An Intimate Look at the Body of Crisis – Revisiting Action Field Kodra 2015 | Kodra Fresh: ‘Happy Accidents’


ABSTRACT: In this essay I revisit the overarching themes and the curatorial approach of one of the main exhibitions of Action Field Kodra 2015 visual arts festival (hereby referred as AFK) in Thessaloniki, Greece and discuss its social and political context in view of the financial, political and social crisis. Some of the underlying questions examined are: How can an art festival articulate a statement on the pressing issues of its time addressing local as well as global concerns? Can we contrive artistic responses and curatorial practices to generate new patterns of social interaction and collective meaning? Is theory an appropriate tool for deciphering and communicating these ruminations? How is the ‘body’ used in art and theory both literally, as primary matter and metaphorically, as a concept in the time of crisis? To further substantiate this study, the essay discusses the curatorial concept and strategy, illustrated with some of the artworks featured in the exhibition.*


Two Worlds, Thodoris Trampas, 2013, Courtesy Thodoris Trampas/Action Field Kodra 2015

Two Worlds, Thodoris Trampas, 2013, Courtesy Thodoris Trampas/Action Field Kodra 2015


This essay revisits the overarching themes and the curatorial practices of one of the main exhibitions of Action Field Kodra 2015, Kodra Fresh. I will focus on the social and political context of the exhibition in view of the financial, political and social crisis which has been ravaging the country these past years, looking at it by means of aesthetic and theoretical analysis. Some of the underlying questions are: How can an art festival articulate a statement on the pressing issues of its time addressing local as well as global issues? Can we contrive artistic responses and curatorial practices to generate new patterns of social interaction and collective meaning? Is theory an appropriate tool for deciphering and communicating these ruminations? Moreover, how is the ‘body’ used in art and theory both literally and metaphorically in times of crisis? How can bodies ‘speak’ about what they experience and how can art further visualize that ‘speech’?


Action Field Kodra visual arts festival, Main Venue, Opening Night, 2015, Courtesy Action Field Kodra

Kodra Fresh is an annual exhibition featuring young and emerging artists who have recently graduated from the Schools of Fine Arts in Greece and abroad, an exhibition I had the chance to organize and curate in its two last editions (2014-15). An Open Call delineating the concept of the exhibition invites artists to submit their applications and the curator of the exhibition, in collaboration with a team of art professionals, chooses the final participating artists and artworks. The festival’s central concept for its 2015 edition was “Error”; in the light of the unremitting economic, social and political unrest in the country, exhibitions and events of the festival attempted to reconsider through contemporary artistic practices the financial crisis and its social and political impact. Parallel to the festival, groundbreaking events shook the country and the rest of Europe; referendum on austerity measures, ‘Grexit’ or ‘Graccident’ (accidental Grexit), capital controls, and a whole range of unprecedented shifts turned this period into one of the most tumultuous and troublesome in modern Greek history. In this context, the introductory text of the festival set the theoretical framework thusly:

At a first glimpse, the signified of the word, is negatively charged. Nevertheless, by approaching the signifier, positive concepts are automatically generated, including correction as a need for reintroduction, change as a prerequisite for evolution, response to unpredicted parameters as a means of expression. Starting from the aforementioned theme, the structure of Action Field Kodra 2015 was developed on the basis of models for tackling crises that result from an erroneous process. “Error” defines a condition which is terminal but not stagnant. It may be the milestone of a deviation or a change of course and therefore redefines the entire reference framework of a society, of its activity and concerns, its artistic creation and initiatives.1


Art Festivals in the Realm of the Real

Embodying Crisis: Problematizing the ‘Error’

“The body again. Where none. The place again. Where none.
Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again.”
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

In the beginning of the 20th century (1915–1917), Sigmund Freud argued in his lectures at the University of Vienna about the value of errors, that is, those recurrent actions or omissions that are regularly seen as symptomatic, superfluous, or simply useless. The Psychopathology of Everyday Life was first published in 1901, and A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis in 1917. In both monographs, the father of psychoanalysis attempts, using numerous examples, to prove that speech, writing, hand, memory, or typewriting slips—to name only a few indicative categories with which he engages—must be dealt with as symptoms of important mental processes. As he puts it:

We know not only that they [errors] are psychic acts, in which we can recognize meaning and purpose, and that they arise through the mutual interference of two different intentions, but, in addition, we know that one of these intentions must have undergone a certain suppression in order to be able to manifest itself through interference with the other. The interfering intention must itself first be interfered with before it can become interfering. […] But errors are compromise formations. They mean some success and some failure for each of the two purposes. The endangered intention is neither completely suppressed nor does it […] come through wholly intact.2

Errors as symptoms of an unintentional or intentional repression in all their possible manifestations—such as in expressions of conflict, competition and eventually synthesis or compromise—echoed for many decades a part of philosophical (or otherwise) contemplation.

Carrying such concerns over to the field of contemporary art we immediately find ourselves in travelled paths; improvisation, experiment, deflection and the preconscious intruded into the artistic adventures a long time ago, apparent already in the movements of modernism (dada, surrealism, fluxus, abstract expressionism, and, of course, later on, in performance, new media, glitch art, etc.). However, this proclivity that artistic creation has, according to the historical context, each time reformulates its rules and frame of reference. Approaching the topic from the field of Art History, Pepi Rigopoulou is correct when she argues that “if we examine the movements of the second half of the 20th century more broadly, we will ascertain that many elements, like the mask and the doll, man and wife, […] the usage of the body, […] the mechanical, ritualistic, political, the scandalous and grotesque element (and more), repeat basic traits of the artistic creation of the early 20th century.”3


Ixis afixis ouk, 2015, Spyros Prokopiou, Courtesy Spyros Prokopiou / Action Field Kodra 2015, Photo: pSari Visual Productions

Under this thematic umbrella, Kodra Fresh was organized as an exhibition experimenting with the notion of the accident, the slip, the discontinuity. Titled “Happy Accidents”, Kodra Fresh formulated an incongruous artistic constellation, a series of audio-visual studies on conflict, irony and interference as structural elements of artistic creation. Nineteen artists were featured, approaching with sensitivity – yet sarcastically – stereotypes and standardization, representation of the self and its malfunctions, psychological mechanisms of pleasure and transcendental faith, contemporary visualizations of the body and deformation (as for instance in Spyros Procopiou’s paintings).

In AFK 2015, for the first time, the traditional senior and graduate students’ exhibition was accompanied by a pilot project that had a rigorous educational character. The project was the result of a close collaboration with distinguished emerging artists, who are best known for deploying innovative approaches in their respective fields. It was actualized in cooperation with Athens Video Dance Project (AVDP), and the visual artist and performer Fotini Kalle. A three-day intensive workshop on videodance—a hybrid medium combining dancing and cinematography—, a scheduled projection of international videodance artworks, and a four-hour masterclass on the art of performance (both theory and practice) were the result of it.

Fotini Kalle, Performance Masterclass, Courtesy Fotini Kalle/Action Field Kodra 2015

Fotini Kalle, Performance Masterclass, Courtesy Fotini Kalle/Action Field Kodra 2015

Forms of living art engaged with the human body are deeply concerned with power relations and the subsequent deviations from them, for the body has always been the site of desire as well as abjection, vulnerability, trauma, transformation, violence and annihilation; surely no art form can demonstrate a more powerful affinity to the questions of Error and Happy Accidents considered in the context of socio-political antagonism. Thinking about the crisis in a multi-faceted manner, one can immediately realize that the body is a collective, primary subject under attack; impoverishment, cutbacks in the public health system and the rise of extreme political ideas, increasing violence in the public space, all pertaining to the aftermath of the crisis, threaten the very idea of bodily existence.

In addition to the parallel program which was entirely dedicated to bodily artistic practices, the opening evening hosted Thodoris Trampas’ performance Two Worlds. The artist, by using his body in a choreographic struggle for balance, tried to overpower the weight of a big piece of ice. A rope, fastened on the ceiling, held the two “bodies” that were tied to its ends. After a while, as the performance unfolded, Trampas shattered the ice, releasing in this way his body from the counterbalancing forces, while also delivering it to inescapable gravity. Hence, oscillations as well as swinging were terminated. A system of relationships that demonstrated the interdependent reliance that keeps us accountable for our actions—and also for the actions of others—was mapped and deconstructed through the force and intensity that the body alone can release in live action.

Two Worlds, Thodoris Trampas, 2015, Performance View, Photo: pSari Visual Productions, Courtesy Thodoris Trampas/Action Field Kodra 2015


Body and Power Structures: On the Verge of Aesthetics

“That logic of the bodies that are found in place in a distribution of the communal and the private, which is also a distribution of the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise, I have suggested to call it ‘police.’ Politics is the act that rends police’s order […] Politics begins when a breach occurs in the distribution of spaces and abilities—and inabilities.”
Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator

In Yolanda Gail Devers, 1992, Giorgos Nikas presents a video projection and a two channel audio installation. He focuses on the finishing moment of the women’s 100-meter hurdles at the Barcelona Olympic Games. Using archival material from the photo finish, Nikas concentrates on the instrument that is used in track and field sports to ensure the legitimacy and accuracy of the competition and of the athletes’ performances. The leading athlete from the U.S.A., who fell a few meters before the finish, gave the win to the Greek athlete. The viewer is embosomed by the American broadcast of the competition from one of the audio channels, and the Greek broadcast from the other. This “happy accident” that filled the Greeks with national pride had the reverse effect for the American people. By transliterating a sporting event into an artistic idiom, Nikas matches two fields against each other, that is, sports and art. How disputable is the objectivity of either success or failure? The perspectives of the viewers and of the acting subject are intertwined so as to shake the manifold scheme of “error”, in a space as strict and measurable as in sports. The bodies of the athletes, an ideal subject for accurate measurement, comparison and evaluation in the commercialized and spectacularized global sports arena, are thus transformed into objects of artistic detournement. Even in the case of such an extremely standardised bodily performance, a simple rearrangement of the video and audio representation of the event in question, reveals the versatility of roles, positions and expected reactions.

Yolanda Gail Devers, 1992, George Nikas, 2014, video still, Courtesy: George Nikas

Yolanda Gail Devers, 1992, George Nikas, 2014, video still, Courtesy: George Nikas

Thinking about the body, the social field and power relations in contemporary artistic practices naturally invites us to consider Jacques Rancière’s emblematic writings, specifically regarding our initial question of collective meaning and knowledge production through social interaction initiated by artistic gestures. In The Emancipated Spectator, Rancière explores the relationships developed between the artist, artwork and spectator. Already in the beginning of his study, he acknowledges that the field of modern art is the space where reigns the principle of “[blurring] the distribution of roles” and of trespassed “boundaries” of what hitherto were distinct fields of knowledge and technique.4 By focusing his polemic on critical art and tradition, the French philosopher points out three different directions that such a tendency may follow: the first appertains to a form of “consumerist hyper-activism” or even “outsize[d] artistic egos.”5 The second, often hand-in-hand with the first, is articulated based on a broader, postmodern reality of “a constant exchange of role and identities, the real and the virtual, the organic and mechanical and information-technology prostheses.”6 For the third alternative, Rancière holds the challenge not of impressing or riveting the spectator but, on the contrary, of problematizing “the cause-effect relationship itself and the set of presuppositions that sustain the logic of stultification.”7 Puzzled primarily by the means of theatre and performance, Rancière makes a claim for an artistic practice in which the spectators “play the role of active interpreters” and “develop their own translation in order to appropriate the ‘story’ and make it their own story.” After all, as he argues, “[a]n emancipated community is a community of narrators and translators.”8

Taking all this into the realm of the socio-political, if late capitalism seems to have incorporated the subversive demands of the historical movements of the past—during the 60’s and, mainly, that of May 1968 in France—it did so by spreading the illusion of the individual’s limitless ability to ‘play’ both in isolation as well as with the world around her/him. Clearly, this propensity was linked to the identitarian political issues of that period. However, decades later, the outcome of those encounters seems at least unsettled. The promise of limitless individual autonomy and self-determination in western democracies in turn begot two counterbalancing powers: the left-wing melancholy—which has profoundly influenced the ambient nostalgic syndrome—and the revived right-wing frenzy.9 Both trends seem shockingly relevant to the current Greek status quo, but also to the European one; while left parties and movements have either become miserable governmental managers of neoliberal austerity policies or downscaled to a state of inertia, far right ideologies and populist rhetoric are undoubtedly on the rise.

