Corners in San Sebastian: Connecting the Corners of Europe

The “Corners of Europe” initiative has brought several projects from different places in Europe to the Amara district in San Sebastian. Local residents and agents took part and developed these projects within San Sebastian 2016, European Capital of Culture. From 19 September to 2 October, local residents from Amara enjoyed dance performances, guided tours, exhibitions and projections, in which almost 30 artists were involved.

“We will not be able to assess the success of this initiative by looking at the number of tickets sold or the magnificence of the fireworks in the closing event. Our aim is to put people in contact through art, to bring people together”, explained Chris Torch, promoter of “Corners of Europe”, during its presentation. The initiative has eleven direct partners and more than twenty collaborators and is part of a network formed by several European institutions. Moreover, it has received a grant from the Creative Europe programme, directed by Chris Torch. The projects carried out in Amara have been the result of four years of work. But what is the initiative about?

“One of the objectives was to bring art practices closer to people and to bring them out from their regular locations. We wanted to defend the corners of Europe, the periphery”, said Pablo Berástegui, director of San Sebastian 2016. With that purpose, artists have been travelling across Europe since 2012 looking for projects. They have gathered and analysed information on different realities and established partnership networks, to create a sustainable platform for co-operation among creators.

“Five years ago, some partners took a look at a map of Europe. They realised that the periphery faced the biggest challenges, so they made a decision: to organise artist expeditions and to start creating networks among several places, such as the Caucasus, Poland, Ukraine and Kaliningrad”. The artworks created during the last four years were exhibited in Stockholm (Sweden), Belfast (Northern Ireland), Blyth (England), Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Zagreb and Rijeka (Croatia) before bringing them to San Sebastian.

San Sebastian 2016 needed four months to organise everything. “The best part were the 500 meetings the artists held with other artists and locals to carry out their works”, said Torch. Berástegui added: “The participation of people is one of the most interesting aspects of the initiative. The artist had to modify their proposals together with the locals to adapt them to their location in the neighbourhood”.

In fact, citizen participation is one of the foundations of “Corners”. The artists shared and completed their expeditions and experiences in Europe with the locals. Some projects were carried out with members of the general public and others with certain agents and institutions from the local area such as the Ernest Lluch cultural centre, the Easo Politeknikoa and Peñaflorida high schools, the Amara Berri school, the University of Deusto, the Amarauna project, which aims to recover the memory of the district, the ESCIVI cinema and video school, the TAE drama school, Caritas and the Uba shelter. Writers Danele Sarriugarte and Harkaitz Cano took part as local agents.

Therefore, a great number of associations, schools and agents accepted to take part in the project. Paloma San José, member of the Amara Berri neighbourhood association thanked DSS2016EU for having chosen their district as the location for the initiative. “The initiative is of great importance to us, because the district is dying and we need to reactivate it. Some time ago, a lot of official institutions were located here but they are all gone. It is quite quiet now and we need enliven it with the people’s participation”.

Miren Azkarate, city councillor for San Sebastian 2016, agreed with the decision to develop the initiative in Amara: “In my opinion, it is fantastic that we incorporated Amara, the district beyond the headquarters of the Civil Government, a corner of our city. Because this is a significant project and it will set an example to many more”.

Azkarate also highlighted the aspect of the initiative that brings art to young people and that brings together schools, art and culture. “There are some schools, high schools and one university in the neighbourhood and with their participation, we are promoting creation and participation among children and teenagers. Culture is not unattainable, it can be found in small things. They might seem difficult to learn at first, but, in the end, these are the things we need to create a network in our society”, she explained.

Multidisciplinary projects

All the projects were multidisciplinary. They were created by artists of different origin and completed by citizens. “The artists had to adapt their projects to their new location and complete them with the local residents, agents and institutions”, explained Iker Tolosa, director of “Hazitegiak” and “Corners”, programmes by San Sebastian 2016.

The artists participating in this initiative are very experienced. “One of the most important values of ‘Corners’ is the union of many approaches: how the artists have adapted the reality of other artists to their own reality, how cultural agents learn different ways of working to understand culture better, how many similarities and differences can be found among the societies and cultures of our continent. In short, this is what matters”, explained Tolosa.

Six Basque artists took part in the initiative: Ixone Ormaetxe, Beatriz Churruca, Juan Aizpitarte, Joseba Irazoki, Asier Zabaleta and Borja Ruiz. “Sometimes, artists are invisible to the eyes of society. We are there, working in the street, in the rain, feeling cold, and we want people to see our work and the creation process, to ask, to realise that art is not something strange but a part of life. This is our only aim. It has been hard, but beautiful work. I will not forget this experience”, said Ixone Ormaetxe.

From 19 September to 2 October, eleven projects were carried out through the “Corners” initiative as a result of these cultural experiences, approaches and visions. These were the projects:

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Hide or Reveal”: two buses of line 26 displayed a photograph installation. The objective was to make people reflect on the meaning of their journey. Based on the photographs taken by Helena Wikström during an expedition to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the buses were decorated with silhouettes so that people could see in Amara what the artist saw during her travels. The images were accompanied by poetic texts.

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Bridging the Silence”: a sound installation based on the testimonies of people who have lived through cathartic experiences. An emotional project. It was exhibited in the Mikel Laboa footbridge from 28 September to 1 October. The project focused on the geographical, social and political peripheries of Europe. It was created with the testimonies of Hrvoslava Brkusic from the Balkans, Deirdre Cartmill from Belfast and Beatriz Churruca from the Basque Country. All of them lived through cathartic political experiences and realised that people who had suffered domestic violence and other negative experiences went through the same emotional process, so they analysed how victims dealt with it.

