Remapping Europe: case study in international and inter-institutional collaboration.

Collaboration across Europe benefits from some key ingredients, which need to be at the root of our working processes. We must cross and indeed break-down borders on many physical and metaphysical levels. Collaboration enhances the ‘spaces in-between’, the intersections between, people, organisations and ideas. In our complicated (but very rich) 21st century, the intersections are not of two spheres converging, but of many – layered, interconnected – and made even more complex by the digital opportunities that envelop us.

The artists of European Souvenirs (left to right): Karol Rakowski (Poland), Bariş Gürsel (Turkey), Farah Rahman (Netherlands), Malaventura (Spain), Noriko Okaku (Japan / UK). Pic by Ricardo Barquín Molero.

The artists of European Souvenirs (left to right): Karol Rakowski (Poland), Bariş Gürsel (Turkey), Farah Rahman (Netherlands), Malaventura (Spain), Noriko Okaku (Japan / UK).

This paper considers a thought provoking project through several lenses, through several intersections. The two year experimental project Remapping Europe – a Remix was initiated by Doc Next Network, a network instigated by the Youth and Media Programme of the European Cultural Foundation. The project launched in De Balie, Amsterdam in October 2012 with a live cinema performance by five young multimedia artists from different corners of Europe called European Souvenirs.

The intersections reflected on here are:

  • International
  • Intercultural
  • Intersectoral
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Intergenerational, and
  • Inter-experiential.

All of these intersections require us to step out of our comfort zones and to engage in silo-busting. This is critical in our current context and with the overwhelming challenges that we face

Boundaries between disciplines within the cultural sphere and sectors beyond it are no longer relevant, especially in view of the digital shift and the changes that it has brought in cultural and media practice. The ‘prosumer’ has appeared, people who are not solely the consumers, but also producers of content (artistic, journalistic, etc), as well as distributors.

This shift has provoked significant changes in our organisations, in our consideration of ‘quality’, often related to the professional field, and in our attempts to be inclusive and participatory in our processes.

Remapping Europe – a Remix is both a collaborative action and a network. It is an ongoing ‘work in progress’ – a process-oriented project that dives into the different intersections mentioned above. The project (and process) as such offers a thorough reflection on the challenges and opportunities faced by collaborations across Europe. Rather than waiting until a project is finished, it is important to face up to necessary changes, results, ambitions and networking in the course of action and to make them at the appropriate time in the life of a project.

Multiple intersections undeniably raise multiple challenges. One of the lessons learned throughout the course of the project has been how crucial it is to invest in the creation of a ‘shared lexicon’. A first step in this is a mutual understanding of the different contexts, prejudices and values that shape the collaboration. How many different meanings are there of words and concepts used in an inter-national, intergenerational, intercultural, intersectoral and inter-experiential project? Words such as ‘immigrant’, ‘migrant’ and ‘remix’ have different connotations in different contexts:  what is considered a rather neutral term in Poland (‘immigrant’), given the country’s relatively small immigration history, is a term loaded with negative connotations in many other European countries. So, in any collaborative project, what is our agreed level of understanding and what words do we use?

The European Cultural Foundation

Digital media storytelling at the heart of Doc Next Network. Pic by Ricardo Barquín Molero

Digital media storytelling at the heart of Doc Next Network.

The European Cultural Foundation (ECF) was founded in Geneva in 1954 by key European thinkers like Denis de Rougemont and Robert Schumann, who believed that Europe was more than coal and steel and that culture was vital to building the European project. In 1960 the foundation moved to Amsterdam on the invitation of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who also established the funding model for the foundation that continues to this day. Through a long-standing partnership, 25% of the lottery funds that are granted to the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds are passed on to ECF.  Its mission has also remained consistent for almost 60 years ago – that culture is a key contributor to the building of open, inclusive and democratic communities in Europe. Almost 60 years later, ECF has the same mission, however in a very different context. Nevertheless, both Europe and culture remain the pillars upon which our work is anchored.

