In July 2020, the Mixed Reality hybrid exchange residency took place in three countries, with nearly fourty participants and one onine exhibition.
This is what happened.
Look, this residency had hardly any control and it turned out fine.
No, that’s not true. It felt like there was no control some times, but that is because of how harmoniously chaotic collaborative creation tends to be. So, let’s talk about the Mixed Reality 2020.

The word ‘reality’ leaves us a weird taste when we read it. Add ‘mixed’ to it and it gets even weirder. But our reality has always been mixed. This is a universal feeling, rather than something exclusive that artists and participants of European programmes feel. Mixed Reality 2020 has been a pioneering virtual exchange programme for young artists from Germany, Italy and Greece. It is a collectively-creative project that meant to compensate for the participants’ inability to travel during this period.

During my interview with Yves Sanwidi, one of the organising members of the Mixed Reality residency he said that ‘The title derives itself from the mix of virtual and real reality, brought together under the roof of one transnational exchange. [...] Let’s take the example of two artists, cooperating: They worked on the same concept in different countries, however they were not aware their partners had understood certain aspects of that concept completely different from them. Once they go to exchange their results, the communication is needed again. Realities mix on many levels in a project like that.’

Yet, despite this current ‘mixed reality’ being expressed in a fusion of virtual and physical experiences, for the members of the participating ROOTS & ROUTES International, reality has always been mixed. Mixed between the reality of what happens on stage and what happens backstage; mixed between the shooting and the screening of a film; mixed between the moments that they live and try to find a way to show and tell their audience about them in this programme.

It is typical for Erasmus+ youth exchange programmes to involve the relocation of groups of young participants to the programme-designated location. Mixed Reality 2020 was put together within the framework of the Generation Europe initiative, an international network of youth work institutions and associations. This initiative pertains to international partnerships -in this case a trilateral partnership, between Germany, Greece and Italy, with ROOTS & ROUTES Cologne, Synergy of Music Theatre and Centro di Creazione e Cultura to host an exchange in their country, as well as work on matters of local importance.

This year’s exchange would have been the third between this specific partnership, and it would have been hosted in Germany. Teams from each country would travel to Germany where they would engage into collaborative, international projects. It would all lead up to a performance in Cologne, the hometown of ROOTS & ROUTES Cologne, which happens to be the hosting organization. With the travelling restrictions however, everything was upturned, but did not come apart. Gabriele Cinti, another participant of the Mixed Reality 2020 residency, and the officially elected Community Council Representative for the community of young artists within the RRIA network, stated that our current situation ‘is just a new reality and we need to learn how to deal and what kind of change we need to make to better adapt as a human species.’

The groups in all three countries worked in a fusion of ways, adhering to the residency’s title: firstly in local workshops and groups, then using the online platform Miro for forming international creation groups, with each one developing a multimedia and polytropic result on a theme. For the final work to come alive, something novel is added: the open-source software Pageflow alongside a narrative approach welded the individual works, giving this artistic conglomerate a common (virtual) ground to stand on and grow.

The young artists and organising team managed more than they set out to accomplish, with a fully digitalised exhibition available on the immersive and interactive platform Pageflow, and organising a two-day innovative exhibition in Cologne with parts of the creative work on display. For many of the participants, the need to reach out to each other was not magnified by the possibility of making their work public by posting it online, but rather the innate urge to communicate their emotions and experiences; not only to the public, but to the other participants as well.

As Gabriele evocatively illustrates it, ‘ROOTS & ROUTES residencies provide workshops, materials, coaching to all the participants, but at the same time the participants are totally free to propose, organise and customize their artist in residency experience. It is like a family where everybody can help each other depending on their qualities.’ This is probably the kernel of the Mixed Reality residency. Everything that the participants had buried inside, their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and in some cases even themselves due to the lockdown, all these budded and sprouted synergically. Mixed Reality gave its participants the chance to grow what they had inside them and the result is a secret garden that holds what couldn’t be kept inside.

The residency meant giving up control and embracing the ‘new reality’ in any way the participants could. Variating time zones, different climates and immeasurable variables were all part of the residency but they were dealt with in any way the participants could. But realising that everything can be overcome when needed, is not the main takeaway for the residency’s participants.

‘The greatest challenge was accepting the feeling of not being “in control” as you usually are. Of knowing that someone, some hundreds of kilometers away is working on the same things you are, but without the option of developing within presence of each other - advancing on anything together can rely on so many things: nonverbal communication, the occasional “surprise of the moment” and many more factors. I guess that’s also something that we learned,’ Yves stated, summing up aptly not only the struggle but the reward of this residency, and all other similar residencies.

Even when getting in touch was a struggle and having to vicariously present your vision to your group, the young artists followed through with all their ideas and projects. Residencies like this are not simply put together to collaboratively orchestrate exhibitions together. Residencies like this, from ROOTS & ROUTES Cologne, the Synergy of Music Theatre, and from Centro di Creazione e Culture aim at connecting young artists and youth workers, to facilitate their interaction and communication. So all the work of the programmes and residencies up to this point has led to the success of Mixed Reality 2020 - not through the exhibition, but through the participants.

Like we said before, our reality has always been multifaceted, and it has always been mixed. This isn’t the work of just artists or youth workers, but people who want to see their friends, people who want to travel and who will strive to make do with what they are given. One of the most inspiring facts in this story is the tenacity and the drive of all the organisers and participants to see this programme through. It wasn’t something that had to do with monetary rewards, rather than a realisation for its participants that they need to communicate everyone’s reality even under the current circumstances. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ as it is well-known and the emotions, facts and experiences shape our creations. In this mixed reality exhibition it isn’t only a take on multiple aspects of our lives but the world. So, this was not just a reality-shaping and reality-sharing frame of mind, but a worldbuilding conception from everyone who was part of this project. A worldbuilding where we can interact with each other digitally for now, and hopefully up close in the future.

Until then, everything that needs to be said, has been communicated through the participants and their stories.

You can find the Pageflow page with the results from Mixed Reality 2020 here.

A text by the RRED Team


An article by Thanos Kyratzis

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