In addition to prominent and established artists in the field of new artistic practices, such as Vladimir Ivanov, Veselin Dimov and Tsvetan Krastev, at the end of the twentieth century, other artists experimented in Varna as well. For example, in September 1988, the artists Koyno Koynov, Yavor Tsanev and Vasil Vasilev presented one of the first exhibitions in the country with objects and installations – in the halls of the Union of Bulgarian Artists in Varna, at 65 Lenin Blvd (now Knyaz Boris I Blvd). At that time, they were already members of the "Group of Ten", founded in the Vulcan factory by V. Ivanov. A catalogue was printed for the exhibition, which was considered by specialists such as S. Stefanov the first catalogue of new visual forms in Bulgaria.  In this article, in addition to certain objects and installations, I will also draw attention to biographical facts from the lives of the three Varnian artists, which I believe will be of interest to the readers.
A special place in the above-mentioned exhibition of the three Varnian artists is allocated to Koyno Koynov’s objects and installations. In addition to being individual works, they are a kind of conceptual framework of the exhibition and interact with some of the works by V. Vasilev and Y. Tsanev. First, though, a few words about the sculptor.
Koyno Koynov was born in 1962 in the town of Valchi Dol (Varna province). As a student, he went to art classes taught by the sculptor Alyosha Kafedzhiyski.  For several years, the artist lived in Veliko Tarnovo and, attending the workshops of the faculty of fine arts at the Tarnovo University, built on his knowledge and skills. According to K. Koynov, he gained an idea of contemporary foreign art thanks to the Polish Project magazine, to which the Varna regional library was subscribed. Along with other artists, he visited it and gained access to the magazine thanks to his acquaintances with the librarians. After arriving in the city, the artist became a member of the Group of Seven.
At the joint exhibition with Y. Tsanev and V. Vasilev, K. Koynov composed several wooden structures with individual, smaller triangular boards separating the gallery space (illustrations 2, 5, 6). Around one of the supports of the installation, he arranged round stones in a semicircle (ill. 2). In the words of the artist, the round stones are an aesthetic counterpoint to the correct and sharp geometric shapes in the installation, and can be interpreted as a metaphor of the natural beginning. V. Vasilev's sculpture Head, placed on part of K. Koynov’s wooden structure, became an element of the installation, which thus began to remind a pagan sanctuary with a fetish.
The handmade wooden structure also resembles an architectural form, for example, the carcass of a house, thereby symbolising the human creative labour. In support of this opinion came the statement of the art critic Rumen Serafimov in connection with the work of K. Koynov: "In this structure, devoid of everything specific and individual, where mathematical regularities rule, there is twisting and intertwining of connections, passages and obstacles, an aspiration to exit its own boundaries, focuses and "sacral" centres".
R. Serafimov compared the structure to "the horizontals, verticals and diagonals of a clean and abstract structure of the human and natural relations". This metaphorical comparison goes back to the archaic idea of the isomorphism of the human and the house. As for modern associations, parallels with abstractionism are relevant here, and in particular with the paintings of Piet Mondrian, reminiscent of geometric linear equations (ill. 3).
Composition with gray and light brown, 1918.
- Photographer: Jud Haggard
- Copyright: 2012 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International Virginia
K. Koynov placed a large wooden triangular plane next to the window on a gradient and put on it stones (one of them lay in the likeness of a container), which he also situated on the floor. Above it was part of the wooden structure with ropes tied to the plane. Part of the installation went beyond the walls of the building and ended in the street (4). Thus, the artist's idea of expanding the space of the work was implemented, which could also be interpreted as a literalisation of the metaphor for the expansion of the boundaries of art, and more precisely for the postmodernist blurring of the boundaries between art and life. It should be noted that the sound to the installation was implemented with ancient Chinese meditative music, which gave it a hybrid aspect.
K. Koynov’s spatial wooden structure is the main unifying, conceptual moment in the exhibition. On this occasion, R. Serafimov wrote: "Within this conditional scheme (the structure of the installation – I. D.), the signs of individuality, of the personal beginning emerge and come to life. (...) Thus, this exhibition is going a kind of a path through the peculiar, seemingly contradictory, even absurd combination of the sculptural structures of Koyno Koynov, which enter the sphere of the so-called primal sculpture, with the lyrical and emotional painting style in the figurative and abstract paintings of Vasil Vasilev and with the outright figurativeness (...) of Yavor Tsanev.".
