Harvesting Echoes, Resonating Landscapes

Echoes from invisible landscapes is a journey through the Alp-Adriatic region. It is an ongoing exploration of layers of culture, history and society in a poetic and practical, active reflection of people and places, identities and traditions, expression and communication.

We founded Mani d.o.o. in Croatia in 2005 in order to expand our work in art and culture across European borders. Our roots in visual and applied arts, sound and music were the starting point for the creation of a platform based on collaboration and openness, transcending boundaries between genres and nations in a growing European network dedicated to fostering cultural exchange.

Personally and professionally, we are deeply committed to developing sustainable and dynamic projects that bring artists, thinkers and audiences together with the broad intention of upholding the value of art and culture in society.

We travel extensively throughout the Alp-Adriatic region, seeking encounters with traditions and practices that give voice to individual and collective histories. 

Echoes from invisible landscapes was born of the desire to work together with an interdisciplinary group of curatorial partners towards a multi-layered cultural appraisal of the Alp-Adriatic region.  We invited artists, thinkers, researchers and local inhabitants from diverse backgrounds in order to bring hidden layers of the region into focus. In so doing, we hoped to discover the similarities and differences that make places regions and, whilst preserving individual identities, let us talk about a shared or common culture.

We started developing the concept together with our project partners in 2015. The historical resonances were evident. 100 years after the First World War, questions arose which led directly to the partners’ project activities, notably Javorca by Bratko Bibić, the work that Zveza Mink Tolmin commissioned in the summer of 2016 and Wieser Verlag’s 2018 publication Echo des Jahrhunderts, with its underlying question, “nothing has changed; has nothing changed?” 2015 was not just a year of looking back at the horrific conflict that changed the course of European history, though. The summer of 2015 saw the beginnings of international movements of people in exile that gave rise to a new fragmentation in Europe. 

Ignoring colonialist and more recent history, created in part by self-interested Western involvement and interference in North Africa and in Asia, our governments failed to predict that warfare, famine and human rights abuses would make the homes of millions of people uninhabitable. Sooner or later, it was inevitable that they would seek help. When Angelika Merkel declared “wir schaffen das”, swathes of European populist politicians felt empowered to redefine established international definitions of human rights and refugee aid. The Geneva convention was called into question, and in the course of the last three years, the notion of “refugees” has almost vanished from West European politics, replaced by the fear-mongering, right-wing and populist polemicising about “migrants”; as if people would choose to leave their homes and abandon their lives, including hard-won social and professional status, to be forced into internment camps and treated as second-class citizens. Citizenship itself is now held, by the right-wing elite, to be a privilege rather than a right – in clear disregard of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that has defined international legislation and behaviour since 1948.

Language and behaviour that had no place in public or socio-political life has entered the public sphere in an insidious and gradual way, provoking journalists and historians to remind readers and listeners that the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century were largely democratically elected and did not come about suddenly, but step by step. When, however, democratically elected politicians publicly voice the question of whether it might be acceptable to let people drown at sea, to choose not to save people we see are at risk of dying, or to send them to places where torture, rape and inhuman conditions prevail, we realize how far we have come. There remains no choice but to react.

Art and culture reflect on the world, and also hold up a mirror, reflecting the world. Art and culture communicate beyond language. They can transfer the specific to the universal. They can imitate, reflect and transform. They can comment and criticize. They can proffer means towards change, perhaps towards hope. They cannot, in their very nature, remain silent; art and culture communicate. They happen and grow out of and are created in context.

Every creative moment can be construed as socio-political commentary. 

Tomislav Brajnović, who showed his works at two of Mani d.o.o.’s Echoes from invisible landscapes events in Istria and has contributed an essay to this book, postulates, in the age of “digital man”, the end of individuality in a contemporary Armageddon resulting in a singularity of humankind in the realm of artificial intelligence. There is no space left, he recently said in a conversation with us, for artists to create. What artists have to do is show the status quo, to document and comment on our times. His conceptual approach and expression are one form of reacting to the world from within the cultural sphere. Others include sound and music, painting and photography, language in the form of literature and poetry, and reflection and research.

Echoes from invisible landscapes set out to cover a lot of ground over two and a half years. The various specialities and focuses of the participating organisations were a step towards expressing this diversity, ranging from music and workshops to exhibitions and events, books bringing together literature and history, and applied research bringing together academics and artists in a study of the Austrian Görtschitz valley, its predicament and its inhabitants. 

The interdisciplinary aspect was both enriching and a challenge. It goes without saying that curators, publishers and universities have different ways of working and, in their individual pursuits, different goals. We defined our common ground in an exploration of the region, and our intention to work together across our respective fields and beyond our respective comfort zones. There were a number of tenets and goals that would ensure a cohesive project: the geographical framework; the collaborative, network element; the balance between individual expertise and group endeavours; the involvement of artists and researchers across the network; mobility of participants and the work they would create between partner groups and countries; participation in one another’s initiatives, to name but a few of the structural elements we undertook together.

Throughout the course of the project, we met, as a curatorial group (The Echoes Collective) at scheduled organisational meetings and at a series of network events. Each time we came together, we revisited the title of our project, and re-considered its meaning and implications. 

