Curator of Theatre and Art festivals
She’s back! It is end of june and Gry Ulfeng enters the door of Impact HUB Siracusa, after one month of absence. She is back from her other home, Norway, where she moderated a seminar at “Stamsund Theatre Festival”, a festival for performing arts, which aims to “facilitate a dialogue between the contemporary oriented theatre professionals, and the small but lively fishing village of Stamsund located in the Lofoten”.
Educated as theatre historian with a focus on german-political theatre, she worked for several years as an assistant professor in the departement for theatre and drama at the university and as a political advisor. After she decided to quit having a “normal job” and instead put those very diverse influences together, to start as a freelance dramaturg and artistic producer for theatre directors and dance choreografers. “Knowledge about the political system, the structure and institutions have been a very valueble understanding to transfer into the independent field”. She started to work permanent with different theatre and dance companies, always with the dream in mind to live abroad.
To really make this possible she applied for money for an own project and got support for this. After having been curator for three theatre festivals before, she decided to run her own one now: a festival based in Norway, in summer 2016. “So now I’m not artistic producer anymore, but working full-time as curator and artistic director for my own art festival!”, she says and laughes loud with the eyes of someone who is truly happy about what she just said.
After having a black tea together in the HUB kitchen and speaking about recent projects, it has become half past seven. I ask her to bring me to one of her favorite places in Siracusa, for doing the interview during the next days. “But we can also do it now”, she responds spontaneously, “there is something I really have to show you and now is the perfect time for it.” – Ok!
Ten minutes later I find myself sitting with her at the sea.
So, where are we now, Gry?
I want to show you several places, but this one of the favourite spots where I use to go almost every day. It is a very tiny beach at the gulf side of the oldtown-island Ortigia and from here you can see a spectacular sunset. This is better than art.
This place, where you have the sea and see the sun going down so close, without any cars, allows me to get a very strong connection to nature just a few steps away from the city centre. It helps me thinking and reflecting in a really good way and gives me peaces. During the day I really need to think about a lot of things and here I have the space for long and slow thoughts.
Is this why you chose Ortigia for living?
Definitely, yes. Because as a small island it is always so close to nature, I can see the sun going up on the one side and then I can go here in the evening and see the sun going down. It is really a place where I have the whole world around me. I love living here.
At the same time it is one of the oldest colonies in Europe, so it’s the oldest civilized place you discover outside the greek world. It’s fascinating I think. This also makes me calm and peaceful, that there is this long history. I can see treasures and pathes from this older time every day. This gives me a lot of strength and I can reflect very well because of those two conditions: the nature and the history of men.
For me it’s almost the same as in a library. When I go to a very good library I also get this quietness inside me. Because in a library it is the crossroad between humans thinking for maybe thousands of years and modern man. If I can really feel that the man has struggled and build and reflected, this makes me calm. I used to live in Rome for a long time, but I can be very restless in big cities. It’s a lot of culture today and civilized places where they have a lot of experimental art and human intelligence, but I can be very restless there. It doesn’t satisfy me. But when the history is so deep and I see this crossroad, this touches something like a religous point in me.
Tell me about your experience with Impact HUB Siracusa?
For my work I need people, co-working, relationships. When I went to the HUB I got this immediately. It was an urban mentality, people who are completely in the centre of the discourse. Not just sustainability but they are high educated in all different branches. We can stimultate each other and it’s a transference of competences for all of us. I expected it, but they overfulfilled it in this place. Really, really! It’s not just the unique combination of education they have there. But it’s also their personalities which make a very unique mix here in the HUB, I think.
I really feel home in the Impact Hub. Also among people, I felt this imediately. It was as if I just took the place. I came there and I asked, “Can I start to work on monday?” and they said: “Come!” And I came there and asked, “Can you set up the internet for me and help me with the printer?” and I just started to work and they were like: “Yes, just do it!” It’s unbelievable.
What can people expect from this place?