In the center of the gallery, K. Koynov placed a sea stone, whose shape the artist associated with a female figure. He lit a fire in it, and this act can be associated with an archaic ritual of worship of a sacral object, for example, the goddess of fertility (Mother Earth) or a male idol . In the folk beliefs, fire is one of the main elements of the universe and is associated with the divine and male beginnings . My assumption is confirmed by the fact that the art commission, in accepting this creative solution, required the artist to sign a declaration that there was no religious intent in the ignition of the fire. In the opinion of K. Koynov, the reason this object was admitted was that by the end of the 1980s the art commissions were more tolerant of that kind of experimentation.
The other objects in this exhibition are sheep skins stretched with ropes on a subframe or on a wall, on which the naïvistic drawings are made with charcoal (ill. 5). The selected images, such as a buffalo and a man (with a helmet and a spear), imitate prehistoric rock drawings, and the use of natural materials (sheepskin and charcoal) also makes reference to primitive art. Therefore, there is a reanimation of archaic images, materials and imaging techniques. In terms of postmodern aesthetics, those images of an imitating nature could also be seen as postmodern simulacres. K. Koynov embedded the canvas with the drawn buffalo in a wooden structure – resembling a frame with a triangle. Next to one of the supporting slats of the structure, he placed a round stone which, in his words, balanced the triangle in the composition with its oval shape.
The next installation is of two wooden triangular boards attached to slats, with ropes passing through holes in the slats (ill. 6). They cross each other, and at one of their intersections the artist hanged a round stone. In a conversation with us, K. Koynov likened the intersecting ropes to energy fields (paths) that, through their intersection, provoke an event in the space. In the words of the artist, the suspended stone is the event, and the flat stone beneath it is its reflection. Thus, according to K. Koynov, each event affects the space, leaving traces. The ropes that wrap the columns in the gallery continue the metaphorical realization of the idea of energy flows.
Postmodernism has always emphasized the polysemy and multilayeredness of its works, suggesting a diversity of their interpretations. That gives me another reason to make one more assumption. It is noticeable that many elements in the installations (the round stone, the triangle, the circle, etc.) are repeated, which indicates a postmodernist multiplication of images. In the visual context, where folklore and mythological concepts materialize, the triangle symbolizes the male beginning , and the circle and oval stone – the female one (ibid). This is also supported by the spatial position of the elements in the installation: the triangles are at the top (suspended) and the circles and stones lie on the ground.
The basis of the third installation is an old English steam locomotive, which was brought on the idea of the artist in front of the gallery illegally, at night (ill. 7). It had been part of the Museum of Agricultural Machinery in Valchi Dol, established by K. Koynov and his classmates under the direction of one of the teachers already in the secondary school years of the artist. After a while, the museum was closed and especially for the exhibition K. Koynov, together with several workers, salvaged the locomotive that had been stuck in a swamp and transported it to Varna.
The transportation could be seen as a performance whose culmination was the parking of the machine in front of the exhibition hall. The artist placed wooden beams in its wheels and tied it with ropes to the columns in front of the gallery. The mere tethering of the vehicle (a steam locomotive) as a symbol of progress is associated with the tethering of an animal used as a means of transport. Thus, the idea of regression is materialised, and in a grotesque form. My assumption is also confirmed by the words of the artist himself, who interprets the tethering of the machine and the blocking of the wheels as "a symbol of the blocked movement of progress" . The very transformation of the steam locomotive into a ready-made object is a typical postmodernist technique that reproduces artistic practices from the avant-garde and pop-art. The transition of the technical object into the field of the artistic is accompanied, as it was said, by a change in its meanings – from purely pragmatic, economic, to symbolic, pictorial (visual). In this case, there can also be a discussion about a travesty of the "serious" narrative (myth), such as the technical progress. In this regard, I will remind of the kinetic installations of Jean Tinguely made of machine parts. It is indicative that most of K. Koynov's exhibited works did not have names, which is a kind of postmodernist approach, opening up more possibilities for different interpretations.
