Bulgarian artist Magdalena Miteva talks about how she has transformed the mundane into the heavenly
Angels and junk: it takes an unusual mind to bridge the gap. But Magdalena Miteva certainly has that. She is involved in many projects: she puts on puppet theatre for adults, a somewhat neglected art in Bulgaria, makes lamps and decorates clubs and cafeÅLs with her ideas.
She is one of the few Bulgarian artists trying to turn dirty, shabby Sofia into a city where art lives on the street. Her own house serves as an exhibition centre for her art – a photographer's dream, as she calls it. We are here to talk about the angels, which first appeared on the roof of her house as early as March 2009 and then came to wider notice in front of Sofia's Christmas market, or Koledariya. They introduced a breath of fresh air to Sofia, the only new monuments over the past few years having been erected in memory of long past events. Magi doesn't regard her angels as having a Christmas theme, but rather as an ecoinstallation. To her, their relationship with rubbish is what really matters and she was inspired to create them by a fluttering plastic bag caught on a tree. Sofia City Council liked her angels and wanted to have some for the Christmas market. "Initially, they were to be located in front of the National Theatre. I was thinking of something reminiscent of Christmas cookies and old Europe. But the venue changed, the angels got a bit dirty and fell apart when hung from a rope," she says. Contrary to expectations, Magi is not a professional artist. She graduated in puppet theatre from the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts, or NATFIZ. "I simply have some talent for this. I began developing it and learning by myself," she says.
What are your angels made of?
They are made of nylon, which decays very quickly and is shredded by the wind, just like the thinnest polythene bags.
How long does it take to make an angel?
I can't measure how long it takes me. When I am inspired, I work very quickly. I can make an angel in a day. My friends help me. They prepare the materials and keep me company and I am very grateful to them.
How did people react to the angels?
When people pass by my house and see them, they take pictures – with cameras or mobile phones. Every day I receive phone calls and emails from people who have liked them. There is a huge public reaction – everybody says how beautiful they are. I am amazed that the media are interested too. This seems to be some kind of an event.
What pleases you most?
When they say "thank you." This is my reward for what I have done: the letters I get and the people who confide that these angels have touched their hearts in one way or another.
Did you have any problems with the municipality when you decided to put the angels on your roof?
What does the municipality say about the thousands of cables festooned all over Sofia, which inspired me to make a similar installation at my home? The cables hang everywhere and this vexed me for so long that I started to like it, and now I make art out of it. This is the environment I live in. I may have been born on dirty soil but I think that a lot of beautiful things can grow from it. Since this environment is everywhere, it must be the right ingredient for art: balconies, washing, rubbish… Why not make it look beautiful?
What is Sofia to you?
I was born in Sofia and it is a wonderful place for me. I still refuse to concur with those who say that Bulgaria's capital is a tip. The people who come here from small towns melt away and acquire anonymity in the big city. They think that they can get away with murder and other people won't notice where they throw their rubbish. In fact, they are not my problem; this is simply the time that we live in. The thing is not to focus on the problem but to see what you can do with the ingredients to hand – not to dream of exotic products and making something wacky with them, but to express yourself with what you have.
If you could change something in Sofia, what would it be?
I would turn the neglected areas into spaces for art. This is our environment – we shouldn't sweep things under the carpet, reject them or feel ashamed of them. The best protest is when you reshape something and make it beautiful. We could make terrific installations here, something that has become quite fashionable around the world. I could reshape the environment with the materials I get from the pants hanging outside, or the rubbish, just by reorganising it.
What else do you do when you are not making angels?
I express myself. I make performances, promotional shows and lamps, I decorate interiors and shop windows. I have been surviving on art since I graduated from the Theatre Academy and, what is more, I have been doing it here, in Bulgaria. Every day over 100 people visit my site, www. lumagi.com, but buyers are few. People just enjoy what they see. Some copy things, while others find inspiration. Some plagiarise, but that doesn't bother me. If it makes them happy, let them borrow. I am glad if this inspires them to create something of their own.