Post Europe in Thessaloniki
The first workshop of the second phase of the “Freiraum” project took place from 19.-22-.10. in Thessaloniki. The main principles of the Freiraum-platform and its future were discussed with partners across Europe. Post Europe was also debated internally and at a public live transmitted conference. Performances invited the citizens to express their perspective and their dreams of Europe. We are thankful to ArtBOX for the inspiring and great partnership.
FREIRAUM GROWS INTO ADULTHOOD: HOW DO WE PROCEED?
Having completed three years since the beginning of the project, and with collaborations between 42 cities, Freiraum moves into its next phase with an intense, four-day meeting in Thessaloniki under the roof of the LABattoir project. Those four days were full of vivid discussions about the future of the initiative, performance art events, exhibitions, a conference and workshops, showing the potential of Freiraum and its creative tools, and making everyone realize that, for a dynamic partnership like this, the sky is the limit!
By Kalliopi Kati
Sunday night and the air is crisp, but not too cold in the port of Thessaloniki (it is October after all). People gather around a captivating stage made of metal and light and an empty microphone, with the calm sea and the city noise as a background. Surely but slowly, a man with a hat and a trenchcoat enters the stage carrying bags of sand, and echoes of the EU leaders of the past begin to ring in the spectators’ ears.
“I wish to speak about the tragedy of Europe”, the man says, impersonating Joseph Beuys.
He then patiently prompts people into sharing their dreams, whether those are personal recollections of the unconscious, or their visions for Europe. People flood the stage, shy and reserved at first, but in the end all you could see around the stage was smiling faces, red from laughing too hard at a dream that was absurd enough.
The performance “Sandmen: Dreaming in/of Europe” by actor and director Thomas Velissaris was only a small part of the rich, four-day programme in Thessaloniki. It was however indicative of the essence of the project entering its second, crucial phase. Echoing the performance, the forum that was summoned for the new and older members of the Freiraum network served as an opportunity for participants to discuss “Post-Europe” -the current and future situation in Europe- and to formulate a vision for the Freiraum project through that perspective. Heavily influenced by the political turmoil and insecurity that floods Europe, the need for a “safe space / Freiraum” is proven to be more crucial than ever before, as the 15 representatives stated.
“How can we create micro-utopias? All we have in common is our humanity.”Artist and curator Jane Dudman couldn’t have expressed better the dynamic of a group of people from different cultural and social backgrounds. Her performative lecture during the conference “Post Europe: 3 approaches on the future of Europe through a global perspective” at the end of day 1 summarised a lot of the discussions that had taken place earlier that same day, when most team members shared an understanding of the need to do “something provocative” in a joint project. Sitting next to each other, the 15 members all get into deep conversation that feels personal and intimate, like “a therapy group in a safe space”, in the words of Edit Pula, artist, curator and cultural advisor in Tirana. The craving for expression in a space of like-minded individuals is shared by all in the workshops and the closed discussions, sharing stories from different countries and their experiences from their own projects, but all under the spectrum of the protection of democracy, “the experience of freedom” and “protest against the culture of necessity”.
Over the next days, all participants are invited to share their projects with the group, and their expectations from the project. Iskra Geshoska, artist, activist and founder of the association Kontrapunkt in Skopje, focuses on the importance of suppressed anger and the channeling of it into productive protest, as she states that “anger is a symptom of awareness in people that try to become social beings”. On the other hand, Milan Zvada, curator, cultural manager and activist from Slovakia, focuses on the importance of satirical performance art on the critique of the current political situation in his country. Prokop Cech, “not an artist but a facilitator” in his own words, analyses the complexity of voting algorithms and consensus-centered methods, while unfolding his involvement with H21, an independent foundation in Prague, focusing on “reversing political apathy and saving the world from more Trumps and Brexits”. Last but not least, Greek journalist on environmental and European issues, Vasiliki Grammatikogianni explains the severity of climate change and its impact on the future of Europe, while the hosts, Christos Savvidis and Lydia Chatziiakovou, curators, directors of ArtBOX Creative Arts Management and creators of the LABattoir project, explain the implementation of “Art for Social Change” practices in the city of Thessaloniki. Of course, the presentations from the participants were not the only information shared those days; the conference “Post Europe: 3 approaches on the future of Europe through a global perspective” hosted over 15 artists, academics and experts in order to offer additional, more holistic perspective on matters relevant to the Europe of today.
