Once again, Skopje feels so easy to comprehend. I have never spent a lot of time there and in fact, don’t know the city well. Like in many other places I’ve been to, I’m incapable of finding my way and have on my mental map only very few references of local places and faces to feel connected to. In fact, in reality, it is just one of those places that a conference or a festival brings me to for two or three days, on very rare occasions. But the tone of the light, the particular mood, the way people are and connect in their shared space, the modernist architecture, the improbable and comfortable mix of so many realities juxtaposed feels so familiar, so much alike a few places that come close to being home, that I take it for granted that the city is somehow mine too. So I dive into this particular and strange joy of discovering the city while somehow at the same time feeling that I already know and love it, feeling compassionate for its downfalls and proud of its glories.
The project that brings me here, RESHAPE, is a two-year research & development project aiming at giving a radical push to the future organizational models for the arts sector on a transnational scale. It relies on the existing expertise, experimentations, and vision of the arts professionals who are already rethinking their practices and organizational models in an innovative and inspirational way. RESHAPE’s main interest is in the small-scale, experimental practices from across geographic Europe and South Mediterranean who are already testing alternative ways for our sector to ‘do’ art. Convinced that the culture sector has to radically rethink itself and align its models and practices with its own values and eager to ensure that the rules of these changes are decided by the sector itself, RESHAPE starts from the premise that small revolutions are already happening, that alternative ways of doing and being are already being tested. What if those small revolutions got the possibility to dream bigger? What if we imagined a platform, a method, a framework to work above and around disciplines, roles and territories? What if we actually acknowledged and assumed the different scales of power, privilege or precariousness that we find ourselves in? And can we then voluntarily set them aside and pull our resources together in solidarity? Would we manage to reimagine a future that would make sense for all?
RESHAPE is a work in progress, a process that is constructed and tested in real-time. Through this process, active, engaged, creative people from all over Europe and South Mediterranean come together to imagine new ways to organize the arts sector. It involves a whole community of people coming from very different backgrounds, contexts, interests, practices. It is challenging. Our sector is burdened with preconceptions, power relations, hierarchies, mistrust. One has to carefully take each step. Negotiate trust over and over again. But then trust is established and the ground is set for real change to happen, and we find ourselves in a process that is hugely inspiring and absolutely necessary.
At the very heart of the city, tucked in the pedestrian zone, at the centre but somehow still discreet, Kino Kultura is a little gem. It is so easy to understand why Lokomotiva and Theatre Navigator Cvetko dived into the project of rethinking and relaunching this space, so full of nostalgia and potential. It also becomes palpably clear why the team at Lokomotiva wishes to discuss art spaces and their transformation on this occasion. How can you not, in this setting?
It is cold when we get into Kino Kultura, we’re shivering and heating is complicated. But the main hall has coffee to warm us up and the venue is full of exciting possibilities. It was built in the thirties as one of the first private cinemas in the city. It is where the first theatre performance in Macedonian language was presented. Traces of past activities are all around: one wanders through dusty, unused rooms, with old cinema seats, vintage lamps, a gorgeous cabaret hall, a former café; everything bears this nostalgic patina, heavy with stuffy air and regret that these spaces are not used, but also excitement at the small but clear privilege one feels for actually having access to these spaces that are destined to remain unused indefinitely.
Lokomotiva uses only a part of this space: the entry hall, the main hall, and the offices. But even in this limited infrastructure, their ideas and ambitions are felt everywhere. They set about creating a space where contemporary artistic creation, critical reflection, and social engagement can feed on one another, where audiences and the professionals can make community.
Kino Kultura is at the heart of the city, in between the kitschy Mother Theresa Memorial and the modernist House of Army. Skopje’s past and present. A stone’s throw from the Macedonia square, in the middle of the permanent scar that Skopje 2014 left in the city.
Visiting Skopje should be compulsory, I keep on thinking while walking its streets looking at the innumerable remains of wild capitalism meeting nationalism meeting political opportunism meeting plain greed. The Skopje 2014 project would be so easy to laugh at from a high brow point of view if it wasn’t so bluntly profitable for a few. So much money, so many public works praising some bogus past glory, such a pharaonic endeavor, so many artists that had to make the impossible choice of playing along, so many bright, sharp, engaged people refusing and fighting this, and all of it are now left as it is, abandoned, as a monument to our absurd time.
What a difference between the discussions happening in the colorful space of Kino Kultura and what we see when we step outside. What a contrast! What a setting, what a scenography for talking about the future of art spaces!
How to rethink art spaces? If we let our imagination free us from the constraints of reality as it is, where would it take us? Is it because I am so immersed in the Western European institutional context that I am eager to move away from ideas of space, walls and structures to fill in with content and attract an audience to? Perhaps what we should be looking for are spaces of possibilities, of delicate connections, of building trust. Where experimentation is an asset, where the conversation to redefine how we can live together, better understand one another, and comprehend this world we inhabit can be free and limitless. Where we can imagine, step by step, how to be responsible, crazy, creative, and empathic, not just with one another, also with the world that surrounds us. That could be a place for radical experimentation of making a different kind of world. For learning to create alliances, different and new.
Perhaps we don’t need art spaces at all, but spaces in which we can, by the experience of art, be more and better together.
An old building, filled with nostalgia, gathering people willing to give it a good, warm, idealistic try is probably the best place to start.
Milica Ilic is Project Coordinator at Onda, French office for contemporary performing arts circulation where she runs RESHAPE, a European project that proposes an open and inclusive experimental process to reimagine organizational models for the arts sector of tomorrow. A cultural professional specialized in transnational cooperation in contemporary performing arts, she was previously International Adviser at Onda, where she developed international partnerships and projects for this institution and supported more active involvement of French professionals in international cooperation. Prior to this, she worked as Communication and Administration Manager at IETM international network for contemporary performing arts was Administrator of On the Move cultural mobility network, Project Manager at the University of Arts in Belgrade, and took part in various cultural projects in the city of Belgrade. She is a member of the Board of Balkan Express, a collaboration platform for contemporary art and other socially engaged practices and of Fresh Arts Coalition Europe, a network of emerging, cross-disciplinary art. As a trainer, she regularly contributes to cultural management training programmes. As a freelancer, she collaborated on various projects with Pro Helvetia, the European Cultural Foundation, Fondation Marcel Hicter, the Canada Council for the Arts and others.
Art Spaces and Residencies Summit is organised by Lokomotiva – Centre for New Initiatives in Arts and Culture in the framework of the yearly program “Contemporary culture and public policies” 2019, developed as part of the project “Program of Lokomotiva in Kino Kultura – project space for contemporary performing arts and contemporary culture” supported by the City of Skopje, Ministry of Culture of North Macedonia and Centar Municipality and Life Long Burning, programme line Performance situation room supported by Creative Europe.