Off Site: Artists' Balkan Expedition

Super Fantastico


Leannej and My Name is Scot meet Petko Dourmana, Bulgarian artist and social activist, and visit a beach town on the coast of the Black Sea.

, an established Bulgarian artist and social activist. We talked about one of his pro­-Tibet works, which involved embedding the portrait of the Dalai Lama on a Chinese flag. When exposed to ultra­violet light, the flag disappears and the Dalai Lama’s portrait is revealed. Petko is one of the many Bulgarian supporters of an independent Tibet.

During this trip I realized I have been seeing double: imposing familiar landscapes on top of less familiar and new landscapes. Part of the Off Site project is to explore the notion of what it means to be “here.” We talked with some friends, also artists, about how hard it is to be here. I look at a mountain or lake I have not seen before, and, like with Dourmana’s flag, another more familiar mountain or lake emerges. I am having trouble seeing what is in front of me.

Super Fantastico (Or Why Didn’t I Stay Home)42.696112, 23.344891

If I need something in Vancouver, I just go out to the store and pick it out or ask for it. I pay what is requested of me, without asking for the amount to be written down or trying to convert the currency in my head. I wouldn’t leave the store feeling humbled and embarrassed because I can only speak in broken phrases. I wouldn’t have to settle for what I got, because I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted.

So maybe this is why I travel.

The Sea42.782020, 28.100349

“People always want the place to remain the same, after they get here.” I can’t remember who said this but I think it is true. It is a variation of loss aversion: the instinct that makes us want to hold on to what we have acquired.

When we decided to go to the Black Sea, along the coast of Bulgaria, something many Bulgarians do in the summer, many of our Bulgarian friends discouraged us. They spoke of the over-development along the coast and the many unfinished resorts, their huge empty buildings polluting the landscape: in particular Ravadinovo Castle, a faux medieval castle/resort that has more to do with Disneyland than anything in Bulgaria.

There are many other excesses along the Black Sea coast. But there is also the sheer beauty in the scope and the scale of the sea. Ukraine and Russia are just across the sea. For centuries, people have stood on this beautiful coastline, looking east, hoping the coast will remain the same when they return.

The Estuary42.064611, 27.979764

Sinemorets is a beach town on the southern side of the Bulgarian coast along the Black Sea. It is home to a biological reserve with a protected estuary and some of the best beaches to be found on the coast. To get to the beach from the town, you walk through protected, rolling bluffs. It is very picturesque, the golden bluffs stretching out the blue grey sea in the distance. There are no trees, just tufts of beach grass and sea holly, and a larger than life-size sculpture of a man.

The man sculpture is made of local grasses and seeds and wrapped in jute. Underneath the layers of jute and grass, is a hidden wire frame. The sculpture has a kinetic feel to it: it appears to be running, in mid-stride, balanced on one foot. It is the only feature that stands out from the miles of grassy plain and the sea. It was almost impossible to get a picture of the man sculpture without people standing in front of it. It was like a magnet, drawing people from all over to this one place. The one distinguishable man-­made feature in the midst of immense vastness.

Roads and Sidewalks42.690890, 23.300257

It is 39 degrees in Sofia and the heat is radiating off the cement. Within half a block of walking these heat­-choked streets, you begin to wonder if you will make it to your destination.

Scientists talk about the 2 degree temperature increase that would put the earth over the threshold. Standing outside in this heat, I think about water just before it comes to a boil. How one minute the water is still, and then it is boiling. Two degrees seems like such a small number, but it is such a big increment.

All photos by My Name is Scot.



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