The Touring Exhibition
A Co-Creative Process

by Ellen Strittmatter

Ellen Strittmatter, the Head of the Art Department at ifa, describes how the ifa touring exhibition EVROVIZION.CROSSING STORIES AND SPACES came about and which processes, experiences and ideas flowed into the project.

The world we inhabited was a different one when planning first got underway for EVROVIZION.CROSSING STORIES AND SPACES two years ago. One of its key driving forces, culture, was experiencing an awakening in many areas, giving rise to pioneering concepts for new forms of creative and frequently collaborative creation, of the reconsideration and alternative appraisal of cultural phenomena, and of the multitudinal negotiation of cultural policy issues. It was in light of this that ifa’s new exhibition project aimed not only to question and reimagine the existing structures of global exhibition, but also to open up new possibili ties for artistic and curatorial processes and for the instigation of societal transformation by art. This required the negotiation of two significant assumptions or starting points: the idea and development of a co-creative process as an initial impetus and driving force of the project, and the ‘thinking space Europe’ as a substantive core. Valuable experiences gleaned from the realisation of countless ifa travelling exhibitions in years past fuelled the process of creating a new type of exhibition that made EVROVIZION possible. These approaches included selection of the region; a gathering in Sarajevo with no predetermined outcome; equality of local artistic and curatorial positions; co-creative spaces within the exhibition; visibility of the diversity of spoken and written language; and processuality of the project.

The co-creation concept also entails close collaboration with international curators – which is how, in 2019, Sanja Kojić Mladenov joined with Sabina Klemm to select the artworks for the core exhibition and shape all the processes that were to be realised in collaborative development with local participants in each local art scene at each venue over the course of the multi-year tour. With the shared understanding they developed for the current challenges posed by the subject matter and for the value of processuality in collaborative projects, and even more importantly their keen sense for local character and inspiration, Sabina Klemm and Sanja Kojić Mladenov gave the project its conceptual focus: EVROVIZION took shape as an interrogation of the socio-political situation in Europe today and of the idea of a European identity.

Attention is directed towards less visible, marginalised cultural spaces, particularly locations in southeastern and eastern Europe. It is a geographical ‘area defined by heterogeneity and cultural diversity’. An area that poses a challenge to Europe as a political and cultural entity because of its, as Adnan Softić put it, ‘over-abundance of history, chaotic present, and uncertain future’. Hardly any other region in Europe has experienced so many incidents of human migration, processes of integration, and linguistic diversity as has southeastern Europe in recent decades. Thinking about Europe from this perspective became a core objective of the project.

Then, right when the project had taken shape and the artworks comprising the core exhibition had been selected, the pandemic spread around the globe and brought planning to a standstill. The debut event in Sarajevo that had been meant to initiate this dialogue had to be cancelled. No longer would it be possible to hold a physical gathering as the starting point for a multi-year, interdisciplinary artistic production. Encounters, exchange, and collaborative action had apparently been postponed until some distant future, perhaps even permanently endangered. It is thanks to the courage and dedication of the artists, curators, exhibition team and everyone else involved that this momentary shock did not turn into paralysis. In fact, the opposite occurred: the project took shape anew as it rose to the challenge. Even though participants could no longer gather in the same physical location, they discovered unforeseen opportunities in the digital world. A new form of convergence and interaction found expression in programmatic video messages and texts. In the time since, EVROVIZION, already conceived as a project embodying an ongoing process of negotiation, arrived at the epicentre of change. In a world that has been turned upside down, the project is better placed than ever to probe current socio-political and cultural happenings – not only because it has embodied its own processuality, but also through its dedication to longevity and lasting relationships. With each venue in the analogue and digital project, the travelling exhibition serves as a barometer and seismograph for change itself.

Today we are embarking on a collaborative journey that should conclude in Berlin in 2027 – a journey that might well create an image of Europe that is unknown to us.