ECF does not support culture simply because it happens in Europe, rather for what it contributes to Europe and how it can bring us closer together as Europeans. ECF is a hybrid foundation – both grant-making and programming. Its grant-making supports cultural collaboration, exchange and travel between European countries, with a special interest in the connections between the EU and our European neighbours. Its programmes focus on two themes: the European Neighbourhood, through a scheme called Tandem; and Youth and Media, at the heart of which is the Doc Next Network.

Young people and future generations have always had a key place in ECF’s work. With the digital shift it has turned its focus to young people and media. People are expressing their opinions and creative visions as never before, with new media technologies opening up a whole range of new communication possibilities. People of all ages can create, produce, distribute and share in ways that have certainly upended the cultural production and distribution chain that we have long been accustomed to.

In 2012 ECF’s Youth and Media programme continued to focus its support on and showcase emerging young media-makers. The programme is, in essence, a partnership network, called Doc Next. It aims to bring forward the views of European emerging documentary-makers and opinion-makers to promote an inclusive public society. It also gives access to young people who, as a result of social, cultural or political conditions, are likely to be excluded from mainstream public discourse. Practices and researches, processes and projects that encompass digital media and its influence in our societies in Europe are the core of Doc Next Network.

Doc Next Network

Doc Next Network is a collaboration between peers. ECF identified and connected vibrant local grassroots cultural/media organisations in the UK, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Turkey. On their own initiative, they have grown into a European movement with shared visions and battling common causes – capturing the views of young European media-makers, to redefine and re-imagine documentary within the shifting borders of Europe.

Their shared learning is based on supporting creative and opinion-making media, the philosophy of open and free culture (Lessig 2004) and the idea of expanded education in which critical media thinking and making is a fundamental ingredient.

They have a manifesto that reads:

“…our common goals … are:
• To strive for a more inclusive public debate and imagery in and about Europe;
• To champion the idea of commons and present experiences across Europe, regardless of religion, ethnicity and social background;
• To advocate for young people and to promote the fact that young people also have stories to tell, and these stories are important;
• To broaden perspectives of Europe, and to champion the idea that Europe is defined by similarities and proximities, not by borders; and
• To redefine and re-imagine the notion of ‘documentary’ and to promote documentary as a tool for communication, as well as documentation.”(Doc Next Network 2012)

Remapping Europe

Exploring in media what it means to live and travel in Europe: live cinema performance, European Souvenirs, Amsterdam, October 2012.

Exploring in media what it means to live and travel in Europe: live cinema performance, European Souvenirs, Amsterdam, October 2012.

Remapping Europe – a Remix is an investigative artistic project by Doc Next Network. Its aim is to contribute to an inclusive cultural practice and public imagery in and of Europe by connecting young creative media-makers who have (im)migrant backgrounds and perspectives from Spain, Poland, Turkey, and the UK to wider European intergenerational audiences.

The project’s activities stem from one underlying principle: re-mixing of media is a method to re-view, re-investigate and re-consider prevailing imagery of (im)migrants in European societies and to ultimately ‘re-map’ Europe visually, geographically and mentally.

Its activities include:

  • trans-national and cross-sectoral learning platforms, investigating the immigrant’s perspective in public debate and imagery
  • creative remix ateliers involving young digital storytellers with (im)migrant backgrounds and perspectives
  • international showcases of their remix works at cultural festivals across Europe and in an on-line media collection
  • major remix-performances and installations in Amsterdam and Seville, with a wider participatory, digital component involving European citizens across the continent
  • a seminar and publication and catalogue documenting the project process and outcomes.

Remapping Europe is two-year programme that began with European Souvenirs – a collective exploration by five young media artists who have been on a journey delving into the archives in their countries and the existing imagery of Europe and its travellers. The result has been a combination of live cinema and remix that can truly contribute to deconstruct and challenge our social and cultural European imaginaries. This expedition is deeply influenced by the hegemonic media landscape and pop culture that we silently consume in our daily life: music videos, commercials, advertisements, TV news.

