Shapeshifting festival of jellyfish, cyborgs and companion species
Here we are, at the last act. With this edition of "jellyfish, cyborgs and companion species", our artistic direction at Santarcangelo Festival comes to an end. We have been working uninterruptedly for two years, and in 11 days in July everything will end and we will go back to our life as artists. If we add the irruption of the pandemic to this chaotic temporality, the feelings inhabiting us get even more contorted. In the first press release, we were writing "in a state oscillating between hope and despair or – quoting Rebecca Solnit – 'in the darkness'". And it is true, during these two years we have been working in a state of altered overexcitement, leaping forward and glancing at the past. Caught between images and memories of our 30 years of attendance at the Festival, we have also been reflecting on the 50 years of its turbulent history, the transformations of the artistic scene, and the succession of artistic directions which - with their changes - contributed to shaping the imagery of citizens and audiences following the Festival, which became increasingly diverse and numerous, coming from geographic and social backgrounds far removed from regular theatre-goers. We went from the confusion at the beginning of the pandemic to the obstinacy of wanting to come back together in summer 2020, attempting to rebuild the Festival from its pieces, from what was left of the cancelled programme, petrified "in the amber of the moment". And it is from this first recovery operation that we really began to understand how vital it is to implement sustainable practices when "curating" artistic events: it is nice to use this word, which clashes so badly with the word "event". To curate, to "take care" of artistic acts: we prefer this term because every work is a gesture, a statement in the world, and it should resonate in agreement with it or against it. Learning to really take care was the most significant "lesson from the virus". It is different from the term "curatorship" tout court: there is always a certain distance in this approach that does not suit our "being part of the fabric" as artists ourselves. We cannot clearly visualise the big picture, we throw ourselves into the stream with enthusiasm (and recklessness), acting out of love for artworks and working paths. These impulses often clash with the still too limited resources available to this historic Festival: an unacceptable discrepancy in the entertainment world, highlighting the differences (further amplified by the pandemic) in funding between major events and independent, more peripheral and eccentric realities. But this is an old controversy we want to pursue by seeking alliances with various components of the world of live entertainment, which is still in turmoil.
In addition to the exhausting task of finding economic resources to stipulate respectable employment contracts, taking care of a festival is also trying to ensure that the works and the human relations underlying them are oxygenated, enlivened by the warmth of dialogue, comparison and, above all, kindness.
In this edition, we are looking to the kindness of animals.
We would like the Festival to be made and seen through the eyes of a cat, the mirrored eyes of a fish or a cephalopod. We want to learn to be present and silently welcoming, observing, learning, with the extraneousness that wildness intrinsically brings and sacralises. We have absorbed, learned and listened to so much in these two years, especially from so many artists younger than us, which has been another great lesson. We don't experience age as a barrier but as a catalyst facilitating relationships. We try to keep our sensors always on, like cyborgs of unbridled interrelation, alone, or rather as a pair: this is another central element of this page, which is perhaps more of a personal diary than a programme introduction. Being in two in dealing with all the staff, the administrators, the art world... Being a couple in the artistic direction and then three, with Chiara Organtini, who supported us through everything, always with much affection. There is often a third party joining us in our composing scenarios of any kind, whether they are shows or projects.
And on July 19 it will all be over.
We can already imagine the abysmal emptiness of that day. We will go back to our lives as artists, putting the experience we have accumulated in these two acrobatic years at the disposal of the new director Tomasz Kireńczuk, just as Eva Neklayeva and Lisa Gilardino did with us.
We will return to our former life with a new show that has yet to debut, born between the organisational meetings of the Festival and the increasingly exasperating confinement. We will return to what we used to do, profoundly transformed. Because this Festival really has a transformative power for those who live it, curate it and even participate in it.
This year we have called it "shapeshifter", a term that is not just an adjective: this English neologism joined the more traditional "proteiform", which has a very long history in worldwide literature, mythology and folklore, embodying the possibility for humans or other creatures to transform into different species. The origins of shapeshifters are not well-known; perhaps they were once simple individuals in symbiosis with nature. For some, they are abominations and therefore seen as bearers of bad luck, witches or monsters, or beings with a magnificent gift. They have no sense of belonging to a group or a specific race, so they have no hierarchies or classes. They are free and independent and can also fluidly transition between genders. These theories and imaginaries will imbue many events of this edition: the meetings, the musical and cinematographic programme but also the places themselves, starting with Parco dei Cappuccini, which this year, as well as hosting open-air shows, will transform into a sustainable village, with the project whose title is self-explanatory: How To Be Together.
