Creating an Italian-Slovak performance: “Every movement on stage, every breath had a meaning.”

For several months now, a major project called Cantieri in Movimento – Industrial Heritage Soundscapes has been taking place in Slovakia and Italy. Two cultural centres Malý Berlín (SK) and Zo Centro Culture Contemporanee (IT) brought together three talented artists. The main aim was to try to capture common inter-human universal elements and convey them in a performance called [inter/between]form. Three artists: Jori Josiphson from Slovakia, Riccardo Leotta, and MariaVittoria Magagna from Italy, came together to create a unique multimedia, audio-visual interactive performance dedicated to the themes of migration, human fragility, and insecurity. 

In April 2024, they held a residency in Trnava, which resulted in a work-in-progress event during which the audience could see a unique performance. We spoke to the artists about their work, themes and the residency.

How did you come up with the idea for your project?

Jori: We wanted to combine and transform two spaces, Zo Centrum and Malý Berlín, into a project. We were looking for a common indicator and that was contrast. Contrast evoked for us a sense of fragility and vulnerability. We immediately thought of a theme that is linked to insecurity, and that was the theme of migration in everyday life.

Riccardo: We tried to understand what was important to us by looking at the history of Zo and Malý Berlín, the things that the two places have in common, and their differences. We didn’t want to do something descriptive, so we asked ourselves “What are the things that are important for you to say right now, according to the suggestions of these two places?”. We discovered that, despite our personal histories and cultural differences and all the differences between the two cultural centres and the different countries, we had a lot in common and also a lot to say. We’ve tried to express some topics that are important to us like migration, fragility, the personal and sharedhistory in a way that is relatable to everyone, despite the cultural differences. 

MariaVittoria: The idea for our project emerged from a series of dialogues and reflections. We explored key words and translated their meanings, focusing on what resonated most deeply with us and how these concepts connected us.

For each concept, we associated a visual and musical form, starting with individual research. We delved into the notion of limits, borders, and barriers, recognising the need to surpass or break them. This process highlights the state of instability and vulnerability that propels us towards challenges, difficulties, and also new settlements. We aim to learn to coexist with mobility, employing self-pedagogy and mediation to avoid getting lost. This is why our performance begins with fragments of glass on the ground, symbolising the destruction of previous certainties by the harshness of reality in the Anthropocene era, in which nature, human and non-human life, identities have been extensively colonised, fragmented, exploited, and invalidated by an anthropocentric and limitless lifestyle on a planet with finite resources.

Now, it is imperative to responsibly and diligently fight to imagine and find new ways of living together. From the shards of a broken world, we kindle new reflections and lights, envisioning a future where we inhabit and engage with our environment and each other responsibly and creatively.

How was it working together?

Jori: We worked very well together. It was more difficult to work together on a project remotely over a long distance. We had a lot of online calls during which we created the concept of our project. But we were looking forward to the moment when we would finally meet in Trnava and we could put our concept into visible contours right on the Malý Berlín site. I would like to thank the team of Malý Berlín for the fact that we could have the main venueand all the equipment available to us for a whole week. I also want to thank the technicians Viktor and Rado for being available to us at any time. 

Jori Josiphson
Jori Josiphson

Riccardo: The residency in Malý Berlín was really important for us to build and try out some ideas that we had before during the different online calls, and this would have been impossible without all the support that we had from the staff of Malý Berlín. Working through online calls was difficult and uncomfortable at first, but then we got used to it.

MariaVittoria: Our time was filled with concentration, determination, and fun. We had late night discussions, brainstorming, jam sessions and performative improvisations, picnics, we slept on the couch, and explored Trnava. Also cooperating with the entire Malý Berlín’s team was amazing, they were always curious, eager to understand, and willing to help in any way possible.

What challenges did you face during the project?

Jori: The biggest challenge was the limited time for the second part of the residency in Trnava, because it was very difficult to create a coherent site-specific performance from concepts, ideas, and symbols in six days. A huge challenge for us was to grasp the clarity of our acts. Every movement on stage, every breath had a meaning. Each of us had to know exactly what we were doing and why. There were moments when we were stuck because we were overworked after twelve, or fourteen hours of preparation and installation.