Building on European Souvenirs, four remix ateliers are being organised in 2013 that will involve young media makers with a migrant background or story of migration to tell. The ateliers are based on a shared methodology developed by Doc Next Network, in partnership with local migrant associations: non cultural organisations that have the contacts, trust and networks and have built solid relationships with this target group – something that cultural partners often do not have. A special training course has been developed to enhance the relationships between the cultural and the (im)migrant organisations.

The remix works produced will be showcased nationally and internationally on a variety of arts and culture platforms, such as documentary festivals, in at least four countries and online for a broad and intergenerational audience. To follow the process and to capture the learning, a seminar and publication are planned in 2014.

Remapping Europe makes a compelling case study, because it reflects all of the intersections mentioned earlier and provides a rich ‘space in-between’ and some food for thought.

Mapping the Spaces in Between

The artists worked with found footage found at flea markets for European Souvenirs.

The artists worked with found footage found at flea markets for European Souvenirs.

International

Doc Next Network is a unique European movement which brings together the European Cultural Foundation (Amsterdam, NL), ZEMOS98 (Seville, Spain), Creative Initiatives ‘ę’ (Warsaw, Poland), Future Film – British Film Institute (London, UK) and Mode Istanbul (Turkey). Each of these organisations is locally rooted but is also a hub, whose connections, exchange and influence reach out across their country, region and internationally. It was not a project that brought these individual organisations together (and they are all very different), but a common and shared interest – a commitment to young people and D-I-Y media expression. This plays out quite differently in their individual contexts – one is not transferable to another and there was no interest on the part of ECF to push any single organisation to look like or to work like another. What we are interested in is connecting local experience and by so doing to present a European picture – not with a single story but as an intricate mesh overlaying the continent. Shared learning, the network’s manifesto and the individual projects grew organically, as their connection between each other became stronger. Key to this are the elements of time, reflection and meaningful exchange – long-term value cannot be realised overnight or around a single project.

Intercultural

A specific project that did grow out of the international Doc Next Network is European Souvenirs: four media-artists worked together for six months to make a new live cinema performance and were confronted with challenges and opportunities that arose out of their four different backgrounds and four different migrations, which included:

  • Japan to the UK
  • rural Poland via Berlin, Finland and Wroclaw
  • migrant stories of growing up in Malaga alongside the beaches of the Mediterranean sea called by many ‘the Cemetery’
  • (post-)colonial migration from India to Surinam and the Netherlands.

Each of these artists went on an individual journey, investigating the traces of their families and cultures, collecting audiovisual souvenirs and also leaving them behind. When they came together to weave a collaborative work from their voyages, they found many differences and some commonalities. Their families’ journeys may have been as different as the cities and places that they landed in – but the misunderstandings, difficulties and challenges that they all faced were strikingly similar. The artists worked closely with public archives, but also with personal memories – home movies, photos and family mementos. They needed to find common language through which to communicate – certainly facilitated by English – but what they had even more in common was a sensitivity to media and an eye for storyline, all wrapped in a common global popular culture.

What began with the art project European Souvenirs has grown into the research and process oriented project Remapping Europe, which is an open invitation to anyone with a migrant story and background to redefine our image of Europe. The emphasis is on the migrant perspective, instead of the immigrant, stemming from the thought that everyone is indeed a ‘migrant’; perhaps even more now with the constant movement of people (physically) and of ideas (digitally).

Intersectoral

None of the Doc Next members would define themselves as a solely ‘cultural’ organisation, they belong to the ‘citizen sector’, as defined by Ashoka (2012):

When Europeans saw a new type of organization stirring, they perceived them to be “nongovernmental organizations” (NGOs). Americans were struck that they were not businesses and called them “non–profits”. Words matter – and being defined by what we are not certainly does not help. That is why Ashoka and a growing number of sister organizations have sworn off the “non-” words. Instead we use “citizen sector” and “citizen organization”. Why? Because citizens – people who care and take action to serve others and cause needed change – are the essence of the sector. We believe that when one or several people get together to cause positive social change, they instantly become citizens in the fullest sense of the word.

