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Liquid Becomings will be the 2024 European Pavilion


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The winning proposal from the open call From the European Cultural Foundation to shape and host The European Pavilion 2024 was announced at a press conference at The New Institute in Rotterdam on 14 February.

An independent jury unanimously chose the proposal Liquid Becomings of the consortium led by the independent artists' collective espaço agora now, consisting of the organisations FLOWMS-FusionTeatro Meia Volta and United Artist Labour. Liquid Becomings takes the form of a travelling pavilion of four boats sailing for twenty-eight days on four European rivers, before converging in Lisbon in November 2024 for a final artistic programme.

Naomi Russell, founder of espaço agora nu: "We are extremely proud that the jury chose our initiative. Our format is atypical for several reasons: not only will there be no physical pavilion, but Liquid Becomings is is an initiative developed and led entirely by artists. Via Liquid Becomings we will create many small agorae on four European rivers, where artists and communities will come together to share their experiences and create new stories together, addressing the complex polycrises of inequality and mistrust, nature-degradation and climate change. By listening to the stories of ordinary Europeans often outside the usual centres, we want to contribute to redefining the future of Europe."

About Liquid Becomings

Liquid Becomings is not a traditional pavilion. It is not an exhibition. It doesn't even take place in one location. Liquid Becomings is a journey, an adventure, a radical experiment.

Four boats will leave on 1 September for 28 days, sailing simultaneously on four European rivers: the Danube, Vistula, Rhine and Tagus, crossing a total of 13 countries. Their crews, consisting of a team of artists and a captain, will each focus on different themes: Ruins and monsters, Perimeters, Togetherness and Bodies and politics. Each boat will make space for communities and people they meet along the way to come together and share creativity, to create stories that will tell the Europe of tomorrow - stories inspired by these four great waterways.

Crews will develop alternative ways of being together. The artists will explore ideas about other ways of life and speculative futures. The boats will be simple vessels that enable a simple, sustainable and slow way to travel. We expect to experience the landscape, the elements and the people living along the rivers from a unique, connected perspective. This is a journey that is participatory and contributing.

In November, crews from all boats will join forces in Lisbon. A three-day artistic programme celebrating polyphony, transitional spaces and travelling around will link the old port of Beato with Quinta Alegre, a socio-cultural complex on the northern edge of Lisbon. The meetings and conversations, meals, rituals, stories, collected during the journeys will be translated into a new mythology for Europe, told by artists and citizens.

From open call to Liquid Becomings: jury considerations

Following the open call for curatorial proposals to shape and develop The European Pavilion 2024 host the European Cultural Foundation received 39 bold proposals. Most of these involved international collaborations and artistic productions, and 20 of them were led by consortia representing more than 30 countries from all corners of Europe and beyond, from Turkey to Denmark, from Ukraine to Portugal, and from the Netherlands to Greece. An independent jury chaired by Sepake Angiama selected one laureate from among the five finalists.

Jury of Open Call

According to the jury, Liquid Becomings has a bold artistic format in mind. An important consideration was that Liquid Becomings also challenges the orthodox model of national pavilions, originally established in colonial times, and what they represented.

The jury was impressed by the symbolism the proposal represents: Liquid Becomings choreographs an artistic flow across the modern and increasingly impenetrable borders of Europe, by running small boats along ancient trade and human routes - the Vistula, the Rhine, the Danube, and the Tagus.

Ahead of the unveiling of Liquid Becomings as the winning proposal for The European Pavilion 2024, we asked Naomi Russel of espaço agora now and Lore Gablier, Programme Manager at ECF, to answer some questions.

We asked Naomi what Europe is in reality, and how our imagination can shape it?

Naomi: "I put the question back! What is Europe in reality? The challenges facing the world leave no continent or country untouched. This makes it necessary for Europe - us - to question the constructions of both history and imagination. In Liquid Becomings, we want to re-examine the European sense of belonging, in the context of migration and global changes in social geographies. We want to look for new European mythologies through transnational, multicultural exchange of knowledge and practices."

logo of liquid becomings: the four great rivers
In what ways is Liquid Becomings symbolic of the European project?

