Veliko Tarnovo does not seem like the typical place for a Norwegian artist, but Lars Nordby feels more and more at home in the city.
He was born in Oslo in 1988, briefly studied in Chicago, exhibited his work in various places around Europe, and settled in Bulgaria – in early 2019, he opened the contemporary art gallery Heerz Tooya in Veliko Tarnovo, which often shows the work of artists from his residency program ARV.International in the nearby village of Vishovgrad.
The Heerz Tooya exhibition program from 2021. A year ago, the German artist Paul Voggenreiter, who has also been living in Tarnovo for some time, showed photographs taken on his old Sony Ericsson phone, a reflection on how images were made and shared before the Instagram age.
The house was purchased by his father Knut Nordby, himself an artist, started a series of children's plein airs with his brother, photographer Eric, in 2005, and quickly became a valued member of the local community (the village has no more than three hundred residents). Lars built on the foundations of their work and tailored the house to the ever-increasing interest by international artists in our country, as well as to those who have already established themselves here. This year his gallery, which is named after a rare wasp species, underwent an expansion and now can host two exhibitions at the same time. It is located in the most dynamic part of Tarnovo, the old part of the downtown, increasingly known as "Varusha South" because of the work of local cultural center TAM.
"Heerz Tooya gradually earned people's trust and established itself as a haven for artists in the area," says Lars, who will spend the summer between Tarnovo and Rome, where he is doing a residency (this time, just as a participant). He will be in Sofia briefly, as one of the nominees for the annual BAZA award and part of the accompanying group exhibition at the Sofia City Art Gallery; the show is an opportunity for people in Sofia to see his minimalist style, which seems difficult to decode at first, until you find the clue that will lead you to its central meaning.
Work by the Mexican artist Montserrat Camargo, who was a guest at the residence in Vishovgrad and whose work was subsequently exhibited at Heerz Tooya in July.
Earlier this year, his show Sardonic, Press, Immobile was at the Hristo Tsokev gallery in Gabrovo, and in 2021 the interactive Astroturﬁng Ad Hockery was at Credo Bonum, Sofia.
What is the measure of success in a place like Tarnovo, where there is not much competition? "I'm always happy when I see a lot of people at the opening of a new exhibition – if there's a crowd, then the exhibition is a success." What he finds curious about Bulgaria is the dependence on social networks for keeping up with events. "It is crazy to see how effective Facebook is. I wish we could overcome this dependence, and I have had some ideas about how to do that lately. We usually know our program a year in advance, with two solo exhibitions a month, so we're planning on doing something like a static calendar that will appear at different venues around the city. I am also starting to feel the need to involve interns in the gallery's activities."
From the Sardonic Press Immobile installation, shown in the "Hristo Tsokev" gallery in Gabrovo, photographer: Rosina Pencheva
Lars has no foolish ambitions for the gallery or the art residency. Both can develop according to the natural interest expressed in them and their role in cultural life. "I just hope they continue to exist, to house and publicize the work of artists in and around Veliko Tarnovo. With the gallery, we focus on presenting each artist's individual artistic vision. We might do an open call with a certain curatorial angle next year, but right now I see no need to limit ourselves in any way, conceptually or thematically."
Is it getting harder or easier to run a gallery space in a city with fewer resources and opportunities, amid multiple overlapping crises? "The disadvantages of running a contemporary art gallery in a city like Tarnovo are much fewer than they used to be. And there are more advantages than before. More and more initiatives get started in the city, now you can even combine several premieres in one evening – and that is something I was missing!”
The exhibition featuring artists nominated for the annual BAZA contemporary art award is at the Sofia City Art Gallery until September 6. Heerz Tooya will participate in the Veliko Tarnovo festival "48 hours Varusha South" (August 19-21).