Today, when borderline between design as part of our everyday life and as part of the visual arts is becoming more and more blurred, we take a look back and seek the answer to the question how Bulgarian design looks like compared to the global models in the sector. The last 30 years in Bulgaria were marked by a historic coincidence: the end of the Commuist era and the first steps of democracy on the one hand, and on the other hand - the global changes in the access to information, the way of communication and work through the mass introduction of electronic technology and respectively the modern needs of society, and the solutions design offers for them.
It is inevitable, when tracing back the history of Bulgarian design, not to take into account the damage caused by Socialism in this field and the permanent loss of synchronisation with what was happening in the world. We can only guess what the condition of Bulgarian design would be like if history had taken a different course.
The total nationalisation in 1944 did not bypass visual arts; on the contrary, the country achieved full nationalisation of this sector. The Unon of Bulgarian Artists gained total control of the field of arts and became responsible for the image of the objectual and symbolic world, the layout and the interior design, the packaging of the products and the graphic presentation of the printed publications, the clothing, etc. (Design in the Institutional System at the End of the 1940s to the mid-1970s, Ivan Elenkov // Bulgarian art. 120 years. Design, Sofia, 2016, p. 30) To a large extent, the lack of a market economy and in the absence of competition mostly led to impersonal mass production, despite a few exceptions.
Designers were officially accepted on an equal footing with artists as late as the 1970s, when experimental and assortment facilities (EAF) were established. (From Applied Arts to Design, Violeta Vasilchina // Bulgarian art. 120 years. Design, Sofia, 2016, pp. 43 - 47) It was namely the artists from these associations who began to cooperate with the sector to create greater artistic diversity and new shapes in the production. The success of this breakthrough was not big, but the established practice has remained positive even to date, when such an experiment could prove useful in solving the current problem in design: the lack of mass production of designer products, which on the one hand leads to small limited collections, and on the other hand to low quality of the Bulgarian industry as a whole, in which designers’ professional services are rarely used.
The end of Communism brought about serious changes in the cultural life, too. All fields of the visual arts were encompassed by an institutional and financial crisis. It was impossible for the centralised mechanism of assignment, evaluation and realisation of the products to respond appropriately to the process of democratisation which was initiated. UBA, with its clumsy, hierarchical structure logically lost its function of last instance sanctioning the designer production. (Graphic Design, Boyka Donevska, Georgi Yankov, Nenko Atanasov // Bulgarian Art. 120 years. Design, Sofia, 2016, p. 156) Most enterprises went bankrupt or were privatised and the designers became freelancers, and their clients were private parties or small, newly emerged companies and enterprises; this practice has remained valid to date. In the beginning of the 1990s, the ubiquitous crisis led to uncontrollable free market and an unclear cultural policy, often with amateurs in the role of designers, and where this coincided with principals lacking in taste and insight, the result was an eyesore and simply counterproductive (unfortunately, still common). This is mostly present in graphic design, spatial arrangement, fashion, the souvenir industry, as well as in interior design. We can still remember the first visual manifestations of democracy on book covers withads of designer perfumes, whose picture had nothing in common with the publication in question, the the mindless ads in garish colours, the odd collocations and the Latin alphabet as a replacement of the Cyrillic one, as well as the chaotic and unscrupulous plagiarism of photographs. Visual chaos and a certain confusion of the notions and values occurred. The political changes were not the only ones to blame for that, it was also the penetration of new technologies and the computer, which had already been popularised actively in the Western designer practices at that time. Looking back now, it may seem to us that perhaps the change, as well as in other fields, was very slow, chaotic and uncertain, as despite the fact that the old instances no longer dictated what was happening, they continued to exist and maintain a no longer topical culture. The educational cetres, for example the National Academy of Arts, failed to respond to the changes and continued to train their students using methods that could not keep pace with the new time – a problem which has been topical to date. A good, albeit radical example, can be given with the academy in Bratislava, which after the change completely replaced its teaching staff and thus adapted its curriculum to the new conditions.
