Critics’ Picks

Martin Penev, Piles of Things We Ignore (detail), 2021, textiles, bamboo, dimensions variable. Photo: Yana Lozeva.

Martin Penev, Piles of Things We Ignore (detail), 2021, textiles, bamboo, dimensions variable. Photo: Yana Lozeva.

Sofia

“The Possible Institution”

SWIMMING POOL
10 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd 5th floor
April 24–June 13, 2021

For Swimming Pool’s group show “The Possible Institution,” Maria Nalbantova’s installation, Institutional Leisure, 2021, transforms the gallery’s titular blue-tiled rooftop pool into a conversation pit, with Astroturf carpeting the pool bottom and the tops of a set of benches. When viewed from above, the sunken seating area resembles an array of Tetris blocks. The space thus recalls the modular constraints of conventional cubicle culture, but also teases an opportunity to escape those bounds.

Within the exhibition, these two concepts—the limits of current institutions and the possibility of breaking free from them to imagine new futures—translate across a broad array of media. In Martin Penev’s Piles of Things We Ignore, 2021, plush textile cubes packed into bamboo cages evoke objects and ideas packed up and set aside, forgotten. As with Nalbantova’s grassy pool, Penev’s impounded pillows serve as a backdrop for performance pieces and workshops, like Ina Valentinova’s series “From Still Life To. . .,” which engages participants in free still-life-drawing exercises, and Yasen Vasilev’s collective movement workshop “A Score for an Empty Swimming Pool.”

All of the artists in the show are Bulgarian, and their projects are presented on a rooftop overlooking some of Sofia’s biggest institutions: the church of Alexander Nevsky, the National Gallery of Art, and the Largo, the Soviet-era architectural ensemble that now serves as the city’s political hub. This setting brings their contributions into dialogue with the capital’s power structures while showcasing the possibilities of a more open-ended and creative a society.