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In Between”: based on the experiences lived in the Ferrerias square during two weeks, five artists from different origins showed a different image of the square through a performance on 30 September and an exhibition held from 21 September to 2 October at the Anoeta train station. The artists in charge of this project were Juan Aizpitarte, Sinisa Labrovic, Elvin Flamingo (Jaroslaw Czarnecki), Helena Wikström and Davor Sanvincenti. The project was approached from their point of view. They have carried it out in other locations in Europe. After being in contact with citizens, artisans and others they have shown their vision of a certain neighbourhood, or square in this case. The pieces of the project were created together with students of the ESCIVI cinema and video school.

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Amara Safari”: a pop-up travel agency located in the Easo square offered a guided tour to discover the unknown corners and people from Amara. Four tours were offered in two days. It was an opportunity to discover the district from another perspective. The tours were organised using the mechanisms of the tourism industry, but carried out as performances. Instead of showing important architectural elements or famous monuments, they showed a different perspective of the district with micro stories. Artists Isabella Mongelli, Milos Tomic and Maria Anastassiou collaborated with four students from the University of Deusto.

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Put Yoursef in My Place”: the exhibition held at the Ernest Lluch cultural centre from 20 September to 1 October was more a documentary that an art exhibition. It recorded the exchange of experiences between artists Ida Hansson from Sweden and Milijana Babic from Croatia. After a year of preparation, they exchanged homes for three weeks. They drew several conclusions from this experience. First of all, that if you are a female artist, single and without children you have every chance of being viewed as an outsider by society. Also, how their artistic identity influences their artistic instincts and creations and helps them look at society’s perception from a distance.

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Sister of Another Mama”: project created from an interview with Martxelo Otamendi, editor in chief of the Basque newspaper Berria. The protagonists were the stories that never appear in the mass media and newspapers. Six local artists chose stories and anecdotes, modified them through artistic disciplines and gathered them in a publication. The creators were Joseba Irazoki, Mila Pavicevic, SIMKA-Simon Häggblom and Karim Lind. The publication was presented with a participative performance on 1 October in Nestor Basterretxea square. People had the opportunity to tell their stories.

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Windows”: writer Arkaitz Cano collaborated with the project. This participative performance revolved around the things that are not said in the private space and the opinions we have about certain aspects of our neighbours. Asier Zabaleta and Michael Hanna were the artists in charge. All the people who went to see the performance had the opportunity to take part. They answered the questions on a form and were given green and red LED lights. The show was a mixture of a theatre and dances and at some moments people had to answer questions with the lights they were given.

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Flashes”: screening of the political and social documentaries shown at the Dokufest film festival in Kosovo. The films were shown on 28 and 30 September at the Amara Zaharra pelota court. Film director Veton Nurkolari was supposed to be there, but he was unable because Spain does not recognise his visa. He was going to enter the country illegally, as he can travel all over Europe without problems, but not to Spain. But, in the end, he decided not to come as he was afraid of losing his visa. However, he sent a short video welcoming the audience.

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Oh, My home – Lost & Found”: a reflection on the concept of “home”. The installation created with a caravan and bags was located on Paseo de Francia, in front of the Renfe train station. The aim of the project created by Ixone Ormaetxe, Lalya Gaye and Saadia Hussain was to question the concepts of home and homeless. It was exhibited from 29 September to 1 October. It had several forms: The physical location and a performance created with the material created by the artists in their meetings with homeless people. In Stockholm, this project focused on immigration.

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In Transition”: a participative project carried out with children and teenagers from the Peñaflorida and La Salle schools and the Uba shelter, on the transition from childhood to adolescence. It was a mixture of dance, music and theatre and was presented on 29 September at the Ernest Lluch cultural centre. The participants suggested the movements and Swedish artist Nils Personne, Swedish dancer Kajsa Sandström and Basque stage director Borja Ruiz helped them.

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Birdhouse Gallery”: participants expressed their expectations, desires and dreams in birdhouses and a gallery was created with them. The creators of the birdhouses were 11-13 year-old boys and girls who worked with Bulgarian artist Nedyalko Delchev and Polish artist Maciej Salamon. It was more than a craft workshop, as the boys and girls talked about their dreams and expectations before working on the birdhouses. They were students from the Amara Berri and La Salle schools and the Uba shelter. The project was carried out with the collaboration of the Easo Institutu Politeknikoa high school. The birdhouses were exhibited on Avenida Madrid from 29 September to 2 October.

According to the director of “Corners” in San Sebastian 2016, all these projects were useful to analyse the biggest challenges in Europe, such as international collaboration, the participation of citizens in public projects and local contexts. All the networks created through the initiative will last after San Sebastian 2016 is over. According to Torch, “Corners” aimed to go beyond the European Capital of Culture project. “We will continue to expand and carry out the initiative after 2016. In fact, we have started already with the “In Trasition” project with 15-year-old teenagers. In four years, they will be 20 and culturally active”, explained Torch.

After the end of the year, some projects will be created based on this initiative. “We have already started developing resistance projects in Rijeka, Croatia, which will be the European Capital of Culture in 2020 and in Timisoara, the European Capital of Culture in 2021”, he said. Consequently, the cultural network continues to expand, conquering Europe, reaching its corners, connecting the periphery.