Freedom and the opening of the borders started the professional art training and provided the opportunity for a career abroad to a numer of our artists, such as animator Teodor Ushev, architect and designer Elia Nedkov, industrial designer Valentin Vodev, graphic designer Lyuba Lukov, etc., and through training, cooperation, exhibitions and other projects some of them subsequently began passing on their experience to the next generations. There were several positive events and initiatives during the last decade of the 20th century. One of them was the first edition of the International Triennial of Stage Poster, whose initiators were among the most active poster artists at the time – Bozhidar Ikonomov, Bozhidar Yonov, Lyudmil Chehlarov, Georgi Lipovanski, coordinated by Albena Spasova. They imposed a new cultural policy of attracting guests from abroad, initiated a competition and exhibited an international selection of works in Sofia. Another good example was the initiatives in the field of ceramics of the Konus group, which subsequently grew into the St. Spyridon association. Incidentally, a number of plein air events contributed to the breaking of the rigid borders of ceramics. (Ceramics, Violeta Vasilchina // Bulgarian Art. 120 years. Applied. Decorative. Monumental, Sofia, 2014, p. 94) A phenomenon in our culture that was of special significance to the 40-yea-olds today was the Egoist magazine with its powerful visual identity, stylish graphic design, copyrighted photography and the new for the journalism at the time lifestyle sounding of topics that are current for the uoyng generation. The art direction of the magazine was done by Marieta Tsenova and Emiliyan Sabev.
Egoist Magazine, 2003, 2003.
- Photographer: Pavel Chervenkov
- Material: Magazine Cover
Egoist Magazine, 2003, 2001.
- Photographer: Pavel Chervenkov
- Material: Magazine Cover
The Bulgarian design entered the new century after decades of low criteria on the part of the clients and assignments in the field of ceramics, fashion, product and graphic design, which comprised to a great extent copying good Western examples, however often inappropriate for the needs which a certain product had to meet. As a large part of this produce was redirected to toll manufacturing for foreign brands or import of finished products for our market, the need for services provided by the local designers was too low. In the first decade of the 21st century, many of the designers or emerged studios reoriented to the advertising business, which established itself as the most lucrative and thriving one. Designers often go through advertising at various stages of their careers; some find in it a good opportunity for expression, while others eventually return to their personal artistic projects. A good example of this is Kiril Zlatkov, who fortunately did not confine himself to advertising only and today is one of our all-round artists, graphic designers and typographers. His posters, fonts, illustrations, covers and overall visual solutions can be seen on film posters, books, art visions of various events and as signature in different artistic acts.
When I want to remain silent, 2014.
- Material: Туш
- Property of: Kiril Zlatkov
- Copyright: Kiril Zlatkov
As a whole, the birth of a new wave of designers can be noticed in various fields, who see the setting up of an individual practice as the only possible development for themselves. In it, they set authorship, innovative approach and experiment on a pedestal, without turning their back on the function and capacity of the design to solve problems of various nature. The lack of a well functioning industry, or more precisely of one that would emphasise on powerful design, is a circumstance today whereby the new generation of designers start their careers. The artists from that generation who left a mark include Enthusuasm studio (graphic designer Velina Mavrodinova), Dushman collective (their T-shirts are worn by their proud owners to date), Filip Popov with the brand identities created by him, Yana Levieva’s layout of books, Dimitar Delchev’s contemporary jewellery from waste materials, the ceramic items created by Dimitar Petrov, Yana Yunakova, and Rada Dicheva, the experimental fashion shows by Mariela Gemisheva, etc.
"Fish party" (in its very own aroma), 2004.
- Photographer: Dimitar Dilkov
- Material: Photoinstalation + video, DVD, sound,19,05 min. (performance documentation), series of 4 digital color prints, size of each one 53 x 78,6 sm.Fragment
A good example of te start of their own practice was given by Tochka & Tochka studio, who remained leading manufacturer of ceramic items, light fittings, vases, candlesticks and other art items.
design: Rada Dicheva / tochka & tochka product
CHI Pattern Set, 2017.
- Photographer: Rada Dicheva
- Material: porcelain, transparet glaze
- Sizes: big plate 20/30/2cm | deep plate 15/23/4cm | small bowl 8/13/5cm
- Property of: tochka & tochka
- Description: https://www.tochka-tochka.com/
In the recent years, we have witnessed a wave of young specialists returning from abroad, who decided to work in Bulgaria after they completed their education all around the globe. For instance, the Poststudio graphic design studio (founders Andrean Neshev, Valina Stoykova and Magdalena Stancheva).