Shifting back to theory again, the origins of Rancière’s proposition are to be found in his previous studies, The Ignorant Schoolmaster (1987) and The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible (2004). In these two works he outlines a definition of aesthetics with which he establishes the foundation of politics as the “delimitation of spaces and times, of the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise.”10 Who speaks, who is listened to, who is visible and who is not; they all comprise organic parts of the current aesthetic and political regime. For Rancière, the hope for emancipation and for art’s subversive power is traced in the redistribution of the roles and the disordering of the hitherto allocated positions. The radical subversion of how we conceptualize the notions of spectator as passive recipient in contrast to the agencies of action and speech are at the core of his proposal. After all, as he explicitly contends, “[t]he arts only ever lend to projects of domination or emancipation what they are able to lend to them, that is to say, quite simply, what they have in common with them: bodily positions and movements, functions of speech, the parcelling out of the visible and the invisible.”11

Nevertheless, what really defines artistic creativity is its interpolation as the third factor in the transmission of the supposed knowledge, narration, or feeling between agent and spectator. The presumption that calls for the form as the vehicle of a smooth transmission of a specific message from the former (transmitter) to the latter (recipient) is unwarranted and unjustified, as this third factor comprises the undecidable, which is what will eventually determine the personal spiritual adventure for both transmitter and recipient.12 The idea of noise and the parasite, dominant in Michel Serres’ book The Parasite, is clearly echoed here, as noise and interference were a recurrent pattern in many featured artworks.

Hier, bleib, nein, Saul Sanchez, 2013, video still, Courtesy Saul Sanchez

Hier, bleib, nein, Saul Sanchez, 2013, video still, Courtesy Saul Sanchez

For instance, in Saul Sanchez’s video Hier, bleib, nein, a German shepherd receives orders from an unknown person we cannot see; we only hear his steady, authoritative tone. The stable camera records the animal’s reactions, who completely ignores the orders. It walks around, rests, stands, always in perfect non-conformity to both the synchronicity of the order’s articulation as well as its content. The loud orders in German dominate the dark projection room but remain untranslated (there are no subtitles in the video), with no meaning whatsoever for either the video’s protagonist or the viewers. They are but noise to their ears.

Altera Pars II, Evita Pagona, 2015, Courtesy Evita Pagona

Altera Pars II, Evita Pagona, 2015, Courtesy Evita Pagona

Evita Pagona presented an installation consisting of three paintings and one video. In her portraits, she explored representation at the brink of magical realism by presenting in an intense atmospheric fashion persons with mental and sleeping disorders (Dysania), trapped in a distressing idleness, unable to respond to external stimuli—persons hermetically sealed in their troubled, alien internal world. The Sequence video was a composition of sound and image coming from the public speeches of two persons, both leaders of their groups: the fundamentalist ecclesiastical representative and the extreme racist/fascist Greek political party, Golden Dawn. The declarations of hate they articulate were mixed together. The images of the speakers succeeded one another and the correspondence between face and voice was breached. Who speaks, what does he say, and who is listening? Who can manage to escape in this general tumult? Who can react? Speech and image are thus deconstructed and reconstituted within an eruption of musical rhythms and driving visual effects; positions are disrupted, faces as active subjects and passive recipients are walking on tightropes in an insecure balance. The distinction between validation/document and mythmaking is now indiscernible. Without anticipating a rearrangement of the positions, the installation questions this certainty, spreading the scent of a forthcoming possibility. Will the still recipients manage to stand against this cascade or will they remain boxed into their careful frames?

Dysania, Evita Pagona, 2015, Courtesy Evita Pagona

Dysania, Evita Pagona, 2015, Courtesy Evita Pagona

In both examples, bodies find themselves amidst a dysfunctional communication system, albeit articulated in very different terms. What is most interesting, not only about these two cases but also about the majority of the featured artworks, is that artists managed to demonstrate through such incongruous ways that a different configuration of objects, images and sound displayed through art can showcase bodies in distress while at the same time invite visitors to participate, acknowledge and instantly share their condition.

I have tried to delineate the curatorial concept and approach as well as some of the featured artworks in Action Field Kodra 2015, using them as an example of how a medium scale art show can handle timely concerns without being overwhelmed by them. In my opinion, it would be more than arrogant and pretentious to claim that an art event can do much more than that. Nevertheless, in our case, the focus on active participation and new collaborations, the flexible curatorial concept, and an unflinching commitment to the promotion of young artists and experimental art forms, created a space for a very open process of shared creativity where the ‘body’ of the exhibition, the bodies of the performers, those of the visitors and all kinds of participants came together and produced knowledge, experience and new meanings. However implicitly, most of the artists attempted to respond to these critical times, avoiding straightforward references which could easily lapse into clichéd imagery. We witnessed the body in deformation, in trauma, in challenge and suffering, in indifference and disobedience. Visualizations of liminal conditions, such as the deep crisis we are experiencing right now, tend to withhold smooth interpretations. Nonetheless, the body, as a clear index of human existence, undergoes this transitional and, at times, traumatic process, and artistic practices seem to be a very appropriate means to communicate this process.

I would like to conclude this brief analysis by citing Pepi Rigopoulou’s words in praise of artistic creation: “[…] the language of images has a driving rhythm and an irreconcilable inscrutability, which discourse struggles to catch and subjugate without ever completely accomplishing it.”13




*Parts of this essay were initially written for the AFK 2015 exhibition catalogue (upcoming publication) of which the author is a co-curator. Those parts were translated from Greek to English by the team of interpretit (
1 Excerpt from the AFK 2015 curators’ text written by the author, Dimitris Michalaros and Panagis Koutsokostas (Main Curators/Coordinators).
2 Freud, Sigmund, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Translated by G. Stanley Hall. New York: Horace Liveright, 1920, 54–55.
3 Pepi Rigopoulou, Το Σώμα: Ικεσία και Απειλή [Body: Appeal and Threat]. Athens: Plethron, 2008, 329. She returns to the same topic, this time with a different articulation, on pp. 541–542.
4 Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London and New York: Verso, 20–21.
Ibid., 21.
Ibid., 22.
Ibid., 37.
10 Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible. Translated by Gabriel Rockhill. London and New York: Continuum, 13.
11 Ibid., 19.
12 Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London and New York: Verso, 14–18. As he characteristically puts it, “[i] is the third thing that is owned by no one, whose meaning is owned by no one, but which subsists between them excluding any uniform transmission any identity of cause and effect” (15).
13 Pepi Rigopoulou, Το Σώμα: Ικεσία και Απειλή [Body: Appeal and Threat]. Athens: Plethron, 2008, 116.


“Tools for an Unknown Future” – or how to realise a project with international partners


ABSTRACT: Realising a cultural project with a multitude of partners over a long period and with a good amount of money involved is not an easy task. Nevertheless it should be a pleasure to exchange, to think jointly, to deal with artists and to get in touch with cultural differences. Therefore here are some bullet points condensing the experience of a project called ECAS taken as an example of multilateral, global, cultural interaction.


© Oliver Baurhenn. ECAS project meeting in Berlin in 2013

© Oliver Baurhenn. ECAS project meeting in Berlin in 2013

In the beginning: Some remarks

Leaving your comfort zone is nice and often heard advice not only in your private life but also in your life as a cultural worker. I won’t talk about whether this is necessary or not as it might be quite nice at home – I know. Setting sail in an international project demands quite a lot of effort but you will be rewarded; therein lies the old wisdom that you won’t only get to know others or the Other, you will also get to know yourself better. You will encounter what is inherent to international projects; there will be joy if all goes well and you will be filled with relish. Then again…

The future is contingent. One never knows what is going to happen or when, how or what the outcome will be, especially in the process of organising an event that is funded by public (taxpayer) money. The sword of Damocles hangs like a pendulum, constantly swinging over your head. Are the expenses justified, did I get enough tenders, can I pay friends to do something – I know they are among the top in their field – but isn’t it corruption? You can rarely approach a funding body with these questions, as they have the same sword over their heads.

A publicly funded event, for instance a festival that has no institutional funding as do museums or opera houses, is always rooted somewhere. It is clear to everyone that you need roots so as not to lose your character, your point of view, your attitude towards your event’s core spirit. If you step away from your ethical and moral backbone you will be easily interchangeable.

Within Europe there are many funding schemes in diverse countries. These sources allow you to realise your ideas, such as a festival. Nevertheless, most funding schemes are national. Some funding might come from your city council or your borough. Of course you wish to organise something unique, especially as yours is a festival that reaches out beyond the realm of the local/national funding territory. But, where does your festival’s territory end, and where does it begin?

I am sure that you’d love to invite the whole world to explore and share in your ideas and your perspective, something that is only magnified the more you strive to generate dialogue and ideas that address the future. You of course now find yourself on the edge of your funding scheme’s territory, a treacherous position as you shouldn’t forget that you’re using your region’s taxpayer money. Often the funding stops at your national borders – but of what use are these borders if you are acting globally?

An example: ECAS. European Money for 5 years, Constant struggle, Amazing people, sometimes bumpy pleasures

The project ECAS – Networking Tomorrow’s Art for an Unknown Future started as an idea shared between 9 partners from 8 different European countries.1 We wanted to submit a multiannual application for a 5 year European Union funded project that would receive up to 50% funding for a maximum of 2 million Euro. And we did submit it. It took three attempts but then in January 2010 our efforts were rewarded. Our applicant group decided to put a strong emphasis on co-operative working structures, thus the core of the application was written together by all partners and mirrored a shared range of pressing ideas at that time (2009). The aim was to realise the project on a transnational European level, actively ignoring national boundaries within Europe. Each partner had the same voice and the same responsibilities. This idealistic approach meant that constant exchange, openness and training in communication skills were persistently demanded of each partner. The quality of artistic presentation was as important as the exchange of ideas, tasks and responsibilities between the partners (the process).

Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world: the effects of the financial crisis post-2008 affected many of the organisations within the ECAS group: cultural funding cuts of 30% in the UK; nearly the same cuts in the Netherlands; huge changes, restructuring and of course financial cuts within the Austrian national broadcasting service; political insecurities affecting the level of city funding in Kraków, Poland; the devastating effects of the last financial crisis on a small country like Latvia; the political standstill in Belgium… Only in Norway and Germany did the struggle remain a fairly “regular” one, although with Norway’s transition to a more nationalist government and Germany’s specific cultural funding system, difficulties were also encountered when searching for ways to generate the necessary funds to match the European Union grant money.

It was also definitely not helpful to see a return to old-fashioned notions of nation-states in Europe. As we all wish not to be affected within the cultural sector, these poisonous ideas sometimes diffuse slowly in people’s minds – also in the minds of your project partners. We had to fight against increasingly national cultural agendas, which also created quite a challenge within the network as all partners tried to balance new demands from their respective countries while at the same time exploring new ways to cooperate on a European level. Often we searched for the strengths in the situation of each country, which sometimes meant that our project members with easier access to funding took on more responsibilities for some parts of the project than others. As much as we tried to make the best use of the different structures within Europe to the advantage of the project, it is a new and challenging way of doing things. The problems we encountered were not on a curatorial level nor on the level of artistic output. Rather the challenge was working on a pioneering supranational level that still hinges on outdated (national) structures that we, as a project, can’t easily abolish but are only able to find time consuming work-arounds for. Naturally this challenge sometimes created tensions within our working group.

ECAS started as a loose assembly of likeminded festivals with the aim to reflect on their public and societies, examine links to other fields of art beyond the core of sound, and investigate the festival format as a processual format (Laboratory) that changes the more we gain insight into what a festival was, is and can be.

