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Way Beyond the Obvious: Hopping Borders between Peripheral Cultural Practices

Tandem Europe participant Hugo Branco (VIC Aveiro Arts House) has been working on Re:Surface, with Ecoopera. In this story, he shares recent updates on the evolution of the project and travels, including placement and a presentation at the Beyond the Obvious conference.

Time flies. After a lovely weekend shepherding around the Spanish Extremadura as part of my Tandem placement with the Ecoopera crew, it’s suddenly the 23rd of October and I should repack and fly to Zurich. What kind of weather should one expect from northern Switzerland at this time of the year? What about South Western Greece? Better pack for all sorts of climate change.

Coming down from a hectic summer —juggling between guest relations, rural development, soundtrack production or festival programming— the truth is that I didn’t have time to think this trip through. Luckily, Jorge has been on top of it. Or so I think to myself while I smoke a cigarette and wait for him outside Zurich’s airport —Oh, there he is!— We hug and take a breath together to get a sense of place, and he debriefs me —train-taxi-Alex-dinner-drink-hotel— that’s all I need to know for today.

Konstanz, Germany: eggs and coffee intercalate with recent affinities from last night. We cross the border and head out to Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, where the Culture Crops conference is taking place. We kind of get lost so we’re late but gladly not too late. During the next few days we’ll cross this inconspicuous border back and forth, over and over again: at some point it would become kind of difficult to keep track of which country one is was currently in.

Organised by Culture Action Europe, the international conference propels us day after day through a fast-paced but carefully traced route of engaging talks and workshops, creating an essential debate space for artists, cultural managers and policy makers from all over Europe, involved in cultural practices in peripheral or non-urban territories.

Beyond the obvious, we get to spend time with dear friends and colleagues such as Joanjo from the Can Castells Centre d’Art (Sant Boi de Llobregat, Spain), Yanina from Ideas Factory (Sofia, Bulgaria), Elisabete from Creatour.pt (Portugal), Reto and Alex from the Transitory Museum (Pfyn, Switzerland) —who is actually our host and one of the event’s masterminds— and to make lovely new acquaintances with quite inspiring people and projects. It would’t take long before plans for new cross-borders collaborations and interchanges started popping up like wild mushrooms under heavy rain.

Of course there’s a party in this story. There’s always a party in every story —or at least, there should— this time at the fifth floor of a former Samsung factory, for which I was also invariably invited to DJ. We talk and dance all night, share weird drinks and good laughs with our recent and less recent friends, and later decide to take what would be an incredibly long and adventurous walk back to the hotel, where we’ll —barely— sleep until too early in the morning.

Somewhat light-headed and after being introduced to some of the region’s main cultural venues and organisations, Jorge and me eventually present #Re_Emergir, a community-based participatory arts project collaboratively developed by both our organisations —Ecoopera and VIC // Aveiro Arts House— at Borralha, a depopulated mining village in northern Portugal, with the support of its amazing people and of the local delegation of the Ecomuseu de Barroso, within the context of the Tandem Europe program. Despite the small scale of our project, enthusiastic feedback to our presentation suggests that we actually inspired some of our peers with our bottom-up, community-driven, hands-on, people-centred approach. —we’re exhausted and accomplished.

Time flies. It’s suddenly the 26th of October and also for us to fly again, this time to Athens, where we’ll meet Panos —one of our dearest Tandem crew mates—, his partner Maria and my old friend Vangelis. Next episode will implicate a DJ set at a quirky art space in Exarcheia, jacuzzis, pinguins and twisted ankles, a road-trip to beautiful and sunny Messolonghi, long swims in the Mediterranean, lovely time well spent with our dear Tandem crew, fresh fish, wineries and family parties, brief but productive work meetings with Marta—my amazing Tandem partner—, a crowd of absolutely delicious new Greek friends and obscene amounts of freddo cappuccino. But that’s another story.