An unplugged cello concerto in a Byzantine church, an outdoor cinema screening of Mary Poppins, an ongoing queer performance in a gymnasium and an attempt to save an Italian folk dance – one can experience it all in a single evening at the wide-ranging Santarcangelo Festival in northern Italy. Finely interwoven into the very lives of the city’s inhabitants, this year’s edition, curated by Eva Neklyaeva and Lisa Gilardino, is subtitled ‘slow and gentle’ and unfolds as a succession of documentary performances, participatory experiences and individual rendezvous during which the spectator’s body, gaze and feelings are alternately cared for and shaken up.
The performances centre on the Piazza Gagnelli, but also encompass schools, parks, small streets of the old town, or a deserted grocery shop. And as the festival infiltrates the city, the city itself becomes the subject of several pieces. From small performative gestures such as Valentina Medda’s Healing interventions for domestic wounds where the visual artist mends the old walls of the city by carefully placing acupuncture needles into its cracks, to the schoolchildren reading the future in our palms, experiencing the festival means encountering the living souls of the city and their peculiar, sensitive stories. Think of a gang of Italian grandmothers welcoming us to a temple dedicated to the departed grandmother of Swedish artist Markus Öhrn. Over the course of a four-year project, they had worked to subvert their role as azdora, meaning ‘she who rules’ in the dialect of Romagna, the women being the pillar of the household and circumscribed to a certain role. They had formed a black metal band, recorded an LP, toured, destroyed washing machines and designed tattoos, among other things. Now the azdoras, faces painted white with dark circles around the eyes and mouth, are the keepers of a shrine dedicated to Eva Britt, Öhrn’s grandmother from Lapland. The final step of the project involves travelling to Lapland to gather around Eva Britt’s thumb. An adventure that goes way beyond the artistic project and, from their own words, has changed their lives as well as their families’.
In the documentary performance Lighter than a Woman, Estonian artist Kristina Norman brings to light another figure of the community: the badante – women from Eastern Europe who have migrated to Italy to take care of the elderly. Norman talks and draws live, sitting at a desk on stage that resembles her atelier in Tallinn. She and her collaborator Erik Norkroos share extracts of documentary films to give the floor to the badantes and the Italian families they work for. A beautiful and complex narrative emerges, made of a mix of loneliness, uprooting, love and sacrifice. Through this multi-media presentation, Norman manages to tackle the several layers intertwined in each personal journey, where the political meets the intimate.