Raya Boteva and Rosie Eisor formed the collective Blood Becomes Water around a self-publishing project in the summer of 2010, and were one of the three duos awarded the Crystal Ruth Bell Residency in 2015. During their month at Red Gate over the summer, they created a new publication, Tetraphobia, and published collections of their favorite sounds. We caught up with Rosie and Raya in Bulgaria & Belgium to talk zines, punk rock, and why they’re not scared of the number 4.
China Residencies: I wanted to ask about the mixtape first. How did you bring it together and how did you select the music to put in it?
Raya Rayax: We asked some friends for advice on bands we would like, and I found a lot of information online about the Chinese punk scene. We just chose the songs we liked and recorded it, that’s it.
Listen to their Made in China mixtape:
CR: For the zine idea you proposed, Tetraphobia --you’d done a lot of research beforehand. But did you find that there was actually this fear of number four that you were looking for?
RR: It was not as obvious as I had expected. If you ask people they will tell you yes, it’s true, they are afraid and they try to avoid it. But buildings still have the fourth floor labeled and restaurants still had table number four. We saw it. They didn’t skip the four.
CR: It shows a lot in how much people pay for things. So a phone number with a lot of 4’s in it will be very cheap whereas one that has a lot of 8’s and 9’s will be more expensive.
Rosie Eisor: Yes, this happens with the number 13 here too.
RR: I guess maybe in smaller town and villages the fear of four will be much more visible if you look for it. Not so much in Beijing.
CR: How did you decide what to put in the zine and what is your process like for putting it together?
RE: We selected the best of the works we’ve done and then we did a layout with numbers around them. They are visible but actually not so visible. So we included almost every number from 0 to 9 in the publication by cutting paper and making the shape of it.
RR: The idea was to present number four among all the numbers. Even the experience we had in Beijing -that it was not so obvious how people would avoid the number four--it actually fit perfectly with the concept. If you think about it you can find 4’s everywhere and it’s still there even if they are afraid of it. It’s unavoidable, it’s still part of the numbers. Whether it’s there or not is all based on individual perception.
Virtually flip through Tetraphobia held over the lotus pond outside of Red Gate's studios!
CR: Since all of the other residents were also making zines, did you guys talk together about the work you were making or did you all work separately?
RR: We really wanted to collaborate with the other two collectives, but in the end it didn’t work out because everyone had different plans. There wasn’t really enough time. We didn’t even manage to go together to the Great Wall, for example.
RE: But everyone was very interesting and I’m happy that I met them in person.
CR: In the end did your publication all come together? Did you feel like you had enough time to finish the zine and make the zine you wanted to make?
RR: Yes, we’re happy with the result and we managed to do it in the four weeks that we had. But it was really difficult and really time-consuming to find the right printer. It would have helped if we’d had the right contacts from the start. That was a pity because we basically lost five days just discussing and checking samples and stuff. At the end, everything was done perfectly. But we had to cut and sew the pages by ourselves, which also took another two days while preparing the studio for the exhibition in the meantime. I remember we were talking about contacting external galleries but it was impossible not only because of time but because we were going to have an open studio with all of the residents and we didn’t want to separate from everybody.
Tetraphobia Open Studio
CR: Tell me more about the open studio. What did you set up?
RE: We decided to use the space but only the ground. So we did a kind of pattern with the number four. It was good because the space was very big and we did a pattern of our work, which is small, rather than spending the money on a big print to fill the space.
RR: It was good because it became more interactive. People who visited our space were, in a way, entering the pattern and the number four. In a really symbolic way they could face their fear and take a step further. The best thing that happened at our open studio was at the last minute when Ming and Alexandra decided to bring the musicians that they brought to our place so the concert happened in our studio.
CR: How many zines did you print?
RR: Forty-four! [Laughs.]
[update: they’re nearly sold out, the last 4 copies to be sold at our Zine Dumpling Art Party on February 7th in NYC]
CR: Was it mostly other artists at the open studio?
RR: I guess, kind of the community of Red Gate and friends mostly. But we met a couple of other artists too, yes, like the person behind Jiazazhi Press.
CR: What about being in China was like you expected and what was different?
RE: I didn’t expect anything, so everything was new and different.
RR: I feel the same way.
RE: I liked all the food, as long as it wasn’t too spicy! I liked the beer as well. But I was really surprised how the human life there has no value. Especially people driving in cars--there’s no respect for pedestrians there.
RR: Yeah and the weirdest thing was that if an accident does happen on the street and you can’t afford an ambulance, you might just die. Just like that. Because an ambulance won’t come if there’s nobody to pay for it.
RE: But people were very kind to us. We met only good people in China.
RR: Yeah, all the people were really friendly and curious. Everyone would try to help you even if it was hard to communicate.
CR: What else will you remember from your time there? What stood out?
