Relation:Ships / Living the Coast
artists artway of thinking
The starting point for Stefania Mantovani and Federica Thiene —artway of thinking—is always to make contact with the individuals who will help them define their project. Through meetings and by working collectively, they provide the spark of energy that leads the group to reinvent common spaces, to propose new scenarios of possibilities. Often artway of thinking provokes, acting as a device, the writing and dissemination of the history of those who never do it for themselves, written from the standpoint of the individuals' possible dreams. Sometimes, as in Panama City, artway of thinking encourages a return to forgotten histories, dislodged from daily consciousness, intimate experiences that present-day culture pushes aside because they are no longer modern or profitable.
The initial plan proposed an "investigation into the potential of Panama City as a place of intercultural negotiation and cohesion." As the project developed, it led to a surprising discovery that would conclude in an esoteric ritual. What happened in the process?
The work began with a group of architects, designers, city planners, photographers... whose task was to serve as guides for the artists across the city. The aim was to read and identify, through each personal story, shared yet latent dreams, and to make a proposal for a collective art project based on the result of that exploration. One strong element arose from these meetings: The Bay of Panama, and the city-dwellers special and at times ineffable relationship with the sea.
Such a result was unexpected because almost nothing in the city seems to accept the fact that it is a coastal city. Roads are built over the sea, the city pours its trash into it, its contaminated beaches are closed. Panama City seems to live with its back turned to the sea, but its inhabitants are not indifferent to it. In March 2003, artway of thinking began a series of interviews. The strong emotional reaction in all cases led to an outcome that then seemed clear: combining the testimonies into a necessary ritual of reconciliation of the land and the sea. A ritual to placate Yemayá, the goddess of the sea.
What did the nature of those bonds to the sea reveal, which united political leaders, small scale fishermen, scientists, fortune-tellers, university professors and students, and artists? Those interviewed called for a natural and harmonious life that depended on communion with the sea. An image that nevertheless seemed to have been split from the city, since Panama appears to be built according to an idea of contemporary life that is necessarily urban, a productive center in an international network of communication. Thus a situation is created where the promotion and sale of luxurious dreams exist alongside the silence of groups whose possibilities of contributing to the life of the community have disappeared. In any case, the desire for natural harmony seems incompatible with the city’s small scale fishing operations and communities, confined physically and professionally within a macro-economical situation that leaves them behind, regarded as inefficient and ill-adapted to modern times (an attitude even more obvious in view of the enormous merchant ships that pass through the Canal every day).
For many, the experience of the sea implies nostalgia, but also religious and esoteric ideas. These may be unorthodox cultures, also uprooted from the larger consumer society, but they are strong, because the profit they offer is as immaterial as it is necessary for many of their members. The artists' mission was to have the individuals face the very essence of their desires vis-à-vis the city as space of negotiation and belonging. In this situation, the sea was experienced as an organic and dynamic place of cohesion, where action – and therefore harmony - was possible.
In the way it opens up possibilities for change, artway of thinking subverts the method of mass production of dreams, while knowing that individual fantasy is affected by them. In a tour de force, the artists present the problem of being modern while incorporating Yemayá. Thus, the artists acted as laboratory and catalyst. But the true result was not in their hands—the artists would soon leave Panama—but in the hands of those who were defining a collective dream. Such projects question the consumer culture in its role of provoking a feeling of impotence and finally indifference about the course of events. To think of oneself as an accomplice as well as a member of an proactive organic community made up of very different individuals is more daring and less comfortable. But that is only the beginning.