The ECAS project had an impact on several levels:

1. Evaluation, re-thinking and transformation of organisation and festival formats

2. Development of low-threshold access to our initiatives and events for a diverse public without losing strong standards of curation and quality

3. Introduction of new diverse publics to the niche of contemporary sound cultures and broadening the knowledge of this realm to diverse milieus all over Europe

4. Production of challenging new artistic productions and strengthening artistic mobility via tools for organisational and artistic cooperation

5. Fostering a deep exchange of knowledge within Europe and beyond, which itself was stimulated because of the project’s challenging, non-hierarchical mindset (collective curatorial discussions and decision-making processes)

6. Creation of best practices for European and international co-operation based on mutual understanding and respect

Lastly, and perhaps most telling of the project’s successes in the long-term, is the creation of an international network of festivals and organisations, called ICAS. Sparked by the ECAS project, the International Cities of Advanced Sound network has become a global agent of change, creation, mobilisation and connection within the realm of sound, music and related art forms.

The essential value of such a network is not measurable in economic terms. The value rather lies in the “environment” such initiatives create; spaces in which innovative projects can be developed. Moreover, the network became a system that embodies some of the ideals of a European culture. It created a dynamic and inclusive structure of cooperation, where members are equally valued regardless of their status, where communication is horizontal, and where cultural differences are appreciated as an asset and not as a threat.

The final question within the ECAS project was: What are the tools for an Unknown Future? Interestingly, while writing the application in 2008/09 we were thinking of digital or online tools without realising that these are only numeric facilitators of communication, knowledge sharing and exchange. What online tools don’t do or foster is reflection on social relations, individual approaches, or contexts and methods of creating intriguing environments of learning, experience and advancement. We thus realised that there are other, more socially-oriented, skills needed to deal with the Unknown and to create a collaborative environment as a mixed European group that was stretching out geographically from three hundred kilometres above the polar circle (Tromsø), southward over the alps (Graz), and stretching eastward from Manchester and The Hague via Berlin, Dresden and Krakow, up to Riga.2 Additionally, we involved partners for special actions from non-EU regions as Kyiv (Ukraine), Montevideo (Uruguay), Montreal (Canada), and Boulder (USA) and included them in our joint environment.

© Oliver Baurhenn. ICAS meeting in Montreal in 2016.

© Oliver Baurhenn. ICAS meeting in Montreal in 2016.

A toolbox: 10 things you should keep in mind

Following the experience of working closely together in a group made up of nine diverse partners over five years, and in the ICAS Network with around 30 further partners from all over the world, I’ve attempted to summarize this endeavour into some bullet points that might be seen as a little toolbox and guide for a successful global project:

  1. It is always good to know one’s enemy. Partners can become enemies if you don’t make an effort to get to know them a bit better beforehand. It is definitely advised to strive for an equal and balanced partnership. If you know what you can expect from each other, then you can start developing a shared vision of what you want to do together.
  2. Now that you know your partner(s) you can start to develop a shared vision. Take care with your communication tools and always remember that it is better to meet in person than only via telecommunication tools. The latter are of great use in the implementation process but if you want to sketch-out bigger ideas and plans, then meet face to face.
  3. If you are working with different organisations then make sure the representative you are working with has the full support of his or her colleagues or higher ranks to negotiate on their behalf. Nothing is more annoying than to develop ideas and agree on things, only to have them spoiled by non-present persons.
  4. Be patient! Especially when you work with partners from different backgrounds. Try to find common ground, and don’t forget to ask questions if your gut tells you that something is wrong. Get to know your differences! It greatly helps the whole project if you can “surf” on different cultural policies or funding schemes that can be accessed by your different partners. If you get annoyed then use humour to get rid of your frustration. Your partners will be more open to mirror your clichés if you use humour, and everyone will feel less offended and be open to better understanding one another.3
  5. Pidgin English: Do you understand me? In international collaborations it is quite rare that partners learned English as a first language. Besides being patient in order to understand what other non-English speakers are telling you, also listen carefully and don’t hesitate to ask again if you don’t grasp the idea. What the hell is s/he talking about? Take a deep breath and don’t be too shy to ask them to repeat their idea.
  6. Now that you’ve gained a mutual understanding and commitment from all sides, don’t forget to involve colleagues from your partner organisations here and there! Create an environment that makes them feel welcome to join and add to the multifaceted voices. Ensuring organisational commitment should not only be considered as work, it is an ongoing work in progress that needs to be nurtured throughout the duration of the partnership.
  7. Don’t be afraid to formalise things! You are very good friends now but culturally friendships have different definitions. Some respect friendship as something that should not be burdened, other cultures ask for the opposite. Then another is asking you for endless trust and forgiveness – nobody is without fault. I would say that this wonderful challenge will bring you many rewarding moments. Nevertheless, it is always good to lay out a pathway if there is conflict. Agree on guidelines! Formalise the relationship, put the tasks and responsibilities of administration down in written form and integrate what you decided into your organisation’s policy.
  8. Discover what synergies between partners can be created. Use the different strengths to deliver more than what was promised. Realising a joint project should be fun and a learning process. There is always potential for conflict, but use that energy to find interesting solutions and don’t insist on your ideas if they are not viable. Keep in mind Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom: If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking. Speak about your experiences with your partners and share results and knowledge. Moreover, don’t forget to continuously monitor the partnership using both quantitative and qualitative indicators. Facts help to support your proposals.
  9. Envision your partnership’s sustainability. Aside from continuous evaluations and adaptations to your working process, imagine that your partnership could go on beyond the project’s lifetime. Go over all the things that went well or have been well done and of course also check what went wrong and ask why. This seems easy, but oftentimes partners are too exhausted from their joint project and forget to evaluate the good, the bad and the ugly. Concerning new project ideas, it is always easier to work with a core of good old partners to which a few newcomers are added, than to start completely anew. The journey is the goal and you want to do it with people you know.
  10. Money makes the world go round – or not! Financial capacity and sustainability can be seen as both a concern and prerequisite for sustaining the partnership. However, while this is important and should be considered, motivation and interest are crucial and these do not always cost money. Partnerships require time and effort. Healthy partnerships operate on a basis of equality and mutual recognition. The parties should be both compatible (equal enough) and complementary (different enough). Throughout the partnership, all involved must be willing to work and make it last. It is all about co-operation and not competition.

The future is contingent – but this does not mean it can’t be fun!




1 The ECAS project: European Cities of Advanced Sound – Networking Tomorrow’s Art for an Unknown Future was proposed by 9 European Organisations (DISK-Initiative Bild & Ton e.V./ CTM Festival, Berlin; Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau e.V./ CynetArt Festival, Dresden; ORF musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst, Graz; Fundacja Tone – Muzyka i Nowe Formy Sztuki / Unsound Festival, Krakow; The Generator Foundation/ TodaysArt Festival, The Hague; Cimatics cic, Brussels; FutureEverything, Manchester; Stiftelsen Insomnia, Tromsø; Biedrība Skanu Mezs, Riga) to the European Union funding scheme Cultur. The project started on June 1, 2010 and ended after 60 months on May 31, 2015. It had a provisioned budget of 3.6 mi Euro of which 50% were European Union subsidies and 50% were funds raised by all organizations. See more: and
2 European Union provides a culture grant scheme for all 28 member states and all associates from the European Economic Area and additionally most of the applicant states (e.g. Albania, Serbia, etc.). 30% of activities and of the budget can be spent outside of EU on activities in non-European Union or associate states.
3 I wanted to say that we are each attributed clichés = Germans are always on time or the like; and there are attributes that are clichés but actually exist, so sometimes being German means that you are acting like a German for the people that you are talking to. So, they will probably mirror this. Often you only see it in their eyes and they don’t let you know, so you have to create an atmosphere where these clichés can be mirrored and you can make jokes about these or the clichés of the others.



Ecogeographic Cultural Production? Appropriate Networking in Pixelache Helsinki & Network


ABSTRACT: This article introduces the issues of aligning ecology and sustainability in the cultural production of Pixelache Helsinki’s Festival and network. It focuses upon what might be an ‘appropriate’ form of cultural networking, and argues for an ecogeographic approach in the future. The ecogeographic case example given is that of the Eastern Baltic Sea.


Adaptation by Andrew Gryf Paterson of graphic illustration in Westing, A. H. (1989)

Adaptation by Andrew Gryf Paterson of graphic illustration in Westing, A. H. (1989)


Short distances between cities surrounding the Baltic sea means that locals have been busy with trade and cultural exchange for centuries. At different times the cultural, linguistic, economic and political formations of their surrounding nation-states have both eased and made more difficult that process. There are several regional and transnational high-level cooperative frameworks which focus on the Baltic Sea Region, such as the European Commission’s HELCOM and The Union of Baltic Cities.1 Furthermore in recent years Oleg Koefoed from Cultura21 Nordic was commissioned by Nordic Council of Ministers to undertake research on the relationship between cultural production and sustainability in the region (Aidt, 2013; Koefoed, 2013).2

In this short essay I focus on one cultural association from Helsinki, Finland—Pixelache Helsinki—with the example of its year-round educational programme which I coordinated and facilitated from the beginning of 2011 until 2014 – three intensive years of related cultural exchange around the Eastern Baltic Sea. In that position I argued for a renewed effort for mobility and exchange around the eastern side of the Baltic Sea region, re-invigorating the concept of the “Gulf of Finland Community,” and introducing the concept of an ‘ecogeographic’ approach to cultural production.

I write from the perspective of an artist-organiser in the cultural field, who has adopted different approaches from network culture and applied them to temporary collaborative productions in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus during my years based in the Baltic Sea region. I am also interested in writing narratives about these experiences, and connect them to practice-led cultural research, as well as to cooperative-minded research and pedagogy. At the beginning of 2011, I was employed part-time by the Finnish non-profit cultural association known as Pixelache to facilitate and coordinate an informal outreach and pedagogical programme called ‘Pixelversity’ as part of Pixelache Helsinki activities. I have written elsewhere on the same topic in a longer and more detailed article (Paterson, 2012), on which this edited version is based. As my proposal emerges from this work, I will first elaborate briefly on the underlying motivations of the Pixelversity programme and give an overview of my proposed orientation towards the Gulf of Finland as the basis for appropriate networking for cultural production, hinting at future aspirations and connections.

Paterson presenting 'Pixelversity' at Plektrum Festival, Tallinn, Autumn 2011. Photo: Antti Ahonen

Paterson presenting ‘Pixelversity’ at Plektrum Festival, Tallinn, Autumn 2011. Photo: Antti Ahonen

“Appropriate networking” for cultural production borrows a concept from permacultural development and appropriate technology applications, with creative applied design and technology for sustainability issues, such as renewable energy, clean water filtration, bio-remediation, or compost systems. The global Permaculture movement started by David Holmgren (b. 1955) and the recently deceased Bill Mollison (1928–2016) in the late 1970s in Australia is an inspiration as it is imperative to work with, rather than against nature; “of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor” (Mollison, 1991). Its online equivalent may be the network, initiated by Lonny Grafman, that brings a similar spirit to networked knowledge-sharing practices around the world. Grafman is inspired by the economist E. F. Schumacher, who over 40 years ago developed the concept of intermediate or appropriate technology, or “technology with a human face” (Schumacher, 1999). In general, according to Grafman, the consensus is that such technologies are those which can be maintained, used, repaired, operated, retrofitted by the actual stakeholders, “a technology that’s not just designed for but [..] designed with the stakeholders” (Grafman, 2016).

Context of Pixelache Helsinki

Pixelache Helsinki is a trans-disciplinary platform for developing and presenting experimental art, design, research and activist projects since 2002. However, it is also an organised network of people – currently approximately 30 association members, 1 full-time coordinator and 1 part-time staff member year-round, plus a handful of fee-based staff during the festival period or funded projects. About one third of members are regularly active in Helsinki; approximately one third are active but based remotely or often travelling outside Finland; and about one third are less active members; as well as a network of regular friends or unaffiliated associates in the Nordic-Baltic region or further afield. Many participants in this network use Pixelache Helsinki as the main way to present their recent professional practice, research or approach to art, design or technology; for others it is a fun, hobby-oriented event to test or experiment with prototypes; while for some lucky handful it is a mix of both.

