BULGARIAN GLASS – TRADITION AND MODERNITY
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Fellow Artists,
It is the first time when in such a number we, Bulgarian artists in glass, have taken part in such as a representative forum. Here we can show not only our art, but also share our searching for as well as our problems that are to a great extent identical with the common problems with glass art in Europe.
In searching for the European glass movement’s paths of development, it will be easier to orientate yourself if you have good peripheral vision. In this sense, you can take my point of view as part of a more-whole view of a wider and full picture of the development and condition of the European glass arena at the moment.
In 2002, receiving the title of Doctor honoris causa of the Sofia University, the great writer, journalist and expert on the globalization process Rishard Kapuschinski, stated in his lecture that in the centre of Sofia he had seen traces of several civilizations and cultures. According to him, the patterns of those cultural vestiges stored in the Archeological Museum of Sofia completely equaled those that could be traced in the museums in Athens or Rome. It is a criterion of synchronous development from the centre to the periphery as an example of positive globalization.
In Bulgaria our traditions in ceramics date back to Antiquity. There are exceptional patterns of plastic culture of gold and silver since Thracian time, forms that appeal to and develop our contemporary plastic art.
Our glass production in Bulgaria does not have the traditions of our ceramics; it started at the end of the 19th century and was again revived strongly in the 1930s.
“Every age blossoms with its people.”
These words were written by Georgi Bakardjiev upon his return to Bulgaria in the late 1930s after having spent 20 years in France. He was at the foundation of the contemporary Bulgarian ceramics and glass schools. By his first exposition in Bulgaria our ceramics had been rather pottery. His works were an amalgamation of European experience and the traditions of his homeland.
With his creations in the technique of pate de verre Georgi Bakardjiev took part in the Autumn Salon of artists-experimenters in 1928 in Paris. In 1930, at the International exposition for applied arts in Liège he received the “Grand Prix”. In the same year he was also given the first award from the exposition of French ceramics and glass in Cairo. A member of Salon de Tuilleries, he had separate expositions in America and Spain. A close friend of Jean Cross, he worked in Sèvres manufacture.
After the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman domination in 1878, the trend towards European values is also a shift of intensified European interest in investing in Bulgaria. In 1891, not far away from Varna, the first glass factory was opened. The glass plant BELFA, a Belgian factory in Sliven, was a Belgian investment at the beginning of the 1930ies. It was developed as the most powerful complex of glass plants in Bulgaria during the 70ies and the 80ies, similar to Crystalex in Novy Bor, Czech Republic.
With the abolition of property status in 1944 the private buyers that were by nature true users and connoisseurs of art were eliminated. Applied arts were thus compelled to another kind of consumption, the public one. A wave of revived interest towards the traditional folk art affected the interpretation of forms, moreover a great emphasis was put on our ceramics. The exquisiteness of glass objects and forms as well as of glass panes were regarded as a manifestation of West and Catholic influence, therefore alien to the national tradition.
At the very end of the 50ies the trend was reversed from the ideosyncrasy of what is Bulgarian and national towards what is the universal and European. The beginning of the 60ies was marked by the revival of the interest towards plastic forms, by the genre variety of utensils and the wealth of materials and techniques. Unlike the process that was going on in Europe at that time, in Bulgaria glass as material for creation was forgotten.
Unfortunately, the situation makes us at the moment return to the very beginning.
The big glass plants have been turned into private enterprises or have been closed in slow agony since 1989 when the process of transformation from State ownership toward private enterprises started… The production of household glass appliances that were blown out manually was almost completely closed down, what put an end to the manual production, too. The old factories went under automation. Today they produce packing glassware. New plants for flat glass were opened. Small sheds and single productions have survived but working without their own characteristic design.
In fact, after the political changes, when guided by a desire to replace and to make better the system of administration of the production starting by a change of its property, the glass production has lost what existed as an organization and human experience in the previous years. Now the privatization at any cost and the total destruction of hand-made production are recognized as a fault.
The loftiness and short-sighted-ness of planned economy before 1989 broke years’ old good practice of implementing design projects by small workshops attached to the plants. Even before 1989 they were closed as unnecessary and unprofitable. Despite being owned by the State, these experimental centres were a precondition for “different” designs, unique forms, short series preceding the major production. They generated the movement outside workshop, but essentially they were strongly centralized in their further selection to implement the prototype into practice. In this way, everything was marked by the restrictions of the time, the design especially.
The problems of Bulgarian glass are part of the problems of Bulgarian design.
Initiated by the Bulgarian Union of Artists, in 2008 the First biennial exposition of Bulgarian design will be opened. It will be representative for all educational institutions preparing specialists in different fields of design, for artists showing their achievements for the last two years as well as for Bulgarian manufacturers displaying their own design products.
The biennial exposition aims at meeting all sides interested in the process from the project creation up to its implementation.
