective potential.

 

Text & interview by Sebastian Schneider

 

As part of the series Inside the Eastern European Network, we would like to feature the video Past-Present: A promise?, that was part of the exhibition project Past-Preset: Utopian dream for a nu(un)clear future a by Michaela Lakova at Æther, Sofia, September 19 – 29, 2018.

Camera: Michaela Lakova, Rayna Teneva & Voin Voinov
Performance: Voin Voinov and Thomas Noesler
Featuring: Security Guard#1, Security Guard#2, Security Guard#3, Security Guard#4
Sound by: Zableyalo Agne by The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices
G. Purvanov speech (May 2018)
Sound mastering: Studio Balkandji

This project was supported by G. Ruf Award for Contemporary Bulgarian Art.