Recycling Olympic Games award ceremony as the last event of Pixelache Festival 2016. Photo: Antti Ahonen

Recycling Olympic Games award ceremony as the last event of Pixelache Festival 2016. Photo: Antti Ahonen

Although it is true that as members we have become good friends, collaborators and peers in the development of Pixelache Helsinki, academically one could interpret it as a cluster of several communities of practice, who share concern and passion for what they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger, 1998). Included in this regular interaction are processes used with each other, with other organisations and institutions, as well as with other publics and communities in the format of a cultural festival or via other projects/processes. Early in Pixelache Helsinki’s development, a social science paper by Katri Halonen identified the strong co-relations between open-source ideology and the thematic and organisational structure of the festival (Halonen, 2007). However, the interests within this organised network are broad and not always easy for outsiders to understand.

Pixelache Helsinki is and has been part of a regional and international network of similar practitioners, organisers and producers, with qualities that Ned Rossiter claims characterizes networks: “fluid, ephemeral, transitory, innovative, flowing, non-linear, decentralized, value-adding, creative, flexible, open, collaborative, risk-taking, reflexive, informal, individualized, intense, transformative and so on” (Rossiter, 2006: 46). Rossiter refers to organised networks as “loose affiliations where participants have the freedom to come and go” (ibid, 2016: 22). Most often cultural networking happens via sharing information about events and ideas online, as well as with travel to attend gatherings or festivals. I argue that this should ideally be done in accordance with the synergetic relations of “natureculture” with protracted and thoughtful observation and (net)working.3

In coordinating and facilitating the Pixelversity programme between 2011-2014, discussing regularly with key participants, I considered relationships between different activities, imagining how they may build up cumulative knowledge and skills towards future Pixelache Helsinki activities. For example, in the first years there was an emerging interest from Piknik Frequency association members related to energy use, knowledge sharing, social engagement, and towards ‘transition/resilience’ themed activities and events. Considering the Baltic Sea regional scene, these interests have also found inspiration, company and informal collaboration with partners in Estonia and Latvia.4 The holistic vision of Green Economics, as presented by Molly Scott-Cato (2009), was also a strong influence at the time, leading to further research.

The topic of sustainability I argue is firstly not just relevant as a subject in our fields of practice and theory, but also relates to personal economical sustainability in a period of financial uncertainty, and specifically within cultural funding structures. Secondly, it is important in relation to our practice in our particular locality, in this case our region of the Gulf of Finland, the Baltic Sea region, and North East Europe. What are appropriate ways to work within organised networks, as part of the increased interest within our scenes for topics of transition/resilience, renewable art, technologies and sustainability?

Considering the ecogeographic region model

In early November 2011, I presented Pixelversity 2011 activities at the RIXC Centre for New Media Culture Art+Communications Festival Conference in Riga, and with this review, I also introduced the concept of an ‘ecogeographic’ approach to cultural organising and production, which was later published by the same organisation (Paterson, 2012).5

This perspective was originally inspired by conversations from 2007 onwards with marine biologist, artist and activist Richard Thompson Coon, resident of Suomenlinna until 2013, in Helsinki, where we first met. Coon founded and chaired the environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Gulf of Finland Environment Society SULA, which was active in the 1990s and early 2000s in the Eastern Baltic Sea. Through a multi-faceted, trans-cultural and trans-disciplinary environmental agenda and activism, his colleagues regularly gathered people together in educational events. For example, in 1996, natural scientists, musicians, artists and school children from Finland, Russia and Estonia gathered on Suomenlinna, a historical island fortress in Finland, to address the environmental situation of the Gulf of Finland. Many years later, he still advocated for continued grassroots, trans-cultural and trans-disciplinary initiatives related to the Baltic Sea region, and the Gulf of Finland in particular. Key from his point of view is the need to continue invigorating the idea of a “Gulf of Finland Community”. This community, according to Coon, should be understood as including not just humans, but also animals and plants; the whole ecosystem. The idea of a community which spreads over a geographical territory, based on ecological principles, may be called an “Ecogeographic community.”6

As political theorist and peace researcher Arthur Westing defines it, an “ecogeographic region” denotes a “geographical area that is unified in an ecological sense, gaining its integrity from this cohesion”; by extension, an ‘ecogeographic region’ is “an ecological system, or ecosystem.. a unit made up of living and ‘non-living’ components of the environment that interact to form a life-support system”. For example this may be “seas with their associated drainage basins (watersheds, catchment areas), major rivers with their associated drainage basins, major mountain ranges, major islands or peninsulas, insular aggregations, deserts, tundras, and permanently ice-covered areas” (Westing, 1989: 2). Hence, an ecogeographic approach would mean, in the case of the Gulf of Finland, not just the ecosystem population around the coast, but also that extending all the way to the edge of its water drainage basin. Westing opens his thesis “Comprehensive security for the Baltic: An environmental approach” with the question: “[T]o what extent does regional cooperation on environmental protection and nature-resource utilization serve as a confidence-building measure for the purpose of fostering comprehensive international security?” (ibid: 1). In other words, how does it help develop further shared common value and interest among stakeholders?


Image of Participants at Camp Pixelache 2013 on Naissaar island, Estonia. Photo: Antti Ahonen

Returning to the cultural organisational field, as an artist-organiser, I believe in the necessity to develop trans-disciplinary capacities to engage on/in Commons issues; that cultural workers and producers can contribute to environmental protection and sustainable nature-resource utilization/management, and that active cultural organisations should lead the way by example, especially those with network-building and facilitation experience.

This approach raises a set of questions and thoughts that are relevant to consider: What will be the effect on cultural organisational work if we do our networking mostly within our ecogeographic subregion of the Baltic Sea, that is, the Gulf of Finland, including portions of Finland, North-West Russia, and Estonia? For example, this could include cultural exchange and co-production between the 3 ‘capital’ cities of Helsinki, Tallinn and St Petersburg, as well as with population centres and regions as broadly circumferential as Lahti, Jyväskylä, Kuopio in Finland; Petrozavodsk, Veliky Novogorod, Pskov, Russia; as well as Narva and Tartu in Estonia. What have been the challenges in the environmental NGO scene across the region, and how can we learn from their experiences? Where do we—in the trans-disciplinary media arts and cultural scene—find the resources and finances to support networking? Should the funding instruments support this from the top-down? Can we or will we have to raise grassroots support from the bottom-up? If so, who would be good partners and collaborators?

In answer to the above questions, I argue that it is necessary to include—beyond experimental art, design and technology, individuals and various organisations—cross-sectoral collaborations with the environmental NGO scene, including institutional scientific research, cultural associations and activist groups, schools and educational/participatory science groups. An example from the latter sector from outside the cultural scene is ДРУЗЬЯ БАЛТИКИ (Friends of the Baltic), who have organised the Baltic Sea Ambassadors project that compiled and presented ecological knowledge about the Baltic Sea and related sustainable practices, in schools around the region (Senova, 2011).

Concluding remarks

Reflecting upon our friendships, partnerships and collaborations that have developed over the years of Pixelache Helsinki, as well as upon attempts to collaborate beyond the art and cultural field(s), I argue that from an ecogeographic perspective we should be engaging with our human and non-human peers with whom we share the most fundamental Commons. In other words, develop appropriate networks among those who rely upon and live with the same constraints and affordances. Acknowledging the work of Gulf of Finland environmental networks and cooperation, what is absolutely shared and shared in common, despite the variable cultures, languages and political-state differences, is the Eastern Baltic sea, its extended hydrosphere and water-drainage basin on surrounding land areas, and other related environmental, atmospheric systems; essentially the watershed of the Gulf of Finland. In relation to this network, social and economic sustainability of practice can also be considered. The increasingly urgent and fundamental challenge in future regional cultural productions, collaborations and conflicts will be to take these commonalities into account as the basis for cooperation, as the basis for strengthening the appropriate networking vision of ecogeographic cultural community.



Much gratitude goes to my peers at Pixelache Helsinki in helping to test the practice of appropriate networking with me between 2011-2014, and especially to Richard Thompson Coon for challenging me with his pioneering work in the late and post-Soviet socio-political environment to develop the ‘Gulf of Finland Community’ concept, which was still an urgent vision that he could share a decade or so later in the early 2010s. In addition to acknowledging the influence of Molly Scott Cato’s vision of Green Economics, I add the shared work developing pedagogy titled ‘Green Economics and Management’ undertaken by Olga Mashkina and myself at Aalto University School of Economics Mikkeli Campus, from January 24 to February 11 2011, which contributed to shaping the combination of perspectives presented here.



1 See: European Commission (1992-). The Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area. Webpage. Accessible from Also see: The Union of Baltic Cities (n.a.). Webpage. Accessible from
2 Disclaimer: This author was also a contributor to the related research as an interviewee, and was a presenter at the Nordic Council’s seminar in Copenhagen in which Cultura21 Nordic presented the research commission report on April 29, 2013. Further information is accessible from
3 ‘Natureculture’ is an anthropological term which contests that there is a dichotomous relation between Nature and Culture, recognising continual living and biotic relationships between both, and conceptually counters the alienation of Man and Nature. Further reading on this alienation can be found in El-Kamel Bakari (2004).
4 In particular the ‘MIM goes sustainable’ project in Tallinn between 2009-2011 (accessible from and RIXC Centre for New Media Culture’s ‘Renewable Network‘ project also from 2009 ongoing, accessible from
5 RIXC Centre for New Media Culture. (2011). ‘Techno-ecologies’ Conference. Art+Communications Festival. 4-5.11.2011. Riga. Accessible from
6 Note there are many similarities in this concept to what Peter Berg in collaboration with Raymond Dasmann in the early 1970s described as “Bioregionalism” (Berg, 2001).



Aidt, M. (2013). Cultura21: How can culture lead transformations. Blogpost., June 16. Accessible from
Berg, P. (2001). The Post-Environmentalist Directions of Bioregionalism [Lecture transcription]. Planet Drum. Webpage. University of Montana, Missoula. April 10. Accessible from
El-Kamel Bakari, M. (2014). Sustainability and Contemporary Man-Nature Divide: Aspects of Conflict, Alienation, and Beyond. Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development. Vol. 13, Iss. 1, Pp. 195-216.
Grafman, L. (2016). Interview with Lonny Grafman. In Erik Moeller (ed.). Passionate voices. Weblog. February 19. Accessible from
Koefoed, O. (2013). Culture and Sustainable Development in the Baltic Sea Region: 8 findings, a number of opportunities, and a way forward… Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers. Accessible from
Halonen, K. (2007). Open Source and New Media Artists. Human Technology: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Humans in ICT Environments . Vol. 3, Iss. 1. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä. Accessible from
Mollison, B. (1991). Introduction to permaculture. Tasmania, Australia: Tagari.
Paterson, A. G. (2012). Pixelversity 2011-2012: Towards an eco-geographic perspective, In Rasa Smite, Armin Medosch, Kerstin Mey, Raitis Smits (eds.), Acoustic Space #11: Techno-ecologies, Peer-reviewed Journal for Transdisciplinary Research on Art, Science, Technology and Society, Riga-Liepaja: RIXC-MPLab.
Rossiter, N. (2006). Organised Networks: media theory, Creative Labour, New Institutions. Institute of Network Cultures. Amsterdam: Nai Publishers.
Schumacher, E. F. (1999). Small is beautiful: economics as if people mattered: 25 years later … with commentaries (originally published 1973). Vancouver, BC: Hartley & Marks Publishers.
Scott-Cato, M. (2009). Green Economics: An introduction to theory, policy and practice. Oxon UK: Earthscan, Routledge.
Senova, O. (2011). International environmental camp of the Baltic Sea Ambassadors. ДРУЗЬЯ БАЛТИКИ (Friends of the Baltic). Webpage. St. Petersburg. Accessible from
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Westing, A. H. (1989). Comprehensive security for the Baltic: An environmental approach. Oslo: UNEP.


In Defense of the Impending Death of a Collaborative Platform


ABSTRACT: I have an instinct to hold on to new things. To want to make them last at times way longer than they should. In an act of ultimate possession, I have been known to destroy, or let erode, the very thing I am holding on to so that by the time I can no longer hold on, the thing is no longer what I was gripping. Somewhere in my life I was taught that there was a heroism in this irrational demonstration of commitment. And, while I do think there is value in the sacrifice inherent to emotional labour, locating that worth in neoliberal values of endless persistence is useless and damaging. Instead, I remind myself that letting go, abandoning and quitting can be an equal act of care and commitment.