But mostly, the main topic of this first biennial exposition is to discuss the unenviable position of Bulgarian design, to try to alert state institutions and public opinion of the fact that there will not be a stimulating development of Bulgarian economics without Bulgarian design.
Unfortunately, our market is rich in articles that are produced without any design project and don’t meet consumers’ requirements that are precisely fundamental to design. There is a lot of non legitimate products on our market that are pirated or altered, it means modified from those products that have intellectual and industrial property arranged by law what is actually stealing of authors’ rights! To a great extent, these problems are generated by the existence of a small and relatively quickly satisfied market. On the other hand, there is unwillingness to invest in design projects of quality, to create unique products at your own risk.
The situation in the few glass enterprises left is similar. To a large extent, they provide for their stability working with materials supplied by the client and are pushed to the wall by the mass import of Turkish and China glassware.
Working professionally with design, my colleagues can’t make out why design is excluded as innovation practice from the programs of the European Union!
Despite the unenviable situation of glass production and the lack of realisation in practice, there has not been a reduction of enthusiasm of the small group of Bulgarian artists who, despite hardships, work and search out their artistic challenges in glass. To a large degree, we in Bulgaria look at glass from a perspective rooted in Czech traditions that is due to, influenced by and developped thanks to Professor Stanislav Libenský. Over a period of 25 years, he taught 11 Bulgarian artists at the School of Applied Arts in Prague. We are very indebted to him for his work.
But there were more than just the ateliers of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (UMPRUM).
In the 1970s, the growing need for specialists, technologists and artists gave impetus for Bulgarian students to be sent for education and training to the workshops of the Burg Giebichenstein Hochschule für Kunst und Design Halle (University of Art and Design Halle in Germany), the Akademia Sztuk Pięknych we Wrocławiu (Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, Poland) and the
Magyar Képzőművészeti Egyetem (University of Fine Arts Budapest in Hungary).
“Glass” was introduced as a new specialty at the Art Academy of Sofia. It resulted in the paradox to train specialists, to encourage them to work with glass, but at the same time they did not realize themselves as there was no production needing their potential.
After 1989 the link with the secondary education was also broken down. The Professional school of ceramics and glass that was one of the oldest professional schools in Bulgaria dating back to 1881 was closed down as other similar schools in the country were.
Once they had graduated, many of those who had gone abroad for their studies returned, though some made a compromise and entered different spheres; a few of these who emigrated succeeded to prove themselves, like Latchezar Boyadjiev.
In Bulgaria almost everything connected with the glass industry is imported, only the initial raw material is Bulgarian.
“Look out! There is so much sand”, the Hare from “Alice in Wonderland” exclaimed. He might have had in mind Bulgaria that is exceptionally rich in quartz sands. What a great quantity of material for glass art!
There is more that limits us than simply materials. Maybe that is a reason to not elaborate on the aesthetic viewpoint of glass as a limitless artistic material and to make an effort to endorse it even more not only before the public, but also before our colleagues, showing that glass is not limited to a purely utilitarian or decorative purpose.
That is why, for us, Czech glass is an example that proves the strength of artistic discovery, not only towards a material in itself, but also as concerns artistic value.
Another direction can be observed in Scandinavia, where one of the strong distinctive points of the art of Scandinavian glass is that it is dictated by the requirements of industrial design.
These directions give basis to some of the most important tendencies in which glass as art takes form – it turns into a symbol of the discerning a nation’s culture and attitude towards life. That is why these creations carry not only an aesthetic, but also a moral message – that what is vital now is quality.
Ars Vivendi – Modus Essendi!
Knowing the method is already an art!
The development of Bulgarian glass is due, in large part, to the desire to craft in a material that, with its clean aesthetic, engenders the feeling of being elite, of charm – difficultly accessible until the changes to democracy, it forms a feature distinguishing from the former and demarcates time.
Glass as art in Bulgaria is set to develop in the country’s aesthetic outlook, one whose modernity has been cultivated, along with all the “washing away” of the years of socialism, only as of relatively recently, and is still
trained in and influenced by academia. That is why, though it is developing extremely quickly, it still has a distinct appearance and cannot be called a
secondary art. This is due largely to our high culture of plastic arts, to the artistic temperament that has been part of us since our forefathers walked the Earth and to our sunny climate. To some degree, we like decorativeness and hedonism. The Bulgarian wants the pleasant; when he looks, he is moved by a high degree of beauty.
There exists an idealistic presentation of art, as a moral and aesthetic corrective: that a man of art with his morality and taste opposes the environment and, thus, tries to makes sense of it, to not become a part of it.
Pleasant for the eye at the expense of what gives rise to problems.
It is a curious paradox, but it is as if, namely, freedom and democracy repressed this pulsation from being released and stating its truth: the desire to hide from the visible, fierce and intimidating reality.
