Down To Earth* Collectiveness, Engagement and Regeneration

The current and visible social discrepancy, ecological devastation and global automatism driven by capital allow (new) aesthetic paradigms, also promoted by breakthroughs in science, technology, and social relations. We are always at the frontier where the self-consistency of artistic practices must be (re)affirmed in relation to specific local and global elements without running away from the looming issues of each time. Art must be a place of experimentation for the involvement between people and of the latter with the place; this is the ability to invest resources in regeneration and not so much in production. This will only be possible by uniting different disciplines, whose visions and ideals are tangible enough to protect us from a destructive alienation, leading us into a permanent space of transformation, side by side with the world, towards our inevitable reinvention and our relationship with place.

Fortunately, many such thoughts are already being put into practice. In Portugal, Ponto d’Orvalho (PdO) is a hybrid festival that, being in Montemor-o-Novo since 2020, is an open space for environmental debate and action through artistic, social, and ecological intervention. Joana Kramer Horta, Leonor Carrilho and Sérgio Hydalgo, responsible for the programming, shared with Umbigo how the third edition will be, between September 16 and 18.

Mafalda Ruão – The intention of addressing the environment and discussing it starts with the festival’s name. Why Ponto d’Orvalho?

Ponto d’Orvalho, Joana Kramer Horta – The name came about in 2020 during my stay in Freixo do Meio, a pioneering project on the national scene, focused on food production, according to a regenerative agroforestry model and design that recognises the key role of trees in the ecosystem. During this experience, I learnt to enter the rhythms of the cooperative, which are also those of nature. I often woke up at dawn and one of my most beautiful memories was watching the dew evaporating in the morning. From there emerged the curiosity to deepen the research on the dew point, a natural and scientific phenomenon that happens daily, of transformation and self-regeneration, where the air’s water vapour is converted into a liquid state.

PdO was born from an overwhelming desire to materialize these experiences and to deepen the discussion and the collaboration network between other agents that prioritize change. Hence the invitation to Leonor Carrilho and Sérgio Hydalgo to actively participate in the project. I share with them the programming, whose premise is to unite ecology and art in a transdisciplinary and collaborative approach. Without romanticising nature, this year’s festival wants to create new sustainable areas through artistic practices and knowledge exchange, in a continuous reflection and celebration of collective transformation.

MR – Being a regenerative, creative, and renewing space, how can the festival broaden awareness, inspiring behaviour and change in Portugal?

PdO, Joana Kramer Horta – Today we see successive ecological mutations with planetary impact. In PdO, we want to address the importance of learning new ways of inhabiting the Earth through a transdisciplinary research program to map, thematize, understand, question, and contextualize ecological issues, shared with the public to widen the network of cultural action, and show that artistic practices enable a dialogue between discourses and investigations from natural and social sciences.

One of the proposals is the collaboration between biologist António Mira, specialist in landscape ecology and community ecology, and visual artist Gabriela Albergaria, who uses the relationship between human beings and nature as a starting point for her works. We will be led in a collective exercise of landscape recognition to reflect on the impacts caused by humans on biodiversity and ecosystems.

To complement the programme, in November 2022, with the support of Montemor-o-Novo City Hall, we will organise a planting action with children and young people from the municipality to encourage ecological awareness and stimulate learning about syntropic farming techniques in agroforestry systems.

As Bruno Latour says in the book ‘Down To Earth – Politics in the New Climate Regime’, it’s time to get down to earth, land somewhere and resist this loss of common orientation. We must relearn how to position ourselves in this new landscape that forces us to redefine and reflect on how we exist on the planet.

MR – As Portugal is becoming more and more visible abroad, the Portuguese coast is demographically and culturally overcrowded. What are the main reasons to choose the Alentejo region?

PdO, Leonor Carrilho – Committing to the Montemor-o-Novo region came about through Joana Horta’s attachment to the city. That was the starting point for something that all three of us wanted – to decentralise. We’ve worked in culture for a number of years, and we see the concentration of cultural events in the large urban centres and the desert in the interior of the country. Fortunately, in recent years, projects have emerged that are slowly asserting themselves in the national context and that stimulated us to do something based on this decentralising premise. One of the wonderful things we find when we leave the “urban bubble” is the rich cultural offer of our country, with various cultural and popular expressions, and the countless possibilities of exploring them, of putting them in dialogue and questioning them – it is also a way of questioning ourselves.

MR – What is the role of Montemor-o-Novo in the festival programme? Is the project mostly related to the local context or is the city an example or starting point for universal issues?

PdO, Sérgio Hydalgo – Besides Joana’s emotional relationship with Montemor-o-Novo, the city has a unique dynamic in the national context. For us, establishing relationships with its agents, in a fruitful and lasting way, is vital. In this edition, we are once again aiming at local production and economy, in collaboration with Cooperativa Minga, which will make available all nutritious products during the festival days. Other important partners are O Espaço do Tempo and the Montemor-o-Novo City Hall, which will help us in technical and logistic terms, respectively. For this edition, we tried to conceive a balanced programme with local, national, and international artists and speakers. There will be discounted tickets for the municipality’s citizens. It is important to act locally and globally – from the particular to the universal, with no hierarchy!

MR – On the eve of the third edition, what’s new this year?

PdO, Sérgio Hydalgo – This year we left Freixo do Meio and moved most of the festival to Herdade do Barrocal de Baixo. This change has more accommodation options for the public, from camping to small lodgings. Another new feature is chef Diogo Noronha as head of meals, whose contemporary menus with a Portuguese, Atlantic and Mediterranean profile abide by nature, seasonality and those who work on the land and sea. A cuisine based on a sustainable and resilient food culture, favouring ingredients according to regenerative agriculture. As we said, we have discounted tickets for the municipal population and a limited number of discounted tickets for people in precarious working situation or unemployed.

MR – There are many entities, people, and knowledge from different areas at Ponto d’Orvalho, all with a common goal. Is the festival for professionals, experts in the different subjects explored, and activists, or can the general public play an active role?

PdO, Leonor Carrilho – We are doing a festival for the public and not for cultural professionals or experts. The objectives can vary according to the same “motto”: to think of a more sustainable collective future and look at Nature as the main source, focus and ally in building this future. Listening to a reading under a starry sky, surrounded by this ecosystem, is a different experience to listening to it on the radio, in a gallery or a performance hall.

When we made the programme, we wanted to call people from several artistic and scientific fields for an encounter between them, which we want to be unexpected and unique. For example, the artist Inês Neto dos Santos will make a food performance at Quinta das Abelhas (one of the great pioneer projects of syntropic agriculture in Portugal), where this same performance is the sharing between people through collective gestures that connect us to each other, to the artist and to the artistic object in a more integrated and special way. All to the sound of Coro Ecos do Monte, a female cante group from Montemor-o-Novo. These are examples that show that PdO is an encounter to involve people, artists and public, in an affective place capable of making us produce reflections and empathies. We want this to create tools for us to exist more collectively in the world.


*Alluding to Joana Kramer Horta’s reference to Bruno Latour’s ‘Down To Earth – Politics in the New Climate Regime’ (2017).

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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