With their first projects, they demonstated a different style of work in graphic design, which is new to our country but not to the world, as it is heavily influenced by the German and Dutch designer schools. It is interesting to note that it was they who looked back at the history of Bulgarian design and were the authors of the large-scale study on the work of the trademark master знак, Stefan Kanchev, who is popularised in our country and abroad with a book, website and exhibitions. The animators from Finfilm (Vesela Dancheva and Ivan Bogdanov) also play an important role; following their training in the Netherlands, they united both illustartors and animators in joint projects of Compotе Collective, “who otherwise decorate cakes or write graffiti for pleasure”. (Finfilm, Yoana Pavlova // The Bulgarian New Wave, Sofia, 2012, p. 375)
Iliyan Milinov is anther artist worthy of special attention for the international awards in the field of industrial design, among which is the most prestigious award – the Red Dot Design Award. He defines himself as a good designer who solves specific problems, and his remarkable works include the Seattable chair-table for ОRT, the Hang Stool stool hanger and the pregnancy test twip. (melba.bg, Melba – a dynamic online archive, Iliyan Milinov).
The new, increasingly widening boundaries of design are determined not only by the achievemens of the artists, but also by the penetration of other players in the sector, such as gallerists, producers and cultural managers. The Testa gallery in Sofia, as well as the Sariev gallery (which started in 2004 as a gallery focusing on ceramics, while today it is antirely dedicated to contemporary art) only for several years paved the way for innovative design to the general audience. The Testa gallery is a leader in the exhibitions of ceramics and contemporary design of jewellery, with which it helps the development of the local scene, and some of its regular exhibitions include works by artists Nikolay Sardamov, Yana Yunakova, Zhenya Adamova, Dimitar Petrov, Rada Dicheva, Krasen Troanski, Silviya Chaneva, Yana Tankovska, Evgeniya Tsankova, and Victor Pavlov.
Sofia Design Week (subsequently One Design Week), organised by the One Magazine (One foundation for culture and arts) at the initiative of publisher and cultural manager Asen Asenov, was of great significance to the scene. The festival had a major influence on the inclusion of the professional audience in the global designer processes, as well as in the accelerated media popularisation of the design topic among the mass audience. The first edition of the festival in 2009, curated by Vasil Iliev, Andrean Neshev and Velina Stoykova, revealed to the Bulgarian audience a new world of striking examples by leading professionals in the field of how design could look like in the field of graphic, communication and product design, art direction, media layout and design education.
The second decade of the century confirmed increasingly more the artists’ own signature in design: the joint platforms for self-expression, the collective efforts and the first successful group exhibitions outside the country were already a fact. The industry still remained in the background, but despite that there could be seen several successful seria production efforts, such as the furniture of the DontDIY studio, Volen Valentinov or even Konstantin Achkov. The image of design was formed mostly by fashion, ceramics, graphic design and illustration due to the opportunity for small print runs and their presentation within various events and platforms in Bulgaria and abroad.
furniture family "Lese", 2014.
- Photographer: Lyubomir Sergeev
- Material: plywood, policarbonate
- Property of: Konstantin Achkov
- Description: Every furniture in Lese family is minimalistic, interlocking, puzzle structure.
- Copyright: Konstantin Achkov, Lock furniture
- References: https://lock-furniture.com/products/seatings/lowchairs/details?id=1247https://lock-furniture.com, https://www.designboom.com/design/lese-flat-pack-chair-lock-furniture-04-04-2016/,https://mocosubmit.com/konstantin-achkov-lese-furniture/,https://design-milk.com/lese-series-electron-chair-konstantin-achkov/
The role of One Design Week (whose last edition was in 2016) as a mediator between the professional community, students, institutions, media and business is undisputable and set the tone for a new type of expression. The Bulgarian content entered the programme of the event in 2011 on an equal footing with the international one, when its orogramme director wa Adriana Andreeva (half of the Studio Komplekt crew, and in 2013 the director of the festival became the other half of the collective – Boyana Gyaurova). Several important for the time group exhibitions, which were dedicated to the Bulgarian product design and remaned in hisotry, established the professionals in the field to a more general audience: Konstantin Achkov (with publications in the Dezeen), Denitsa Boyadzhieva, Marina Dragomirova, Georgi Manasiev, Petar Zaharinov, Valentin Vodev, members of the Cherga group, Mila Chorbadzhieva and Raya Stefanova. Also significant were the two exhibitions of New Bulgarian Typography held in two consecutive years, curated by Kiril Zlatkov. They reviewed the achievements in the field of fonts and gathered representative works by authors such as Ivan Hristov, Velina Mavrodinova, Konstantin Kokalanov, Boril Karaivanov, Punkt Studio, Iliya Gruev, Dimitar Traychev, designers from Fontfabric, etc. in one place.
