By Heart

A conversation with Daniela Nicolò and Enrico Casagrande, artistic directors for Santarcangelo Festival 2020

by Rossella Menna

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Welcome to the direction of Santarcangelo Festival! Do you feel at an advantage somehow, thanks to the experience of ten years ago?

E.C. The term “advantage” is not appropriate. The past experiences are really important and the three years with Chiara Guidi and Ermanna Montanari were really significant and formative, but this new assignment is like a distinct, new beginning in a completely different artistic and political environment.

D.N. Times have changed radically. Ten years ago, there was different legislation which allowed more planning flexibility. Today, we have to confront ourselves with an algorithm that decides for us, based on numerical calculations, what kind and how many shows we have to plan, and it’s very complicated to find free spaces inside these grids, because Santarcangelo is not a showcase: you have to create a universe, to identify an idea and let it grow in relation to artists of different nationalities and ethnic groups who embody it with more authenticity, study its theoretical implications, find or build the right space to house the works, activate collaborations, and conquer the city.

What borders does that world you’re building have? To celebrate the 50th anniversary you wanted to talk about possible futures, and anticipate them. What form have they taken in these months of work?

D.N. In radical terms, these “fantastic” futures can only be placed in a digital dimension where the body is dematerialised, and in an opposite tribal universe where the most extreme corporeality pulsates in a trance-like state, and also in conversation about neo-colonial criticism and rejection of the capitalist system, and of the conception of a time that is only Western. It is on these two opposite and complementary fronts that we can really ask ourselves questions about the future today.

That is, in Brazil on one side and on the World Wide Web (or in Silicon Valley) on the other!

D.N. Yes, but also in North Africa, or on the outskirts of Santarcangelo, which is equally dense with different lifestyles to get to know and involve. Our map has really exploded.

What do you expect to find in these countries and parallel dimensions? Models? Forms of coexistence that anticipate possible worlds? Dystopias that put us on our guard?

D.N. To tell the truth, what strikes us is a different way of dealing with time. Digital technologies and the Internet, for example, have caused a disturbance in the perception of individual and collective temporality. For some, it is a form of alteration that will lead to ruin, for others, a strengthening of our possibilities. Anyway, all of this is not neutral in the relationship of a human being with the outside and the others. It seems to us that theatre and performance – unlike other languages that perhaps limit themselves to describing or criticising certain contradictions – are intercepting transformations already in progress, elaborating tools to orient and defend themselves.

So, we’ll see a lot of technology on stage?

E.C. Not necessarily. There were years in which the technological tool in the artistic application was a real goal. Just think about how Cauteruccio used the laser on stage in the pre-digital era. The originality of the laser was astonishing. Today, this approach is outdated: using a cell phone with a camera to shoot and screen movies no longer makes sense. It doesn’t matter how much and what type of technology you use, but why you use it, and what you say with it. So, it’s not about showing the digital tools, it’s about interrogating how and how much they have made us addicted, stunned and “tired” (to quote Byung Chul Han), and how they have distorted our perception of ourselves and of relationships.

And what about the tribal front?

D.N. There are native peoples who experience forms of relationship with time that are unimaginable to us. We are really interested in getting to know and introduce them through artists who question those experiences that, in different forms, belong to their own historical, familiar and cultural background.

It seems that one dimension may suggest answers to the other.

D.N. Between catastrophic visions and utopic visions, there are inescapable questions that we would like to bring to the festival.

You are catalysing eccentric worlds to ask questions about our own. How will the audience react?

D.N. With the same curiosity that we have for what happens outside (our) centre, we hope.

E.C. Besides, after fifty years of a festival that has always acted within the public space, with experiments and provocations, the audience of Santarcangelo has become eccentric. Maybe not in its habits, but in concepts; it’s ready for anything and needs solicitations and actions that make it tremble, that make us tremble to feel alive. I feel tiredness in language and practices, but also great energy in pushing for the impossible.

Then it’ll be difficult to take it by surprise again!

E.C. But we’ll try. That’s why we’re betting a lot on a special project, a packed programme which brings together shows, magic rituals, performances and interventions in public spaces of the city, stores, private homes, gardens, squares. We called it Marea, because it must be able to permeate the whole playbill and conquer new gazes (for example those of the workers in the fields around Santarcangelo who have never been involved in those “intellectual” dimensions, or those of a new generation that prefers other codes or places of representation), to arrive in the most remote corners, in the gaps, like water between the rocks.