Unfortunately, it is clear that a man of art pressed by the everyday life becomes part of mass culture. Instead of political censuring, economic has appeared. Economic censuring is crueller and more crushing for people of art. This has led to a stagnation of traditional forms, which is why experimenters, alternative figures who spoke against established structures, against the method of work, against identical things and against a single, defined way of thinking took a conventional stance.
For us, alternative art was also connected with the fight, with the change, with a new type of behaviour… By understanding the place of your mission – to re-uncover and to re-make, to create your own world.
In this sense, glass as an art form is an ideal medium through which you can distinguish yourself, create and, at the same time, be unique, yet identifiable.
Like a diamond has to be polished, so do the sorrow and efforts of the artist give him the right to personal evaluation.
Thus, from the scarcity of production and in the search for personal decisions, Bulgaria’s Studio Glass Movement was born. It is still fragile and has not yet proven itself. But because of this, every individual manifestation is strong and memorable.
We work for the public recognition of glass art under unimaginable conditions before and after the transition to democracy in Bulgaria. Of course, only effort, hard work, resisting against difficulties as well as strong will for work can be creative.
Only the stretched string of the artist can give birth to art.
Like a weed in a field can turn out to be a healing herb.
We work in full artistic freedom, depending only on our individual skills, and this is why, with every one of us searching for his or her own path in glass
art, new decisions and practices are born. They might not be recognised as a contribution to the development of glass as art, but, in any case, they are original and carry at their basis good aesthetic taste. Maybe also because the richness of the growing means in art is unlimited and only through a high artistic culture could we ever search for and express ourselves.
In 1973 and 1974, or two years running, Ekaterina Getsova and Stoyan Gaidov have been awarded the first prizes for design in Valencia.
In 1987 Ekateriana Getsova has created her pane glass mosaics for the underground in Nagoia.
In 2002 the first gallery for glass art in Bulgaria “Arossita” was founded.
Our art is read in the context of a common quest for art in Bulgaria. That is why our artistic manifestations, too, find support in different artistic spheres.
It seems to me that this approach in the searching out of glass as a stand-alone art, and also as a part of the entire process of the fine arts, has created the foundations for the development of glass art in Bulgaria.
The lack of technological discipline has ceased to be a limit, instead turning into a “benefit” of development, because art has desired the material.
The endless flow of the arts is the form in which contemporary glass art can develop. Not only as concerns its technical development (read, the form). In the searching for and finding universal common expressions in which glass art can be fairly presented, and not limited, confined by its material substance. To be more of a search for the message, for glass to become a means, and not a technologically determined material.
In fact, this is like what glass master Finn Lingard said at the opening of the symposium in Frauenhau in 2006 – for more soul in glass, for more art.
Maybe in this hides the spirit of the future of glass. From Le Corbusier’s realised dreams of glass houses, to the imposing, glass-human fountains of Jaume Plensa at the Millennium Park in Chicago, to Olafur Eliasson’s reflexions of fantasy. No limits whatsoever in size, from the message to the end goal. These are achievements in the art, but did not some of them take specialised courses in fusing?
In Professor Libenský’s atelier, we sketched human figures and strove to attain cleanliness in the drawing; he taught us to search for the essence outside the visible form. We treated the human figure like a cathedral, perfection in form and proportion. That shaped my outlook, how a work of art turns into design – in creating the “immutable” form – a glass Galatea.
That achieved, that produced, becomes rather a symbol in space and only then can it generate the creative track of re-creation.
My points of inspiration do not come from glass. Glass in itself is only a means of giving life to my ideas, because I know it well and have been taught to think in glass. What moves me is not so much mastering the material, as
the possibility through transparency and reflections to depict the search for the direct message. Then, it does not matter what the material is and what per cent glass makes up in the final product.
For art in the 20th century, it was specifically in the form that the key to art was found.
Now, what is more important is the eye-blink; form is movement and movement is in form. The transformations, the metaphors are only one side; the material is the other.
I want my own place – I have my own place – that is the motto of glass in contemporary art. Whether it will reflect or fracture, whether it will take on a life of its own or reflect, glass is a living material, it will be found and change.
In Bulgaria we have a great desire to try to advance the art of glass without preconceived ideas and with imagination – that glass may become a source of new sensations for fictions and allusions.
We are interested in the processes, problems, manifestations and development of glass in Europe. We wish we participated more actively in these processes and if it is possible to find our place there. I hope that this meeting on the hospitable island of Bornholm is a precondition for revealing the Bulgarian glass art, for making our acquaintance and that of our country.
We look for support and cooperation in common projects and exhibitions. We would give assistance to each investment that would develop the warm material born out of breath and spirit.
Gestures, artistic symbols, have stimulated the development and have united people.
Because don’t we all express our love through glass?