words Emily Georgieva
photography Place 167
Let us take you inside the house, where people live, breathe and create art. It is an emblematic symbol of a kind of future more of us need to be focused on, the kind of future that inspires, gets people together and gives them space to express what they now and feel through the means of art.
‘A Place For You And Your Artistic Project’ – this is how Place 167 advertises their purpose. It is an interesting project, unique for its location and the talented people, which it celebrates. The creators of Place 167 started working on their well-thought-through idea a while ago and never stopped developing it until they made sure it turned out exactly the way they imagined it would be. Their efforts didn’t disappoint.
Since the house, located on Georgi S. Rakovsky Str. opened its doors to visitors, the team hasn’t stopped working on the project. They make sure to keep searching for new talents and their unique work to showcase, as well as tailoring the exhibitions to the theme of the art that they put on show. Their efforts paid off from the very beginning. A lot of buzz has been created because of the ideology of Place 167 and the organisers are enjoying a well-deserved attention.
The idea is simple – they have the location, a historic building that doesn’t even need introducing, artists from all ages, to make sure that the love for art and creativity can unite many, and the passion to organise creative exhibitions, which speak volumes to the guests, who don’t want to miss out on a single event.
I contacted Asya Ognyanova, who is part of the team of Place 167. We discussed how it all started, the people, who made the project possible, the talents, whose work can be seen hanging on the walls of the charming house and, of course, we talked about what the future holds for the Place.
Your project started in May this year and was inspired by the photo exhibition celebrating the wok of Johana Trayanova. Tell me more about what inspired you to transform the house located on Georgi S. Rakovski Str. into an art temple.
The house, which hosts Place 167, has over 120 years of rich history. It has been built in 1897 by Hristo Popov (1858 – 1951), a Bulgarian officer, lawyer, graduate of the St. Petersburg Military Academy and the University of Geneva, prominent public figure and politician, mayor of Sofia and Minister of Interior. Before the 9th September, there has always been an artistic atmosphere, surrounding the house as the owners and follow occupants have been lovers of art, science, literature and music.
We have been thinking about doing something special with the house for a while, but it felt like the moment was never right, as if the idea hadn’t been fully developed yet and we didn’t have a clear idea about what exactly we wanted to do with it. One day a spontaneous conversation between Stefan, Johanna and Deyan changed it all and just like that Pace 167 was born. Up until that moment, Johanna and Deyan have been looking for a place to showcase Johanna’s debut exhibition. They have discussed various options, visited different locations, yet couldn’t pick a suitable place that was going to suit the soul of Johanna’s work. We showed them the house… Everything started falling into place from then onwards… It was like a dream, which suits the situation perfectly as Johanna’s exhibition was called ‘DREAMING’.
How does your team manage to grab the audience’s attention and get them interested in what you are doing with the exhibitions? Do you believe that this could be a success in the long run?
Yes, of course we believe in it, otherwise we wouldn’t have been doing it in the first place. We believe that people need some dreaming time, away from the fast-paced everyday life. Our place is exactly that: it has stopped in time, it is dreamy, and it works as a pier for dreamers. This serves to prove why people have been showing so much interest in our project from the very beginning.
We are active across all our social medias, from where our ever-growing audience stays informed about all past exhibitions and the ones that are up to come. At the beginning, we owed the huge media interest in what we were doing to the fact that the house has been transformed into an artistic space since the 19th century instead of it ending up as an office building.
Tell us more about the artists, which work makes the walls of the charming, old house so beautiful. What aspects of their work impressed your team and made you decide to honour it with exhibitions?
The artists, which we carefully choose, in a way have our own characteristics.
Our idea is to give a chance and space for debuting artists to showcase their work, regardless of age. However, a lot of talented people, who are involved in making art or have other different creative ideas, have shown a lot of interest in what we are doing. Eventually, we choose the artists and causes, which we stand behind and support, and it all comes down to several criteria: the idea, which they come up with, the way they present it and the artistic value, which we see in it. These are all very subjective factors, of, course, which is why the whole team gathers together to evaluate, argue, discuss and at least make a final decision. The one thing that over-weighs all other factors, however, and all of us always keep in mind, is our belief in the talent of the people, who come to show their work and ideas to us.
Art never really dies – it survives the obstacles of time and lives forever. What do you think is important and needed to turn a simple photograph into a piece of art?