Despite everything, we have worked in the attempt to keep producing images, fertilising the territory dried up by the fear of the virus, which banally and dangerously becomes a fear of Otherness, of what is different, of what does not fit into the consolidated perceptive categories. This year we have pushed even more towards hybridisation and composting practices, creating a programme that has exploded across forms and languages, bodies and minority voices. Voices that would be difficult to intercept, works that are unlikely to go on to big performance venues (at least in Italy). Futuro Fantastico will be an iridescent mixture of artists of various origins, invading the rediscovered places of the Festival. The variety of the locations we will occupy is as wide as the formats, with an enormous organisational effort of the entire team, whom we thank here with esteem and affection. Perhaps it would be enough to list all the locations to understand the tentacular nature of this edition, ranging from Piazza Ganganelli, which this year will be exclusively inhabited by workshops for young people and ballroom dancers, to the classrooms of the Scuola Pascucci and the courtyard of the school, which will host many of the so-called "Winter Is Coming groups". We will then be expanding to the ever-present Supercinema, with both its halls occupied with shows and film marathons, as well as the renovated Teatro il Lavatoio. Going up the town streets, the spacious Sferisterio will welcome music with an eclectic and all-female programme curated by Chris Angiolini (Bronson productions) and the Bisonte after-festival, with DJ sets by many of the Festival's artists. This year the musicians of Grand Bois will occupy the roofs and terraces of the old town streets up to the Rocca, mysteriously towering over the town, making the ancient walls resound to voodoo rhythms for three hours. The spectacular Colle Giove will be inhabited for a night by the itinerant Cinema du Desert, whose photovoltaic truck will also drive along the banks of the Marecchia River to rediscover and light up the industrial and ghostly colossus of the former Unicem. We will also populate the stadium with Mara Oscar Cassiani's Be Waters, and the Mutoid field will return to the centre of the programme with a site-specific event by Belgian collective GHOST: 16 musicians/artists creating a unique happening dedicated to Mad Max. Then, of course, Parco dei Cappuccini will be the beating heart of this edition: there will be two large open-air stages coexisting Nellospazio, camouflaged in the nearby woods: it will really become a regenerated area, something never seen before! From the park we will move on to San Mauro Pascoli and the marvellous Villa Torlonia, to be visited on the occasion of the special shows held there, and then on following the Marecchia River, it is worth going to Rimini to see Deflorian/Tagliarini's tribute to Fellini. Keeping everything together, the project ERRANTE_sentieri dialoghi visioni will offer dawn walks along the river. A 24/7 programme, ranging from unexpected proposals to more established works, always on the ridge of uncertainty, giving our work meaning and the right to exist. There will be many shows that we have "not seen before" because it was impossible to move, because they are works born in the emptiness of lockdown, or because they are the result of very long research processes and slow metamorphosis, which will meet their first looks right at the Festival. And we are not afraid of this either: opening up to the city with a programme that is partly Unknown (to quote a project by Markus Öhrn from a few years ago), with proposals mostly born and modelled on and for the Festival locations and based on very strong pacts of trust between us and the artists involved, is another big challenge we have deemed right to accept. It would have been easy to rely on big names or shows that were already circulating. We preferred to "take care", always with the insufficient means - and we must repeat this - that a Festival with this mission has, of artists with whom we really wanted to come into contact humanly, beyond the promotional façade, to put ourselves on the line, risking a lot, maybe too much? Who can set a limit these days... We don't want to, and we advance headlong like goats, climbing up steep walls to look back from another point of view before getting back on track.
Humans must fight for the survival of the whole Earth because they are rooted in it, together with all organic, artificial or non-human life forms, cyborgs, other monstrous and inappropriate creatures.
from the introduction to Donna Haraway's The Promises of Monsters
DANIELA NICOLÒ, ENRICO CASAGRANDE
Artistic Direction of Santarcangelo Festival