Vasil Vasilev was born in 1957 in the town of Zmeyno, Targovishte province (ill. 8). From 1977 to 1982, he studied painting at the University of Veliko Tarnovo. According to V. Vasilev, as a young artist, he had information about what was happening in contemporary art in the West. During the university's art history lectures, though criticised, the 20th-century Western art was the subject of analysis, and the students had the opportunity to become acquainted with the works of Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and others: "Western art was criticised, but they still discussed it.... No one read the texts, we were interested in the reproductions". He also shares that in the public libraries artists obtained information from Western magazines (e.g. Art in America and Kunstforum International), and some of the Bulgarian print media, such as the Lik magazine, were rich enough in translated articles and materials on contemporary foreign art, including Western one.
After graduation, in 1984 V. Vasilev returned to Varna and was given a studio at the Vulcan factory. Together with the artists Yavor Tsanev, Boyan Boev and others, he joined the "artistic colony". In his studio, V. Vasilev deepened his painting pursuits, and also began to do sculpture. For his works, the artist drew motifs from nature, but for him it was only a starting point which he disregarded, paying particular attention to colour and composition. When asked about the path to the "unconventional", V. Vasilev believes that for him it was more like a game and the leading part in it was that of intuition. An important role in the development of the artist, in his words, also played the professional environment and, in particular, the contacts with artists from the Vulcan, such as V. Ivanov, K. Koynov, A. Gemdzhiyan, etc.
At the exhibition, V. Vasilev presents paintings and sculptures. The vitality characterizing his paintings is also translated to the three-dimensional form. For the portrait sculpture, he has chosen a generalized approach, and in individual places, using the painting layer, he has emphasized it with colorful accents (ill. 9). The classic presentation of the head on a pedestal is combined with an unconventional selection of materials – it is made of stone and the pedestal is made of wood. The rough processing of the head is stylistically influenced by the archaic specimens in the sculpture of the Neolithic era. The white collar, as a contemporary accessory, brings secular sophistication to the image and at the same time creates a comic grotesque effect. The wooden pedestal can be treated as part of a bust, and also as a Doric column. The sculpture is placed on a beam – part of K. Koynov’s installation (ill. 2). Thus, the exhibition becomes a "single conceptual entity" (Serafimov). As I have already noted, this composition can also be interpreted as an ancient sanctuary or its simulacre.
At the exhibition, V. Vasilev presents other paintings of abstract and figurative nature, and some of them similarly to the work Head also form a kind of composition with K. Koynov’s installations.
Yavor Tsanev was born in Sofia (1956-2014) but grew up in Varna. When he was 15, he started attending drawing lessons under the famous Varnian educator Katya Arsova, who motivated him to choose the profession of the artist. At the same time, his radio set accidentally tuned to the waves of the BBC and Deutsche Welle and Y. Tsanev began listening to the rubrics dedicated to culture every week. Thus, he heard the names of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and other Western artists for the first time. From 1976 to 1982, Y. Tsanev studied Graphic Arts under Prof. Petar Chuklev at the Academy of Art in Sofia.
According to the artist, during his studies at the National Academy of Art (1976-1982), in the library of the academy he had access to foreign (Western European) art, both through magazines (Artnews, Kunstforum International, etc.) and through albums. Interestingly, there were restrictions for freshers and sophomores; for example, the albums of Salvador Dali or Max Ernst could only be viewed from the students in their last years, and reproductions of impressionists were also available to freshers. At that time, Y. Tsanev became acquainted with the Eastern philosophy and poetry (Taoism, the Upanishads) and Greek history (e.g. Plutarch's Parallel Lives). According to the artist, Taoism helped him to abstain from reality and find his way into art, stressing that owing to this teaching he preserved his personal and creative self.  After arriving in Varna (1981), Y. Tsanev was given a studio in the Vulcan factory, and in 1988 he became a member of the Group of Ten.
At his joint exhibition with V. Vasilev and K. Koynov, he displays paintings, drawings and graphic art inspired by the ancient mythology. One of the works is the installation Swing (ill. 12) that is a structure resembling a swing, with a drawing of a sitting female figure fastened to the middle of a wooden plane in the middle. This work, similarly to the sculpture Head by V. Vasilev, somewhat forms a part of K. Koynov’s installation.
