Debates, multimedia spectacles, theatre and musicals which cross territorial and cultural borders, united under the common goal of experimentation. This is the pledge, and in part the fulfilment, of 'Fabbrica Europa' ('European Factory'), a contemporary art festival taking place in various parts of Florence until 31 May.
Amongst the most suggestive areas is Leopolda, an old abandoned station which has lain empty since 1861. A few years ago it was converted into an exhibition space, in whose stages dozens of European artists have been able to present their masterpieces.
The festival was launched on 28 April, partly thanks to the support of the European Union. It has some 80 spectacles in the pipeline, created with the support of artists coming from 25 different countries, including France, Portugal, Scandinavia, Croatia, Brasil, Turkey and the United States.
In the first few days of the festival, audiences have been treated to well-known Italian contemporary theatre company Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio (created in 1981), and the charisma of leading American dance choreographer Lucinda Childs, 67, otherwise known as the 'priestess' of minimal dance. One of the most anticipated shows is equestrian offering Wild, starring Eva Schakmundès and African dancer Jean Kouassi Konan, taking place from 25 to 31 May.
From the cradle of the Renaissance to modern art protagonist
Provincial challenge from the cradle of the Renaissance – perhaps, if you heed the perennial criticism which the city is subject to for being stuck in the sixteenth century, and thereby failing to offer fresh space for new contemporary, international tendencies.
'Florence thrives from its artistic heritage. But it's not so easy to develop contemporary art protests,' explains Luca Dini, president of the Foundation Fabbrica Europa for contemporary art, and one of the festival's promoters. These difficulties often lead to a lack of or delays in funding, which resulted in the programme only becoming established four months before the festival kicked off. 'Unfortunately,' continues Dini, 'people look for immediate results. But there's not much of that in contemporary art, which instead develops reflections about the transformations which society goes through and suffers.'
It's a shame – because the audience seem to have taken well to this kind of initiative, not least from what the huge queues at the box office and the 'sold out' signs have been saying in the past few days. In its first two weeks, the festival has managed to bring contemporary art to some 20, 000 people, inviting them to reflect on the influences that other cultures bring, the importance of experimentation and the artistic European integration or the dynamism of current social changes. The fourteenth edition of the festival is significantly called 'Variable Geometry,' harking at the physical sense of national confines and the symbolism of cultural borders.
Moreover, young artists have seized the space offered and come up with diverse projects which support their own work and creativity. Between them they have emphasised the importance of Roots&Routes. This platform was created by diverse cultural organisations from all over Europe, directed by young people (especially from ethnic minorities), between the ages of 15 – 25. On 18 May, some of them took the stage at Leopolda station to perform with the multi-ethnic orchestra Musipolitana, bringing a full-on musical multicultural party into swing.
For all the artists participating in this year's edition, 'Fabbrica Europa' has become a veritable event and at times, an indication of hope. 'We had to leave Italy because it didn't offer contemporary dance any possibilities,' explains Damiano Foà, a Florentine choreographer who has been based in France for the past 17 years. 'To see a festival finally giving the space and promoting fresh new experimental and international productions provides a glimmer of hope for all of us.' Maybe this new modern facelift is also enough to smooth the city's wrinkles, and revive it from the stillstand its been in since the Renaissance era.