ECHO: European Cultural Heritage Onstage (June 2018 – June 2019) was a European creative project, which was implemented in the context of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018. It invited artists from the fields of painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, performance, videography and photography to create original artworks, after exploring the Dark Cultural Heritage of the Balkans.
Dark Heritage is connected to events that traumatise groups and determine their cultural identity. Such events concern societies, as physical and conceptual spaces related to war, genocide, mass killings, ethnic conflict, oppression, violence and death bear such moments in their heritage, tangible and intangible. Dealing with traumatic heritage may have therapeutic effects for locals and outsiders. War and conflict spaces exist around the whole Europe, thus dark heritage can be a starting dialogue point for artists and citizens.
From 22 October 2018 to 22 November 2018, four (4) visual artists, Ljubica Meshkova-Solak (North Macedonia), Snezana Petkovic (Serbia), Ivanka Stavreva (Bulgaria) and Aristaios Tsousis (Greece), gathered together in Bitola, and engaged themselves in a creative process, while exploring the local events of World War I (Macedonian Front) and their impact in the local community.
With the support of SFERA INTERNATIONAL, the artists visited some significant places related to WWI (such as the Pelister trail, the Kajmakcalan peak on Nidze Mountain, and the Mariovo region, the French, Serbian, German cemeteries, and the city of Ohrid), and interacted with experts and locals.
They also had the opportunity to meet non-Balkan artists working in different artistic fields, and discuss with them about other aspects of European dark heritage, in the context of intercultural events, such as a poetry night, where a Basque poet shared her creations in the Basque language, and offered her insights on the Basque history and culture.
The artists received input and feedback from the local audiences during and after the overall creative process, in the aforementioned events, and in the local exhibition that took place in Bitola, at the end of the art residency, that was open to the public and the local media.
At the same time (22 October 2018 – 22 November 2018), four (4) other artists, Bojan Josic (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Depy Antoniou (Greece), Martina Lapica (Bulgaria) and Kiril Konstantin (North Macedonia), met in Novi Sad, and did their artistic research on the events of World War II (Novi Sad Raid), by exploring personal narratives, audiovisual archives, printed materials, letters, journals and testimonies from the period 1941-1945 in Vojvodina. They also examined these historical sources in combination with contemporary art practices and through establishing contacts with the contemporary cultural scene of Novi Sad.
The artists had the opportunity to witness the signs of the past themselves, by visiting the most important memorials and monuments of the January Raid (21-23 January 1942) and of the Partisans: “The Family”, by the sculptor Jovan Soldatoviæ (built in 1971 and classified as immovable cultural heritage spot of great significance), and “The Freedom” (Spomenik “Sloboda”) by Sreten Stojanoviæ on Mount Fruška Gora (built in 1951 to honour the fallen soldiers of World War II).
It is worth noting that during the art residency, Vojvodina Civic Center organised lectures and workshops on political art, the role and the responsibility of the artist, and the importance of artworks adopting a critical stance towards historical events. In addition, the artists opened their studio to the locals, chatted with the visitors, and informed them about their works, and their stylistic approaches and processes.
On 15 January 2019, Vojvodina Civic Center opened the multimedia exhibition EHO77 at Svilara – Kulturna Stanica, presenting the artworks that were created during this art residency. The exhibition consisted of four conceptually different works that were interrelated, complementing each other, thus creating a variety of perspectives of one of the most traumatic events in the history of Novi Sad.
In April 2019, Open Space Foundation organised the final arts exhibition of the project, presenting all the artworks that were created during the art residencies in Bitola (North Macedonia) and Novi Sad (Serbia), as well as the creative documentary “Dark Vein” that was also produced in the context of ECHO by Inter Alia and Caravan project.
