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Back To The Boots

an artistic research retreat in Fruška Gora

„Go out in the woods, go out. If you don't go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.“

„The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door. If you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.“

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

What is the place in which nature and art meet? How does this place look like? And what emerges from this encounter?

In the last week of May 2022, we, the Serbian NGO Creative Network Panonika, hosted five international performing artists who had been asking themselves these questions throughout their private and professional life.

They gathered in our headquarters on Fruska Gora, at the outskirts of the forest, to retreat from their urban lives in Italy, Finland, France and Germany and to return to their roots.

Their roots? What are „roots“ anyway? As our function as hosts is to facilitate and not to lead the discourse, we wish to let the artists speak of this research week:

Every morning we gathered by the house to walk to the forest in silence, sit on the hill and watch the day begin. In order to return to whatever „roots“ may mean for us personally and artistically, we agreed that we needed to return to our senses, to indulge into a more open and careful sensitivity toward what surrounds us. And the best way to start doing so was to stop talking. At least in the morning.

After returning from the walk, we shared with each other how we felt that morning, what we were up to for the day, what was in our minds personally and/or professionally and clarified any structural questions for our research. The day would than continue with individual work until lunch, followed by collective meetups and discussions until dinner.

Each day had its own focal point: there was the arrival day and the who-is-who day (until then the artists and us hosts had only met virtually). Once the tracks were set, we dove deeper into the heart of our matter. After discussing prepared works of art (especially literature) concerning the intersection of art and nature, we researched and brainstormed possibilities for a rather unconventional arts festival in Fruska Gora. The next day, everyone was invited to find a place in the forest that would inspire him or her for a performative act. This research, including the performance (or, as we called it more honestly: „sharing“) itself, was to be continued until the 29th of May, when we would have some guests from the area coming (cultural professionals, neighbors, friends) to see and engage in our work in progress. On the 29th, we were happy to engage the guests not only as spectators, but shared 3 hours of intense discourse, inquiring collectively into the question that lead our research week.

Next to research, performance and forest hikes, we also had an open workshop space, as for example sharing a ritual that was inspired by shamanic Sami practices from Finland that was aimed at reconnecting to nature and, well „roots“.

So, what was the matter with those roots we were looking for all that time? What is their shape, where do they come from, what do they connect us to?

We saw that this word „root“ contains a lot of different associations. They can be defined as the relation we have to our ancestors, to the culture we were born and/or raised into, but also the connection we have to working something physically and material existence.

Though being of rather cognitive nature, those talks actually brought us back to our senses. Rooting, rootedness, reconnecting to roots, all these ideas seemed to lead to a deeply sensual experience. It was as if the sense of life could be grasped only by sensing life.

Any act of rooting, of reconnecting with the flow of nature had to be vivid, actual and direct. And any work of art following the pursuit of meeting nature, had to carry this wisdom of now-ness, unmasked and unmasking. Trying to serve this spirit during our performative tryouts, we realized that communicating with others artistically on that level became a highly intimate experience in which „nature“ and „authenticity“ are deeply intertwined. All this made us understand that the Festival we wish to create in Fruska Gora in the near future (we set the intentional date for Summer 2025), requires an adequate space, preparation and, most especially, a proper intellectual backbone, which we called „Manifesto“.

This Manifesto is yet to be fully articulated, we have however drawn the firsts lines during these days of collective research. I will mention some main ideas below:

„I look, I sense, I see, I know. I respect my intuition.“

„I reach for the unity and balance among animate and inanimate beings in nature.“

„I aim to stand, not knowing what will happen next.“

„I don't own the forest, neither the forest owns me. Forest and me, we are one.“

„Art is condensed beauty for our senses. The forest is natural beauty for our senses. With art, we wish to lighten it up (this beauty of the forest). Art shall be the mouthpiece of nature, the gentle megaphone for its stillness.“

„If a performance takes place in nature, it is equally important that the entire preparation process takes place in nature as well.“

„The artist is the flow and the perfume of this world, the breath of what is possible. A world without artists that cannot astonish themselves, vibrate themselves, who cannot feel the pulsation of the world, a world without such artists is a dying world.“

„ We shall help the creation of an art which reconnects us to earth, truth, essential values. Helping to share these values through this unique and primitive vehicle which we call art.“

„Art is not only creating a product. It is a way of liberating oneself from imprisonment.“

„Nature is the place for harmony and re-harmonization. It is empty, neutral space. Reconnecting to this space is to reconnect to oneself and at the same time to something bigger than oneself.“

„It is not enough to say „I am serving the forest through this work of art“. We are serving each other. It is an exchange with the forest. It reestablishes true communication between the two.“

„We as society are far from our purposes, we are driven into nowhere. Nature invites us to find our purpose again. True purpose serves humanity.“

„Getting to know nature and her complexity through art is an empathic process. Here, empathy is a phenomenon of intimate participation through which something is born. This process is immediate. Sometimes, it is not even necessary to speak.“

„Art fills the void that humans have as an innate condition.“

„That which we call „wild“ does not mean „out of control“. It means to live a life in which the creature has innate integrity and healthy boundaries. The creature remembers who she is and what she is about“.

With these convictions leading our way, we wish to create an Arts Festival in Fruska Gora in which:

  • artists from all disciplines are invited, as long as they can identify with our manifesto

  • they shall come without a finished project idea, but with the readiness to be surprised and inspired by the place they find here

  • the entire creation process will take place on site

  • the artists will do no harm to nature and leave no harmful trace after the Festival

  • all works are aimed at reconnecting the spectator to what we call „roots“ or „wild Self“

Concretely, we set our intention to contact local cultural institutions to prepare an international collaboration led by different cultural associations within Europe and possibly some art venues from the nearby city of Novi Sad.

Once the basic funds have been secured, we shall publish an open call for application. For the last casting round each artist shall have an (online) conversation with at least two of the organizing individuals.

The production phase shall be separated in two periods. In the first period, all artists will meet in Fruska Gora for 10 days. During these days, they will elaborate on their project idea. They will find their spot, formulate their artistic intention and give the first approximation of technical requirements. Possible collaboration between the artists, who will be meeting each other frequently during these 10 days, are encouraged but not mandatory.

After a period of approximately 9 months, these artists will gather again. This time, they will have one month to work on their project. At the end of that month, the Festival shall take place. It is thought to last three summer days.

During our excursions, we have created a map of places that seemed inspiring to us. The spectators of this festival shall be given a map of the festival area and a timetable. Some works will be accessible permanently during those days, while others will take place only at given times.

To give some first ideas, we thought of creating a floating stage on the lake for a 360 degree audience, a rope-stage-parcour on trees, several mini-stages inside old trunks, meadows like amphitheaters, we see installations, paintings, writings in caves, stone mines, trees bridging over creeks, we see spectators passing by lonesome flute players along their way, we see people walking from one place to another in silence, their ears on alert and their view panoramic.

And we are all more than happy to birth this celebration into reality.

We, the host and the artists, wish to thank the i-portunus Houses Program and all its affiliated institutions for making this adventure possible. It is said that thousand mile journey begins with the first step. Now, we are ready for the next one.

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