Curator of Contemporary Art
We’ve been catching up with the Creative Director for Contemporary Art at Horsecross Arts Iliyana Nedkova over coffee, to hear about her exciting work and her thoughts on Perth’s bid for City of Culture 2021.
Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, Iliyana lived in London, Liverpool and Edinburgh before coming to take on her role as a contemporary art curator in Perth for Horsecross Arts, having always had a love for the arts, and following Associate Curatorships at organisations across the UK, Europe and the States. She curates Threshold Artspace, a multi-channel art and film exhibition at the ‘threshold’ of Perth Concert Hall:
“My curatorial post is part of the creative team at Horsecross Arts and revolves around curating quarterly exhibitions which are at the cross-section of the visual and performing arts. Curating for me is all about conceiving, producing, exhibiting and collecting news artists’ films inspired by or incorporating drama, dance, cinema and music.
“Why? Perhaps to take advantage of, but also to further enhance the reputation of the home of Threshold artspace – Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre as the two ‘seats’ of excellence for multi-genre performing arts. Very few exhibition spaces, galleries or museums are based at the ‘threshold’ of award-winning concert halls and theatres. I always have to remind myself how lucky I am as a contemporary art curator that I can call upon the expertise of the entire Horsecross team. Everyone here, from the front of house to technical to marketing, is part of the curatorial experience.
“The regular solo or group shows I curate or co-curate are often framed in the annual local festival calendar, making them intrinsically linked with Perth and Kinross. For instance, our next exhibition is 3G (Three Generations of Women Artists Perform), a creative learning event celebrating the International Women’s Day on 8 March, is part of the well-established and much loved Perth and Kinross Women’s Festival.”
Iliyana has been curating the Threshold Artspace since it first opened to the public in 2005. The artspace includes single and multi-channel artists’ film exhibition areas, all prominent features of Perth Concert Hall, and soon to be extended to the newly redeveloped Perth Theatre. The Artspace is home to Perth’s one-of-a-kind museum collection of contemporary art featuring new artists’ exclusive films and video installations as well as artist’s limited editions on paper or aluminium.
Iliyana herself has been at the helm of Threshold Artspace for the past 13 years, and has seen it grow from a building site, to celebrating its 10th anniversary:
“My background is in literature, languages and linguistics, with a MA in English and American Studies. Recently I did my MPhil in contemporary art curating. But in between the two degrees there is a period of 25 years of curatorial practice where academia and cultural industry merge.
“I have been involved in the making of Threshold Artspace together with Horsecross Art’s founding Chief Executive Jane Spiers – a Perth born and bred pioneer who continues to be my curatorial mentor, even though she has moved further North to steer Aberdeen Performing Arts. I feel privileged to have worked with Perth’s own pioneering powerhouse during the early days of Horsecross Arts, its first Birthday Bash, to Perth Concert Hall’s coming-of-age.
“Horsecross Arts and Threshold Artspace have entered its second decade, having put Perth firmly on the contemporary art map and having given Perth another reason to be culturally distinct.
“Although there is a lot of home-grown talent and we work on a local level, I am international in my curatorial mindset (I am working hard on my Scottish accent!) and always aspire to bring world-class art and creative practice to Perth. Very often widely-recognised artists would come on a mini artist’s residency to Perth while we are conceiving their work for the Threshold Artspace, and they fall in love with our Fair City. I do believe these love affairs last and matter, especially in the context of Perth 2021, as all the artists represented in our collection could be Perth’s creative export ambassadors. I wear my civic pride very high when I work with Perth’s own internationally-renowned artists, such as Debra Salem.”
Threshold Artspace’s themed exhibitions change quarterly, and have accompanying creative learning events within the community. “That is only what the public sees,” Iliyana tells us. “Behind the scenes there’s an awful lot of work towards the initial ideas, technology initiatives, artists’ residencies or curatorial placements. Together we decide who, why and when to work with, commission or exhibit, and how best to produce and enrich.