Doc Next members are community changemakers, bridging media; education; grass root and (im)migrant organisations; cultural and media archives; cultural review and (citizen) journalism; visual, performing arts and documentary. Innovation and technology – open and free culture, the creative commons – are the fuel that brings these sectors and disciplines together.

Using different archival material: live cinema performance, European Souvenirs, 6 October 2012, Amsterdam.

Using different archival material: live cinema performance, European Souvenirs, 6 October 2012, Amsterdam.

Remapping Europea Remix is investigating cross-sectoral methodologies, to involve young D-I-Y creative media-makers with (im)migrant backgrounds in the creation of new remixed media works. The Doc Next organisations partner with local immigrant and refugee associations to learn from their best practices and to reach and include young immigrants in their creative media making ateliers. This collaboration is based on mutual learning: the cultural organisation learns what it takes to work with young people with other cultural backgrounds – often with disadvantaged profiles and little access to professional media opportunities; the (im)migrant association learns how cultural expression such as creative media-making can build self-esteem and create many opportunities to participate in life. The objective is to forge sustainable ties between the cultural and non-cultural organisations and facilitate an ongoing dialogue in their communities and practices. This will enable them to co-develop a joint methodology to support outreach and engagement with immigrant youth in the long run.

Remapping Europe is an interesting case on another level. Working with archives in the project does not only refer to well-equipped institutional archives, such as museums, filmotheques, libraries and other types of archive (often national). The living and interactive archive – on the net – is also part of the project. There is an increasing intersection between such institutions and the public as they are becoming more and more accessible and open.

Participating archives include: Eye Film Institute (NL), Instituut voorBeeld en Geluid (NL), Nationaal Archief (NL), Sarnamihuis (NL), FundacjaArcheologiaFotografii (PL), National Digital Archive (PL), NInA. NarodowyInstytutAudiowizualny (PL), PhotoRegister – a project of the Archaeology of Photography Foundation (PL), Filmoteca de Andalucía (SP), SALT (TR), British Film Institute (UK), Antonio España archive (ES), Family Rahman archive (NL), José Luis Tirado archive (ES), Archive.org, Doc Next Network media collection and found objects from different flea markets.

Finally, the combination of practice and grass roots work of migrant associations and of the cultural organisations in the Doc Next Network, the views of the young media-makers, as well as the academic field that is involved, brings together many different sectors of society in an attempt to redefine and remap Europe in an inclusive way by linking all these different sources of knowledge.

Interdisciplinary

An interdisciplinary project: live cinema performance, European Souvenirs, 6 October 2012, Amsterdam.

An interdisciplinary project: live cinema performance, European Souvenirs, 6 October 2012, Amsterdam.

In the project more traditional, institutional and, perhaps ‘newer’, non-institutional approaches come together in both the making of, and the reflection on, the process. Academics and practitioners connect with the research, debate and a publication around migration history, cultural diversity, remix and contemporary digital culture. The underlying research level of the project brings together an interesting range of academic disciplines to investigate and understand our imagery of and on Europe. In the seminar and publication of the project, interpretations and essays from different perspectives and theories – art history, philosophy, political geography, migrant studies, media studies and remix culture – will be brought together.

Furthermore, perhaps as a result of the digital shift or perhaps simply as a sign of the times, creators today are working generally more inter-disciplinarily, less willing to define themselves by, or confine themselves to, a single discipline. Certainly our institutions and our funding structures have to be more mindful of and responsive to this (a topic for another paper). Remapping Europe brings together film, video, live cinema, performance, media, remixed image and sound and reflects new audiences’ interests. The artists have different profiles complementing each other as media artists, performers, 3D animators, documentarians, musicians, DJs and VJs.

Remix culture frames Remapping Europe: de-constructing narrative(s), recreating new narrative(s) of representation, using D-I-Y forms of media production and appropriating mass media texts. It is a cultural operating system, in which existing audiovisual material and images are framed in a new context, juxtaposed and seen from a fresh perspective, revealing new visions on our past, present and future. Remix is also a tool that is accessible, reflects a multidimensional, rather than a linear interest, and encompasses everything from collaging to digital storytelling.

