In 2015 – the International Year of Light – Bella Skyway Festival’s artists and their installations took us on a journey from end to end of the natural spectrum, from micro to macro. What was the idea behind this?
This idea of using art to celebrate the city must be based on an ongoing stimulation of creativity. Great themes call for action! It’s also good that different themes become part of the narrative of the city. In Toruń, of course you have a context – the art of the gothic, the charismatic architecture, and you have the Copernicus University very near, as well as a small but quite vibrant artistic community – so the idea is to stimulate several communities that may be interested in creatively developing Toruń’s identity. Toruń is a small place in the end, but it has big ideas, so somehow the theme of this year’s edition – Micro wonders and Macro marvels – reminds us of the issue of dealing with scale. If you want, it’s a good way to say to people ‘we are here, we are humans but there is always something much bigger than we are, and also something much smaller’. Since the experience is also designed to motivate kids of different ages to participate, it is all about very universal things, basically, but with quite specific scientific concepts behind them.
Can you tell us something more about it?
There is a new specificity about this kind of festival. You need to make activities that the people first of all feel, and then they go to home and reflect on the issues. It’s not a pedagogical presentation of quantum theory, it’s about making people more sensitive to knowledge. So maybe a parent or a teacher, after seeing the show, experiencing it along the streets, will have more to talk about and explain at home. The festival is about celebrating ideas, with the artists leading us all to do that exploration together.
Of course we know that art, when it’s happening, changes the mind, the spirit, and of course our attitude. Not necessarily in the urban moment, for it’s many times like a seed. So I am sure that after seven years of the Bella Skyway Festival the city is not the same. Things have changed, ideas have come and gone. For instance, during this last edition, I found out there is a new art space and dance club called “Skajłej”! This small fact, which is at the same time actually not so small, is proof that an idea works like a seed. And if the idea is good, inspiring, the seed grows… in the case, powered by the will of the artistic community.
So you see the difference from how it was at the very beginning, when you started your adventure with Toruń in 2009?
In the beginning I was working for Toruń on its application to become “Capital of Culture 2016”. We did not win, but the seed of all this work developed into two concepts. One of them was the festival that could bring light. It was a very clear, very nice idea – lighting up a landscape, Toruń’s Old Town, which is a bit dark, heavy, old, leaving a lasting impression. Toruń is for me like an old lady – a very serious old lady one has to respect. (laughing)
So we thought, what we can do here? Not to put some “silly earrings on the old lady” – we must enter a serene dialogue with this “old lady” and create spots that will show a new generation of ideas, new concepts, new businesses. You see, now there are many new businesses in Toruń and I am sure it is all possibly connected to this dynamic, with a certain paradigm shift concerning how to promote Toruń and give the town a new life. Toruń was elected a Cultural Destination due to Skyway last year. (“The best tourist product in Poland in 2014” according to the Polish Tourist Organisation – edit. remark)
These are results which give strength even to things other than those we did, also because much of the things we did during these years are not visible now, not in the present. But, for instance, local artists from Toruń are travelling now much more than before. They will bring Toruń and Poland abroad, and they will bring people from abroad here, because culture is about the connectivity of the people, the creative agents, not only of the works. You need the artists to circulate, and so I’m very happy that artists from Toruń, for instance, are currently working in Ljubljana, Tallinn or Lisbon.
Anyway, a good festival is never only about the works. It is also about creating an environment and bringing new ideas to the people who are already dealing with their usual businesses. But it takes time of course… For example, this year, for the first time, I see many more people enjoying street food. This is the kind of small-big change that we are talking about.
Is it easy to bring artists from other countries to Poland, to the Skyway festival?
No, it’s not easy. Firsty because many times the costs implied are high, for starters because of the exchange rates. On the other way, public art is about the specificity of its placing, you don’t just take a painting and go here or there. You have to work with the artists in advance, take care of contracts, logistics, transport, authorisations, security, heritage protection… so public art is very difficult, implying endless details. But here in Toruń it works because the city has a good-sized centre for walking and you can see not only art works but also the city. It is both a beautiful and exciting context, and that helps a lot concerning the invitations to the artists. They are happy to be part of this community. Toruń is place which is “talked about” and year after year that’s a key asset when it comes to choose the town (and festival) to visit for a few days.
What can we expect next year?
Oh, I don’t know the future yet… Who does? But the foundations of the festival have been laid, so now is a question of maintaining the spirit. Although I think that for the festival to become stronger, there must be an always renewed vision about its content, there must be ongoing care, monitoring of results, and one should anticipate dangers such as the festival becoming for instance too much about globalized spectacle and less about site-specific art. I hope next year the identity of Toruń, the character of the city AND the dreams it may host, can be communicated in a very delicate and at the same time impressive way.
What about your own projects?
I am always doing projects that are connected to urban landscapes and the urban fabric. I am interested in how art can become a more integral part of the development of human beings in the built environment. So my next project is called “LuxMatrix”, it’s first edition happening in Tallinn. It is about the Christian matrix in certain towns and/or neighbourhoods in Europe (but soon also in other continents). One of the oldest urban environments of Tallinn’s Old Town, in which nucleus stands probably the oldest Dominican church of the North, is where we will produce a new festival, mixing ideas of Skyway, such as lightness and a very sharp relation between artwork, concept and space, with the highest care for place and delicacy. So I’m developing a new dimension of the experiments in Toruń (in the meanwhile attracting thousands of people) in order to be even more specific, to work at very small scale. We – me and producer Indrek Leht, call it a boutique light festival. This is the main idea, actually presented within Tallinn’s prestigious Design Night. Instead of very large festivals, it is also important that cities such as Tallinn – with its small charismatic central neigbourhood, they call it the Latin Quarter – offer this new way of discovering heritage. In a boutique festival you can visit the circuit with a few people, just friends and family, in a very intimate mood.
Photo © Anna Karahan