According to my team, a photograph is considered art when it manages to provoke, when it tells stories, which are universal for humanity. Equally important for us is, as I mentioned above, the idea and the way it has been represented so that it can mean something to the viewer.
The first exhibition was organised in May 2018 and was dedicated to the concept of dreaming and the mysterious feeling, which all of us have probably experienced after waking up, not being able to reach, nor remember what our dream was about. In order to give more depth to the event, you had included light installation, made from fluff and cotton. Do you have any plans to develop your events using lights and the means of light effects to go along with exhibiting the artists’ work? Perhaps, you have even thought about working with artists, who create with light and exhibit their work alongside collections of photography?
Our first exhibition ‘DREAMING’ recreated an unrealistic, almost surreal atmosphere with the help of light, as well as sound installations. For this purpose, we involved a composer and lightning consultant, alongside the photographer Johanna. This is how we started developing the concept that for different exhibitions, we will change the idea of space according to the theme of the art, which we exhibit at the time. Later, we partnered with a film centre to organise the exhibition, called ‘NOT MY ART’ by Alexander Stanishev. The space was suddenly filled with furniture and interesting object to end up representing a lair of a mysterious artist, who was trying to interpret the same work repeatedly. The project ‘AMONG THE FLOWERING RAILS’ was interweaved with the photograph of New Zealander Jack and the poetry of Chavdar Angelov, presented in a clean and tidy photographic installation.
‘COLOR BLUES’, Martin Iliev’s photo exhibition, alongside ‘TALK TO ME’ – the author’s exhibition of Christina Vatova – are already planned What is the detail that distinguish these projects and makes the special?
Both projects are the very first solo exhibitions of the artists. They certainly continue to follow the concept of Place 167.
What can we expect from Place 167 in the near future? Are you planning any exciting projects that we need to keep an eye on?
During most of November, people will have the opportunity to see an exhibition, dedicated to paint: starting with the pastel works of Christina Vytova and her exhibition ‘TALK TO ME’, and finishing with impressions, created by Dafina Molova. Each one of the projects managed to touch us, managed to reflect us as well and we believe that it should reach more people. We purposefully arranged those colourful exhibitions to take place during November – the month, which lets warmth slip away to pave the way to the cold weather and the grey colours. We wanted t to offer our guests a colourful and cosy island, where they can recharge, they can sense the inspirational energy and take a sip of art.
As for December, each weekend before Christmas we are working on a special thing we keep as a secret. Stay tuned to learn more.
Do you think that the central location of the gallery, positioned in the capital, Sofia, gives you the advantage to reach and inspire more people? What feedback do you receive from the guests, who have attended your events?
We are not only aiming at focusing on photography, but rather value and pay attention to all forms of art – we have provided a space for creative expression to photographers, painters, people creating cutting-edge art, performers, even cinema and stand-up comedies, literary readings and combinations between different forms of art. In short – we focus on everything that is art related.
To answer your question more specifically, we do think that the location of one of the most emblematic streets of Sofia, which is the street with the most galleries in the capital, does help what we are doing. The house, the place, the address, the fact that it has been built across the house of Yavorov, the architecture, the facade and the back yard – it all marks the right symbiosis of elements that assembles the complete picture. People, we manage to reach, can sense that easily as well. It is the one thing that unites their reaction as everybody can ‘feel’ the place and eventually become submissive to its magic.
What was the most challenging obstacle that you came across while working on turning your project into a reality? What advice would you give to young photographers, artists and dreamers so that they can keep creating and one day you can find the next person, who will inspire you as much as Johanna Trayanova?
We faced a lot of obstacles while trying to create Place 167, but this strengthened our team and helped us become even more passionate about what we were trying to do. There was one thing that always kept us going, no matter what we were faced against – our faith in the future of the project, in the talent of the artists and the need to have a place of such kind in the capital. No matter the difficulties, we kept working so that Place 176 can keep being an open stage for debuting artists.
This is the advice we would like to give to the young, talented people – to be brave and truthful in the making and the expression of their art.
Your team is very cool – Stefan Ognianov, Marin Marinov, Stela, Johanna, Deyan and Virginia. Did I miss to mention anyone?
Stella is a guest to our team, while Asya Ognianova, as well as Sava and Annie Komitski are part of the core team.
Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Thank you all for the interest in Place 167. You are all welcome to visit our upcoming events, happening during the months of November and December.
The exhibition ‘TALK TO ME’ is currently on show at Place 167, Rakovski Str., Sofia, Bulgaria.