MariaVittoria: We faced several challenges while trying to create something innovative within a very brief period. For me, these included self-exposure, staying motivated in our ideas, managing the fear of vulnerability and perfectionism, and bringing complexity with social and political implications to our artwork. Additionally, we learned effective communication and discovered the benefits of dialogue. During the residency, we worked intensively on the project, and that occasionally caused stress. However, we learned to self-regulate and communicate effectively, understanding each other’s emotional and energetic states. For me, there were also technical challenges too, such as using projectors, live video, and lighting for the first time. Despite this, the supportive environment and wonderful people made the experience incredible. It was amazing to see this project gradually take concrete shape.

MariaVittoria Magagna

How did you manage to find common ground, given that you have different backgrounds?

Jori: We had to learn to listen to each other. There were moments when we were tired and tempers flared. But communication and tolerance were the basis. I think we were able to explain, apologise, forgive, and eventually hug each other. We were in a time crunch. But the performance we presented in Malý Berlín is proof that we were successful.

Trnava was a place where your project had to deviate a little bit – in other cities, other artists in the project worked with industrial spaces, and in Trnava, you worked with a contemporary cultural centre. How did you work with this change and how did it affect the project?

Jori: Not every space has to be industrial, in the case of Malý Berlín, it wasn’t. But every space has a past and we were inspired by that. The space is located in a burgher’s house. It was inhabited by privileged people who had the right to vote, could own property, and had many benefits and responsibilities. We also incorporated this aspect into our project.

Riccardo: I think this will be our next big challenge. We will have to adapt our idea and performance to different places and different possibilities, so our effort will be to adapt but at the same time not to lose the integrity and the identity of the performance.

Riccardo Leotta

Migration is an important element in your project. How did you work with it, given that you had to combine two contexts – Italian and Slovak?

Jori: As I mentioned, we deal with the topic of migration every day. Every day we migrate (for work, school, etc.) and we have a feeling of uncertainty about where our home is. And it was at this point that the theme of migration, whether I live in Trnava or Catania, merged with the theme of vulnerability. That’s why we chose glass as the basic element for our project.

Riccardo: We discovered that this one was one of the common themes in our personal history but also in the history of these two countries. We worked looking at the memory and the heritage, the present with its uncertainties and the future to have other possibilities.

You also worked with the symbols of the city of Trnava. What symbols did you choose and how did you manage to use them in your performance?

Jori: We worked with the coat of arms of the city of Trnava. It used to be a golden zodiac with the head of Jesus in the middle, all on a blue background. The modern coat of arms or symbol of the townof Trnava contains a gilded wooden old cartwheel on a blue background. For our project, I chose the modern coat of arms of Trnava. The old wooden cartwheel reminded me of migration and nomadism.

At the end of your residency in Trnava, the audience was able to see a performance – a work-in-progress. Many ideas changed during your work. Could you tell us how the performance influenced the concept and what you decided to change and improve?

Jori: I knew Malý Berlín well, but I have to admit that our concept has changed during the preparations. Right at the beginning we saw moving elevations in the main venue. We got the idea to use them, so we started to create a new floor plan and stage plan. We created a square space in the middle of the venue that we will be operating in throughout the week. One of the advantages was that directly above this square space was a hanging system with lights. This way we created our own space with its own boundaries. And right away we could work with the glass and its reflections.

What was the audience’s feedback after the performance in Trnava?

Jori: The audience has been positive about our performance. But when we talked to them, we found out that they didn’t understand many hidden things. We had posters everywhere in the foyer saying “FIND YOUR PLACE”… like a manual. We thought this could motivate people to go to the main venue (among us) and in any situation they were free to move around. We were surprised and maybe event disappointed that people found a seat at the beginning of the performance and stayed there. And what was really a tremendous experience was working with the audience. At one moment we wanted to involve the audience in our performance and they could have been involved to create a whole organism with us, but none of them were engaged. This inspired us to make some changes.

MariaVittoria: I believe they were both fascinated and disoriented. Some expressed concern about our safety walking on or breaking glass, while others were mesmerised by the play of lights. What resonated most with me was a person who empathised with the themes of vulnerability and rupture, connecting them to her own experience of leaving home to rebuild her life elsewhere, drawing parallels with her Ukrainian heritage and personal journey. 

The final performances of all centres will be presented in July 2024 in Catania, Italy.

In addition to ours, other centres are also part of the project:
Zentralwerk e.V. (Germany)
cie_anteprima (France)
Mediaevent Szolgaltato KFT (Hungary)
Babel arts management DOO Belgrade (Serbia)

The project was supported by MiC – Ministero della Cultura.

Author: Anna Siedykh
Photographs: Lívia Martvoňová