Naomi: "Liquid Becomings will explore the myths and stories that build contemporary European identity. The floating pavilion explores bodies of water as stages, creating an unusual relationship between the sailing artists and the public. Liquid Becomings proposes to treat the process as a work of art and see the sharing of time, attention, energy and resources as a performative and political action. We are convinced that a future vision of Europe must allow for the active involvement of Europe's many societies and a polyphony of voices and experiences, especially involving those who live outside established and institutional structures. By sailing on the rivers, making us the strange people on the rivers - the other - we hope to reach them and moreover hear what they think, feel and desire for the future."

How can artistic imagination and creative ideas contribute to building fairer and more sustainable societies?

Naomi: "espaco agora believes we desperately need the voices of independent artists who are at the centre of society, because their imagination and ability to see the future are fundamental to solving today's big challenges. Environmental scientist Gus Speth, who founded the World Resources Institute, put it in a nutshell a few years ago when he said, "I used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy. To deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don't know how to do that." This is where artistic imagination and artistic practices play a unique role, especially where citizens can be active participants in - and responses to - the creation process and the formation of ideas."

Lore: "Perhaps we should first ask ourselves what makes our societies unsustainable and unjust. Isn't there a status quo we should deconstruct? And isn't it precisely the arts that wake us up, that prompt us to imagine a different world? That said, achieving a more sustainable and fairer society for all will take more than imagination. Two of the selection criteria for the laureate of the grant for The European Pavilion were sustainability and diversity: candidates had to propose concrete measures in their plans - be it governance, representation, salaries, production, etc. - that showed they would treat people and the planet with respect. So with The European Pavilion, our ambition is also to facilitate an exemplary artistic event, where sustainability and equality are not only an artistic and intellectual concern, but also determine its concrete implementation."

Anafi 1.5.4
In what ways does The European Pavilion differ from similar events elsewhere in the world?

Lore: "Perhaps the most distinctive feature of The European Pavilion is its explicit focus on Europe. There are many festivals and other artistic events with a European dimension (for example, because of their partnerships or their touring nature), but none of them place Europe at the centre of their programming. Moreover, despite its name, The European Pavilion is not a built or fixed space, but a space for experimentation and exploration. The idea is precisely to question the idea of the pavilion, whose genealogy is rooted in European colonial history and the construction of national conceptions. With The European Pavilion, we invite cultural organisations and artists from all disciplines to think about Europe and imagine what it could or should become. It is their creative processes and artistic productions that shape The European Pavilion: this year it will take the form of four boats. But it could just as easily become a stage, a film, a virtual environment, a school, and in the future, no doubt, a form we cannot yet imagine today."

Successfully setting up The European Pavilion requires a huge collective effort with all kinds of different responsibilities. Through the pavilion metaphor, how can we make Europe a success?

Naomi: "I'm going to see Tania Brugera and her recent performance Paraphrasing in Hamburg. We have to talk. We have to. And we must put aside our preconceptions-and take the time to listen when we engage in dialogue. Pluralism is inherently conflictual. There will always be a plurality of perspectives. Chantal Mouffe, who inspired us with her concept of horizontal agonism, talks about the impossibility of reconciling all points of view. She goes on to say, and I love her definition: if we form a 'we', we must distinguish it from a 'they'."

'A future told by the river, a future told by all of us.'

espaço agora now expects a total of 46 independent artists to be involved in Liquid Becomings. They are issuing a targeted invitation to artists to apply for residencies on the boats one of these days, as they want to work with as diverse a group of artists as possible, including those based outside Europe, including in the South.
Naomi: "We wanted to create a proposal that reaches across borders and shows outside the usual centres. Too many people in our society feel alienated and abandoned. The simple idea of meeting these people where they live seemed urgent. And because of the European dimension, we felt it was necessary to reach as many areas as possible. So this also meant rethinking the concept of being in one fixed place. Our concept formed around the question of how the only way to make space for a future image of Europe was by celebrating the liminal phase, immersing ourselves in not-knowing and creating an environment in which new orders could emerge. So each river follows different routes and connects different regions."

Besides inviting local experts on the boats on the various routes, Liquid Becomings will offer paid work to people along the route who come to share their experiences. In preparing each route, they will work with at least five community partners per river. And once the boats sail, the public can come and visit the boats. The different phases and routes of Liquid Becomings can soon be followed via The European Pavilion.

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