The exhibition took place from 4 to 7 April 2019, in Veliki Preslav (Bulgaria), and was attended by representatives from the Professional School of Textile and Fashion Design (Varna town), the Professional School of Fine Art (Smolyan town), and the National Schools of Plastic Arts and Design (Kazanluk town). During its opening ceremony, the visitors had the opportunity to meet the artists, and discuss with them about their works, their sources of inspiration and the messages they wanted to get across.
Inter Alia presented the theoretical framework, the concept and the outcomes of ECHO in:
- the Conference Tradition Anew: Documenting Cultural Heritage and Artistic Creation – Interdisciplinary Approaches, Contemporary Media (15 May 2019, Ioannina, Greece), organised by the Biennale of Western Balkans in light of International Museum Day 2019; and
- the 5th Conference of ESDIAPOK (the Association of Cultural Heritage Consultants in Greece), titled Cultural Heritage and Local Communities: Issues of Participation, Co-operation and Co-management, that was held from 22 to 23 November 2019, in Athens Greece (short report about the conference on ESDIAPOK’s blogspot, in Greek).
Moreover, Inter Alia organised a final event in Athens, providing the opportunity to the Athenian audience to see the artworks in digital format, and watch the “Dark Vein” documentary (see below). This event took place at TWIXTLAB on 20 June 2020, and was attended by art lovers, who met and had a discussion with some of the creators coming from all partner’s countries.
During the project, Caravan Project explored the Balkan landscape of Western Macedonia in Greece, Bitola and its surroundings in North Macedonia, as well as Novi Sad and the Danube River in Serbia; and documented this exploration by creating a photo book, and a short creative documentary titled “Dark Vein”.
The documentary is a travelogue that starts from the city of Bitola (or Monastir in North Macedonia) and the graveyards situated around it. It continues in different villages of Pelagonia that have suffered the woes of war and displacement. Then, it follows the lignite arc, the landscape transformation, the villages that were eradicated due to the mining process. And finally, it visits Novi Sad and the Danube river. The content of the film, that consists of graveyard scenes, gaunt human presence, images of nature, abandoned villages and elliptical soundscapes, reveals a muzzled place that resides on the margin, in the dark, as it is either connected to dark pages of History, or consciously sidelined due to a society bound to the chariot of “constant progress”, systematically degrading the environment around it.
So far, the documentary has been screened within the framework of:
- the Final Arts Exhibition of the project (4 – 7 April 2019, Veliki Preslav, Bulgaria),
- the FistikiFest (September 2019, Aegina island, Greece), as a part of the cultural exhibition “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”, and
- the Conference Tradition Anew: Documenting Cultural Heritage and Artistic Creation – Interdisciplinary Approaches, Contemporary Media (15 May 2019, Ioannina, Greece), organised by the Biennale of Western Balkans in light of International Museum Day 2019.
- To explore Balkan dark heritage and tighten its link with artistic creation, through the creation of artworks inspired by the history and the cultural heritage of the local communities.
- To enable contemporary artistic co-creation based on cultural elements from new, old and future EU member states, by bringing together artists and local people in a process of mutual inspiration and creativity.
- To capture original images of local communities as a cultural entirety and as part of the European cultural context.
- To reframe local dark heritage by enhancing a European sense of belonging through artistic creation and co-creation, in light of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018.
- To facilitate cultural and artistic exchange between new, old and future EU member states through the art residencies, the exhibition and the local activities.
ECHO keeps echoing via:
- the 29 of the artworks that were donated by the artists to the local communities, in order for them to get benefited from the artistic outcomes of the project in other innovative ways, and according to their specific needs; and
- the European cultural project ECHO II: Traditions in Transition.
ECHO: European Cultural Heritage Onstage was co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union
The digital and digitised outcomes of the ECHO project are in copyright. We publish them on the ECHO II website only for communication and dissemination purposes. We’ll do our best to open them up as soon as possible, in collaboration with the project partners, the artists-in-residence, and any other rights-holders. If -in the meantime- you want to reuse these materials, don’t hesitate to contact us.