“Horsecross Arts is the producer, and crucially we fundraise as most producers would do. We enable all of these new productions of artists’ films and related contextual events to emerge. For the contemporary art programme at Threshold artspace alone I have helped secure over £500,000 since 2005.
“We aspire to be continually on the edge. Video art has been around since the 1960s, but hardly any museum or gallery will commission and collect new artists’ films on a regular basis like we do. We are unique not only in Scotland but beyond because of our commissioning, producing, exhibiting, contextualising and collecting policies.”
When commissioning pieces for Threshold Artspace, Iliyana tries to emphasise any connections the art or artist has to Perth. For example, the latest exhibition which has been showcasing since October 2016 is called Movement, and celebrates the life of the pioneer of contemporary dance, Margaret Morris (1891-1980). Although Margaret Morris established her first professional dance school in 1910 in her native London, her eponymous movement has swept the world since and is still practiced in Japan, Canada, Italy, France, Switzerland and Australia. Margaret Morris herself performed internationally, but spent most of her creative adult life in Perth, and even helped to establish Perth’s own Fergusson Gallery:
“She is an incredible individual who has been overlooked. I wanted to put a contemporary twist on her life story by inviting five Scottish artists working with film and dance to Threshold Artspace to work on the Movement exhibition, but also to explore unearthed artefacts from the Margaret Morris Archive.
“Movement is just one example of how exhibitions come about, from two years of academic research, including securing funding from public sources such as Creative Scotland, to a celebratory weekend which turned out to be a much anticipated meeting point for Margaret Morris admirers and new converts alike, set against a ‘riot’ of new dance, drama, music, photography and artists’ films.”
So, what can we expect next from Iliyana, and what has she got planned for the future? Well, she was very excited to tell us about a new festival she is helping to curate, called Platform:
“Platform is a brand new creative festival for the arts and creative industries across Perthshire, adding to the list of well-loved regional festivals, such as Perth Festival of the Arts, Southern Fried Festival, and Rewind, to name a few. Platform is the first Perthshire-wide festival of contemporary art and design.
“Platform would shine a spotlight onto the talent at our doorstep: we are hoping to make it a city-wide success, but also to spread the festival vibes across all the main towns and rural areas of Perthshire. Brace yourselves for this week-long festival, as a taster of what the UK City of Culture might bring your way for the entirety of 2021. Hopefully in 2021, we will be celebrating Platform’s 5th anniversary!
“Even if you are a privileged cultural industry insider, it is impossible to know of all the new and upcoming artists and initiatives in our locale, which is one of the reasons we would like to share our curatorial discoveries and showcase more than just the key players at Platform.”
As a Perth Pioneer, we asked Iliyana what she hoped will be achieved from Perth’s bid for City of Culture 2021. She knows a lot of creative and art aficionados from across Scotland and further afield have not set foot in Perth yet, and she hopes the UK City of Culture 2021 will change this. She called it an “incredible opportunity for the sceptics and the cultural tourism industry”.
“The fact Perth is not London or Edinburgh makes it quite unique, and most events need our support because they happen in a smaller, but equally vibrant place. That is one of the reasons I am backing the bid besides all the anecdotal and hard data evidence, or my personal soft-spot for Perth.
“However, across the UK the arts and cultural industries are under huge political and financial pressure, and we need to show off the cultural assets of Perthshire and aim to build on this momentum to create and sustain more activities well beyond 2021. For instance, at Horsecross Arts we believing in choosing to be local, green and sustainable in everything we do – from the bee hives on our roof, to our cafés, to the art on our screens and stages.
“My belief is contemporary art and I thrive on contemporaneity. In the last decade or so I have seen Perth nurture its taste for all things contemporary alongside its appetite for its undisputed cultural heritage and the great outdoors. Long it may continue in the next five years leading up to the prestigious and well-earned title of UK City of Culture 2021. I am honoured to play my humble pioneering bit.”