VIVA! Suppers, Bazil Alzeri, 2013. Photo: Guy L’Heureux

VIVA! Suppers, Bazil Alzeri, 2013. Photo: Guy L’Heureux

When It Started

Initiated by Patrick Lacasse and Alexis Bellavance, VIVA! Art Action was established in 2006 by six artist-run centres from Greater Montreal as a collaborative platform through which to foster and support action art in its most singular, difficult and surprising forms. This includes – but is not limited to – performance, public intervention, relational projects, body art, happenings and furtive action. Although initially conceived of as a punctual event, after the success of the first edition – which vividly demonstrated both an interest and a need for such a platform in Montreal –the founders agreed to continue the initiative in the form of an international biennial festival.

Over the years, VIVA!’s structure has evolved organically and slowly between the founding members, non-profit contemporary art centres who remained collectively responsible for all aspects of the event and organization until 2012, when I was hired as a part-time coordinator. This included grant writing and reporting, developing the artistic programming, hiring festival coordination staff and overseeing general organizational governance. Basically, everything. While this model met VIVA!’s primary needs, as time passed it became daunting to the partners, who were already responsible for their respective calendars of artistic activities. For a community operating with limited time, money and energy, a punctual commitment of this scale was feasible but its repetition, and consequent development, was increasingly challenging to oversee.

The motivation to hire permanent staff was logical, a natural response to our organisation’s growth that was made possible by a small operating grant from the municipal arts council. After being financed exclusively through project grants for more than 6 years – public funding programs that provide no guarantee to any or all of the requested monies – the arrival of modest funds renewed on a two-year cycle was a relief and a celebrated accomplishment. We had reached the first step in organisational sustainability.

However, hiring a general coordinator also marked VIVA!’s first major structural shift away from an entirely shared endeavour towards an autonomous one. While this was done to facilitate the increasingly labourious collaborative process, it also made visible the inherent unsustainability of the platform as it was originally conceived. For the initiative to persist, change was necessary.

Action, Alice de Visscher, 2011. Photo: Guy L’Heureux

Action, Alice de Visscher, 2011. Photo: Guy L’Heureux

When It Changes

It is evident that some adaptation is required as an initiative of any sort develops, particularly a collaborative one. To think otherwise would assume that all initiatives begin in their ideal form. This is rarely true. From limited funds to technical learning curves, the first iteration is the real version of the dream (manifest but likely compromised or scaled back). A second and third chance can allow for meaningful fine-tuning of both process and form. It is in this repetition that clarity takes shape and the learning provided by the previous experiences can be reintegrated to better align the dream with its reality. But at some point, inherently, these shifts stop refining and start expanding under the motto of bigger, better, more.

This type of expansion, which is currently at the heart of most organisational growth in Canada, is linked to a neoliberal pressure to demonstrate health and relevance through adaptability and consistent development. For fear of becoming complacent, homeostasis, a well-balanced context in which to reflexively and creatively execute our work, is not an option. We do not ask how to keep focus in a constantly shifting context, but rather how to thrive in it.

These capitalist values of perpetual growth have been internalized by many non-profits in the cultural sector. After years of constantly defending our value through an ability to do more with less (under the constant fear of funding cuts and fuelled by the belief that we will eventually be rewarded for our sacrifices), we reach a point at which we can no longer tell if we are privileging the sustainability of the organisation or the needs of the communities we are serving. And, because there is pain in admitting that we (organizations or initiatives) are no longer suited for a context – or that the context is not suited for us – we adapt to persist, regardless of whether we should or not.

Action artifact, Tomasz Szrama, 2013. Photo: Christian Bujold

Action artifact, Tomasz Szrama, 2013. Photo: Christian Bujold

When Will It End

Since I was hired, VIVA!, like most non-profit organizations (I will venture to claim), is constantly making decisions to not quit, to adapt for the sake of sustainability. While this can be commendable, the concern lies in adapting to the point at which we are no longer the thing we set out to be, or worse, we are no longer a thing that is truly needed.

My challenge over the years has been to ensure that the organization’s desire to persist does not distance us from our values, that our repetition does not privilege our own continuity over the collective interests and needs of our community. This is more difficult than I had expected. For a collaborative platform like VIVA!, there is temptation to opt for a more efficient, normative and autonomous structure while instituting administrative stability. However, by resisting equating our organizational success with independence, we ensure that the initiative remains an active collaboration characterized by co-dependence. This is important because I have come to see our mutual reliance on each other’s financial, material and artistic contributions as a strategy by which to gauge the continued relevance of the platform within our cultural landscape.

Our partners’ enduring willingness to support VIVA! demonstrates that we provide something that cannot be achieved individually. In addition to the more obvious and practical benefits such as pooling resources, multiplying publics, and dividing expenses, working together also allows us to offer artists the opportunity to work in challenging, unpredictable and risk-taking ways that would be impossible to support individually in any durational form.

Within this logic of purposeful co-dependence, I suspect that when VIVA!’s shared benefits cease to match the investment required of our partners (due to shifts in context or practice), they will no longer be willing to contribute to the platform’s existence. Having become parasitic, the initiative will be forced to dissolve.

This self-destruct logic was unconsciously built into the organization in 2006, but is actively preserved by me because it operates as a barometer measuring our pertinence amongst our peers. The collaborative structure keeps us in check. While it is admittedly uncertain, it ensures that we are responding to shared community interests and not just continuing our activities for the sake of singular longevity. As such, VIVA! has privileged remaining relevant over becoming sustainable.


Workshop, TouVA, 2009. Photo: Guy L’Heureux

Workshop, TouVA, 2009. Photo: Guy L’Heureux



What Drives Us? Thoughts on Festival Sustainability


ABSTRACT: The idea of addressing the issue of festival sustainability came up during the preparations for The HTMlles 11 | ZÉR0 FUTUR{E}, in Montreal – a city of festivals. As part of the festival programming, a forum was created which gathered local and international festival professionals. A second forum took place one year later during the CYNETART festival in Dresden 2015, bringing in more critical voices and personal perspectives.


Photo: The HTMlles 11, Studio XX (Montreal) 2014. 

Photo: The HTMlles 11, Studio XX (Montreal) 2014.


Festivals are interesting creatures. They usually emerge from, with and for a specific community and help to build it. Because they are usually meant to be recurrent, with time, festivals become bigger and institutionalize. Sometimes, they disappear. Often, they disappear because they are underfunded, lose relevance, and/or because organizers leave the field due to often precarious working conditions. Within the current non-profit art world festival organizers need to be very creative to assure the survival of these initiatives while also constantly questioning their mandate or raison-d’être.


Photo: The HTMlles 11, Studio XX, 2014.

About The HTMlles: Feminist Festival of Media Arts + Digital Culture

The idea of addressing the issue of festival sustainability came up during the preparations for The HTMlles 11 | ZÉR0 FUTUR{E}. The HTMlles is a feminist media arts festival, founded in 1997 in Montreal – a city of festivals. All year-round, visitors and Montrealers have the opportunity to attend over 100 different festivals presenting music, theatre, comedy, food and more. The cultural scene is quite dense and in certain areas highly competitive; public and private funds are limited as is the attention of audiences. Working on the concept for the HTMlles’ 11th edition in 2014, various questions arose concerning the current and future relevance of the festival mandate, new ways to reach out to different audiences while staying pertinent for the community, working conditions of staff and volunteers, strategic partnerships and many more.

As part of the festival programming, a forum was created which gathered local and international festival professionals. In a public roundtable discussion and internal workshop sessions, strategies towards a long-term impact of cultural work, as well as best-practices and their possible implementation in different geopolitical contexts were presented and discussed.

In terms of The HTMlles, we shared our concerns around the competitive context for festivals, the lack of appropriate resources, the expectation from funders to make money, and the pressure on human resources to produce a major festival almost from scratch every two years. The HTMlles was founded by Studio XX, a feminist artist-run centre focused on technological exploration, creation and critical reflection. From its origins in the 90s, as a gathering of women web artists who wanted to exchange IRL, The HTMlles became a more ambitious new media art festival of which the funding and organizational structure gradually detached itself from Studio XX (different grants and budgets from the operational funding of the centre; different staff hired on contract). These changes had their benefits (seemingly growth and development, artistic freedom) but also their limits or drawbacks, namely the exhaustion that came with building a new infrastructure for each edition. We realized that The HTMlles historically served as a catalyst for Studio XX in terms of experimentation, presentation and visibility. Namely, the previous edition implemented a new model that addressed competition and scarcity of resources: the festival partnered with other feminist artist-run centres as well as research centres in order to bring different feminist communities together but also to mutualize resources. However, these outcomes were short lived since the festival team was not permanent. Moreover, given overlapping responsibilities, tensions would systematically occur between the permanent and the contractual staff.

Following the collective reflection and skillsharing that took place during the work sessions of the forum in Montreal, we came up with a series of recommendations to make The HTMlles a more sustainable endeavour. Essentially, we proposed that the permanent team of Studio XX be responsible for organizing the festival in order to assure continuity and sustainable development. Given the systemic precarity of cultural workers, this would entail cutting down on other projects in order to integrate the festival into the workflow. We also identified which event formats and which partnerships were successful (both artistically and professionally) and therefore worth pursuing and fostering. The upcoming 12th edition was organized taking all our recommendations into consideration. We shall soon see the results and reassess the new strategies as the next edition takes place in November 2016.

About the Online Publication

The first forum which took place during The HTMlles 11, in 2014 in Montreal, sparked an interest in continuing the exchange while opening it up to additional professionals working and experimenting with new formats. A second forum took place one year later during the CYNETART festival in Dresden 2015, bringing in more critical voices and personal perspectives.

CYNETART 2015 | TMA Hellerau, Festspielhaus Hellgrau. Photo: © David Pinzer, David Pinzer Fotografie, http://

CYNETART 2015 | TMA Hellerau, Festspielhaus Hellgrau. Photo: © David Pinzer, David Pinzer Fotografie,

This online publication seeks to shed light on the topic of “festival sustainability” following a very hands-on approach. Festival organizers, curators and independent cultural workers share their daily-work experiences and ideas to develop sustainable structures in the areas of funding, organization, community outreach and socio-political context. Acknowledging that festivals run on different models, grassroots collectives were invited along with more institutionalized organizations to share their approaches towards sustainable cultural work.

Although not everyone who participated in the meetings contributed to this present publication; many of the thoughts and ideas that have been expressed in a formal or informal way found their way into it. While focusing on festivals, the texts can be seen as part of a larger discussion around cultural sustainability, hopefully encouraging more engaging future debates.



Digital art festival sustainability: diversity of artistic genres and differentiation in cultural perspective


ABSTRACT: Why organise a digital arts festival today? Why a festival? What difficulties and differences separate a well funded commercial festival from an underfunded and non-commercial festival? What are their perspectives on art, curatorial themes, publics and politics? What part do political aesthetic choices play and how can we change the perspectives of cultural policies?

Chrysalis Marije Baalman. Photo: APO33

Chrysalis Marije Baalman. Photo: APO33


A festival is a moment that, historically defined, celebrates a community or people having a common interest or a common religion. It’s an event that comes to break the repetition and rigorous aspects of daily life.

The monstrosity of this paradox between event and repetition announces, perhaps, another kind of thinking, an impossible thinking: the impossible event (there must be resemblance to the past which cancels the singularity of the event) and the only possible event (since any event in order to be event worthy of its name must be singular and non-resembling).1

We are facing this paradox in such a way that the very survival of some festivals becomes a generator of debate, obliging its main actors (organisers, curators, artists) to write articles, organise meetings, seminars and debates about development and sustainability. Rather than focusing only on organising our festivals and establishing networks of curators and artists, we are seeking answers by expanding our networks of festivals, with the aim of finding solutions to the shared difficulties we face.

