For the last seven years, the contemporary art festival Walk&Talk, has been bringing international artists to the Azores to make work in the galleries, museums, and streets of Ponta Delgada and further afield across the rest of São Miguel and Terceira. This year’s programme engages with the unique location, natural environment and history of the islands with playful, self-referential and at times antagonistic artworks considering what it means to live and make work at the periphery.
Architectural studio KWY have co-curated the ‘Public Art Circuit’, which features site-specific works from nine artists in locations across São Miguel. At Terra Nostra, a thermal spring and botanic garden, BenandSebastian (Ben Clement and Sebastian de la Cour) have simulated a Nordic landscape, reflecting on the artificiality of the Azorean environment shaped by historic trade routes that brought diverse flora and fauna to the islands. To the north of the island at Arquipelago, a contemporary art centre, Akane Moriyama has created a sculpture from hand-died and hand-sewn tulle. Suspended between the buildings made form the ubiquitous dark grey volcanic rock, the linear form in a contrasting spectrum fading from orange to yellow, draws the attention of passersby from the street into the art centre.
The works installed in the public spaces of Ponta Delgada suggest new ways for the city to be experienced and used. Outside of the theatre, architectural studio JQTS (João Quintela and Tim Simons) have created a pavilion using modular elements made from black mesh and Cryptomeria, or Japanese red-cedar, a timber grown extensively on the islands. The structure creates a series of maze-like spaces lined with the local volcanic stone, which crunches satisfyingly underfoot, and orientates the viewer to face an empty building nearby, previously used as the main gallery space by Walk&Talk, but now sold for redevelopment. Proposing a new use of existing space, Mark Clintberg has created a fictional queer space within the theatre. Posters around the city will advertise the services offered, including a nail bar, wig shop, services for the migrant community and computer repairs, however its opening date will remain permanently deferred.
Walk&Talk also includes several solo exhibitions from artists who were in residence during previous editions of the festival. In 2015, João Paulo Serafim worked with the natural history collection at the Museu Carlos Machado, which at the time was closed for renovation. Serafim photographed the objects being readied for storage or repair, capturing them in bizarre attitudes: a suspended bandaged crocodile; a peacock propped up on a pile of polystyrene and folded newspapers; a melancholy deer resting its head against the wall, cushioned against a piece of foam. Exhibited alongside the redisplayed collection Serafim’s work explores the imperialist and colonial agenda of natural history collections and the changing tastes and politics behind their display, blurring the boundary between public and private space within the museum and highlighting elements of display that are not meant to be the centre of attention.
‘A Matriz e o Intervalo’ (The Matrix and the Interval) by Carla Cabanas considers the role of photography in maintaining and transmitting memories. During her residency at the festival last year Cabanas spent time in the Instituto Cultural de Ponta Delgada, where she became interested in an archive from the early 20th century of re-photographed photographs depicting scenes from everyday life. Cabanas digitally removed the original subject of the photographs leaving only the edges and emphasising details of the process through which the image was reproduced, such as the drawing pins used to hold the photographs in place. By removing the original subject, she creates a haunting white space, a blankness that in our image saturated culture forces the viewer to focus on the photographic act itself.
A group exhibition curated by Diana Marincu ‘Message in a Bottle’ features work that uses fictional and imagined spaces to explore the idea of geographic isolation and the desire to find connection. Diana Vidrascu’s film ‘What time is made of’ (2017) blends fact and fiction combining almost abstract images of the natural environment with found audio of her being taught to speak by her grandfather. ‘Searching for a[n exhibition] space [aug. 1981]’ (2014) by Silvia Amancei and Bogdan Armanu documents an imagined performance work from the 1980s, playing on the cliché of an obsessive Romanian desire to emigrate and escape a peripheral location. ‘Message in a Bottle’, and the festival more broadly, reveal the peripheral as an illusory, relative and political concept, demonstrating that despite its geographic remoteness, the Azores should not be considered peripheral but a central meeting place.