All of the ideas presented above worked as a catalyst for change, and an invitation to “make peace with social and political trauma”, thus creating an identity for a network that could “change the narrative and give voice to the people”. The need to “expand and pass on the Freiraum flame to more people, to bring in our brothers and sisters into the conversation” is highlighted both by Milan Zvada and Signe Sophie Boggild, a Danish art and architecture historian. Meanwhile, the idea of taking advantage of the diversity of the group leads into believing that maybe a network is not enough for the continuation of the Freiraum project, but it should be complemented by more open, flexible and dynamic aspects, all interconnected to each other under the same ethics and goals.
“Think big, think ambitiously!”Having discussed the matter of the identity of the project enough, the team promises to get back to it over the course of the next days, but not without tackling another major issue: How do we approach funding opportunities in general and EU funding specifically? Christos Savvidis poses the question on numerous occasions, as the importance of answering it is now pressing to ensure the continuation of the project. As Goethe-Institut will step down from supporting the project at the end of 2020, the main goal in Phase 2 is to create a sustainable, independent concept and search for additional funding sources, while also sustaining its continuing connection with the Goethe-Institut. For the participants’ better understanding of strategic application for funding a cultural project, a preparatory training session on European funding programs was monitored by Simone Rudolf of Goethe-Institut Brussels on Day 3, which led to productive conversations concerning the partnerships involved and the level of participation for each and every one of the individuals involved.
“A mobile stage as the symbolic representation of Freiraum”Rushing through all of the workshops, activities, conferences and performances of those four days though, one element remains present in every event, practically proving its importance as a tool for creating a safe space anywhere: the Freevolous City Stage, designed and built by the Labattoir project as a tool for the activation of communities and public spaces. This innovative, mobile, flexible structure allows anyone to install a stage anywhere, indoors or outdoors, assembling it in any way imaginable, instantly initiating a theatrical effect on every performance, public talk, concert etc. without the need of a state in its traditional sense. The mobile stage proved its effectiveness again and again those four days, as it was used in different forms to host the conference, a participatory performance at the port of Thessaloniki, an audiovisual performance, and a music improvisation performance interacting to a visual arts installation. Its success was also highlighted during the conference by experiences of the initiators, the designer and artists who used it before. Using the stage was “the most educational experience I’ve had since drama school”, as Thomas Velissaris stated. Meanwhile, Lydia Chatziiakovou admits that “the mobile stage has opportunities in formats we hadn’t even anticipated while creating it”, impressing Maud Qamar, the coordinator of project Freiraum, who claimed to be “enamored with the mobile stage”.
“Rushing through checkboxes is not authentic, Freiraum has to happen organically”Reaching the end of the forum in Thessaloniki, a sense of urgency arises between the participants of the discussions, as it is soon realized that a clear identity has to be forged in order for Freiraum to continue. Through constant discussion though, and with the help of a focus group assembled by Anke Schad, the evaluator of the Freiraum project, the members of the forum realize that, despite their unconventional planning, these four days provided with an insight on the future of Freiraum that didn’t feel forced, but was created as way to complement each participants’ personal contribution. As a result, an identity is formed for the project before the next meeting in Blatislava: one that includes an annual festival following the principles of Freiraum (that were discussed and will be assembled in a “manifesto” of sorts), that would aim to attract not only creatives, but also provide with seminars, conferences and other activities for academics involved in Art, Sociology or Political Sciences, or anyone from the public interested in the concept. The annual festivals will also be an occasion for the main participants to meet in different cities and perform closed sessions for the continuation of the program, and they will be accompanied by satellite events happening throughout the year in different cities at once. The program will additionally run an online platform for easy access to information about the project, its participants, as well as an online archive for past events in video form, as well as possible future seminars/interviews with people involved in art and social issues. At the same time, the project will be accompanied by a mentoring initiative, where the main participants will be inviting younger creatives into the world of Freiraum and teach them its main principles, and artist residencies in different cities for additional research. Finally, one must not forget the tangible interpretation of the “safe space” that will be impersonated by the concept of the mobile stage, an original concept of the LABattoir project as described above, that will be modified by every participating city and customized so as to reflect each place’s unique cultural, social and economic characteristics.
Under the bright Mediterranean sun, the participants bid farewell to one another with hope for the future of Freiraum and plans for the following months.