#10 – My great grandfather’s last name was Lipnikliev

Somewhere in the twenties Panayot and his brother changed their name into Civikov. The exact reason is unknown, most likely to get out of sight of the police but it could also have started as a pseudonym for his writings. We can only guess.

On the pictures beneath you see my great grandfather Veliko Genov Lipnikliev. Born from a family of poor farmers in Lipnik, a small village near Ruse, he moved to Ruse were he got a job at the railway station. There, close to the railway next to the Donau, he started building the house where my grandfather and father were born and raised. It is still in the family. A photo report will follow in my next post.



In front of (most likely) the old railway station of Tarnevo.


Railway parallel to the Donau



#8 – Æther, Swimming Pool, ICA

It already has been two weeks since I came back from my last trip to Sofia, time for another update. This time my main goals were to explore the contemporary art scene, find a place to present the results of my project next year and visit a couple of museums. It all worked out very well and on top of it I met some of the loveliest and interesting people.

In this post I will briefly report on three independent art spaces I visited; Æther, Swimming Pool and ICA Sofia (Institute of Contemporary Art). The first two had an opening during my stay. Starting from scratch without many contacts in this city I found it hard to find these spaces. There aren’t many of them, which certainly has to do with the little governmental support they get (compared to a country like the Netherlands) but in a way it all feels very exciting and I have the feeling we can expect a lot more to come in the near future. The list of art galleries in Sofia actually is quite long, but the first online impression of most of them doesn’t feel very innovative nor contemporary. On the other hand, I’m sure there’s a lot more going on then I could have seen these two weeks as a visitor and I’m soon coming back to find out.

Below you’ll find a photo report and a summary of the identity of these spaces as found on their websites.

Æther is Situated in the center of Sofia and is led by Voin De Voin, who’s a (brilliant) artist himself.
“In its essence Æther aims to connect scenes, places and art practices and to create space for dialogues between West and East through the visions, critique and works of the participating artists.
One part of Æther is a project and exhibition space <Æther immaterial>, which calls out to emphasize the importance of the produced meanings, their motives and origins. It offers the visitor a view on more complex processes such as creating itself, rather than focus on its sellable values.
Another part of the space will function as a showroom and shop <Æther physical>, where thematic propositions form a collection, that will be both on display and for sale. Æther is a wish to add a mark to the cultural landscape of Sofia; a place where people can discover, get acquainted and engaged in the subjects proposed by the collective and create new memories, not necessarily to preserve, but more to question the Now.”

Æther had an opening of Ghosts in the rain from Nicholas McArthur and I had the chance to see a bit of the previous show Appetite from Martin Penev as well that was still installed downstairs a couple of days before.

Appetite, Martin Penev

In large rough drawings McArthur told a story on a world taken over by pollution. Beside drawing he does a lot more, It’s worth taking a look at his website.

Ghosts in the rain, Nicholas McArthur

Swimming Pool is also located in the city center of Sofia. From their website: “Swimming Pool is a project space in Sofia. Its program is dedicated to artistic, curatorial and philosophical research. Its activity encompasses exhibitions, performances, screenings, public programs, and collaborative projects. The premises of Swimming Pool are located on a rooftop in the very city center of Sofia. Built in 1939, they consist of several rooms and terraces with an empty pool. Since the founding of Swimming Pool in 2014,  Viktoria Draganova organizes its artistic program.”



At Swimming Pool there was an opening of the groupshow My Dear Provincialist with works of six Bulgarian artists; Valko Chobanov, Krasimira Kirova, Dimitar Shopov, Trifon Tashev, Martina Vacheva and Ina Valentinova. Swimming Pool is worth a visit not only because of what is shown, but also because of its surrealistic setting in a bright top apartment in decay consisting of several terraces with an empty swimming pool outside and a stunning view over the city.

My Dear Provincialist at Swimming Pool

ICA (institute of Contemporary Art) Sofia, led by Iara Boubnova, probably is the most “institutionalized” of the three art spaces I visited.

Founded in 1995, they operate from various locations at home and abroad. In 2009, a permanent exhibition space in Sofia was added, ICA-Sofia Gallery. From their website: “The opening of the ICA–Sofia Gallery was made possible by the dedicated conviction of Slava Nakovska and Nedko Solakov that it was not only absolutely necessary to have the gallery but that it was also possible to realize it in the rather thin and amnesic Bulgarian cultural space and especially by their strategic and persistent efforts on its materialization.”

On show was Mission Failed of Zoran Georgiev. “The show is showcasing not only his reactions and thoughts on the often mythologized center-of-the-art New York City but also his full set of experiences as a modern day artist-nomad whose life cannot be restricted to only one place, territory or cultural tradition.”

Mission Failed at ICA-Sofia, Zoran Georgiev

Currently ICA runs an educational program for visual artists, Close Encounters – Visual Dialogs in which amongst others Martin Penev, Ina Valentinova and Dimitar Shopov (all mentioned above) participate.

Links (unfortunately I couldn’t find links to every artist mentioned in this post):

Æther on facebook (website in development)

Voin de Voin

Nicholas McArthur

Martin Penev

Swimming Pool

Viktoria Draganova

Valko Chobanov

Krasimira Kirova

Martina Vacheva

Ina Valentinova

ICA Sofia

Zoran Georgiev

Nedko Solakov

#4 – the marriage with Sophie, my grandmother

They met each other in Spain.

My grandmother was from Graz, Austria. In the mid-Thirties she was involved with a group that practiced illegal sterilisation of men. Some of them got arrested and Sophie choose to hide for a while in San Sebastian, Spain.

On his way to Barcelona in 1936/1937 my grandfather Panayot passed Graz where he met Sophie’s sister, Grete Paunovic (later Zahrastnik), my great-aunt. She gave Panayot her sisters contact details.

By then Sophie already had a daughter, born in 1929. Selmy Eckhart was her name. During this time she entrusted her to her sister Grete where Selmy stayed when Sophie followed Panayot to Bulgaria in 1941. They planned to let Selmy come over shortly afterwards, but because of the war it all turned differently.

Selmy tragically died in a bombing of the family house in Graz in 1945. At that time Grete was kept in concentration camp Ravensbrück because of her participation in the resistance and she survived. In these circumstances mail wasn’t yet working properly and it took years before Sophie received the tragic news.

So there she was, an Austrian in a strange country, not speaking the language, a second baby (my father) on his way in 1945 and a teenage daughter left in her home country. Idealist Panayot seemed not to know how to handle this nearby grief and didn’t, so it seems, gave it much attention.