D.N. With the same spirit, we’re asking the artists who will bring their own works in indoor spaces to reserve some time to meet with the people of the city, perhaps through workshops, public lectures, sharing methods or thoughts.

Apart from the rhetoric, what kind of communication can be concretely activated between an artist who creates his work in a public space and a passer-by who intercepts it casually?

E.C. First of all, wonder. The chance to see something that changes the space-time which he or she is used to.

D.N. Here’s a personal example. When we saw the Mutoids Waste Company in 1991 in Santarcangelo, a bottomless pit opened up in our young artists’ imagination. That alien vision was a spark for our research. The power of that curiosity was the measure of an obsessive spirit of attraction to people, places and cultures completely different from us, which has always characterised our work. It’s no coincidence that our latest book is called Hello Stranger.

E.C. I would like to add that a festival is such only if it generates those kinds of sparks. Everyone reacts with their own perception but it should be a moment where – thanks to a concentration of artists, people and works in a small and demarcated time and space – we can create a state of exception, a fracture of habits, of visions. In fact, as a side note, I do not understand the sense of attributing the title of ‘festival’ to exhibitions that resemble long or subsidiary seasons that do not produce any kind of disturbance in the urban fabric.

It’s no coincidence that the most interesting Italian research festivals were mostly born in small peripheral cities, towns and villages.

E.C. Of course. In places like Santarcangelo, Volterra, Dro, it is possible to really disrupt the rhythm of everyday life. In a big city, it’s much more complicated to interrupt the flow of days and geometries, unless you have the chance to use space-time dimensions in which, for a few days, micro-communities can aggregate. My ideal festival would last 24 hours a day, for as many days you need to let everyone lose consciousness of the where and when. Just think about how memorable Woodstock was for those who had the chance to experience it in 1969, for those who spent four days surrounded by music and completely away from the outside world, even if they were just outside New York. Those who were there came home different people. Obviously, it is a fact that the advent of the Internet and the large number of images and information in which we float today have placed the bar of wonder much higher, and we have to deal with that.

It is also true that the new generations of teenagers are equipping themselves with antibodies against this cyber bulimia which seems to make adults much sicker than young people.

D.N. Our students at The Manufacture in Lausanne teased us about our smartphones and former generation iPads, and they mocked their own parents for their social obsession. In spite of the distorted narrative often used, the new generation of girls and boys advancing in Europe is richer in impulses and curiouser than the previous one, and seriously questions the contradictions of the tools in its hands. Although chronological age doesn’t make any real sense, and we don’t make it a cage, for Santarcangelo we are also very interested in giving voice to them, to the lucidity of artists undertaking their first experiences.

What do you think it means to be a performative artist for a 20-year-old today? What horizons does he have? What tasks does he assign himself in relation to the world?

D.N. We are working on a project involving some of the best schools and training centres in Europe in order to ask ourselves these questions. The programme of activities that we developed as mentors for the artists of DAS School that we hosted in Autumn, for example, was largely built around spaces, cases, experiences and questions asked by some teachers, questions to which participants had to react with their own creative tools, whatever they were. In our experience, one of the fundamental qualities of a performer is to know how to react to unexpected situations, using all of their experience, their personal history. To do this, it’s necessary that the artist has travelled, seen and thought a lot, that they have a past from which to draw memories and images that they can use in the rehearsal room to feed their vision of the world.

And from a technical point of view, what does a performer train in?

E.C. Awareness. The ability to always know perfectly where he is, with whom and why, and to express through the gesture not technical perfection, but a significance that’s valuable in a specific moment, in front of a certain specific audience that emanates its own unique energy. Some define this ability as “presence” or “aura”, but it’s also a technical fact: it’s about being willing to let the issues and materials that you’re dealing with touch and permeate you. In English, to memorise something is to learn it “by heart”: it means with the heart, giving it all of yourself. It’s different from just memorising other people’s words by training the memory and the voice.

It’s about taking a stand, practicing the experience, in a way.

It’s about not shielding yourself from the outside world, but crossing it. Santarcangelo 2020 will offer works which are very different in style and substance, but the artists that we have invited do have one thing in common, a distinctive feature which we consider necessary: each of them carries the weight of their life’s realities: a reserve of intense, painful or happy experiences, a true burden of the world which they can share.