Besides the gorgeous people that are working and hosting, I think it’s very important to tell about the amazing architecture and the atmosphere of the working space. You can create very different work situations there: It is a workshop place, it is an office place and it is a very good common room for meetings. And of course the kitchen as social room, where you can work and make food together, it’s wonderful. This is what I will use it for in autumn. I will bring my curator team here and work with them in the common space for the festival.
Tell me something about your current project, the festival!
I am the main curator and I invited four other international guest-curators to work with me in my team. The festival will take place in summer 2016 in Norway. There I try to create something which is beyond institutions but social intervention through art – art as activism. For this reason I have to to be free from capitalistic structures and not be part of the economic game of selling tickets and satisfying public taste. Autonomy is nessecary to combine art and society.
So I am really lucky! Now I can do a festival which is just the favorite thing I want to do. I don’t compromise on anything. And it allows me to live anywhere in Europe, exactly as I want. It feels at the same time as being the luckiest person on earth and having a large responability. I feel the seriousity of this every day. It’s really all or nothing, everything at the same time. But then I come to the sea to think.
In the meantime we took one of the small electric busses that connect Ortigia with the other parts of Siracusa and moved a bit outside the historical centre. Within ten minutes we reach the beautiful seasinde of Siracusa, from where you can have a view on Ortiga. There you can decide whether taking the bikestreet “Pista Ciclabile” or just turn to the coast and hike through the nature. Gry decides to show me the second and we climb over the rocks that are covered with the plants of thyme and capers.
How do you combine working and relaxing?
This place allows me to combine history, nature and my work, the three most important and stimulating things for me, everyday. Here, nature is always just a few steps away from you. So it is possible to switch very fast from one to another mode.
In the morning I use to go running up here on the seaside, in the evening I like to see the sunset. During the day in summer I prefer to work inside, because the sun is really hot for me. But I also like a lot to swim. You can do it in Ortigia of course, but I will show you one of my favorite places: the Solarium Zen. It is less crowded and a very silent and beautiful place.
It turns six o’clock and Gry is bringing me to the last station of our stroll. The solarium, a swimplace with a little bar and restaurant, where we meet her partner Marco. The place has just closed for today and we have it just for us. Together with Marco we have a cold beer, while relaxing our feet at the sea. She didn’t promise too much. The swimplace is located in a natural bay at the feet of the cliffs. We watch the wild sea and again, in the distance, Ortigia. “I am really lucky to live here!”, she says and laughs.
Why did you choose to live in Siracusa instead of any city in Norway?
I have been travelling back and forth between different places in Italy and Norway for twelve years before I decided to have my permanent base in Siracusa, about one year ago. Here you can see a lot of friction. And I love friction and contradictions. I don’t like homogen societies where everything is hidden and it seems so democratic and “ok I’m perfect”, this makes me always a little bit anguish. It is one reason for why I decided not to live in Norway anymore but here. Living in Norway also with a lot of political changes was untolerable, it was time to go to another place in Europe.
Then, for me it was also a question of: Where do you want to gentrify? Do you want to take part of the gentrification of a squad milieu in the suburbs of Oslo or do you want to contribute to the gentrification in a very, very poor part of Sicily that I love? When I think about this, the choice is really easy for me. I like to take part of the gentrification and use my money to stimulate this place, in the border of Europe. In the border where everything is so extensivly full of contrasts.
On the one hand this is very extreme for me, coming from Norway, one of the richest countries in the world. On the other hand it gives me a lot.
Tell me about your decision to move here. How did that happen?
Honestly I was not in decision about moving. I went to Sicily on vacation the first time. I lived in Rome and I wanted to have vacation and to do some work at the same time. So I had to write an article and see all the greek theatres remaing in Sicily for it. I went from one theatre spot to another. When I came to Siracusa and in particular to Ortigia I just decided: “Here would I like to stay”. I just fell in love, very strange.
Thank you Gry Ulfeng!