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More than in parallel lines the world runs in a network – PARALLEL PRL

The world is a fabric that we create daily through large (and slightly imperceptible) looms of information, discussions, films, books… Nowadays, its reach is enormous thanks to the Internet. Anyone can partake in this process, at any time and anywhere on the planet, with dedication and/or responsibility. When that story changes, so does the world. We conceive the world through words. It is through them that we think of it and how we narrate it. All of this is extremely important. It is something defining and conclusive. Something that happens but is not told no longer exists and dies. And if that thing is documented photographically, its veracity is no longer disputed. The image, more than the narration, is the ultimate proof of existence.

But, in this fatally oscillating world, we rarely find appropriate narratives, ready for the present and future. We do not have the language, the points of view, the metaphors, the new legends. There are too many attempts to return to the past, to harness anachronistic and oxidised narratives, unable to articulate the tomorrow. Ultimately, the horizon is too mutating and chimerical to be perceptible. The ways of telling the world’s story are limited.

Given its irreverence, provocation and eclectic roots, contemporary photography defies limits and definitions. It therefore has an immense reinventive ability. No longer merely a cultural object, today it is a cultural-social-artistic practice, which manages to combine aesthetics, technologies and intentions. It allows starting from an individual self, but connecting several individuals. In an infinite network, in a permanent polyphony, we always have the instinct to dive into a reality constituted only by first-person narratives (possibly the typical contemporary narration, with the individual at the centre of the world). But it is also true that this could mean our opposition or alienation from our surroundings. Adapting to this fluid modernity requires us to be resilient. The self moves to embrace the community and the pressing social-political and environmental issues in society. Here is one way of telling the story of the world: facing and reflecting on our surroundings. And, with combined efforts, synchronise messages and share new ways of imagining and analysing/feeling the world.

Under these circumstances PARALLEL was born in 2016. It is a European photography platform to embody this reality. They are European creative organisations networked together, promoting exchanges, cross-cultural mentorships and exhibitions. It is a joint effort between emerging artists and curators. They promote new opportunities for these creators, strengthen connections, stimulate creativity, mobility and skills. And they also foster renewed and vibrant narratives in the art system.

This scheme is composed of several members. Apart from their distinct features, cultures, scales and geographies, they share common values and goals in the way they intervene in culture. There are museums, galleries, festivals, art schools and publishing houses. There are 18 European cultural centres from 16 different countries and all of them have the mission of developing new forms of intervention in the arts and culture. They try to create artistic projects with a critical, innovative and constructive perspective in the visual and cultural arts. The work is networked in an intercultural dialogue that stimulates the cultural economy and the development of creative industries.

The platform’s spirit displays the connection between artists, curators, members, tutors and public. The working process takes place in moments divided into two main phases: Creative Orientation, which covers the selection of emerging artists (the result of an open call), mentoring, peer learning, and curating for emerging creators, besides a training stage that allows them to explore and evolve professional skills; and Exhibition Platform, the wide network of exhibitions and publications among the programme partners, following PARALLEL’s itinerant concept. The programme has annual cycles, there have been 4 so far, each with about 30 to 40 artists and 5 or 6 curators.

Scheme 1. working methodology of each cycle of PARALLEL, with two phases – creative orientation (lighter tone) and exhibition platform (darker tone). Source: parallelplatform.org

 

The project was conceived and is led by Procur.arte. It is a cultural association in Lisbon that has been upholding the same ideals since 2005. In addition to national funding from the Ministry of Culture and the Lisbon City Council, much of the funding came from the European Union’s Creative Europe Programme. This has been suspended in 2022 and the future of the platform is unclear. Although the outlook is positive – we will know the answer in October (we’ll talk about it below) – we must remember that the PARALLEL project has reaped many rewards in these four years. As a gateway to the artistic sector of contemporary photography, it has spread new artists, trends and presentation methods, broken hierarchies and established fertile creative collaborations. The basis was equal opportunities and the opening of several paths to enter the art system: through awards, curatorial proposals, selection for competitions and festivals, or inclusion in cultural institutional teams. Here are PARALLEL’s figures: 34 exhibitions and 11 masterclasses and workshops throughout Europe, in which 100 emerging creators (artists and curators) from 33 countries (13 of them non-European) participated; more than 200 people in events promoted by the programme; the subsequent opportunity to exhibit outside their country of origin (in an average of 4 different countries) for each artist involved, as well as an international exhibition for each curator. On average, each of the 100 emerging artists has exhibited/published their work around 11 times since their participation. Not surprisingly, about 80% continue to work in the field.

We cannot say that PARALLEL is a finished project, but one on pause. In fact, this resilience is part of its inception. This was visible in the pandemic, which required a stoic posture and an increased responsibility in the face of restrictions. How can a project on mobility and international networking be developed in times of pandemic and isolation? The limitations feed the need for strategic restructuring in implementation and methodologies: physical exhibitions and meetings go online and catalogues and special editions (23 publications since the beginning of the project) become the only creative vehicles. But the wealth of human exchanges and relationships was lacking. It was no longer a question of quantity but of quality, achieved only through interaction. Yes, the initiatives must continue in the best possible way. And what could be restrictive ends up being an essential hiatus to rethink and architect future plans. Or move forward with two new applications underway, the results of which will be known in October. The application for a project with a European dimension and a new reinvented format, which aims to be more focused: PARALLEL PT for Lusophony, which will use the same process for communities and peoples who share the Portuguese language and culture.

Until then, we can follow the path of the emerging artists of the 4 previous cycles, through the post-PRL section in PARALLEL’s social media platforms, with the hashtag #parallelfollowup. These, after the boost given by the platform, continue to write their story and the story of the world in which they live. The effects of PARALLEL, like any other project that promotes cooperation, creativity, connection, mobility and freedom of expression, can change the world. This is not a utopian claim to save the planet. But rather a modest position, focused on the possibility of reinventing it with respect. In fact, it does not matter how long an education is or how specific the knowledge may be: it is possible to set the universe in motion with a few words or a single image.

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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