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Employing methods in visual anthropology and cultural heritage studies, Off-Site explores embodied, material, and spatial forms of change to land, place, and belonging. The initiative is composed of several multi-year-long projects, the first of which is Off-Site: Diasporic Imaginaries, followed by Materialities of/from the Edge.

Off-Site rethinks the biennale model and re-imagines collection and archive strategies through a diasporic praxis. The project takes Bulgaria and the period of political transition since 1989 as a site for contouring new modes of curatorial thought, artistic practice, and material urgency that diaspora facilitate through long-term collaborations with local communities and invited artists. Drawing on the period of 1989, when Bulgaria witnessed its largest wave of emigration, the project centers on three definitions of преходът (prehodat), or passage, defined as a change in material state, geographic place, and historical condition.

Engaging with tangible and intangible cultural heritage, Off-Site: Diasporic Imaginaries of the Balkan Edge builds an archive of oral history, ethnographic encounters, and visual and aural documentation of built/unbuilt sites in Bulgaria. This content is created, loaned, and distributed through diasporic networks to various caretakers (artists and institutions) as prompt material for the development of new work. The dispersed nature of the Off-Site collection ensures that the objects participate in the creation of new knowledge, an open archive that builds on a constellation of artefacts which it propels outwards, off site. Artists are also asked to contribute to the Collective Brain, an online repository of sketches/notes/ideas for the Off-Site project:

To date, we have invited eighteen artists from different parts of the world and generated six prompts: “Building Affects, Body in/of the Archive,” “Practices of Care,” “Sonic Knowing,” “Physics of Entropy,” “Liquid Ecologies,” and “Brick Dust Matter.” Each prompt, carefully curated from content to location, centers around a material relationship to Bulgaria and is sent to the artists by mail. From the gathering of herbal tea, sound recording, video documentation, plant specimen, and material culture, the prompts not only establish a tangible proximity to site, but also stage the next phase of the project, one that will invite artists to animate these locations on site.

By centering on Bulgaria, one of the Balkan countries historically considered an edge to Europe, the project foregrounds the following questions: What new curatorial approaches emerge when we re-imagine the material, affective, and sensorial scale of the Balkans? How do historical conditions complicate the geographic binary of periphery and center to rethink edges as mobile and discrete sites of diasporic life? What does it mean to approach the production of knowledge from the edge?

We would like to thank Michaela Schmull and Saima Javed at the Harvard Herbaria for generously preparing plant specimen, Bai Stoyan Agronoma for preparing tea mixes, Kolio for field guidance, Tatiana Radkova and Maria Vassileva for ensuring the safe arrival of select prompt materials to their destinations, and Alex Atanasov for the preliminary exchange of ideas on entropy and physics. Thank you to David Joselit, AFVS 390, and Ratik Asokan for feedback. Website engineering and maintenance by Chris Malcolm Jr.

This work is supported by Harvard University through the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative (HMUI) Grant, the Mellon-Funded Collaborative CMP Projects Grant, FVS Materials Research Fund, AFVS 390.