Lars Nordby and Carl Mannov

Carl Mannov is a visual artist from Denmark. Nordby is a visual artist from Norway, currently living and working in Vishovgrad, Bulgaria. The last two years Nordby has been trying to get in under the skin of the Bulgarian art scene while working on the conceptual framework of ARV.I.


Carl Mannov: How did you find Vishovgrad?

Lars Nordby: It was my father Knut Nordby, my uncle Erik Nordby and his girlfriend Karima Risk who found the place back in 2005. Exactly how they found it I'm not sure, but there was definitely an artistic motivation behind it due to their artistic practices. An old barn was renovated into a studio and several ideas were being developed. Then a family tragedy happened and the place started gradually to wither.

After I graduated my MFA in 2016 I decided, for several reasons to move to Vishovgrad. The timing couldn’t be better, I needed a studio and there it was. I also needed to plunge into something quite different. So I got motivated to breathe some life back into the place and initiate what has become ARV.I.


CM: Aside from the obvious lush, Mediterranean climate, what is to be gained, as an artist, from working in the heartland of Bulgaria?

LN: In addition to getting access to different workshops around the regions, a distant place to focus on your work and the sources of inspiration when experiencing new culture, history and landscape, there are refreshing situations to be in when working as a contemporary artist in Bulgaria. You will be put a bit out of place. The art scene is for the most part traditional. It’s living but in a frozen time where the curatorial mindset is hanging on to a fishing line. Many of the museums around the regions are nearly shut down. So when I say refreshing, I mean there is an unexpected spontaneity around every corner. The artistic scenery is ready to take any direction at any time and it allows you to play, explore and research in a milieu that breathes improvisation. 



In the end it’s hard for me to say exactly what others will gain personally and artistically during a residency stay here in Vishovgrad, it’s really something I’m looking forward to acknowledge and share in the years to come. But I know from my own experiences that this backyard of Europe is a great place to seek out one’s untold potential.



Not long ago, when you visited me in Vishovgrad, I remember you felt a sense of improvisation around the places we traveled. What did you mean by that?


CM: I think much of what I observed and took in during my time in Bulgaria was the 'waste not, want not' attitude that shows up in all aspects of life there. It's a solution oriented mindset in which you make good with what you've got; a methodology that you and I have come to describe as 'doing it the Bulgarian way'. Its simple, efficient and unintentionally ecological and Zen-like. There's an improvisational rhythm to it which I think is beneficial to artists especially.



But you cannot possibly find yourself aboard that 4 hour long Harry Potter-style train ride which takes you deep into the belly of the Bulgarian beast by way of spontaneity. This requires planning. Like any old dualist concept, spontaneity cannot take place without a plan to digress from. So what is the plan for ARV.I and its beast keeper?

LN: Due to few artist run galleries and alternative spaces around the Bulgarian regions, most of the young artists seek out other countries, and rightly so, but I aim to squeeze out the potential by reversing that tendency. So the overall plan is to invite and work with young and inspiring artists and initiate good projects and exhibitions together. I’ll do my part and make sure that management, organisation and the practical bit goes as smoothly as possible, I’ll even throw in some curatorial ideas along the way. But the modus operandi evolving art production however is a different chapter.



Art and artists travel as never before and platforms for artistic production, reception and distribution are vastly increasing in various forms around the globe. Artist residencies are no exception. It fascinates me to see the magnitude of artist residencies, the various locations, institutional models, ideological approaches, funding, etc. Some residencies are attractive due to their involvement with blockbuster artists, curators and professors; others are attractive due to their bizarre locations. ARV.I being the latter, running on a non-existing budget, is part of a foundation registered in the Central Register of the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice as a public-interest non-governmental organisation, meaning I’ll have to organise an Artist-in-Residency that is both beneficial for the artist and the general public. A juxtaposition that delivers many philosophical viewpoints and practically unfolds many danger zones, as well as a beautiful palette for our contemporary art application language.



So for now, ARV.I is based on the idea of having two different periods for artists to apply to. The one is based on an open individual approach, the other is a collaborative approach where various themes and curatorial research based projects are developed with local cultural institutions. This is a way to engage with the local community and its contextual situation as well as to give way to the unexpected. To have a plan for artists to digress from is important as a milestone for developing specific projects, but I will encourage the individual approach where artists can also work regardless of any programs and topics. I believe in art as the very abstract frontline of identity. Regardless of where you’re from or where you are, when working as an artist one should let go of any norm for a while and have a moment, just to get a perspective on every perplexed reality one is confronted by, then hit back with what you’ve got.


CM: It sounds like ARV.I will be a place of refuge. A hideout where you can get away from it all. This usually implies taking a break, protesting productivity, doing nothing. In our line of work, however, the real chores consist of hanging out at the openings, talking the talk and most importantly - getting there before the wine runs out. In the art world’s endless celebration of itself, getting away from it all perhaps means getting back to work. Do you think of ARV.I as a refuge from the social matrix or is it just the beginning of a soon-to-be thriving art scene?

LN: It’s tempting to say both.

CM: I see, I see... Which brings me to my last and most important question, where do you get the best drinks in the nearby city of Veliko Tarnovo?

LN: I’ll say Tequila Bar, TAM and the Gallery Bar in V. Tarnovo are truly the cultural frontiers around here. But one must experience Danche’s place in Vishovgrad to understand the true nuts and bolts of Bulgaria.