Why organise a digital arts festival today? Why a festival? What difficulties and differences separate a well funded commercial festival and an underfunded and non-commercial festival? What are their perspectives on art, curatorial themes, publics and politics? What part do political aesthetic choices play and how can we change the perspectives of cultural policies?


Cinechine, Mariske de Groot, Photo: APO33

A festival to celebrate the diversity of digital art : a question or a reality?

Among the networks of DIY (do it yourself) medium-sized festivals, the reasons to organise are varied and many. Such events hold in common a passion for contemporary artistic trends and research as well as personal and local cultural enrichment. For the purposes of this article we will focus on the experiences of organisers and artists in the digital arts.

Electropixel Festival in Nantes was created in 2010 by APO33, an artist run organisation founded in 1997. The festival aims to create a space to celebrate a wide community of artists, across different genres of artistic practices linked to the use of electronics and digital production tools. The festival also promotes art that uses Free Libre Open Source technologies but not exclusively like festivals such as Piksel in Bergen, Norway. However, Piksel is a good role model for Electropixel, with its perspective of the festival as a hub and artistic lab open to the public. Electropixel attempts to respond to an increase in demand from local and international digital and electronic arts communities for punctual diffusion and a meeting point in Nantes. Many such events and festivals produced by APO33 have been based on a “call for proposals” which allows more people to participate, brings about new ideas, and creates a space for young and emerging artists to diffuse their work and participate in the event. Electropixel festival has been a challenge for APO33 as an art collective: to organise an event hosting 40 to 50 artists on a very limited budget, and often with limited time.


Offenes Netz, Anke Wunschmann, Achim Wollscheil, Photo: APO33

The repetition in history: the David & Goliath of digital art festivals

The Argument that the public wants kitsch is dishonest; the argument that it needs relaxation, at least incomplete. The need for the bad, illusory, deceptive things is generated by the all-powerful propaganda apparatus; but the need for relaxation, to the extent that it really – and today with justification – exists, is itself also a product of a circumstance that absorbs people’s strength and time in a such a fashion that they are no longer capable of other things.2

During the last few years we have been confronted as organisers by the inequality between well-funded popular digital art festivals and underfunded non-commercial digital art festivals. This is often related to a certain cultural/political vision, with the view that “art is entertainment” and/or a product of instant gratification to be consumed. As expressed by Adorno, this way of seeing art is dishonest and absorbs people’s strength and time in the same way that watching a Hollywood blockbuster does, or absorbing continuous television flows, or drinking up pop music at the local night club. Digital art is being split into two main categories: the outsized “spectacle” with big screens, large scale video mapping, club DJs, VJs and electronica in addition to snappy interactive gaming designs. Alternatively there are a number of artists experimenting with the digital through the misuse of technologies or hacking, repurposing and questioning the relation to communities, environment, interactivity, art and other niche genres.

These approaches to curation and medium frequently cross over, however there tends to be a reluctance from the larger festivals to take risks on critical content and lesser known artists or artists whose work is not perceived as easily marketable to sponsors and the general public. Having received funding for the first two editions of Electropixel Festival from “DiCream CNC – emergent festival fund” which only supports festivals for a maximum of two years, Electropixel has since faced problems securing annual funding, yet the passion from artists and the appetite of the public to discover these art forms has been a driving factor in the festival’s continuation to date.


Sous casques, Jules Wysocki, Photo: Xoel Friere

Cultural policies, giant events and mass cultural consumption paradigms

It can be difficult for smaller festivals to survive, defending their values and maintaining long term relationships with artists in a climate that favours the phenomenon of large audiences gathered for a throwaway Instagram moment and a quick click on the thumbs up of social media for the validation of cultural policies.

This is where it gets tricky: elected representatives across the globe help and support large “commercially successful” events to varying degrees with public funding, facilitating their continued development. Often this serves the “happy people will vote for me” idea of arts and culture and disguises weak policies and vision of the arts in general.

Electropixel 2016 was the first time, in 6 years, that our locally elected cultural representatives attended the festival, which was both surprising and unexpected. They were interested in the artistic content of Electropixel Festival: to discover the artists’ works and exchange with us. They understood the importance of such a festival in the city and the community. Whether this translates into sustainable funding dedicated to the festival remains to be seen. APO33’s general activities do receive annual funding from local, regional and national bodies. The festival represents a punctual moment to unite a broader public and artists in a single “summer event”.

Is funding the only solution for this kind of festival to survive? Over the years, we have tested the different possibilities available, outside of our main funding system: administration, political seduction and the expertise of micro-budget management. What we found was often worse and very difficult to achieve: philanthropy and sponsorship for art and culture in France is very poor, not very well educated about emerging arts and absolutely stingy with regard to the “non-profit” and non commercial. With the aim of showcasing and adding credibility to their products, most of this private funding goes towards popular mass cultural events (often already well funded and sustainable), where art and culture is a vehicle to deliver branded pens and caps, and if you are a lucky a couple of hundred euros towards advertising. For a festival like Electropixel this is a dead end; few sponsors are interested in digital art, new music, or anything that is challenging for the public. In the case of philanthropists, culture is dictated by whims and desires of those few moneyed peoples; their individual interest in art offers a narrow market-oriented vision. Philanthropists also demand that artists and organisations fill out more complicated forms than those required to receive public funding in order to receive tax breaks.

Having tested crowdfunding a couple of times, launching campaigns to fund the festival with fans and supporters, we found that relying on the public coming to our events is not a viable option to support the festival. The same is is true of higher entrance fees; it does not bring in enough to cover artist fees, travel, logistics, housing, communication and food.

Diversity seldom forms part of digital art festival objectives, whose selections of certain types of entertainment works to create a hegemony of digital art aesthetics (white and male). In 2013 Female Pressure, an international network of female artists in the fields of electronic music and digital arts founded by Electric Indigo, produced a report on some of the world’s most well attended digital arts and electronic music festivals, laying bare the dire state of female inclusion – at just 8,4% – in shaping cultural aesthetics.3 Today it is imperative that we bring the politicians and arts funding bodies to understand the need to promote greater diversity across the digital arts, by both the artists being represented and spaces afforded to different visions and scales of art and events. Supporting equally those “more challenging” festivals that are taking risks with new artists and more critical or challenging works provides vital spaces for artists to hone their practices and for the public to contemplate and demystify the fast changing technological world in which we live. Even if those festivals are working at different levels and with totally different visions of the digital future, art and of organisations, it is important that “decision makers and leaders” understand the need for alternative places for artists, debates, diffusion and audiences to coexist.




1 Leonard Lawlor, 2014,
2 Theodor W. Adorno, Essays on Music, 1931; p. 133, University of California Press.
3 Female Pressure report:



A study on sustainability and festival networks


ABSTRACT: A study on sustainability and festival networks: Are festival networks a strategic asset for small-scale, non-profit, arts festivals to achieve a more resilient sustainability? A study based on the ICAS (International Cities of Advanced Sound) network and its foundational project ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound).


© ICASnetwork / Katharina Meissner

© ICASnetwork / Katharina Meissner


Festival networks have been the structure under which non-profit arts festivals, among others, join forces through international collaboration and cooperation in face of a fast paced and vulnerable industry. These networks bring different benefits to their members and can consequently help them enhance their capacities as well as increase their competitiveness, but are they a strategic asset for small-scale, non-profit, arts festivals to achieve a more resilient sustainability?

To determine whether festival networks enable members to develop their sustainability, it is necessary to analyse the benefits offered to members in relation to the elements that support the sustainability of these types of festivals. In order to focus this analysis, a festival network and its foundational project were taken as case studies: ICAS (International Cities of Advanced Sound) and ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound).1

Analysing the ways in which festivals can strengthen sustainability is crucial. As Foccroulle (2009: 16) points out in his article “At the heart of European identities,” ‘The amazing diversity of festivals reflects Europe and its culture’. In a time when funds for culture are scarce, when resources are harder to grasp, it is fundamental to think creatively, in order to attain sustainability (Arts Council Chicago, 2013: 1).

About the sustainability of small scale, non-profit, arts festivals

Sustainability can be defined as the ‘ability or capacity of something to be maintained or to sustain itself’ (LandLearn, 2015). Historically, non-profit arts festivals have struggled to achieve sustainability. This is because they ‘are driven by a mission and not by profits making, they are quite dependent on public funding, they have difficulties to generate surplus from their core activities and they are undercapitalized’ (Rodríguez, 2015: 11).

The core teams of these festivals are charged with obtaining all the necessary resources to develop the festival. How is it possible to access these resources? In the case of non-profit organisations, ‘many organisers are dependent on contributions from donors or on exchanges with sponsors. In other words, they have to mobilise resources through other actors’ (Getz, 2005 cited in Elbe, 2009: 232). Non-profit festival organisations access resources through the relationships they establish.

Managing to finance a festival exclusively from its own revenues, meaning tickets, merchandise and, if possible, bar sales, is hard to imagine. Generally, festivals are expensive to produce, their sources of revenue are limited, and the time span in which they are active is quite short. In most cases, festivals cover two-thirds of their global budget with public and private funding.

Despite the negative connotations that public funding and sponsorships may have, there is no doubt both are valuable resources. The problem is that most non-profit festival organisations rely too much on these sources of income. Festivals must lower their dependence on these sources of funding and rethink their business models because at the moment, ‘everything points out to the standard arts festival model becoming harder to sustain in an increasingly competitive market’ (Palmer and Thelwall, 2013: 3-4).

There is no precise formula for non-profit arts festivals to become more stable and sustainable, not only because each festival is organised and managed differently, but also because festivals are affected by their context and the place in which they develop, making each case unique. Nevertheless, there are some assets that are indispensable to strengthen sustainability: innovating (Carlsen, et al, 2010: 121), achieving strategic partnerships (Klaic, 2009a: 103-111), collaborating (Rodríguez, 2015: 9), being flexible enough to cope with change (Getz, 2002 cited in Carlsen, et al, 2010: 123 – 124), having demanding programmes and expanding audiences (Krijanskaia cited in Pejovic, 2009: 193).

How participating in a festival network can support a festival’s sustainability

To understand how being part of a network can help festivals to enhance their sustainability, this section correlates the benefits of network participation (based on the information collected from the ICAS and ECAS research) with the assets that can strengthen sustainability.

Strategic partnerships

  • The gathering of like-minded organisations working within the same field and sharing similar interests under the umbrella of a network lends strength to the group that can facilitate lobbying in order to support this specific sector of society.
  • As Elbe (2009: 232) points out, legitimacy is an indispensable asset for the development of any kind of festival. For young festivals, this is a particularly delicate issue, as they have not yet gained recognition by their own means. Joining a festival network such as ICAS brings legitimacy to its members. It is the legitimacy of the network and its most established festival members that expands and consequently ‘legitimates’ the activities of the younger members.
  • Through the gathering of international festival organisations, festival networks enable the mobility of artists and artistic programmes at an international level. The different festival members create a circuit that facilitates the touring of different artists and projects. This expansion in mobility naturally increases the visibility of such projects, at both local and international levels.
  • Festival networks can also enable the mobility of cultural workers, generally in the form of cultural residency programs. According to Oliver Baurhenn, co-director of CTM, this is the best way in which cultural workers can learn from other organisations and share their knowledge in return, because residencies give enough time for people to get to know each other and to assimilate and apply that knowledge.
  • As Klaic (2009a: 104) points out, the more international a festival is in its programme, the more aware it must be of its local context. Local support is essential for the successful development of festivals. Most of the interviewees confirm that being part of the network has increased their local profile. For both partners and local funders, an international network represents the possibility to promote and give visibility to local talent abroad.
  • Most of the interviewees confirmed that being part of the network facilitated access to new funds: locally, regionally or internationally. The reasons for this vary depending on the festival and its context. In some cases, the network legitimated an organisation in the eyes of potential funders, in other cases promoting local talent abroad aroused the interest of public institutions, and in others the international character of the network helped to access funds abroad.
  • Festival networks support and promote the development of new collaborative projects and exchanges between organisations at different levels. At this level, the network works as a space of encounter, where cultural workers can meet with others and identify potential partners for their projects.


