Brave New Vaga

I may be being bold, but I think that, on the islands, any description of a space ends up focusing on the territory, which is not easy to abstract as it is so ever-present: nature is more vigorous, the ground seems more perceptible, possibly more controllable by our steps, the horizon is always visible, we live within well-defined limits on an island, concrete, unquestionable and finitely attainable boundaries.  How can we stop thinking about this? How can we abstract ourselves from this territorially (de)limited reality? Vaga, the new project by the Anda&Fala association, which has organised the Walk&Talk festival in Ponta Delgada since 2011, reinforces this idea of the island, starting with the premise in the name; in fact, it obeys this geography and is born from the perfect junction between territorial and intentional dynamics. According to the dictionary, ‘vaga’ (wave) refers to the sea realm, as a wave, as a renewal of forces and energies; or, even figuratively, to the agitation generated by irreverence, opportunity and (pro)activity; something assumed by this project.

Walk&Talk has been shaking São Miguel since its inception: a new approach to cultural production and programming in the Azores, with the introduction of new discourses, aesthetics and ways of doing. This has nurtured new and plural perceptions of the island, cultivated two-way relationships with the rest of the world. But Vaga looks inwards and focuses on the island context, in a close connection to the territory and the resident communities. Vaga materialises a long-cultivated desire in the association that turns 10 this year. Without a specific headquarters, which caused instability and forced in the last years to provisionally occupy successive places of Ponta Delgada, Vaga finally embodied the notion of home, opening several possibilities through continuity, autonomy and programmatic independence. The rest will come from daily life, as certain flows and dynamics are only perceived when one occupies a space and has a/effective experiences.

The area chosen in Ponta Delgada, in the heart of the city, which symbolically reflects the peripheral logic that fits so well in the project, was strategically thought out. In this sense, the city begins to spread out.

Vaga is a new space for art – production, experimentation and knowledge -, focused on contemporary arts, with a multidisciplinary programme. This includes the exhibition format, performance, film cycles, talks or masterclasses. The goal? To connect: artists with artists, artists with the public, or everyone with art. Trying, at the same time, to break the relational barrier with contemporary art, which is often regarded with concern, for being closed in on itself.

Carrying all the legacy of the work developed by the association over the years, Vaga is an entity whose management is independent; not as a commercial gallery, nor with institutional weight, but as an autonomous space of daily permanence, full of opportunities. This is how the Anda&Fala family stopped being “a foreign body”, whose physicality allowed the project to establish itself as a platform of excellence for nurturing relationships: an unblocking element of ambitions, visions and creations, especially in the resident artistic community that often “has no feedback regarding its research and artistic production”. Perhaps this is why its most evident characteristic is the (constant) open door, which metaphorically reveals the receptivity to all those who want to get to know the space, create or simply experiment. For example, artists who need space to create and test. These relationships increase the project’s friends, potential partnerships, who add much to the monthly assemblies, vivid sources of interaction and opinion from peers and interested communities, sharing ideas in a debate open to the public. The project lives from giving and taking, in a fluid, honest and interested way, which feeds the machine constantly (re)organised according to intention, need and what fits the original mission and values.

In this aspect, the architecture of this cultural warehouse – by Mezzo Atelier – was specially designed to create the ideal triptych: gallery, workshop and house. The perfect meeting, in a single space, of the logistical and emotional conditions that allow any initiative to be produced from start to finish. In other words, bringing together, under the same roof, the work and the presentation of the final result. The gallery with two rooms serves an exhibition programme, divided into seasons and whose theme is previously defined; the workshop is open to artists in residence, also allowing other interested parties to work there; the house receives artists in residence, with a common space for the discussion of production dynamics.

The programming has seasons and intervals (moments between seasons, that foster concentration and the monitoring of artists and work in the workshop, as well as a freer programming, sometimes responding to stimulus and opportunities). Each season, lasting approximately three months, normally begins with an exhibition, from which parallel events with the same theme are developed. In December 2020, at the official opening of the first season, the group exhibition We Never Say Never brought together 18 Azorean driving forces, an example of the current generation, present in a variety of spaces and disciplines, whose affirmation in the world is based on the rejection of normativism.

This resilience of the first exhibition shows the character of the Vaga project. Born during the pandemic, it made use of stoicism and the greatest responsibility given the restrictions. What could have been a limiting gap, turned out to be an essential programmatic pause, which allowed them to rethink and design plans. The door will remain open to show that “there are meeting conditions, safe and comfortable, for those who want to”. Today, the ambition is ownership, with programmatic freedom and honouring the commitment to all parties involved. So that Vaga fulfils its original premise: a place for learning, renewal and discovery, an ally and mediator of contemporary artistic production; at the same time, a “magnifying glass on what this community has to say”.

Marked by a logic of communality, defending that, to reach everyone, the parties must be heard for the sake of a common good, Vaga has created many waves in this space. But, to work for all, it is not enough to have the door open, nor only to announce it. Working in communities and context requires work done based on the programming created and the dynamics achieved with artists present. It is an ongoing process of establishing relationships, which needs time to promote involvement and establish proximity; only then stigmas and boundaries are broken down, increasing trust. In the future, Vaga may embody other things, be they insular or transatlantic. Is this a utopian idea? As Eduardo Galeano said, “Utopia is on the horizon. (…) No matter how far I walk, I will never reach it. What is a utopia for? It serves for this: so that I do not stop walking”.

Vaga, as an obstinate hybrid movement, arises in Ponta Delgada, with the will to listen and propagate the new artistic voices, which are on the island and which emerged to renew and strengthen the creative potential of São Miguel. With an open, inclusive and cheery attitude, which now begins to take its first steps, this is a journey that invites us to stay close, attentive and restless. We, the audience, even with Vaga on a “break” until June, will stay alert. Just like them: we never say never, do we?

Master in Curatorial Studies from the University of Coimbra, and with a degree in Photography from the Portuguese Institute of Photography in Porto, and in Cultural Planning and Management, Mafalda develops her work in the areas of production, communication and activation, within the scope of Photography Festivals and Visual Arts - Encontros da Imagem, in Braga (Portugal) and Fotofestiwal, in Lodz (Poland). She also collaborated with Porto / Post / Doc: Film & Media Festival and Curtas Vila do Conde-Festival Internacional de Cinema. In 2020, and she was one of those responsible for the curatorial project of the exhibition “AEIOU: Os Espacialistas em Pro (ex)cess”, developed at Colégio das Artes, University of Coimbra. As a photographer, she was involved in laboratory projects of analogue photography and educational programs for Silverlab (Porto) and Passos Audiovisuais Associação Cultural (Braga), while dedicating herself to photography in a professional format or, spontaneously, in personal projects.

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