Platform for Arts, Institute of Art Studies, BAS, did a series of exclusive interviews with this country’s leading artists and art historians about how does it feel to make art amid the coronavirus pandemic, about its impact on culture and long-term implications.
Martina Apostolova studied Acting at NBU, Sofia. She plays in over twenty productions based on contemporary plays in many cities across Bulgaria. Her debut as the female lead in Nadejda Koseva’s Irina won her eight Bet Actress Awards at international film festivals. She played in a number of TV shows, in Slava Doycheva’s Marriage (short) and Lament for the Silent Fool (fic.) by Dimiter Kutmanov. She is one of the European Shooting Stars at Berlinale 2020.
Q: What are you doing now during self-isolation at home? Are you making the best use of your time?
A: I began several courses of personality development; learning Italian and watching masterclasses in screen acting. I chose several books I wanted to read for a long time and made up a schedule of when to complete each of them. I am trying to act according to a schedule. I am exercising a lot, each day. And, of course, watching a lot of films, availing myself of the operas and performances broadcast online.
Q: At what point of your work were you caught up in the COVID-19 crisis?
A: In April I had to have two premieres: of a dance performance and of a musical. The principal photography of a short was scheduled. The awards ceremony of Stoyan Kambarev Foundation was cancelled and I was nominated for the Flying in Art Award. I can safely say that I was at an absolute peak of my career when the nation-wide lockdown was declared: apart from the premieres, I was supposed to travel for professional meetings and festivals screenings of Irina as well as playing for productions that were on at theatres.
Q: How did the pandemic change your everyday life, professional agenda and decisions?
A: Radically, as my schedule for the next five months, from March onwards, was fixed. Still, with all this time on my hands I made new creative plans, found new values and searched for new art forms. Decisions right now make no difference in a world brought to a halt, nobody progresses and nobody lags behind. My idea is to keep myself at a low start to be perfectly prepared for the restart, rather than need time for adaptation.
Do you have a room of your own to work in or you find it difficult to isolate yourself, taking care of young children or students?
A: Though forced to live a month with my parents in the beginning of the lockdown, I found a way to isolate myself and do everything I had planned in the first week of the lockdown.
Q: What smouldering problematic subjects surfaced as a result of self-isolation and with all activities across Bulgaria and the world cancelled?
A: People’s attitude towards art in general. We have to admit that only a small number of people recognise and realise that arts are rescuing them in this situation. The significance of arts and the need of the so-called intellectual nourishment is rather neglected. In the beginning I wanted to believe that it was the three professions requiring vocation and relentless love and dedication to be practiced, that of doctors, teachers and artists, would be put on a pedestal. Unfortunately, it is the other way round. Parents perhaps slightly felt what it is like when they were forced to help their children with distance learning and realised what stress teachers were under and the great responsibility they had taken. And last but not least, as artists were left without any work and lost their income altogether, the teams of the Ministry of Culture had to be mobilised. Thus we realised what was the role of freelance artists in their accounts and gave an impetus to set up work groups, charged with listing such artists in a register and raised a number of pressing issues they had had no time to comment previously. Neither have the powers that be given an opportunity to comment. What a shame that the ministers of economy and healthcare, generals and even some ‘artists’ belittled and humiliated as much as possible the significance of art in front of the general public, who are easily manipulated. Thus artists lost the opportunity to make their position clear, as the masses respect another authority.
Q: Your opinion about the impact on creative and research quests and the long-term implications?
A: Both positive and negative. Every human being responds to self-isolation differently. Some are able to be creative in such a situation, others find it absolutely impossible to channel their creative energy. Besides, there is fear of returning to the cinemas, theatres, galleries and museums along with the impossibility to afford to attend cultural events because of the impending financial crisis. As it still remains completely unknown when arts will resume their normal activities (30-percent attendance is totally unacceptable to me), the crisis situation will become even more acute.
Q: Where do you expect to get support in the declared state of emergency over Covid-19?
A: Nowhere from, when it comes to governmental institutions, ministries, etc.
Q: What about the therapeutic role of art in the resocialization after the pandemic ends?
A: Notwithstanding the conditions, art has always had a therapeutic effect. Some discover this by force, others by choice, and still others by chance. Man sooner or later comes down to a form of art, whether intentionally or otherwise, for a little distraction or reflection. The one sure cure for the impending introvertedness, asociality and depressions without investing thousands in one’s treatment are various forms of art. And arts will certainly need various forms of support.
Q: Any ideas about how to resume this country’s cultural activities after the end of the pandemic?
A: Cultural life in this country had not fully recovered even before the pandemic, yet a flicker was still glowing. The recovery of cultural life depends on the consumers, on the needs and awareness of the audiences. With everybody scared in their own ways, it will be tricky to invite someone to theatre. Not everybody will have the courage or desire to share the same place with other people. I think that film casts and crews have to be allowed as soon as possible to start working and the rest of the actors to resume their rehearsals. By combining ideas we’ll arrive at the right conclusion as to what an injection is needed and where to find it to get the industry back on track. In order to boost creativity, a way should be found to launch more funding schemes for cultural products and arts and all artists to be given an incentive. And an opportunity to be heard. Yes, too much democracy yields not good enough results, but to artists freedom is invaluable and it is free artists who can find the perfect cure, both mental and physical, for the pandemic-stricken.