  • Constant exchange with people from other countries allows the network members to better understand and appreciate different contexts and realities, and increases the international and intercultural competencies of cultural workers.
  • Some of the network members are organisations that have more than fifteen years of experience, whilst others are young festivals run by young entrepreneurs. Sharing knowledge across generations, nations, and organisations of different sizes, is an asset that is not always easy to grasp outside of this type of structure.
  • Joining a network of like-minded people working to achieve similar goals and facing similar challenges gives the members a sense of community and solidarity within their field. This sense of community gives internal strength to the network and its members.


  • Exchange with like-minded professionals from different backgrounds is the perfect incubator for new ideas and exchange of information, and organisational knowledge facilitates the development of various projects.
  • Getting to know different points of view allows festival organisers to question themselves.
  • The connections between people in the network generate a stimulating collective intelligence, which is enhanced when members physically meet.
  • In a fast-paced industry, the network represents a space where members can stop and think about where the network and its members are heading, what they are doing and why.
  • Trust among individual members of the network allows people to be open about their thoughts and to give critical and honest feedback to others, provoking reflection on the work developed by different organisations and cultural workers.

Demanding programmes, expanding audiences

  • The intercultural diversity of the network can have an important effect on the uniqueness of the programme and the international profile of the audience. It increases the international profile of its members, especially the less established or younger ones, and promotes the discovery of international artistic talent.
  • Festival members involved in co-productions with other network members emphasized the network facilitated and enriched the process of creating new artistic work. Exchange within the network gave them access to expertise, a wider artistic choice, a wider touring network, and access to different types of support.
  • Joining an international network can also raise a festival’s profile with its local audience. As Tim Terpstra, former curator of TodaysArt, affirms, working with a variety of festivals from different countries allows for unique programming. For a curious and bold audience, having access to a unique programme is of great value.

Flexibility to cope with change

  • Through networks, festival organisers are able to gain organisational knowledge by learning how other festivals operate and by sharing strategic information, which allows them to rethink the way their own organisation operates and to find diverse alternatives when faced with different challenges.
  • Having the capacity to find different solutions to potential problems by learning through the experience of others also enhances the flexibility of these organisations, an indispensable asset for facing the changing nature of the festival industry.
  • By being exposed to different realities and ways of doing things, it is possible to recognise things that could be lacking or failing in one’s home country. This intercultural exchange makes it possible for cultural workers to recognize and evaluate models that could potentially be imported and applied in their home countries.


Although the present study has its limitations and is not representative of non-profit arts festivals or of festival networks overall, it is a small sample aiming to measure the different benefits that festival networks bring to their members. It also demonstrates the importance of further research in this area.

Festival networks are platforms that can allow festivals to achieve a more resilient sustainability. Nevertheless, these networks can only offer tools to make this happen. Sustainability is a hard thing to accomplish, and relies heavily on the creativity and the ability of festival organisers, with shared effort and open collaboration between sectors. As Rodríguez (2015: 9) affirms, ‘the new contemporary paradigm requires all type of organisations –public, non-profit and for-profit–to cooperate and work across sectors and working fields in order to have a more holistic approach to reality and more efficiently tackle the pressing problems that our societies are currently facing at all levels’.

It is important to acknowledge that the benefits a network can offer will also depend on the specificities and operation of each network. ICAS is a medium-sized network that facilitates communication and encounter, which is not always the case. There are, for example, larger, extensive networks where communication and organization are not always easy to establish and maintain.

Nevertheless, festival networks can be agents of change, of creation, of mobilisation and connection. Their essential value is not measurable in economic terms, since it lies in the ‘environment’ they create, in which innovative projects can be developed. They are dynamic and inclusive structures of cooperation where communication is horizontal, and where differences between cultures are appreciated as an asset and not as a threat.

We are living in a time when nationalism is expanding. In times such as these, where exclusion is becoming the norm, inclusive structures like festival networks where creation is collective, knowledge is shared, and diversity is cherished, are not only beneficial for cultural workers or the organisations of a specific industry, but for society itself. As Foccroulle (2009: 16) points out in his article “At the heart of European identities,” ‘The amazing diversity of festivals reflects Europe and its culture. Yet are we aware enough of that wealth? Will we be able to help it to grow and take advantage of all of its promises? Will we be able to gather into dynamic networks and leverage all its resources?’’ Festival networks are great structures to collectively rethink and reinvent not only the festival model, or to shape the future of an industry, they are also a strategic place to rethink the way in which we want to influence the world we live in.



1  ICAS is an international network dedicated to advancing sound cultures, music and related arts. ECAS was the project that initially triggered the creation of ICAS and later on became a project of nine partners of the network. Both developed from a natural collaboration among independent festivals and dedicated persons that shared an interest in promoting and creating projects related to experimental music, sound and new technologies with a trans-disciplinary approach. ICAS has been working as an informal network for over nine years and is formed of thirty-one active members across Europe, America and Australia. ECAS was a five-year initiative co-founded by the Creative Europe programme that ended in 2015. It was formed by nine partners of the ICAS network.
In order to analyse the benefits that the festival members have achieved through participation in these networks, a qualitative study based on interviews with nine of the festival members was developed. This research is based on the study developed by IETM – Informal European Theatre Meeting (2001) in relation to the importance of artistic and cultural networks, How Networking Works.



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Building a Female Artery in Slovenia: the City of Women Festival


ABSTRACT: The essay describes the performance I’m walking behind you and watching you (2013) at the City of Women festival that strengthened the female community and vitalized feminist artistic tradition in Slovenia. An artistic festival, as a kind of meta-event, can serve many functions. It can use events to increase awareness, bring different audiences together, focus in on a chosen topic, strenghten existing artistic practices or provoke new ideas, relationships, partnerships, and art. This was unquestionably true in the “post-modern 90s” when festivals proliferated. Today, however, when the festivalisation of everything, not just artistic events, but also of shopping, sport, education, popular entertainment etc., happens every day, new issues have emerged. The most important challenges can be summarised as follows: How to gain the attention of an audience when there are so many festival events and fewer resources for the arts? How to produce meaningful artistic events (for as many people as possible) and promote them to a target audience? How to ensure a sustainable future for a feminist festival in the 21st century? One suggestion is to include or create an event that embodies as much as possible of the festival’s spirit. In this essay I will present an event called I’m Walking Behind You and Watching You. Presented at the 19th edition of the City of Women festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 2013, it brought together a diverse audience, performing genres, and local as well as national women’s history and presence.

I’m Walking Behind You and Watching You performance part. Photo: Nada Žgank / City of Women.

I’m Walking Behind You and Watching You performance part. Photo: Nada Žgank / City of Women.

About the context

Feminist traditions and movements in Slovenia have been repeatedly fragmented by ruptures in national-political systems. From the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) to the socialist Yugoslavia and finally to the capitalist Slovenia, women were busy adjusting to new state orders. A variety of transformations within feminist movements occured in reaction to political changes. In 1991 Slovenia gained its independence and started its transition from a socialist to a capitalist country. Women had to defend the right to abortion in the newly adopted constitution, in December 1991, with public demonstrations, and won an important victory to which many of the future collaborators of the City of Women festival contributed. However, for the feminist community it was one of the rare events connecting women. In the new country, the visibility of women in public space dropped significantly until the birth of the City of Women festival in 1995.

Slovenia is today, in some respects, an emancipated country with equal legal rights for women, abortion on demand, paid maternity leave, legalised same-sex partnerships (adopted only in 2016, but not marriage, adoptions for same-sex couples and artificial inseminations for lesbians), the smallest gender-pay-gap, etc., but on the other hand many inequalities remain in the arts. In 1992 when democratisation hit the arts as well as society at large, an Office for Women’s Policy was established (in 2001 it was renamed the Office for Equal Opportunities and in 2012 it was dissolved and became the Equal Opportunities Department at The Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities). In 1995, four years after Slovenia gained its independence, the Office for Women’s Policy produced the first Slovenian women’s art festival, and for the following editions a private office of the Association for the Promotion of Women in Culture – City of Women was established. This Slovenian version of an international festival of contemporary arts was modelled after the Magdalena Project and named the City of Women. The City of Women addressed the feminist legacy: the festival was transdisciplinary and included not only performances, but also lectures, workshops, discussions, book promotion events, etc., as it still does today.

The Resurgent Half

One of the curators of the visual arts component of the festival writes about the lack of local works that could be described as “womanly or feminist” in the 90s or earlier (Stepančič 35). Put simply, only a very limited number of local artists were doing work, visual or otherwise, that could be labelled feminist, thus restricting the choice of work to be promoted by the festival. However, over the more than 20 years of the festival’s existence, this has changed. There are many different artists whose work can be and is promoted or even produced by the festival. Events that I present in this essay are the results of ongoing festival activity.

In 2013 the festival’s leading theme was “Let’s create a place for ourselves”. Five female artists created a show titled I’m Walking Behind You and Watching You (Hodim za tabo in te gledam). The performance consisted of four elements : a city tour, a live sculpture/monument, a radio intervention, and a video installation as part of the city tour.

I’m Walking Behind You and Watching You was described as a “female map of the city in which memory holders form missing and ignored stories of women who worked their way through this city”. The multilayered project had two main events: first, a Ljubljana city walking tour around the historical city centre exploring hidden attractions connected to Slovenian women from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It lasted about two hours with one or two female guides – one was always Barbara Kapelj Osredkar, the author of the concept of the project, and occasionally also an expert on the women in focus on the tour. The walk was created for a maximum of 30 people and included stops at houses where prominent Slovenian women had either lived or worked. Periodically the walk was interrupted by physical actions performed by three other artists in the project: Leja Jurišić, Teja Reba and Mia Habib. The actions were always connected to a woman discussed at that particular moment in the tour. At the end of the tour, the group went into an old house where a video installation (described below) was playing and two artists sang their interpretations of Slovenian folk songs.

Barbara Kapelj Osredkar, Leja Jurišić, Teja Reba, Mia Habib, Ana Čigon: HODIM ZA TABO IN GLEDAM TE, Vodstvo – instalacija – performans, 13.10.2013, Mesto žensk / City of Women

Barbara Kapelj Osredkar, Leja Jurišić, Teja Reba, Mia Habib, Ana Čigon: HODIM ZA TABO IN GLEDAM TE, Vodstvo – instalacija – performans, 13.10.2013, Mesto žensk / City of Women

The second part was an event called I’m Walking Behind You and Watching You: Alive Sculpture. Here the creative team stood together and formed an “X” with the help of female volunteers portraying the 129 women described in the book The Forgotten Half (Pozabljena polovica), “dedicated to the lives of 129 of the most important women from all fields of social and artistic activities in Slovenia from the past two centuries”. This manifestation took place at Kongresni trg, a special public square in Ljubljana where many important social, political, cultural and artistic events have taken place throughout the city’s history. The volunteers wore sashes, each labelled with the name of one of the 129 women from The Forgotten Half; the organisers of the event held short speeches from a small stage and podium in a conference format: besides short opening speeches, three guests spoke and at the end a female choir sang two songs. The event was concluded with a photo shoot and volunteers chose perennial plants in memory of the each of the event and woman represented.

I’m Walking Behind You and Watching You: Alive Sculpture. Photo: Almedina Meštrovac / City of Women.

I’m Walking Behind You and Watching You: Alive Sculpture. Photo: Almedina Meštrovac / City of Women.

The event creators also made an intervention on radio ARS, the third channel of the national Radio Slovenia. This channel broadcasts cultural programming, one such programme is The Stage, a weekly show about contemporary theatre in Slovenia. In the edition of October 8, 2013, the artists talked about the opening of a new monument dedicated to women. The majority of the show is fictitious: the monument is composed of 129 female statues made of white porcelain standing in water and thus through their reflections, they multiply to represent all other forgotten women. In the show they discussed the reasons behind the monument, the materials, the location, the production, they also name the contemporary artists who made the sculptures, etc. Only in the last 2 to 3 minutes did they reveal the utopian vision of the broadcast and that there will not be such a monument. They ended by inviting listeners to participate in the live sculpture monument.

