Provocateur of the month: Sofia – the city that grows but does not age

We who live in Sofia have always known that Sofia is not a pretty city. Some old-timers would say that it had not been like so always, but it became like so really long time ago – maybe at the time when we, who had not been born in Sofia and our families, who do not originate from here, have moved in, turning the city into a growing, but worrisomely incapable to grow up city. This endemic lack of maturity in our city, which deprived it from its face, from its image, but turned it into a capital, suggests not acquiescence, but a will to turn the ugly multifaceted impersonality of the city into an inspiration and a will, not so much for a change, but for a critical rationalization and cultural performing of the resources. The point is instead of whining for the wrong turns, which this fat accelerate is making, to take its name for a starting point, e.g. to look at things with wisdom.  Instead of perusing an impossible beauty, we should turn into an unexpected worth what Sofia already has, but neglects, hides or even is not aware of having it.

Let’s start with the fact that Sofia is a nighttime city, which would also mean that it is a city of the interior spaces, not the exterior ones. It means mostly that Sofia is a city of the people; the people, who do not sleep, but have fun, get together, romp and work at night.  Naturally the citizens of Sofia are becoming slowly victims of the late modernity, of the workoholism, of the self-control, of the culture of the beer, which replaces the wine one. This is rather good trend, but I do not believe that by 2019 it would become a mass one. I would rather say that no matter how does the country and the capital itself develop economically, its restaurants and bars would be still full of people, who like to communicate. The joke that the Bulgarians talk about their work, when having fun and about having fun, when they are at work, is worthy been used. How can this table-culture, which is focused on the work, the labor, the prosperity, the transformation of the living and working environment, be turned into a cultural phenomenon? Theideaissimple: if something is to be done with the transformation of Sofia, which is getting solidarity around a common municipal project, the spaces of the private-group publicity should be involved – the restaurants, the bars, the clubs, even the chalga discothèques. Because, let’s not delude ourselves, the last 20 years of the so called “transition” have had all kinds of effects on the city, and the most significant being that they had turned it into city of individualists, whose community sense extends not much further than their family and friends. It is well known that the successful capitalism inevitably undergoes the stage of severe individualism, so it could overcome it into some more refined forms of community solidarity shared care for the inhabitat. The nightlife of Sofia is the one to be used for the cause “European capital of culture”. As it namely is the one at the current situation that works for the simplifying and the lack of culture of the contemporary citizen of Sofia. If this first community project does not include the nighttime Sofia with its vitality and dynamics, the capital is not very likely to win over the other Bulgarian cities. Here namely we would hope that owners and staff together with the regular visitors and random ones to gather for one worthy common goal – the transformation of nighttime Sofia into cultural environment of higher, more community-sensitive and playful, constructive and creative order. We anyway spend so much of our time as leisure, and we spend it in notoriously low-quality, unhealthy and dangerous for ourselves and the others manner; it is time to use the chance to replace the cigarettes and the extra alcohol with culture, art and intellectually artistic games. 

So the key objective of such community municipal project is with no doubt to create new audiences and to attract the regular audiences of low, mass and non-quality culture to the middle and high class culture that has self-conscious, self-ironic, provocative and critical attitude. This could be done mainly through encouragement of contemporary art and culture projects, which have chosen to destroy the boundary between high and popular art and which count mostly on the critical auto-reflexivity, which gathers in creative partnership the artist and the audience, the context and the environment. That means not only creating new audiences, but also their active inclusion to the creative and cultural-constructing process. Thus these audiences are turned into participators, into active co-authors of the artistic, cultural and game artifacts. This empathetic inclusion means that the big project Sofia – European capital of culture would need most of all such type of artists that perceive their role not so much as unique individualists, but also not as community-oriented and socially sensitive, as well as specifically creative ones in the frames of facilitation and moderation of group initiatives and projects. This, of course, should not be abused, but the motivation of enough artists, who involve participating audiences and co-authoring audiences, would be of significant importance for the success of the big project.

Regarding the problem about the type of culture comprehension that should be chosen, from the above said it should be evident, that the anachronistic, sentimentally-romantic comprehension of culture should be abandoned, just like the one, which treats it as outgrown childhood, as past time, as overcome history, as the great past of the tradition, classics, the treasury, the national and local memory, etc. By the way the second understanding is especially dangerous as in general the cultural institutions of the managing authorities count namely on it – in accordance with the tradition, but also because it is easier and less risky. These hard-set ideas should give a way to the culture of today, in which the high art forms should co-act with cultural products and practices, which change the individual, the group and the community, the living environment, the spiritual context and the urban atmosphere. So the critical and self-ironic type of culture of the Shopska community, which in the same time has overcome the usual Bulgarian shame and elementarism, as well as the not less usual pride and self-confidence, should be the one that in the same time imposes to the citizens of the capital and makes good impression on the jaded European, who could not easily be impressed by simple aesthetical show-offs and pretentiously-naïve cultural efforts. The sense of humor, the double bottom and the double plan, the irony, the playfulness and parody are obligatory for a culture like ours, assuredly getting behind in technical aspect, to be able to find an adequate spot under the sun of the jaded global cultural interest.

And finally, it is extremely important the cultural projects for Sofia to play actively with the idea and the reality of the natural resources of the city. Sofia is among the few European metropolises, in which the nature does not look to large extend cultivated and culturalized, so it looses entirely its self-reliance and alternative power. The parks, which still smell like wild and untamed and especially the Vitosha mountain, should all be geared into cultural initiatives and practices, which would retain this natural self-sufficiency and alternativeness of the green areas in and around our city. It is extremely important to create such cultural projects that are not just eco-projects, but contain authentic care and conciseness for one incorporated, but not functionalized natural otherness.

And so: the interiors and people of nighttime Sofia, the new audiences, turned into creative participators, the decentralization of places for cultural action and happening, the incorporation, motivation and activation of those zones, which for years have been seen as dormitories, in which people are going to sleep, hidden in their homes, than live and make them alive through cultural and ennobling the environment community initiatives and finally one smart postmodern realization of the powerful nature within the system of our city, so that it could preserve its vital and vibrant alternativeness – all of this to lead us to one wise Sofia

Sofia, which grows, but is also growing up!


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