Her latest creative turn has to do with very specific found objects – the ones we use to mark the page we've reached in the book we are currently reading (or the page we got to before returning the book to the library). The "Bookmarks" project will be presented at three locations simultaneously – at the regional center for contemporary arts Toplocentrala on June 11, as part of the Literary Meetings Festival, at the Sofia Library (June 16) and at the National Library (July 18). Bookmarks are what Nalbantova has been researching over the last year.
From Salzburg through New York to Sofia
In July 2021, Nalbantova was a fellow of the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg, founded in 1953 by Oscar Kokoschka and considered the oldest residency program in Europe. Meetings and courses take place in the medieval fortress of Hohensalzburg, where Maria visited the local library. "Between the pages of some of the books, I began to find pieces of newspaper, theater tickets, notes, drawings, cards, and a variety of other 'marks' that bear the imprint of a specific time and place. We can assume that they have been part of the readers' lives.”She found 20 story fragments suggested by bookmarks, which, by chance or perhaps on purpose, were left inside the book, and then remained in the library until the next reader found them. "I left a note in their place that said 'A book divider was found on these pages' and briefly described the project." She prepared an exhibition in one of the spaces of the fortress and the project finished its first phase.
Maria Nalbantova in New York in front of a Little Free Library
In March, Nalbantova was doing a residency in New York after winning the annual BAZA award for contemporary art. At first, she had no plans to continue the bookmarks project, until she came across the Little Free Libraries – miniature houses in front of residential buildings, most often found in Brooklyn, where anyone can leave or pick up a book, part of an initiative that promotes free access to literature. She saw in them a special culture of sharing and caring for the reader who comes after you.
Brought together by bookmarks
"I started looking for them and found out more about them and about the people who chose to place them in front of their homes. Most of these little libraries have names, they are dedicated to a specific person, or they were built using pipes from the old neighborhood sewer system. Many countries have sites and programs like that, but in a place like New York, this type of sharing seemed very interesting to me, and I couldn't help but spend time wandering around Brooklyn looking for libraries, books, stories, and forgotten bookmarks."
She sees bookmarks as "traces of a process that we engage in, consciously or not – leaving a mark. We mark places, people, events, a certain passage in a book… What is marked and how is it marked?" In New York, she presented "Bookmarks" as part of a pop-up exhibition at Residency Unlimited. "In addition to exhibiting the works I made, I created a space for exchanging bookmarks – there were banknotes from around the world, notes, tickets, leaves, seashell pieces, photos, subway maps, drawings and more. Anyone could take and leave a bookmark."After returning to Sofia, Nalbantova started to think about moving the project here. The journalist, poet and translator Dimiter Kenarov became a supporter of her search for old editions and the details that can be found inside of them. "I began a process of 'searching' in several public libraries, and Dimiter and I looked at the texts and bookmarks found between the pages as potential found stories."
People's habits began to enter the context of how libraries regulate the use of their catalog. "Each library has a different policy for borrowing books. For example, in the National Library you can order books from the catalog and read them in the reading. In the Sofia Library, you can walk through the stacks and choose which book to take home for a certain period of time. And you can find many artifacts from the totalitarian period on display in the community center libraries."
For her, each found artifact is interesting because it serves as a line connecting bookmark and book, reader and bookmark, reader and book, time and place, fact and fiction. "The context in which I found them is important. For example, a book about love with a polaroid of two lovers as a bookmark. Other times, the contrast between the book and the bookmark can be captivating."
And what can we find inside the books that Maria Nalbantova reads? "Before I close a book, I look for something nearby that can serve as a bookmark, and so different fragments end up between the pages. The last thing I used was a piece of cloth that a friend brought me from the wrapped Arc de Triomphe in Paris by Christo and Jean-Claude."
Maria Nalbantova's "Bookmarks" installation opens June 11 as part of the program of the first edition of Literary Meetings at the RCCA Toplocentrala – Lobby, 2nd floor, and those interested can meet the artist between 6-7 pm.
You can find more of Maria Nalbantova's projects on @marianalbantova.