Living Soil, 2014.
- Photographer: Sonia Mangiapane
- Material: rammed earth
- Property of: Design Academy Eindhoven
- References: http://rayastefanova.com
A number of new platforms for expression of designers emerged, such as Plakat Kombinat (at the initiative of Anna Simeonov), which presented posters of prominent Bulgarian graphic designers in an online format. The Ivan Asen 22 formation, established by Neli Miteva and combining in exhibitions and other projects some of the most interesting fashion designers in the country, is also worthy of our admiration. Its formats are experimental and actively include scenography and video in the creation process.
fashion designers from the team of "IVAN ASEN 22" conceptual designers' platform
interior view from the exhibition "STATIONS" at SAMCA, 2018.
- Photographer: Boryana Pandova
- Material: conceptual fashion objects
- Property of: The designers' objects belong to the designers, the photo: to Boryana Pandova. "IVAN ASEN 22" holds the rights of using these materials.
- Copyright: The designers' objects belong to the designers, the photo: to Boryana Pandova. "IVAN ASEN 22" holds the rights of using these materials.
Among the most prominent names participating in these projects are fashion designers Aleksandar Gerginov and Georgi Florov, scenographer Momchil Tasev, photographer Boryana Pandova, etc. in the last few years, Neli Miteva has been actively presenting, selling and distributing fashion created in Bulgaria and abroad.
There is no way we can discuss the current designer environment without mentioning the boom of designer bazaars, which provide us with the best picture of the small, still market-oriented – in the literal sense of the word – capacity of design in our country. The most successful ones remain those in the Warehouse (a showroom for furniture and design items), called Angels and Pigs, as well as the bazaar at the Soho shared working space, and among the regularly exhibited artists we should note the small author brands Byala Lodka (White Boat), Artelier, Shevitsa (Embroidery), Yana Tankovska, Evgeniya Tsankova, Garderob (Wardrobe), I-tems, Stampa, Archabits.
Shevitza - branding, 2018.
- Photographer: Gergana Stankova
- Material: textile, paper
- Property of: Shevitza
- Description: Branding and packaging created for Shevitza - an accessories brand inspired by authentic Bulgarian motifs.
- References: https://shevitza.eu/portfolio-item/shevitza-graphic-identity-and-packaging/
spring/summer collection 2017, 2017.
A step forward in the right direction is the creation of designer works with an active commercial concept as early as the project stage, for instance: the Ping-Pong collection of shop N8 (owner Galya Zanatto, shop assistant and representative – Emiliyan Sabev) with authors Neva Balnikova (one of our most talented jewellers today), Denitsa Boyadzhieva (creator of limited series of light fittings), Punkt (the only Bulgarian studio manufacturing furniture through recycling and combination with old furniture), Ina Damyanova (ceramics), etc.
sad saddle, 2011.
- Photographer: neva balnikova
- Material: leather
- Width: 12.00 mm Height: 38.00 mm Depth: mm
- Sizes: .......
- Property of: neva balnikova
- Description: ....
- Copyright: ...
skypping rope, 2013.
- Photographer: neva balnikova
- Material: onix leather wood
- Width: 12.00 cm Height: cm Depth: 65.00 cm
- Sizes: .......
- Property of: neva balnikova
- Description: ........
- Copyright: .......
In 2017, the first design and culture centre was launched – Generator, founded by Studio Komplekt, Kalina Zhuleva, Yoana Mitova, and Martin Zaimov. This modern space in the former Vitosha factory dels with the topic of design, drawing on the experience from the tradition of similar centres all over the world. The design is presented as culture, a lifestyle, a public cause, a business and a potential priority in the public sector through a programme of lectures, information events, screenings, trainings, and exhibitions. Moreover, Generator also focuses on the method of designer thinking, which has gained popularity over the past few years, which is based on problem-solving outside the artistic field using the methods of design.
The efforts of Smart Fab Lab, a digital technology laboratory launched by the former Transformers association, and of Digital Spaces Living Lab, which provides designers, architects and artists with opportunities for work and experiments with new technologies, have also been important for developing the creative potential. We should highlight the useful work done in the field of training and experimental activity, as well as the Know-How / Show-How summer design academy, an initiative of Dima Peteva for training and information of young professionals and students. The academy brings together the local students and the foreign education system and demonstrates the wide range of design mostly in its interdisciplinary and practical functions, which are still left in the background in our educational institutions.