RR: I can’t really choose just one thing. It was the whole experience.
CR: Do you think the residency has changed the way you work?
RE: Maybe the fact that we don’t work at the same place together often. We usually work through internet as we don’t live in the same city.
RR: Also, the change was that it’s the first zine where we’ve published only our own work. Normally we include other artists too.
CR: Is there another project you would have wanted to do in Beijing if you’d had more time?
RR: Yes, China is full of inspiration. If we had time, we’d like to work more on a related project. In general China is a great place to work.
CR: Now that you’re back what are you doing next?
RR: We’ve just continued with our scheduled events but we still need to discuss the next publication edition. Maybe doing some small exhibitions to present the last two issues that we did.
RE: Maybe we’re gonna make a publication. Next month we’re going again together to Athens.
RR: Yes, I forgot. The next project is we’re going probably to Belgrade to do a publication with some students and do a workshop there. The theme is kind of recyclable resources. It’s a design project. They have a workshop for a week and then after Rosie and I come to collect everything they did and present it in a nice way by doing a publication. But we still need to discuss the technical parts of it with the organizers.
CR: And tell me about the anniversary. You guys just turned five?
RE: Yeah, I’m still recovering from this, actually. [Laughs.]
CR: How did Blood Becomes Water get started five years ago?
RR: We had just come back from Florence, where we were studying. In the summer of 2010 we were both in Sofia and had the idea to start a publication where we could publish our own work with other artists that we like. It just happened that we had the time and we were both in the same place. We selected some of our work and some of our friends’ -- only Bulgarian artists from Sofia. We did it for a few weeks. It was our first attempt to put something together and we were happy with the result. And happy to learn and improve for the next one. We continued to get in touch with new people and succeeded in creating a small community with all of the artists we’ve included. I remember being really happy when we finished. After we printed that zine it was like, wow, amazeballs!
RE: Yeah, I had never worked with printing on paper before. So I was very nervous about the paper, the fibers, and how to fold it. I didn’t know anything about printing or doing publications.
RR: Yes, the first one was very DIY.
RE: So we started because we wanted to start working and invite people instead of waiting for someone to invite us. We included artists that we love.
CR: What’s behind the name Blood Becomes Water?
RE: We chose this name because it was a bit provocative.
RR: Yeah we have a proverb that says “blood never becomes water” and we just inverted it.
RE: Yes, actually, it’s an Arabic proverb. Yes it’s also religious and sometimes very ironic. It’s almost like a spell. Like a witchcraft! Even “BBW,” the abbreviation, is also very provocative because there is fetishism associated with that term. So a lot of people looking for porn on Google are unintentionally following our work! [Laughs]
CR: On a practical level -- are you artists full-time or do you have other jobs?
RR: We have other jobs, for sure. I’m a freelance graphic designer and am still looking for a fixed, paid job.
RR: I’m in the IT sector. My colleagues are always joking with me that my job is not my real work, it’s my hobby. For sure, from Blood Becomes Water alone it’s impossible to survive. Someday I hope we can have enough money to survive doing only the things we love.
CR: That’s the dream. And you said a friend told you about the residency?
RR: Yes, a friend from high school, also an artist – Boris Pramatarov - sent us a message randomly like two weeks before the application deadline. We checked it out and it looked really cool. We thought, this time we definitely need to apply because we always miss the deadline. We were really skeptical that we would get any answer at all to our application. We saw a blog post on the work of last year’s resident [Jagrut Raval] and we thought, God, his work is so conceptual and so far from what we wanted to do. We never even thought we would get an answer from you guys.
CR: I think it’s funny because a lot of people think we’re really formal and official. But in fact, Crystal and I started it in much the same way that you two started BBW! We sometimes get applications that are so serious and we just think, if only they knew that we’re also looking for fun, cool things. We’re interested in things that are really different and that I don’t usually see people doing in Beijing. One of the reasons we started the collectives open call is because people had told us that there’s never any residencies for collectives.
RR: It’s true, I also don’t see this opportunity very often.
CR: Do you think you will apply to other residencies?
RR: Oh, yeah! Now that we’ve had this great experience and new opportunity we’re really looking forward to preparing some new applications for other parts of the world.
CR: Cool. Do you have anything else you wanted to share about China or the residency?
RE: Yeah, the internet! [Laughs.] It was very slow and I really don’t know how Raya succeeded in downloading and making the mixtape with such slow internet.
RR: Yeah the website I was using to download some of the music worked through the Chinese Google, so that was easy. But the rest was really a nightmare for people addicted to the internet like us!
CR: Well I’m glad you guys had a good time and that most things worked out.
RR: Yes, we are really happy and really lucky.
RE: Thank you for the opportunity!
This interview was conducted over Skype by Kira Simon-Kennedy for China Residencies.