Intergenerational

At its root, both Doc Next Network and Remapping Europe are intergenerational – looking at

Europe as the intersection of generations rather than a division or gap between generations. The organisations on the ground have designed intergenerational activities for their communities and the project brought together the narration of the young creators with that of their parents and grandparents. It remixes and weaves the stories, contexts and perspectives of older generations through archival searching – confronting and interrogating them. A personal story becomes the centre of a more collective narrative. Because we are standing on the brink of the greatest generational shift that we have experienced in the western world, we must find intergenerational approaches and innovations – intergenerational knowledge sharing – rather than looking at projects, programmes or solutions that address ‘older’ people and others that address ‘youth’. The inclusiveness of our communities must also include generations.

Inter-experiential

The digital shift creates opportunities for Do-It-Yourself and Do It With Others: European Souvenirs artists at work, Istanbul, May 2012.

The digital shift creates opportunities for Do-It-Yourself and Do It With Others: European Souvenirs artists at work, Istanbul, May 2012.

Many of these intersections raise questions and fuel debate, sometimes heated. Perhaps the most debated is the notion of the value of inter-experiential connections and knowledge – placing the voice of the expert alongside that of the ‘experienced’. The digital shift has played havoc with the comfortable hierarchies that we are accustomed to: between the writer and the reader; the teacher and the student; the amateur and the professional; the consumer and the producer; the institution and the individual. Accessibility of technology means that everyone can create and share their creation without any intermediaries – D-I-Y takes on a whole new meaning. However it is not just Do it Yourself – but it is also Do it With Others, or Do it Together. The subtitle of European Souvenirs, ‘Remixing media, crossing (shifting) borders’, also refers to these elements and intersections.

The increased opening-up of archives and collections to the public further enhances this potential – allowing people greater access to information and the ability to attribute their own meaning to it. Meaning becomes much more important that the information itself.

How do we make sense of it all though? How do we make our way through the masses of information and content? We do need increased media literacy – by the creators (the millions of them) and in the sifting and filtering ability of the audiences (millions more!). Given this caveat, it is our belief that the opportunities and benefits of open access far outstrip the challenges.

Remapping Europe is seeking a new generation of digital storytellers. Remix is both the conceptual starting point and the tool to remap Europe. The existing narrative of a single new image, photograph, recording, sound or story is ‘de-constructed’ from the individual perspective of the participant and a new imagery based on the original is then created. In his book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, Lawrence Lessig (2008) ‘presents this as a desirable ideal and argues … that the health, progress, and wealth creation of a culture is fundamentally tied to this participatory remix process’ (Wikipedia 2011).

As remix culture is becoming more acknowledged as an essential aspect of contemporary art and cultural practice, Remapping Europe – a Remix provides many opportunities to exchange, interact, to be involved and to ensure peer-to-peer learning. It goes far beyond the individual remix, the individual organisation, institution or community.

It is European collaboration on every level.

Acknowledgements

Remapping Europe is made possible with the support of the Culture Programme, Education and Culture DG of the European Union. The European Cultural Foundation is grateful for the longstanding partnership with the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds. As a result of this partnership, ECF thankfully acknowledges the financial contribution – via the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds – from the BankGiro Loterij, the Lotto and the Nationale Instant-Loterij.

The original title of this article is “Remapping Europe – a Remix: a case study in international and inter-institutional collaboration and networking” and is written by Katherine Watson (director of the European Cultural Foundation) and Vivian Paulissen (Programme Manager of the Youth & Media Programme of the European Cultural Foundation). All photo’s used are by Ricardo Barquín Molero.

This article is a chapter from, and reprinted from “Migrating Heritage: Networks and Collaborations across European Museums, Libraries and Public Cultural Institutions” to be published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Wey Court East, Union Road, Farnham, Surrey GU9 7PT, England.

 

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