FOGO 24.2.2014


In searching for inspiration and a new relationship between a social performance and a look inside yourself, visit the Canadian island of Fogo.
A collection of small studios for creative residences on a small island near Newfoundland have been built. The minimalist architecture designed by Todd Saunders allows screenwriters, architects, designers, dancers, artists and poets to find themselves in the “architecture” of their own interior and draw from it in the process of creation.

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The great Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki made something of a retreat out of the village of Lutosławice, where he indulges one of his greatest passions: dendrology, planting hundreds of species of trees in the park. His works, which are later performed on all the continents, are written in such environment. The prose writer and screenwriter Wojciech Kuczok cherishes mountains and caves, where he finds calm. Many other similar examples can be found. The need to cut oneself off from the daily grind, to slow down and look deep inside is not only felt by artists. We aren’t just converting to “slow food”, but generally trying to slow things down. In order to slow down, it’s occasionally necessary to switch off the world and its tsunami of stimuli. For that reason, in order to work in silence and concentration, we head off to some sort of mythical Arcady, or at least to a retreat which will guarantee us peace and quiet, at least for some time. Jacek Santorski, business psychologist: “We have to recover the equilibrium between extraversion and introversion. Let’s look for a new balance between the element of social spectacle, the external narrative, which naturally has to shine and be superficial, with the element of stopping and looking inside. We are in that fantastic moment, when we are becoming conscious, knowing that we have to restore equilibrium. Right now, companies highly value employees who are capable of functioning efficiently both on the outside and inside themselves. They are people who are extremely sought-after in the post-consumer market reality, who can think strategically, are able to listen and synthesise. Creative, but also with the ability to work in teams.”

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What’s the best place to look at ourselves and the problems we’re facing? From a mountain hut high in the mountains or a studio on the top floor of a New York apartment block? Is an escape from civilisation and submersion in total isolation really necessary? Or perhaps there’s some kind of middle ground.

It looks like the Canadians have come up with it. Everything began with Zita Cobb. This businesswoman, born on the small island of Fogo, 15 kilometres from the north-eastern coast of Newfoundland, wanted to breathe new life – in an original way – into her little homeland, with its population of around three thousand. She realised perfectly that making a living from traditional trades – really fishery – would become increasingly difficult. She decided that the key to rejuvenating the island would be artists of various kinds. After beginning collaboration with Change Islands, founding the Shorefast Foundation, inviting investors (including the Canadian government) on board, and investing over 20 million dollars, a remarkable place: Fogo Island Arts Corporation – a collection of studios for artistic residences – was built.

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Today, Fogo Island Arts Corporation is a genuine residence programme, lasting from three to six months. On Fogo, the residents know what kind of power resides in the fusion of work in solitude with the opportunity to share knowledge and experience with others. Its participants can hole up in one of six free-standing studios, focussing on their own projects but simultaneously remaining in real – not electronic – contact with people, which is offered to them by the conference hotel (under construction). Some of the first participants in a residency were a group comprising architects, artists and designers from Norway, Lithuania and Germany, who gave themselves the task of creating medical clothing for the needs of the local health centre. The artists described not only their work on a blog which was compiled during the residency, but also many other activities. For example, a music playlist which best corresponded to their mood on a given day. A theatre festival of Ibsen’s plays by students of the Canadian National Arts Center was also organised on the island.

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Ondine Cohane, a journalist for the New York Times called the place an enclave of culture. It was enough for the NYT to write about the island for Zita Cobb’s telephone to be ringing off the hook. Regular tourists also began to visit the island. People are attracted to Fogo’s landscape and its modern architecture. How could it be any different, since the well-known architect Todd Saunders – who lives and works in Norway, but grew up in Newfoundland – became involved?

Todd Saunders’s architect’s office wanted to interfere as little as possible in the island’s landscape and the human settlements already there. It was planned to build a hotel with twenty-nine rooms and six autonomous studios along the coast. Local raw materials, and the expertise and labour of local specialists were used. Many elements were constructed in local workshops. Each building is self-sufficient, with its own compost toilet and power source. The studios are not for year-round use; the season begins in the spring and lasts until the autumn. The structures are very geometric: on one side they contrast with the surrounding scenery and on the other they convey its drama. Their shapes express the changeability of nature in the different seasons, but they also make one aware of the changes which have taken place in lifestyle on the island. The buildings face the sea, and are characterised by considerable lightness; thanks to which the artists can enjoy the sense of freedom so necessary for their work.

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The first to be built was the Long Studio, which covers an area of 130 m2. The invited artists reside in the living space, while there are spaces for workshops, seminars, conferences, meetings and parties in the shared area. The large windows and skylights provide plenty of natural light. The building is supported on stilts on the seaward side, and “touches” the concrete foundations on the landward side.

The new plans for Fogo Island is not only architecture, but also a whole raft of events and projects: exhibitions, theatre, film, workshops, renovating old buildings and many other activities which integrate people. “Our projects are based on culture, unlike standard thinking about tourism. Rather than lightning visits and quick relationships, we offer the chance to slow down and focus on the task for a longer period,” says Saunders. In the same way, he’s breaking away from “fast-tourism”, and offering something exciting instead. “When I think back, I can recall my grandmother and mom making quilts throughout the entire winter, using various techniques. We still have the quilts. My daughters use them,” he adds. This lengthy connection is important for the islanders. After the residencies, material traces remain, if only the old buildings renovated with the help of the guests. And anyway, every guest can leave the island not only with memories but also with their own work.

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The residents are also seeing Fogo with fresh eyes. Zita Cobb wouldn’t be herself if – during an interview – she didn’t refer to literature and one of her favourite writers. “Artist can look in a new way at old things,” she declared. And quoted Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. “For everything to remain as it is, it will be necessary for everything to change.”

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