An interview with Cláudia Melo from “Ideias Emergentes – Produção Cultural, CRL” (Portugal)

Cáludia Melo, artistic director of “Contextile” – Biennial of Contemporary Textile Art, established under the wing of “Ideias Emergentes”, believes that the dialogue between very different regions or even countries is very important when promoting the local culture. In this interview, she introduces the importance of textile culture in the North Portugal and shares her thoughts on ways that it can unite people, regions and countries.

Photo: Karolis Pilypas Liutkevičius / Nanook

“Ideias Emergentes” specializes in promoting emerging artists, working on local, regional and international projects. Could you tell us a little bit more about this platform?

“Ideias Emergentes” is a cultural cooperative, founded in 2004 and based in Porto (and the rest of the North Portugal). Its purpose is the promotion and production of artistic and cultural activities that actively contribute to the emergence and affirmation of new cultural dynamics of local, regional and European spaces. It promotes projects and platforms of cultural interventions that would develop new fields of action and stimulate the critical, creative thinking and the transformative capacity of citizens.

The goals of “Ideas Emergentes” are the promotion of culture and creativity, and the connection between several disciplines: architecture, design, fine arts, technology, performance, dance, sociocultural animation, to name a few. We also intend to stimulate the creation of partnerships with other entities linked to art, culture and creativity, and to intensify exchanges of ideas between national and foreign creatives.

Your projects can be characterised by a particular focus on the textile art. Why?

There are 2 main reasons: the territory and the interest in the processes of contemporary art. We are acting “within” and “with” a strong textile territory in the North of Portugal. The textile tradition and memory are 2 factors that are very present in the daily life of this territory. To understand and systematize that knowledge and practice, the approaches and inputs that textile can bring to the contemporary art, we created “Contextile” – Biennial of Contemporary Textile Art that started in 2012.

“Ideias Emergentes” is primarily interested in fostering interaction between artists, local communities and the rich textile heritage of the Northern Portugal. It is particularly interested in combining the industrial and artisan backgrounds of the local textile with broader contemporary artistic expressions. The idea is to incite synergies and advance cooperation between different territories, communities, cultures, creative and economic sectors. Moreover, “Ideias Emergentes” has been working in advancing the development of textile arts and textile artists in Portugal and would like to present their work to other European countries as well. Due to its experience, “Ideias Emergentes” is mainly focused on the visual arts, inter-disciplinary and territory-related artistic activities.

The 4th edition of “Contextile” will take place this year. The Biennial reflects on the contemporary textile art and its ability to connect territories, communities, cultures and economies. How is this approached?

Indeed. “Contextile 2018” will start on the 1st of September in Guimarães and last until the 20th of October. To answer your question, I should say that it is all about working with links. “Contextile” has a vast and diverse programme. It starts with the international open call for exhibitions that can unite artists who work with textile art from all around the world, as well as those artists who work with the local communities of the region, and thus can contribute their popular wisdom, ancestral or recent techniques and general knowledge. We believe this programme is a way to gather several generations and experience their knowledge. It is very intergenerational. This programme can bring together artists, thinkers, theorists, driving producers within a same period and within the same space, and thus result in the creation of various artistic outcomes. This Biennial is first and foremost based on the identification of cultures and territories of textile culture that have been rooted to textile through social, cultural or economic ties. Second, we promote respect for these cultures and the genuine willingness to think of the textile art in a more global form from the details to the whole, and from the whole to the details. The third is our need to initiate a dialogue, whether the metaphorical or a straightforward one between the different regions that were born and developed very close to the culture and economy of textile.

The Biennial intends to promote both the national and foreign art by introducing artistic representations from different countries that provoke and create good tensions, building it all around the core of the contemporary textile art. For example, in this edition, we will work with several foreign countries such as Canada, France, Israel, Taiwan, and Poland. What unites these very different regions? Artistic production. In this case, it is the textile artistic production.

How, do you think art can inspire community building? What role does interdisciplinarity and promotion of internationalism play in that process? 

Art can be the engine of establishing and strengthening the sense of belonging in a community, and hence, contribute to the community building. Engaging locals with the development of arrays that reflect culture and history, memory and tradition. Putting them together with other communities to get to know other cultures. Education and artistic work provide historical and cultural knowledge. Artistic work can help people to honour or be aware of the history of the community.

Internationalism can provide political, social, economic and artistic interchanges, but it is necessary to maintain the idiosyncrasies of each culture. The sense of the community building is also established in this difference and in this premise. The processes of cultural exchange form a part of our present and are indispensable. It is necessary to understand and respect what is valuable in each territory and in each culture. Moreover, it is necessary to take the processes that result in the loss of the local identity, shared knowledge and cultures into consideration. Thus, it becomes possible to empower a “great community” that is made from parts that are willing to compromise.

What can be the input of international artists into the local culture? Do you think that the foreign way of seeing things might reveal things that the locals have stopped to even notice?

Yes. Of course. Sometimes we need to step back and take another look. And a more attentive one. Sometimes we need to embody the flâneur and find time and openness to see and feel what is already there. Things that roots us into our land are perceived as normal, banal, intrinsic, and at times irrelevant. We are so engaged in this environment that we cannot even see anything new through our own eyes. We must realize the aesthetics of everyday life, of everyday events. They are the ones who make the days, they are the ones that make history. They shape our life. They are important for art and for artistic creation. Experience and knowledge and other forms of artistic practice will be essential for new inputs. For an artist who does not belong to this reality, it will be very interesting to work within the local context. First, they do not belong to our country. Second, they do not belong to a more specific territory of our country that is the textile territory, the North of Portugal. It will be a plan for discoveries, of departures, or of relationships with your own experiences. We believe, however, that despite the differences, there is a line that crosses these communities and unites them. Art, and more specifically the textile art, does precisely this.

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