Due to the detailed drawing of the head, the work can be defined as a full-length female portrait, done in a free manner, in which Y. Tsanev left the surface unfilled in places. The combination of the "real" (three-dimensional) cradle structure and the "abstract" (two-dimensional) image of a human figure creates a visual and semantic contrast. The swing in an ironic way changes its function – it is designed not for people, but for works of art.
The exhibition of K. Koynov, V. Vasilev and Y. Tsanev is an artistic experiment with pronounced hybridity – the main features of postmodernism. It manifests itself in the combination of: new visual (object, installation) and traditional forms (painting, drawing, sculpture); abstract (K. Koynov’s objects and installations and V. Vasilev’s paintings) and mimetic images (the paintings and drawings of Y. Tsanev and partly of V. Vasilev); original natural (stone, leather) and processed natural materials (wooden structure). It should be noted that in this particular exhibition the stone, skin, wood and fire acquire an artistic function – they become objects and installations or their elements. Through K. Koynov’s structure, which "encompasses" the entire gallery, the space is considered primarily artistic rather than exhibition one. Combining the installation with works by Y. Tsanev and V. Vasilev (e.g. Swing and Head) blurs the boundaries between the individual works, which can also be seen as a sign of postmodernist thinking.
The catalogue of K. Koynov, Y. Tsanev and V. Vasilev, including their brief statements about the essence of art, reminiscent of a motto, can be considered as a kind of manifesto. Thus, the Varnian artists turn to the tradition of modernism and avant-garde, for which the written formulation of the ideas by the creators themselves is important. As I already noted in the beginning, this was the first catalogue of an exhibition of experimental forms (ill. 13, 14, 15, 16) known to the Bulgarian art criticism, which in itself can be the object of research.
 The graphic designer of the catalogue was V. Ivanov, who mainly used photo collage – a rarity in the design of books in Bulgaria during those years. The very printing of the catalogue was illegal – without the approval of an art council. Stefanov, S. Innovations in Bulgarian Art at the End of the 20th Century and Beginning of the 21st Century. NAA, 2014, p. 31
 A. Kafedzhiyski is a famous Bulgarian sculptor, creator of a number of monumental sculptures and wall art, such as the figures of the Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship in Varna.
 Serafimov, R. The Sign of the Exhibition. – Art, 1989, No. 2, pp. 27-28.
 Энциклопедический словарь. Славянская мифология. Editors: Petruhin, V. Y., Agapkina, T. A. et al. Moscow, 1995, p. 284.
 Stoynev, A. The Bulgarian Slavs. Mythology and Religion. Narodna Prosveta publishing house, 1988, pp. 43–44; pp. 90–91.
 Тресиддер, Дж. Словарь символов. – В: http://www.gumer.info/bibliotek_Buks/Culture/JekTresidder/218.php.
 Stoynev, A. The Bulgarian Slavs. Mythology and Religion. Narodna Prosveta publishing house, 1988, pp. 43–44; pp. 90–91.
 Despite some controversy with his colleagues from the art commission, the locomotive was left in front of the exhibition hall – From a conversation with K. Koynov.
 From a conversation with V. Vasilev.
 Yaneva, D., Yakimov, N. Foreword to The Vulcan Idea. Slavena publishing house, 2012, p. 3.
 From a conversation with Y. Tsanev.
Stefanov, S. Innovations in Bulgarian Art at the End of the 20th Century and Beginning of the 21st Century., NAA, 2014, p. 31
Serafimov, R. The Sign of the Exhibition. Art Magazine, 1989, No. 2, pp. 27-28. Энциклопедический словарь. Славянская мифология. Editors: Petruhin,
V. Y., Agapkina, T. A. et al. Moscow, 1995, p. 284.
Stoynev, A. The Bulgarian Slavs. Mythology and Religion. Narodna Prosveta publishing house, 1988, pp. 43–44; pp. 90–91.
Тресиддер, Дж. Словарь символов. – В: http://www.gumer.info/bibliotek_Buks/Culture/JekTresidder/218.php.
Yaneva, D. Yakimov, N. Foreword to The Vulcan Idea. Slavena publishing house, 2012, p. 3.
Illustration sources: All photographs of works by the three artists have been provided by them.
Ill. 3. P. Mondrian – Composition with grid No. 1, 1918 – https://bauhausmovement.wordpress.com/category/gerrit-rietveld/
Irena Dimitrova, 2019