Festival in Focus | Culturescapes
3 October 2019
Culturescapes, Basel, Switzerland
Culturescapes is one of those portmanteau
words that on the surface seems like just a clever label but turns out to encapsulate
what it describes accurately. In this case this established Swiss festival
treats cultures as if they were landscapes, viewing them from a distance but
also examining them in detail. Each year an external country or city is picked
and examined through a full range of artistic lenses. Artistic Director
Jurriaan Cooiman explains how he has approached the task of depicting Poland
through theatre, food and debate – as well as the usual arts genres.
He uses the first evening of the festival to
illustrate his approach. For the 2019 edition he is investing a lot of energy
in making the opening event a concentrated and critical introduction. This will
not be the average evening of diplomatic niceties, congratulatory speeches,
warm white wine and bits of cheese on sticks. It will start with perfume.
Cooiman has set the performance artist
Wojtek Ziemilski working on the theme and the result has been a special
'fragrance' called Essence of Poland, a limited edition of 101 full-size
bottles marking the 101 years since Polish independence from Russia. Each guest
at the festival opening will get one of the 1000 miniature sample sizes. How
the country smells may well challenge the noses to find a definition. 'I trust
him,' says Cooiman, 'to combine irony and dedication'.
Ziemilski is fed up with people being against
things all the time. He wants us to find out what we are in favour of,
to be open-minded. He is an artist who is not in love with the art of theatre
but with society. I first saw a show of his called One Gesture, in which
he worked with deaf colleagues on languages and learned that to understand each
other you have to commit to being open – to take a step. I found myself asking,
how could I express myself? He transports us, widens our senses.'
In Basel Ziemilski will follow the
olefactory greeting with a narration, talking about the transition of politics
in Poland over three generations, and how he feels as a contemporary artist
about the members of his family who worked in the past for the Communist
government's secret police, as well as trying to answer the question 'where do
I stand now?'.
In part two of the event, Cooiman has asked
the 'food curator and culinary journalist', Monica Kucia, to look again at food
in Poland 'not from a point of view of making dishes regarded as
nationalistic but as an inclusive
recreation of what people in the nation actually eat. This is about the food
you don't see in the restaurants or the specialist shops.' There will be installations
at eight stations around the theatre, where the hidden food of Poland will be
found; it might be (but might not) the food of old villages, Ukrainians, kebab
cultures, Vietnamese immigrants, the homeless.
The third part will be even more
controversial. On the main stage will be the Chorus of Women conducted by Marta
Gornicka from the audience in a Hymn to Love. This will be a choir that
in movement and words expresses the cruelty of current political discourse.
They take the slogans, sentences and rhetoric of Poland's right-wing parties
'and throw them at the audience, asking is this what you really want?' Cooiman
points out that 25% of the festival budget is being provided by Poland itself.
'It will be delicate', he says.
by Simon Mundy
More information on: https://www.culturescapes.ch/
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