The first year of MagiC Carpets: magic stories scattered around Europe
MagiC Carpets is a four-year international project co-funded by Creative Europe. For the first time, a project of such scale is led by Lithuania and represented by Kaunas Biennial, the contemporary art festival. The platform connects local communities and emerging artists and enables them to implement joint artistic projects. Year 1 of the project resulted in 20 residencies, participation of 22 emerging and 41 local artists and 16 different local communities. With project partnerships becoming stronger and its direction clearer, project organisers reflect on their experiences and already plan Year 2.
Stories that connect Europe or MagiC Carpets
In early autumn, Kaunas Biennial has successfully completed Year 1 of MagiC Carpets. Led by the Lithuanian team, the project is coordinated together with twelve partners from Latvia, Germany, United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and Georgia. The aim of MagiC Carpets is to employ various forms of art to represent the diverse community of Europe, its history, problems, and issues and create socially responsible art that helps to verbalise stories of various communities. The project is implemented on the basis of artistic residencies for young/ emerging artists that take place in different foreign countries.
Even though the goal was to organise 13 residencies during Year 1, some partners decided that they want to invite more artists and accepted 2 artists instead of 1. As a result, the total of residencies reached 20. Selected by the curators, artists worked with local communities, conducted research, collected local stories and at the end of their residences, introduced their artistic projects inspired by communities and what they shared. Ms. Kotryna Žemaitytė, director of Kaunas Biennial, shares her thoughts on these magical cultural processes: “In my head, I associate this project with a book of fairy-tales. A book with different stories, different characters, different heroes and different three-headed dragons. This year, we wrote more than 20 such stories collected from all around Europe. Their characters are local communities: refugees in Italy or Georgia, residents of a small village at the outskirts of Romania, washerwomen in Portugal, etc. On the one hand, it seems that all these fairy-tales are completely unrelated, but their purpose is to find their home, reader, listener or observer. Without eyes and ears that want to understand, there would not be any need for lips to tell stories, and these stories would lose their meaning. I am very glad that in the face of increasing nationalism, anti-Semitism and hostility, we have the most peaceful yet the most powerful weapon: the power to acquaint people with one another through stories told using different forms of art, trying to help us all understand that we, people, are the same, the only thing that differs is the environment in which we live. And usually, we are afraid of or dislike those who we do not know.”
Diverse European community
Through a wide network of partner organisations and artists, MagiC Carpets aims at encouraging intercultural and interreligious dialogue, increase society’s awareness, understanding, and knowledge about our history, the past and direct communication. According to Ms. Neringa Stoškutė, Head of MagiC Carpets, “currently a lot of people are going through a personal crisis because we do not know what it means to be a part of a community. Therefore, we neither know nor understand our responsibility towards another people. Usually, we do not tolerate things that we do not understand. It is important to engage local communities in the creative artistic processes and use the practice of co-creation to increase mutual understanding and cross-cultural communication and cooperation”.
Each partner organisation chose an issue or social topic relevant for its country, while some partners also strived to reflect geopolitical actions through culture: Italy, Croatia, and Austria used art and work with the local community to make their contribution addressing the migrant crisis and their integration to the society. During their residency in Novo Kulturno Naselje (Serbia, Novi Sad), the Italian duo Grossi Maglioni analysed a difficult and turbulent history of Serbia, country’s approach to local national minorities and situation of women in the region. Visual artist Maj Horn (Denmark / Germany), walked the streets of Zagreb (Croatia) with local refugees to draw a map featuring places and useful tips for migrants. The publication features various tips for survival: second-hand shops, places to spend a night, lists of special schools for migrants, other useful information and a map.
Other partner organisations focused on sociocultural context and local traditions. During the biennial of textile art Contextile (Portugal, Guimaraes), artists Hermione Allsopp (United Kingdom) and Ida Blazicko (Croatia) communicated with washerwomen unique to the region of North Portugal who wash the clothes of their family in the public basins located in the city centre. The artists created almost ten works of art to encourage women to cherish and continue these traditions.
All artists participating in the project were encouraged to work outside institutions and thoroughly explore the sociocultural context of the foreign country. Such work method helped the artists to improve their practices, while the hosting communities had a chance to see themselves, their history and social issues from a different perspective. Presentations of residence results usually took place in public spaces not designed to present art: parks, main city squares, old offices or textile factories. Emerging artists were presented in international events: biennials, triennials, various festivals.
Increasing understanding and trust
The team of MagiC Carpets believes that culture can turn mistrust and confrontation into intercultural dialogue, mutual understanding, respect and love for one another: “multiculturalism poses a great challenge, but there is one thing that all thirteen project partners agree on: desire to create audience-oriented art, and try to explain sometimes sophisticated and refined language of art to both a small child and the ultimate art guru”, smiles Kotryna Žemaitytė.
Looking back at the first and successful year of the project, its organisers not only assess the results but point out certain aspects to improve. Throughout the year, difficulties regarding different working methods related to cultural differences have been identified: “looking back at the first year of the project and sharing our experiences with partners, we understood our strengths, weaknesses, and difficulties. We saw room for improvement in the future. Our activities are characterised by increasing self-criticism and sense of direction, and this allows us talking about our needs and have clearer aims,” says Neringa Stoškutė. She admits that the challenge for Kaunas Biennial as the leading institution, as well as for the partners, curators, and artists, is overcoming the fact that they all possess different knowledge, experiences, approaches, customs, and so it is challenging to find a way to share it all.
The beginning of Year 2 is marked by intensive preparations for the second cycle of artist residencies. During the curatorial meeting that took place in October, curators discussed future plans, visited the textile biennial Contextile 2018 and awarded communities for the most active participation in artistic projects. During Year 2, it is estimated to complete 26 residencies. “After Year 1, I would like to wish project partners perseverance and determination continuing their work. And not forget to dream, of course!” says Neringa Stoškutė.