Galway and Rijeka 2020: light for confinement

Image: Christopher Lund and Cormac McMahon


The ECOC initiative was launched by the European Union in 1985 to highlight the richness and cultural diversity of Europe but also to strengthen the international visibility of the selected cities. The 2020 ECOCs are Galway (Ireland) and Rijeka (Croatia). Galway, with a rich literary, artistic and musical tradition, is the cradle of Irish culture but is also a modern, international city with high digital development. Its 2020 programme is strongly linked to its Celtic tradition; hence the leitmotif “Let the magic in”. Rijeka, a Croatian city bathed by the Adriatic Sea, is known for its bohemian atmosphere and its abundance of festivals and is home of the to the largest port of the country. Its programme is around water, work and migration. Both cities have had to suspend their activities by cancelling all the events scheduled for this period. 

This confinement leaves us, however, with two very suggestive images. In Galway, the Savage Beauty project by Finnish artist Kari Kola, due to be presented at a public event from March 14 to 17 to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, has been digitized so that it can be admired by the public from their homes. The installation derives its name from the mountains of Connemara on which the installation is projected, and that Oscar Wilde termed “wild beauty”. The work proposes a journey of colour and light over these mountains with 1,000 lights over 5 kilometres. In the artist’s words: “Since I cannot paint, I paint with light. I’m also interested in light beyond its artistic value. Everything on the planet is based on light. I’m working with scientific projects and new futuristic techniques. With abstract light, there are as many stories as there are spectators. If I can choose, I always work with nature because it’s the best art we have.”  You can watch the video here

In Rijeka, the light installation ‘Refugees will come’ by the Azerbaijani artist Badi Badalov, also leaves us a message full of symbolism, in the form of a light installation on the top floor of the Delta 5 building than can be seen from various points of the city. Through this work, the artist pays homage to all the people who have had to leave their homes, launching, from the city’s sky, a premonitory message about the refugee crises. Badi Badalov’s art shows how wars and other conflicts force people into constant mass migration. Implicitly, his work appeals to the need to make visible an inescapable and dramatic reality that is plaguing Europe. 

In short, both Galway and Rijeka leave us, in a fortuitous but eloquent way, two images with two crucial messages: firstly, the need to dignify nature, for which it is necessary to protect the natural resources that surround us; secondly, the need to empathise with migration, which should be a top concern for all of us, either as citizens or as creators and spectators. 

Now more than ever, the ECOCs will have to respond constructively to issues such as respect for the environment and migratory crises; they will also have to pay particular attention to the digitisation of culture, to the way we relate to artists as public (and vice versa) in public and private space, and to the fight against precarity in the cultural sector. It has never been more necessary to support the European project and, within the framework of this project, to claim culture as a vector of sustainable development and cohesion between peoples as now. To quote André Malraux, let us not forget that “Culture is what, in death, remains alive“.   

Ongoing project: Capacity Building in the European Capitals of Culture  

Since October 2019 , together with AEIDL, CAE, ENCATC and UCLG, Interarts has been working on the project “Capacity Building in the European Capitals of Culture”, promoted by the European Commission to support the ECOCs through capacity building and peer learning activities. The call will is now launched for professionals who wish to join our group of experts. 


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