The video Ljubljana City of Women (Ljubljana mesto žensk, 2013), part of the city tour, has two tracks – an audio track in which two artists are interviewing people on the streets. They are asked if they know of any important historical Slovenian women to whom they would build a monument in Ljubljana. On the visual video track, however, we see Vegova Street in Ljubljana, in reality colonised by male statues which in the video are transformed into female statues. It is a humorous critique of the lack of monuments to women in Ljubljana and an expression of the desire for a female artery in Ljubljana’s city centre.


The City of Women festival had a socially committed agenda from its beginnings: to promote female artists and to increase the visibility of women in general. The festival received a lot of publicity at the beginning, but in the 21st century it was absorbed into the sea of various cultural events and festivals and became less visible (see Šorli). Nevertheless it succeeded in building a small but steady community of artists who continue to make intersectional feminist artworks. Today, when many spend their lives in isolated bubbles, and when Slovenia no longer has the Women’s Policy Office, it is very valuable to have at least one continuous agency that deals with injustices shared by most women and their creative and artistic investigation.

The performance described above brought together 19th and 21st century history, social sciences (The Forgotten Half), radio, visual and performing arts, feminist legacies and visions, women of all ages as performers and audiences. Such a complex event in a short time span built a community of women, and thus vitalized feminist tradition in Slovenia. Although the connections made at the performance were brief, many women who took part continue their feminist work in social sciences and performing arts and meet at new editions of City of Women, providing a sustainable future for the festival itself.



Stepančič, Lilijana. “Pionirski časi. Osebni spomin na prvi festival Mesto žensk.” [Pioneer Times: The Memoirs of the First City of Women festival] Časopis za kritiko znanosti. 43. 261 (2015): 23–39.
Šorli, Maja. “Podoba Mesta žensk v slovenskih medijij.” [Images of the City of Women festival in the Slovenian Media] Časopis za kritiko znanosti. 43. 261 (2015): 90–99.


Self-Powered Communities: An Overview of Theories of Social Sustainability


ABSTRACT: Sustainability may be examined from an economic, political, environmental, or cultural concerns viewpoint, but can it be also be viewed through a social lens? I would like to link the concept of sustainability to the constructive skills of humans by looking at the case of community-based cultural events and festivals.Sustainability is a term used not only in the natural and social sciences, but in architecture, design, and the arts as well. Mostly, we encounter the use of environmental sustainability in the context of current and urgent questions of climate change and global warming. Sustainable development is also a popular expression in urban planning, as well as in sociological and ecological research. Sustainability may be examined from an economic, political, environmental, or cultural viewpoint, but can it be also viewed through a social lens? I would like to link the concept of sustainability to the constructive skills of humans by looking at the case of community-based cultural events and festivals. If the meaning of sustainable is “to sustain itself,” we have to find an answer to what is the festival itself, or what makes a festival sustainable? There are many factors that affect an event’s success and long-term capacity, such as economic stability, specialized knowledge and technology, or the professional network. However, in this article I will focus on grassroots-, community cohesion- and social mission-based approaches of the human construction process. As a framework, I will use among others the idea of “Sustainability Revolution” which is at the basis of the theory of “The Three Es” (ecology / environment, economy/employment, equity/equality).1 By reviewing the ideas of several thinkers we can understand: What drives us? What is the aim of our activities? To change, expand, learn, or share? How can we ensure the sustainability of our events, preventing them from becoming the victims of profit-orientation, poor quality, or “mainstream” movement?

Photo: Ildikó Répáczky

Photo: Ildikó Répáczky

The need for community cohesion

The largest community organizing force lies in religion or ideology and philosophical systems. Its secret is a worldview of unity, one that creates a sense of belonging and togetherness in community members. Anthropologists such as Csányi or Sperber would use the term “beliefs” for this. The latter distinguishes between intuitive and reflective beliefs. Intuitive beliefs are those that stem from experience and innate predisposition, those that change less from culture to culture.We could say that these beliefs are biologically determined. However, there are also reflective beliefs, that are responsible for cultural diversity. Reflective beliefs are very different from culture to culture, for example, in interpretation of art. The famous Hungarian biologist, biochemist, and ethologist Vilmos Csányi writes that the ideal community is grounded in common belief (ideology, tradition), common action (doing the act together), and equal participation (the influence of the individual in communal decisions). From these three elements originates the practice of fealty (loyalty of the individual to the community). Csányi refers to this as social construction.2 Through this system of organizational skills, we reconstruct thoughts and language, but also objects or abstract models, structures, and rituals. The ritual expression of community belief can be a festival itself. However, this is not sufficient, namely because instead of relying on the hierarchy in the group, the maintenance of community planning and mutual responsibility, based on democratic relations, requires regular and transparent communication.

The origins of human actions

Sociobiologists and genetic reductionists posit that all of our actions are determined by self-interest and selfishness of genes.3 Marshall Shalins writes that the nature of man is a restless desire for power, and society is a set of relationships formed by the pursuit of private interests. “Organization is the socialized realization of desire,” he wrote.4 The thesis of Bourdieu states that in modern society, communities are organized into “fields” or “gaming spaces” through common interests and goals. Such a field can be a sector of the arts, or the political sphere. Some fields are more sustainable, having more available resources. What are these resources? Bourdieu uses the term “capital” for these: economic and financial capital affects one’s cultural capital, which symbolizes one’s knowledge and abilities, but also social class. This can be transmitted from generation to generation. Cultural capital defines one’s human (or symbolic) capital, which corresponds to their studies, job, prestige and social status based on respect and honour. Finally, the fourth source is one’s social capital, which is our social network, the affiliation to the communities, and to fields. He calls this “socialization.” Similar to Csányi’s social construction theory, this introduces the concept of social and cultural reproduction, which is knowledge, information, and transmission of existing cultural values and norms from generation to generation. Cultural reproduction refers to the mechanisms by which continuity of cultural experience is sustained across time.5

Cultural reproduction

So to our “What drives us?” question, the theories of Csányi, Bourdieu, and Sahlins suggest reconstruction and reproduction as answers. Humans feel the biological urge to transmit knowledge as genetic material, either referencing a tradition in the past, or visualizing a future innovation.The examined festival “itself” is a representational process, in which the subject is culture, and thus the sharing of knowledge and vision, which seeks to maintain the beliefs of the community. Sperber gives a bizarre but striking epidemiological analogy to this, which fits well with the ever-recurring themes of genes and memes.

“The representations can be cultural in various ways, there are among those that spread slowly between the generations, we call these traditions and these are similar to endamias. Other representations, which are characteristics of modern culture, in the whole population spread very quickly, but they have very short life, we call them trends, and these are similar to epidemics.”6

Visions for sustainable communities

Now that we have explored the object of our inner urge as a concept, we shall examine the form in which it can be used long term. All of the above-mentioned social models trace out hierarchical structures and dystopian visions. However, history has shown that hierarchy-based social structures have failed. What is the structure then that creates sustainable events? Daniel Quinn argues that modern civilization is inoperable and self-destructive (see Dawkins’s “killer memes”), and that social dissatisfaction is caused by unsustainable hierarchal social structures. He writes that we need a modern understanding of “new tribal community.”7 This does not have to look like the old tribal stereotype of “cavemen,” since foraging in the natural community is not a viable or even possible solution for the billions of people on Earth today. He consistently describes the revolution not as a movement to “go back” to some earlier style of living, but rather, a movement to “go forward” into something new. Quinn distinguishes between the concept of “the tribe” and “the commune,” the latter exemplified by the product of hippie movements, a community-based coexistence, where in many cases the common belief of ensuring sustainability is lacking. Quinn’s modern age example for “the tribe” is the circus or the theater. I believe the festival would also fit in that analogy. The community spirit (a common purpose for the common good) brings about cultural reproduction, which provides wellbeing for the members, and maintains the social model. In the “tribal model”, the role of the “leader” is important but does not demand a hierarchy. Rather, that role is considered to be as equally valuable and indispensable as other roles. Examples of such leaders could be an acrobat, an actor, or a curator. Common creation and cooperation allows the success of common production. This is the principle of interdependence whereby the relationships between members of the group are all equal to each other. Within a given group, recognition of both individual and community development therefore facilitates sustainabillity.

A festival based on community spirit

Similarly, researchers of population genetics are examining the sustainable social models of ancient cultures.8 It has been shown that “egalitarian community culture” based on equality reduces competition and differences within the group, and increases competition and differences between groups. This principle provides an answer on how not to fall into the approach of the “mainstream” and how we can hold on to uniqueness and biodiversity in the community. Quinn’s “modern tribalism” model reminds me of the Hungarian O.Z.O.R.A. psychedelic tribal gathering, which is essentially centred on music, but also an art and lifestyle festival.9 It promotes the principles of environmental sustainability (use of renewable energy sources, soft technology, green solutions, community gardening), and it also represents the community spirit that is the drive of the festival as a “ritual.” This is a special sub-cultural community with surprisingly strong cohesion, where the members call themselves “ozorians.” The ozorians initiated a modern tradition through their annual meeting, which goes beyond common musical interests and lifestyle similarities, pervaded with faith in universal values and in nature. I do not intend to shepherd our thoughts toward spirituality or blind faith, but scientific texts also respect the relationships of spirit and matter. We might call this “consciousness” or “commitment” as well. I wonder if our current actions and events are conscious? As Quinn renewed the concept of tribal culture, perhaps it would be advisable to think about a new interpretation of tradition in a modern context. Do we transform our traditions and events and transmit our values consciously, or do we allow them to be forgotten and replaced by new trends?

Human as re-creator

Western interpretation and modern reconstruction of traditions propose a number of further discourses, such as the cultural differences between East and West, the social effects of globalization, desacralization, the relationship between generations, use of technology, acceleration of the world, singularity, etc. Events based on traditions are ceremonial and sacred. During these ocassions, people step out of the volatile and unstable profane time, back into the mythical primordial time, and again remake their presence.10 Eliade writes that this “historical present” is eternal. Modern sacred events evoke artist Hermann Nitsch’s actions in “Orgies Mysterien Theater.” He interprets religious events through the language of contemporary, experimental performance art. But behind the sacred robe, he expresses rebellion against social and political conventions. The sacrality is transvaluated to the solemnity of presence through Nitsch’s performance art, and protest is the basic drive of his actions. The protest as a strong objection impacts community cohesion because it expresses a political, cultural, or religious statement. Instead of the initially introduced “beliefs” and “ideologies” let us use the term “statement,” which offers a framework and commitments to the community on which it can agree. The frameworks create rules, as mentioned above, which have to ensure the authority of the individual and the community. The authority connected to an event or a festival manifests itself as freedom of creation, which entails responsibility and consciousness because each reconstruction of us creates value and heredity.

In a nutshell

Sumarizing the references above, we need new, interdisciplinary, and alternative approaches for our social, economic, and ecological challenges. A holistic review is needed for which the sustainable sciences may provide clues. The object of the sustainable sciences, the “Sustainability Revolution” needs a non-hierarchical, decentralized organizational structure with revolutionary keywords. They are managment of ecology/environment, including democratically based issues related to economy/employment and equity/equality. These three contemporary terms complete the concept of “The Three Es” and we supplement it with a fourth one: education. Our cultural events and festivals fill the role of non-formal education and link past and future generations with the principle of interdependence. Through education, we gain and transmit knowledge, and we are able to reconstruct our social habits and traditions into a sustainable form. Individuals reproduce themselves and their knowledge through cultural mediums. But because of interdependence, community and society can therefore do the same. This is the force that drives us.



1 Andres R. Edwards: The Sustainability Revolution. Portrait of paradigm shift, New Society Publishers, Canada, 2006.
2 Vilmos Csányi:Az emberi viselkedés, Budapest,Sanoma Budapest Kiadói Rt., 2006.
3 Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene, USA, Oxford University Press, 2006.
4 Marshall Sahlins: Culture and Practical Reason, Chichago and London, University of Chicago Press, 1976.
5 Pierre Bourdieu: Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge University Press, 1977.
6 Dan Sperber: Explaining Culture, Blackwell, 1996.
7 Daniel Quinn: Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure,Broadway Books, 2000
8 Robert Boyd, Peter Richerson, Christopher Bohm.
10 Mircea Eliade:The Sacred and the Profane. The Nature of Religion,A Harvest.Book,Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. New York.