Stefan Karadzha 35
Vishovgrad, Bulgaria



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In dialoge with artist in residence Mikael Lo Presti / ARV.I October 2017

Mikael Lo Presti (b. Sweden) is a visual artist living and working in Malmö, Sweden. He is currently occupied with his upcoming exhibition at gallery STANDARD(OSLO) in May 2018.

Lars Nordby: In October I invited you to stay at ARV.I together with Calle Segelberg, Beatrice Alexanian and Stephanie Bech. I invited you to live there, use the studio and work freely on your current individual projects. You were not only the first artists in residence at ARV.I, you are also a very close friend of mine. This was the first opportunity for me to see how the place itself practically manages several people living there at the same time, and a great way to share thoughts and ideas about the current situation and future of ARV.I with artists I know and admire.

Mikael, you were one of the first to arrive Vishovgrad. You spent ten days in Bulgaria, not much, but still you managed to experience village life and see a lot of other places, such as a few museums and galleries in the region. What was your expectations and did they alter during your stay?

Mikael Lo Presti: Yes, me and Calle Segelberg arrived at the same time. I have to say that I did not have any expectations at all, I mean I knew so little about Bulgaria. I have a childhood friend from there, and his father was cool. But all in all, my knowledge about Bulgaria is pretty blank. However, my first impression was, except the scary highways, the landscape, parts of it somehow reminded me of a Morandi painting. And then off course the ARV.I residency itself, which was amazing. I think me and Calle looked at each other thinking that we should have stayed for at least a month. The garden is beautiful and the studio is perfect. The weather was great, so we spent most of our days outside painting bare-bodied, feeling like old Sunday painters. None of us had a specific project we were working on, but thinking about it now, I came up with some ideas there which I’m still working on now, and have resulted in a series of paintings that will be shown in May.

LN: I do remember that, seeing you two in the garden painting, listening to Bulgarian radio and drinking locally produced wine. Due to a limited number of days, your stay was mostly about getting to know the place, the region and just having a good time. Still, we got you guys some paint and a couple of meters of canvas. Materials in general, specifically for painters, aren't hard to find and are cheap. That being said, life in general is quite different to what you are used to. How did you guys find the local store, the food and basic needs?

MLP: You gave us an introduction to the store and how it worked as one of the first things you did, and that was important. Since it's the only store, and it's very small and it also functions as the local bar there were some things to learn, for example, the fridge containing chicken also functions as the bar table, eggs only come in at a certain time of the day and you have to be introduced to the storekeepers Danche and Galin (mother and son) to be allowed to go behind the counter and pick the things you need. The store was also a great hang-out spot for a cold beer after some hard work. A radio plays Bulgarian music constantly 24/7 and the locals sits there all night.

LN: ...and during the day. Danche's place is surely the heart of the village. Can't imagine the place without it. I also introduced you guys to some other places in Veliko Turnovo, the old capital of Bulgaria, 40 minutes from Vishovgrad. It's a beautiful city, a hidden gem with so much potential. There are galleries, museums and stuff to do there, but there is an undercurrent of a new generation that tries really hard to initiate, sustain and institutionalize a contemporary approach to art. Do you remember TAM? Beatrice and Stephanie had a show there after you guys left. On that note, I'm planning on organizing more exhibitions there this semester.

MLP: I do remember Veliko Tarnovo, of course, how could I not, and TAM is surely included in what I remember about the city. There are anecdotes and certain places I could bring up, but I don't know where I would start. But to say something, it is a very beautiful city, and the guys working in TAM seemed to be super nice people with serious ambitions. It was quite the opposite of Vishovgrad in the sense that there was a lot of restaurants and bars, and people looking like any hipster in Norway or Sweden speaking good English.

LN: Your exhibition in May and the series of paintings you mentioned, could you share some of the ideas you got during your stay in Vishovgrad?

MLP: Well, maybe ideas was the wrong word to use. It’s perhaps better to describe it as visual hang-ups. I sketched on some themes there which has become a repetitive occurrence in most of my paintings I will show in May - what that is you have to see then (hehe). And also I was confronted with some stereotypes of Eastern Europe. Poverty and infrastructure was a visual problem in some places, and other stereotypes were not true at all, the young people of Veliko Tornovo is an example of that. It's "funny" how one can build a relationship to a place that is like a postcard over all the clichés. I remember having one of those typical "hostel conversations" with some backpackers at TAM, "Bulgaria is actually nice!", or "Sweden...vikings!" and "So do you have mafia members in your family in Sicily?".

LN: Inevitable, isn't it, around the corners of the world. Yet, it somehow creeps up on you relentlessly in certain places. As Veliko Turnovo feels stereotypically bound to a past, there is no doubt that the new generation of young creatives is opening its door to the threshold of a western horizon.

MLP: Or perhaps a future that does not have to be bound to a western cliché neither. I think it can be problematic to equate a western lifestyle with successful development. However, there seemed to be a sense of urgency among the young people, and that was cool to see!

LN: True. The equation of success and the westernized east is a hot potato worth cooling down over a samosa another day.

Mike, I'm really glad you took your time for this and that you enjoyed your stay in Vishovgrad. I'm excited about the little touch of Vishovgrad in your upcoming exhibition. Good luck! I hope to see you in Vishovgrad for a longer period of time in the near future. Anything you would like to share with other visitors out there?

MLP: Hmm, what would I like to share? Go to the market in Pavlikeni, and when your there have a beer at "Beyonce". And if you are lucky (back in Vishovgrad) you will find the truffles man, and get some really nice truffles for free!