It is namely foreign education that allows many of our designers to participate on an equal footing in the global processes of this sector. Here, we should mention first Vladimir Karaleev and Stefan Karchev (the first Bulgarian who graduated from the prestigious Royal Academy in Antwerp / 2018) in fashion, the studios for product design Furthermore and Odd Matter with active local participation, Valentin Vodev in industrial design, and also Mila Chorbadzhieva and Raya Stefanova, who graduated from the Design Academy in Eindhoven with a degree in a new type of subject – Man and Wellbeing.
- Photographer: Studio Furthermore
- Material: porcelain
- Width: 16.00 cm Height: 16.00 cm Depth: 14.00 cm
- Property of: Studio Furthermore
- Description: Tektites are a collection of ceramic works by Studio Furthermore. A close relative of glass, ceramics are woven into the fabric of our anthropology and will play a certain roll in our material future. Delighted by the promise of such versatility Furthermore decided to investigate the use of ceramic foams. Ceramic foams have been used in applications such as mirror mountings on space telescopes as well as the heat shielding that aided NASA's space shuttles to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere unsinged. The designers decided to replicate ceramic foam production by developing a craft scaled polymer replica process.
Parian is a variant of bisque porcelain similar in appearance to the ultra fine-textured parian marble found in the mountains to the north of the Aegean island of Paros to which it owes it's name. The ultra fine and impurity free qualities of the material make for a fluid slip which had the Victorian pottery firms of Stoke-on-Trent disputing clams of it's invention. Parian wares were presented by numerous manufacturers at the Great Exhibition of 1851 however, they narrowly missed out on winning a meddle since the jury couldn't get to the bottom of the disputed claims of invention.
- Copyright: Studio Furthermore
- References: https://studiofurthermore.com/
A significant contribution to the development of our design is attributed to studios and designers working actively for the foreign market but are based in Bulgaria, such as Four Plus (motion graphics, graphic design), Shevitsa (design of textile with traditional Bulgarian motifs), Martin Angelov (with Half Bike, who raised a record amount for the Bulgarian market in a Kickstarter action for the production of a bicycle with one wheel), Iliyan Milinov or even Tote Pote (children’s cotton clothes). More and more often we can see Bulgarian names in the programme of important design exhibitions, such as Milan Design Week, Munich Jewellery Design Week, Designblok, Vienna Design Week, Helsinki Design Week, Object Rotterdam, and Joya.
We should also include the diverse initiatives in this field distinguished by strong social commitment – from the YOD label for fashion of the fashion designer Yana Dvoretska, through the Playground Energy entrepreneurial collective for children’s swings producing energy (with the participation of Iliyan Milinov) to Tsetsa Georgieva’s jewellery, which is entirely made from seeds and plants.
Summarising, we can say that the progress in the field of design in our country is appreciable at all levels. The designers are working more and more actively in this field, some in collectives, others independently both in Bulgaria or abroad, and the results are apparent. However, these are only small steps in the right direction, which have been made mostly with own funds, private investments and sporadic support by the institutions, the government or the business.
Apparently, it will take more time to make the design a priority, and its role and significance can be realised as a way to solve social problems, a driver of the national economy and an active part of the cultural landscape of the country.
In the meantime, let us continue walking ahead – taking small, but stable steps.
- The Anonymous Known, Magdalina Stancheva, Plovdiv, 2011
- The Bulgarian New Wave, Sofia, 2012
- Bulgarian Art. 120 Years. Design, Sofia, 2016
- Bulgarian Art. 120 Years. Applied. Decorative. Monumental, Sofia, 2014
- Graphic design, Boyka Donevska, Georgi Yankov, Nenko Atanasov // Bulgarian Art. 120 Years. Design, Sofia, 2016
- Design in the Institutional System from the End of the 1940s to the mid-1970s, Ivan Elenkov // Bulgarian Art. 120 Years. Design, Sofia, 2016
- Ceramics, Violeta Vasilchina // Bulgarian Art. 120 Years. Applied. Decorative. Monumental, Sofia, 2014
- Melba – a dynamic onlive archive, www.melba.bg, Studio Komplekt, 2017
- From Applied Arts to Design, Violeta Vasilchina // Bulgarian Art. 120 Years. Design, Sofia, 2016
- Finfilm, Yoana Pavlova // The Bulgarian New Wave, Sofia, 2012
- Visual Cut Bulgaria, Andrean Neshev, Plovdiv, 2008