Walk & Talk Azores is the annual contemporary art festival that takes over the Azores for two weeks each July. At this annual affair, artists are encouraged to create their work in the specific cultural and geographic context of the Azores. In this way, you can see the influence of the sea and the volcanoes and all the other elements of the islands in their works.
Visitors to the Azores may not realize on first glance that this remote Portuguese archipelago is the host of a vibrant contemporary art scene. Better known for its black sand beaches, its wild-growing hydrangeas, and its numerous hiking trails, the Azores is usually visited for its natural beauty. But undoubtedly, anyone who has been to Ponta Delgada, the main town on Sao Miguel island, has interacted with the Walk & Talk Azores exhibitions. Some exhibitions are ephemeral, installed just for the festival, and others are performances that can only be appreciated in the moment, but other pieces are left on display all year round. In the end though, all of the exhibitions are temporary because when left outside they are exposed to the harsh elements that shape these islands, and so the natural degradation of the pieces is a part of their lifespan. I had the great pleasure of attending this year’s Walk & Talk Azores festival, the 7th annual of its kind, and I was so fortunate to be able to experience the exhibitions and speak with the artists about their work.
As someone who was admittedly unfamiliar with the contemporary art scene, I was initially a bit intimidated by it. Like many people, I felt it was unapproachable and I didn’t know what to make of it. Well, the solution is that you just need someone to translate it for you! It’s like the first time you read Shakespeare and it sounds like gibberish. But when someone helps you see the meaning behind the words, you learn to appreciate the poetic prose as it is. Similarly, I learned so much during my time in the Azores about what the exhibitions mean, both from the artists themselves and from the curators that could put it into context for me. What I appreciate most about these exhibitions is that they are thoughtful, each one a manifestation of a response to a question. They are intentional, and thought-provoking, and they force you to look past the surface. And so, just as travel always seems to do, it taught me something new and helped me to see the world through a different lens. The exhibitions I most enjoyed at Walk & Talk Azores include:
Curated by Diana Marincu
Silvia Amancei & Bogdan Armanu, Razvan Anton, Belu-Simion Fainaru, Vera Mota, Ciprian Muresan & Gianina Carbunariu, Larisa Sitar, Diana Vidrascu
In the main festival gallery, the Message in a Bottle exhibition calls upon several artists to create an interpretation of how we communicate with the exterior. Using the cliché of a message in a bottle, often associated with isolated islands like the Azores, curator Diana Marincu explores more deeply the ways in which we communicate messages to an unknown receiver and how we relay messages to the future.
Commissioned by Marta Jecu
David Casini, Benoit Maire, Marco Pires
The contemporary art installation Exodus Stations offers a striking contradiction to the historical art and artifacts on display at Carlos Machado Museum. The exhibition pieces are placed all around the museum to invite visitors to reflect differently upon the permanent exhibits. Sometimes they’re silly or ironic, but they open up the dialogue. It brings people into the museum that wouldn’t otherwise visit, and introduces contemporary art to those who wouldn’t otherwise seek it out.
Commissioned by art and architecture firm KWY, Gallery appears as a wooden structure with screens between the frames and volcanic rock under foot. This piece was installed with the intention of being a gathering point that straddles the line between function and style, a space that doesn’t have a specific use so it can take on the purpose that you want for it. Appropriately, it was the source of attention throughout the week, with festival-goers wandering between the screens, inebriated youths cutting the screens one weekend night, schoolchildren playing in it like a sandbox during the day, and eventually a live installation dance performance that culminated in cutting down the remaining ground-level screens.
A garden within a garden, the Nordic Miniature is a miniature exhibit of the Parque Terra Nostra in which is resides. This exotic and expansive park is a popular attraction on the island, and is the result of meticulous planning and curating. The exhibition aims to mirror the curated feel of the park in the miniature, re-imagining the park in the framework of a museum.
Housed in the Instituto Culturel de Ponta Delgada, Carla Cabana’s exhibition is the result of a year in residency during which time she explored in depth the vast photo archives of the Institute. She used 70 photos from the collection of over 17,000, which are photographs of photographs, but she removed the original image. What remains in the photo is the matrix and the gap, a commentary on the image preservation and the history of photographic practice.
The Azores are home to a deeply religious population, so for his exhibition, Ricardo Jacinto chose to re-appropriate the bandstand in the square which is traditionally reserved for religious celebrations. With steel tubes hanging from the bandstand that are softly playing a solo cello performance, it’s a living exhibit that draws in passersby who hear the melody and want a closer listen.
Reimaging the concrete tetrapods on the Ponta Delgada shoreline, Tomaz Hipolito created an exhibition with three spatial exercises, which call into question the composition of the tetrapods and their relation to the sea. In speaking with Mr. Hipolito, he commented that anything you call art can be art, but for it to be important it has to be pertinent. His exhibit includes a stack of metal tetrapod molds, which embody the construction and deconstruction of the tetrapods.
One of the incredible results of Walk & Talk’s efforts to bring contemporary art to this rugged island outpost is the way the community engagement is changing. As the years go by, local community members are increasingly interested in helping with the festival and viewing the exhibitions, and for young burgeoning artists, a whole new world of possibilities is being opened before their eyes. As one of the longtime festival organizers explained to me, the continued presence of Walk & Talk on the island is helping to reduce the vandalism of public walls because Walk & Talk artists use those walls for exhibitions. As a result, the locals are starting to respect those public spaces and respect the art, even if they don’t understand all of it. And he predicts that in the next ten years of Walk & Talk Azores festivals, we will continue to see increased respect and even greater local engagement, which is a great objective if you ask me!
In keeping with their mission to empower artists to create works inspired by the cultural and geographical influences of the Azores, Walk & Talk hosts artists in residency who will work throughout the year to craft an exhibition for next year’s festival. This year’s promising artists in residence are: Pauliana Valente Pimentel, Maya Saravia, and Goncalo Preto. I can’t wait to see how their projects turn out next year! Walk & Talk Azores also hosts a shorter residency for artists to apply their preferred artistic skill to a local craft. These artists use every moment of the two-week festival to learn the local craft, plan a project, and create a product that represents the cultural ties to the Azores and the contemporary art scene that Walk & Talk brings here (read more here). Some of these products are available on the Walk & Talk Azores store, check them out here.