The landscapes we envisaged during the development of the project were always intended to be both physical and metaphorical. Landscapes are topographies and geographies; the Alp-Adriatic region, as its nomenclature declares, spans the mountains and the sea. Not the Alps all the way to France, nor the Adriatic all the way to Greece, but the places in between. The betweenness resonates strongly with Mani d.o.o. Between is what we do, between is where we are; between is very much our element. In this between space, between the Alps and the Adriatic, we see an enormous breadth of landscapes, fields and forests, plains and valleys. We encounter vegetation spanning the boundary between butter, pumpkin seed oil and olive oil, beer and wine, and societies reflecting the linguistic diversity from Romance to Indo-German to Slavic, as well as the remnants of the 20th Century divisions of the Iron Curtain; a landscape rich not just with vegetation and (agri)culture but also with the traces of ancient and more recent wars and conflict. 

Beyond the physical landscape, we used landscapes to describe metaphorical layers pertaining to place. These layers are manifold and include people in their individual and collective identities, individual stories and collective histories, languages and other modes of expression from music to poetry and song, dialects and idioms. Beyond people, landscapes also refer to the health of the land, to flora and fauna, to nature and human intervention in the form of building, settlements, villages and cities, roads and dams and industry and contamination. These elements resonate across the region, as we saw in the University of Klagenfurt’s applied research into Austria’s Görtschitz valley, that was shaken by the contamination of fields and groundwater with the poisonous substance HCP leaked from a cement factory some years ago, and the asbestos contamination in Tolmin, Slovenia.

The Alp-Adriatic landscape also points, for us, towards other, neighbouring and analogue landscapes. The region is at the heart of our undertaking and at the same time symbolic for other regions and places. The Alp-Adriatic region is the geographical and cultural locus that connects the Echoes Collective member groups, the inspiration for our work, the physical canvas and frame, or stage, for our initiative. It was also our intention, or hope, from the very beginning that this first edition of Echoes from invisible landscapes should act as a pilot project or role model, resonating out to other regions, perhaps towards the Balkans, or Scandinavia, or towards Spain and Portugal, or as a wider, growing network across Europe. 

The invisibility came about in our conviction that we were setting off to explore and uncover aspects of the region and its culture that have become hidden, or are generally overlooked. It also presented a series of simple questions: how to make the invisible visible? What is a landscape you can’t see? What makes the invisible special, or interesting? What happens when we find it? Does it want to be seen? Fundamentally, beyond the poeticism, the invisibility points towards aspects that are forgotten or repressed, layers that conceal other, deeper layers, foundations, perhaps, that reveal something about the people and places we wanted to work with. Cultural work and research, in the manifestation of their “results” in an exhibition or performance, a book or a lecture, tend to want to reveal something, to throw light on something that hasn’t been seen quite that way before, postulating a perspective that might provide a new way of looking, or acting, or being in the world.

Echoes, finally, are resonances. They are necessarily invisible; they are sound, reflections of sound. Their sounding board is landscape; a physical body, a surface, against which the sound-wave collides and is sent back. Echoes are sound and memory; they are the transformation of an original sonic moment, an audible remnant that itself is heard as an auditory event. Echoes, like mirrors in mirrors, have an infinite potential and are dependent on perception. They resonate in an abstraction that carries them from the past, the sound they reflect, into the present and remain, in memory and sonic decay, stretching into the future. Echoes are also repetitions, and remind us that history repeats, as it transforms. They remind us, too, that time is not as linear as we think, and that transformation is not just possible but an organic process. 

At one of our last organisational meetings, Klaus Schönberger from the University of Klagenfurt mentioned that the echoes were no longer sufficient to transport the sum of our work together, and suggested that we had progressed into a realm of imagination, but with very real implications. We take this thought to imply the extent to which our multi-disciplinary collective, in our work towards trans- and inter-disciplinary exchange, enriching one another’s work and learning together, extending the added value to participants, artists, students, researchers and audiences, does indeed share an idea, an imagination, of what our common pursuit has become. 

Echoes from invisible landscapes set out to explore the region through diverse cultural approaches, bringing audiences, artists and researchers together in a series of collaborative events that would create dialogue and new artistic works, travel through the Alp-Adriatic region and transport the elements of the region we discovered in sound, word and image to other people and places. The political situation could not be ignored and became an integral part of our work in progress. Musicians and photographers joined cultural anthropologists in the field, writers improvised in live music performances and activists joined the dynamic discourse, reminding us of the broader context. Exhibitions, workshops, concerts, journeys and public discussions all reflected on the hidden echoes we harvested, nurtured, and shared. The echoes will continue to resonate, and we look into future landscapes, led by the need to retain culture and creative communication at the centre of European society.

Echoes are acoustic or imagined remnants of individual and collective histories, reflected from the surface of natural or constructed surroundings. Landscapes stand for heritage, for culture and the basis of individual and group identity. Culture is that which pervades our landscapesand remains; the vibrating resonance of an echo.

The interdisciplinary, border-crossing exchange between art, music, performance, literature, ethnology and cultural anthropology, culture & curatorial practice can be seen as a complex arch with each partner organization as one of the supporting columns. The roof is what connects us and creates auspices under which cultural exchange is fostered on a level that is larger than the sum of its parts. Each group’s expertise is essential to a greater whole, which is a network in which artistic exchange, mobility, culture and communities are challenged to go beyond their regional and national boundaries.

Zahra Mani & Karin Schorm from Echoes from invisible landscapes, Wieser Verlag 2018