Claire and Elisa during working in Spessa, Italy. Photo by Margarida Sampaio It’s all About Connection: Tandem Europe Reflections Tandem Europe participants Claire Sivier and Elisa Pifferi have explored new participatory methods in rural spaces throughout their collaboration. They come back to us with a reflection of their participation in Tandem. The Tandem Europe Partner forum of October 2017 seems like a lifetime ago. It is only now that it feels appropriate to really understand and comprehend the experience of our collaboration. During the initial partner forum, or what we came to irrationally experience as the “Tandem speed dating panic”, 40 incredibly diverse creative practitioners from across Europe each frantically tried to find a Tandem partner, which initially felt like trying to find your life mate – there was a general sense of: “will they like me”, “do I have enough to offer?” “am I talking to much?” “do I have something in my teeth?”, I digress, but you see my point – with the anxiety high, the pressure was on to find a partner. However, with the nurturing support of the Tandem team, we were able to chill, let go, and focus on what mattered – connection. Elisa and I shared exactly that, a connection. After a few talks across the first two days, we seemed to gravitate back towards each other and we just seemed to fit (aww). This connection set the foundation for our now ongoing collaboration together, and thus the beginning of what we hope will be a longstanding professional and personal relationship. Audience members viewing exhibition of interviews after Legado dos Sentidos performance, Arganil, Portugal. Photo by Margarida Sampaio. Our project stemmed from recognising in each other and our organisations that there was a lot we could learn and share together. Our respective organisations and practices have close parallels; both organisations had developed their foundations within a rural context, and each deal with the rapid changes taking place within smaller rural communities, such as declining populations, youth unemployment, and environmental factors such as forest fires. Whilst we shared these commonalities, we operated in very different ways; Raizvanguarda had developed an artist residency programme based in rural central Portugal as well as international projects, Artemista had developed a strong artistic programme and engagement within their local context. Through our Tandem collaboration, together we wanted to look at how we could learn from our different processes and strengths, whilst making an attempt to address our local challenges in rural spaces. So, on we went to lay out an ambitious programme which sought to be the first step in exploring new forms of participation for those communities within rural spaces. Audience during performance of Legado dos Sentidos, Arganil, Portugal. Photo by Margarida Sampaio. Local, Meet International was born! We would use Artemista’s strength of developing local artistic projects by bringing their approach to Arganil in Portugal, with the aim to produce a new participatory performance, which would be developed artistically through an international workshop guided by the experience of Raizvaguarda in Italy….simple right? Hmm, not so simple….I did say it was ambitious. Audience during performance of Legado dos Sentidos, Arganil, Portugal. Photo by Margarida Sampaio. The project worked in three stages: 1) To approach our common theme of exploring identity in rural spaces, we set up an interview process led by a team of young people in the rural villages of Gois and Arganil. During this process, the interviews were carried out across generations of people living in the local area about why their home is important to them, concerns, and hopes for the future. These interviews were then transcribed and would go on to be the stimulus for the narrative of the performance scheduled later that year. 2) An international workshop hosted within the Artemista premises in Italy was held to develop a new interactive prototype to be integrated into the performance. Through an open call, the workshop brought together four artists; Aiste Noreikaite (Lithuania), Craig Scott (Scotland), Mauro Buttafava (Italy) & Pietro Occhiuzzi (England). All four artists worked across disciplines to develop a new interactive prototype which was created by developing stories shared during the interview process and new technology such as Arduino. 3) A public performance Legado dos Sentidos. The audience was taken on a sensory journey through the past, present and future, inspired by stories of those living in Arganil and surrounding villages captured during the first stages of the project. The performance was created in collaboration with two local organisations, youth theatre company TEIA, and youth association CUME who were pivotal in ensuring an audience, participation and local knowledge. Artist Craig Scott during international workshop, Spessa, Italy. So the process was.not.easy. And, it shouldn’t have been. How else are you to learn? From trying to navigate time zones, personal commitments, cultural differences, three languages, and more, what the Tandem project allowed to do was simply try. Test. Experiment, Fail a bit, Test again. Listen. Learn and really grow in our own practice and those surrounding us. This is a success. Seeing people smile, laugh and cry when seeing themselves reflected in the final performance; members of the community speaking to those they may not have previously; having young performers asking “when can we do this again?!”. This is all adds to that success. Everyone seemed connected somehow…. The project format we piloted set a new framework for how we want to develop projects independently and together in the future and recognise there is always so much to learn, but it started with connection and trust. It wasn’t perfect and was often challenging, but it allowed us the space to build with those in our locality and create new connections. For us, after many years of working in the arts and cultural sector, it’s hard to think of another programme like Tandem which allows such freedom. Thank you.