Some days ago, we had the chance to see the exhibition “Gala of Curiosities”, in the New Gallery of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Pristina and talk with the curators and the artists! The opening of the exhibition was organized in the context of the 12th Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival and we met some of the artists, the curators, as well as many filmmakers and stakeholders of the Balkan Peninsula.
From September 2020 to June 2022, the “ECHO II: Traditions in Transition” residency program was continuously welcoming artists from North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary to participate in Art Residencies that focus on the local traditions of different places. The residencies were organised in the regions of Prespa Lake (North Macedonia), Sofia city (Bulgaria), Spetses island (Greece), Győr village (Hungary) and Smolyan town (Bulgaria) – all places with distinguished natural beauty and cultural heritage. The focus on local traditions is aiming to show that cultural customs are dynamic and they are evolving as vivid inspiration for new projects and recontextualization of the old habits and customs. ECHO II provided artists with the opportunity to showcase local traditions and broaden the dialogue with local residents in order to rediscover the past in the context of a culturally European backdrop. ECHO II is co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. The program was organised through the transnational cooperation of Balkans Beyond Borders, Inter Alia, ProProgressione, Open Space Foundation, SFERA International and Post Scriptum.
Following the art residencies and the local exhibitions, the audience of the city of Pristina had the opportunity to see the digitized artworks of all the artists of ECHO II and walk through the different local traditions, as conceded by them. Each artist selected one representative artwork of their work at the residency in order to present it at the audience in Pristina. The exhibition was curated by the creative team of the Balkans Beyond Borders, Marianna Stefanitsi, Vasiliki Maltasoglouand Anna-Maria Ramou, in the context of the activities of the 13th Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival. The exhibition was open to the public and was held in the New Gallery of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Pristina in collaboration with Mehmet Behluli, Professor of Conceptual Art and Theory, and his students.
The concept of the exhibition was based on the open-access policy of the program and the curatorial team of the Balkans Beyond Borders welcomed the audience to walk through the digital reproductions of selected artworks and scan the QR-codes labelling next to the artworks. That way the exhibition functioned as a “physical portal” leading to the ECHO II website, an open-access cultural repository, which includes information on the selected local traditions, and all the digitized copies of all the artworks created during the project. That was a very interesting idea which created a playful interaction between the artworks and the viewers, who had the chance to let the image lead them to traditional stories & customs.
The exhibition started with the four participants of the Prespa Art Residency. Yiannis Selimioti’s work, “The Second Death of the Painter Keraca Visulčeva” is a tribute to the painter Visulčeva. With this portrait, inspired by photographs and self-portraits she painted, Selimiotis salutes Visulčeva for helping him see what he calls his “second death”, the eventual decomposition of his work, and the inescapable end every person is walking toward. Nikolay Marinov’s sculpture/installation titled “Interconnections” consisted of stones -exhibited here in digital reproduction like all the artworks-, symbols of different ethnicities, that are held together through a metal rope – a thread. Another artwork influenced by the region is Panni Marosi’s “Still Life With Shreds of Memories’. It carries cultural notes such as patterns of the frescoes from the orthodox church of Bitola, Saint Demetrius and a ceramic plate that’s pointing back to the significance of the Ceramic Art Colony of Resen respectively. Concluding with the first residency, Djoshkun Alievski focused mainly on Nature and displayed its awe-inspiring aspects through digital illustrations. His artwork “Breeze (Umbrellas)” demonstrates the serenity of spending a few moments at the beach.
Subsequently, we were moving to the Sofia Art Residency participants. Remzije Lloga’s artwork, “The Touch” referred to an old traditional dance during which young men and women held their belts, as a love game. Ennios Eros Giogos’s “As Above so Below” is an installation representing the infinity of evolution, as he notes that for him, humankind is always going through the “process of becoming”. Next, Marcella Papp’s painting “Layers” talks about the multifaceted existence of the city of Sofia. By using different painting techniques, she brings to the fore the diversity of the capital of Bulgaria and the importance that it holds. On a similar note, Yordan Mihalev designed a dress with the title “It Would Have Been a Lovely Evening”. The dress, with its nine layers, also demonstrates the influential nature of Sofia and the changes it may trigger within. The dress, almost always one step away from dissolving and leaving one exposed, talks about the essence of vulnerability.
Moving further in the exhibition, we were introduced to the participants of the Spetses Art Residency. The first image we are seeing when we are looking in the third section of the exhibition is Balázs Kontur’s “Wavelines I”, where we can see Konturs fascination with the sea and the formation of waves, and what he calls the “chaotic order” of Nature. Next up is Martina Spasovska, an artist who has chosen the female figure and numbers as the major themes of her art. Her work “Blue”, aims at creating associations between a specific place and numbers. Katerina Karatzaferi focused on life on the island and especially the residents. “Locus et Homines III” is displaying different parts of Spetses that are characteristics of its identity. Using fabric, Karatzaferi embroidered different patterns on it that are reminiscent of the sea and of specific knots and ties that are linked with the local, folk tradition. Recording her experiences on the island, Deyana Stareva created the project titled “Visual Diaries”. The first diary named “Flowers” which is exhibited here consists of the island’s plants that have been dried up and catalogued. Her attempt reminds us of the fact that Spetses is also called Isola di Spezzie, i.e. the island of spices and flowers.
Looking at the artworks that were inspired by the Győr Art Residency, you could see the industrial tradition of the town. Kinga Enzsöly’s “Different Clouds 3/3” refers to the times the artist spent looking at the sky while taking a break from work. Nanda Mentesheva’s “Factor Y”, instead, focused on the beauty and inspiration one can find in an industrial environment. Next, Konstantinos Koronaios’ “A.Night.in.Győr.819“ is about reinterpreting the space of the distillery the participants experienced. Displaying different and important parts of the city, the artist offers a complete vision of Győr from a plethora of perspectives by associating memories of a real place with real people. Having immense respect for the traditions and the history of the factory, Boglár Peruzzi created “Synthesis1/3“. It’s essentially a heartfelt imprint of her overall experience of the residency which, coming after lockdown, had a profound influence on her.
Finally, the works of Smolyan Art Residency closed this cycle of the program. Burim Ajdini’s “Rhodope and Smolyan, 1 and 2” is a painting through which the artist is conveying an emotional journey of discovering new places by day and by night. Galina Abadjimarinova created “The Colours of the Rhodopes”, a painting which brings to life the experiences the artist gathered while staying in Smolyan. It’s a mixture of elements that relates to all of the senses forming a complete picture of the city’s character and atmosphere. Moving away from the effect the city and its traditions have on people, Maita Chatziioannidou’s “Rodopa” demonstrates the artist’s fascination with a woman created by her imagination. She embroidered this female figure surrounded by all things Smolyan just to shape an identity made from the parts of the city she experienced. And for the end, Beáta Méry’s “The Red River / Initiation (2/3)” is a painting connecting an abstract version of the conflict between modernity and tradition. A deep exploration of the red colour and the specific meaning it carries.
After looking at the artworks one to one, the viewers could step back and look at the exhibition as a whole while at the same moment as they were walking around the exhibition they had the opportunity to travel to each place and take an overall perception and understanding of the local traditions. The different colors, techniques and perspectives create an abuzz feeling, sometimes overwhelming for the eye. But with a second thought, traditions -especially in the extended Balkans region- are not about aesthetics but mostly about everyday life. “Gala of Curiosities” exhibition is not a concrete curatorial suggestion, but mostly is about a mosaic of (mis)perception – maybe exactly like what the Balkan region is!