I am scared of flying. Really scared. And, for the time being, I have to fly all the time.

Before every departure I take a pill. Sometimes, if it is an overseas flight, I take two. Naturally, this is not enough to block my fear. While I am on board, I constantly pray my own words in a kind of very personal mantra. That is not enough either. Most of the time, almost all the time, I keep my fists tight with thumbs up for good luck. I touch the plane with them too. For good luck.

When I was invited to create a ceramic sculpture for the Biennale of Ceramics in Albisola, I was not quite sure if I should accept. But then one day, while airborne on my way to the next exhibition, with my fiercely and painfully squeezed fists, I realised what would possibly make me interested in doing something with that overtly classical material - clay.

I asked the organisers and they sent me some balls of the finest Albisola clay.

Between July 3rd and September 15th, 2002, I carried small balls of clay in my hands during all the flights I took to various destinations. To transform these balls into works of art was very easy. I just exploited my natural (and acquired) fear of flying and kept squeezing them all the time in my fists. Some of them were held for three hours, some for one. The sophisticated material captured the nervous convulsions of my terrified hands, triggered by all that bumping, babies crying and the moments of relatively quiet cruising (which are the worst because I expect something — For God’s sake No! — to happen every minute). I stopped the Fear series when I was supposed to repeat a flight, which happened to be Sofia - Munich. Meanwhile, while visiting Albisola, I left the first three pairs of Fear sculptures to be fired by a professional ceramicist. The other seven pairs remained in my Sofia studio for several months to dry.

Needless to say, I have other fears too. One of them manifested itself with the very specific concern that if I was going to send the raw clay sculptures to Italy by courier they might be damaged. So, I decided to fire them in Bulgaria and to ship them safely later as more robust fired terracotta pieces. However, my knowledge with regards to the firing of ceramics is pretty vague. After asking around for a reliable kiln, I finally decided to use the rather unprofessional kiln in which my father bakes his own extremely beautiful little abstract sculptures.

He was happy to help me. Even though he was unfamiliar with that particular clay, he suggested that we should proceed as he normally does and bake the figures at a low temperature in my mother’s kitchen oven until all the moisture had evaporated and then fire them in a proper kiln that reaches high temperatures fairly quickly. No, I said, my Fear sculptures are dry enough; they have been drying for seven months. Perhaps I should mention that despite my cautiousness and doubts about everything, I do really stupid things as well. Although my father was not convinced, I pulled rank as the more famous artist of the two of us.

The laws of nature naturally made themselves felt. After twenty minutes of firing, my extremely anxious father entered the sitting room and said that there were booming sounds coming from the kiln in his studio. We switched it off and after opening the door a devastating sight appeared before our eyes. All of the Fear sculptures, the testaments to my panic up there 10,000 meters above the ground, came out in pieces, some bigger some smaller. Another fear then took over. My parents (both with serious heart conditions) were getting extremely worried. I had to make up something and to assure them that I would be able to handle the situation. The famous Bulgarian proverb ‘Out of bad can come good’ came to mind and I convinced them that my sculptures were now looking much better and the concept was all the more profound. Luckily, the second batch of clay sculptures that was supposed to be next in the little kiln was undamaged, so my father baked it (along with the broken pieces of the first set) in his way and everything worked out fine, of course.

What you see now, my dear viewer, is a combination of unbroken and broken Fear sculptures. All the tiny fragments you see really belong to this or that particular piece. I spent many hours restoring their shapes. Because of my stupidity, my original idea was destroyed although all the baked clay here, no matter in how many pieces it now appears, was with me in those ten aircraft and I believe that all of them do carry elements of my fear on those ten flights.

I am superstitious too. The overwhelming thought in my mind now is this – if these so carefully prepared little Fear sculptures are partly broken, what about me and the future flights that I am supposed to take? What I am supposed to hold and squeeze now, while I am still on the ground, to try to overcome the newly born fear deriving from these broken Fear sculptures? Should I fly at all from now on?

Nedko Solakov
May 2003