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 - a guide for art residencies in rural areas

I.Meet the land and their kin - an introduction

motto: "Nu cultivați pepene dupa cartofi." - "Don’t grow watermelon after potato." - internet advice from a grow-your-crop-profitably website 

The Casa Verde pool was the first encounter with Bechet's residents and the nearby villages. Being the first check-in point between the Romanian and the Bulgarian Southern border and on the EuroVelo6 Route, Casa Verde serves as a vital pit stop for folks crossing the country while they seek a much-needed holiday on the Greek islands. It also functions as one of the most significant community binders during the summer season, bringing together the locals who have migrated abroad to seek better employment opportunities for a short reunion of their friends and families. Hence, in addition to the watermelon season, summer is also when people return home. Between the constant water jump competitions and the latest Romanian pop hits, I could pick up a conversation between two high schoolers arguing about the newest franchise supermarket opening in the nearby village. “Is it a Profi Super or a Profi Loco?” asked one, “because, you know, if it’s a Profi Loco, you won’t find many things.” What struck me more specifically was the reversed paradigm between what I thought when I passed by the newly open shops along the way and these guys’ enthusiasm—for me, coming to a rural area such as the Southern Oltenia region meant local fruit and vegetables, a galore of organically grown crops despite the severe desertification phenomenon the land confronts with. A nostalgia-drawn image of the countryside where everything recirculates sustainably, where everything from a household is being used - basically, a place of zero waste. For them, the reverse applied, given the hardships of agriculture emphasized by the lack of a proper irrigation system (despite the proximity of the Danube River). They wanted the comfort of picking the produce they needed from the store, not from their field or backyard, a mirage of getting in line with the more developed urban conglomerates they were commuting to and fro for school or work. The second encounter with a long-lost Bechet was through Alexandru Niculescu’s stories. He and Daniela Pălimariu proposed a rural residency in Bechet by refurbishing a house he had inherited from his grandmother - Watermelon Residency. Back then, the house was a general store called Firimitura (Crumb). Now, besides the living area, it can accommodate artists’ studios for those willing to research or create without having the pressure of being productive. I was skeptical about what a rural residency could offer, especially in a ghost town, as Alex himself admitted it was, facing his memories from when he was a teenager with the now reality. I was also intrigued by how a rural residency could help the locals prosper and how we can build a long-lasting relationship with a community in a collaborative, not condescending manner. Having these coordinates in mind, the first edition of Watermelon Residency started on the 3rd of July. It lasted three weeks, enough time for our seven invited artists to taste the Bechet living. Their different practices and approach to working with the land and the locals allowed Bernat Daviu (ES), Milica Mijajlovic (SR), Eduard Constantin (RO), Olivia Mihălțianu (RO), Stoyan Dechev (BG), Liliana Basarab (RO) and Cristian Răduță (RO) to dialogue with a new environment and to continuously collaborate with the locals, to gather an extensive perspective on healthy community practices. The residency offered an insight into a neglected yet fascinating layout, both ethnically and geographically, and proposed, employing interdisciplinary collaboration, talks, and workshops, an articulated point of view on the status quo of the space and the possible directions of its cultural and artistic renewal. One of the Sandwich team's main challenges was finding ways to remain close to the local community and organize the stay sustainably, using local resources, green transportation, and involvement in the day-to-day activities. In the following chapters, we crystalized our thoughts after the three weeks in Bechet. We converted them into a guide that would benefit other teams willing to start a similar endeavor and our future selves, given our wish to continue the residency in the following years. Maria Bîrsan

II.The food journey

 - coming in September

edited by Sandwich, Bucharest

Maria Bîrsan

Alexandru Niculescu

Daniela Pălimariu

contributors: Bernat Daviu, Milica Mijajlovic, Olivia Mihălțianu, Stoyan Dechev, Eduard Constantin, and Liliana Basarab

Watermelon Season is part of the Program “Watermelon Residecy” 2023.
A cultural Program co-funded by the Administration of the National Cultural Fund. The Program does not necessarily represent the position of the Administration of the National Cultural Fund. The AFCN is not responsible for the Program content of the project or the manner in which the results of the Program may be used. These are entirely the responsibility of the funding recipient.

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