Encounters with Adata #4

23 Sep 2015 | Alex Head - Adata Island, Bulgaria

23. August |

LET us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question….

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.


Much has changed in the city after the storm. I have a guest tomorrow so I need to clear up the wreckage at the studio and it's been raining for four days since the storm hit on Friday. Geeze, I knew the architect had made a strong impression while she was here, I wasn't expecting the whole region to go to pieces only hours after her departure. But what a storm! The strongest in living memory some are saying and the island bears the signs. Damp and so clear now, I can see through stretches of previously dense undergrowth making it easier to navigate in. I make a voice recording feeling brazen, now a month into the residency and soon to depart. Hubris of course.

My first encounter for the day involves a turtle. The fella’s sitting at the bottom of the perimeter wall, and now that the brush obscuring the area below is partly blow away, I peer down over that wall. Yellow and black, the company colours!

‘Amazing turtle!’

I exclaim - I have this on the mic - and rush to get my backpack off and climb down the ladder to the lower front area of the island. Only pausing to see if the ladder, which now feels like a perfect imitation of some medieval scaling device for castle walls, is light enough to pull up and move over to the turtle. It is not. Off into lizard territory it is then… Very dense, very damp the wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks. If the ladder breaks I'm pretty much fucked down here with no other way back than to swim. To celebrate my stupidity the turtle and I catch a sweet selfie together. When was the last time I held a turtle?

My hats off to my assistant - not a scratch on the studio furniture from a storm that literally tore up trees across the city. Handy. Turn the tarp and make a few shots. Check the batik and tools are dry, make tea. A beautiful owl shoots out from the riverbank and sores away overhead. Too amazing.

Determined to know for sure whether the boundary wall really does enclose the whole island and buoyed up by the day so-far I head out for an epic, final photo tour. Worthy encounters of note include: a tree that appears to be growing ears, pink and black plants in shades unimaginable against the blue sky, a fucking HUGE great snake and a man who appears to be living here under some plastic sheeting. What we, perhaps cynically, thought to be a refuge for recreational drugs, turns out to be a persons’ home. Having heard rumors of a man living on the island that a photographer had met (in May 2015), I was still somewhat alarmed to see a sleeping person in the makeshift squat. I tip toed away having frankly had my fill of new encounters for a year or two.

Having explored the length and breath of Adata the day is done. I know I have only scratched the surface. The snake tolerates me for as long as I need to get a photograph before slinking sulkily away. I basically scream. This is fairly normal now and my nerves are a somewhat shot from all this newness. Time to close it up, make my last records and shift my mind back to Berlin. I bury the shovel with the shovel, an archeological joke but also an offering secreted in the earth for another day.

Like a broken tooth from the former city, still aching, still sore, the Adata has been discarded, thrown out into the Maritsa river. There's no silver bullet to save Bulgarian civic society from the decline of the post-soviet economic crisis. But in approaching this issue there need to be non-economic processes to compliment the financial ones. Perhaps Adata, while still a pretty ambitious site for commercial development plays a provocative role simply by its very existence. The living-dead come to awaken her children's children.

Quotes have been sourced in chronological order from: The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig, 1000 Years of Non Linear History, Manual De Landa, A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Elliot.

Many thanks to everyone in Plovdiv for their ongoing support.

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