The biannual festival Samhain was held for the second time in Neerpelt in the last weekend of October. For three days, Musica and the Provinciaal Domein Dommelhof joined forces to create an interdisciplinary event at public and less public places in the Limburg village.
For Samhain, the entire village is transformed into a concert hall: performances, sound installations and concerts can be found in the church, empty buildings, the playground, the pub, the woods or simply in the street. Some are announced, others unexpected. Besides the professional artists, local groups and amateurs help to create a fantastic atmosphere for this community art weekend.
Art for and by the local community
‘Co- art’ means art created or partly created by amateur artists, or art that involves a high level of participation from the local community.
Community art is certainly nothing new. In past centuries, art and music were often a community affair. Collective creations and interdisciplinary festivities were held in town squares and public spaces: colourful processions wound their way through the streets, Lutheran chorales were sung by entire congregations and folk dances brought three or four generations together. Even today, many traditional societies do not distinguish between ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’ art.
For Samhain, Musica and Dommelhof tune into the public sphere and urban environment again, inviting the entire population of Neerpelt to work with professional artists.
As many local musicians as possible
This community aspect was at its best on the Saturday afternoon, during the impressive concert in Neerpelt church. Almost 200 amateur musicians from five local groups came together to create one big orchestra: De Piccolo’s children and young people’s choir, the North Limburg Academy (NIKO) concert band and percussion ensemble, the Gregorian choir from Achel and the Cadence drummers from Kaulille.
Four generations under one roof. Never before have so many musicians from the Neerpelt area come together in a single orchestra. They performed a work composed especially for the occasion by Michiel De Malsche. About six months ago, this talented composer from Sint-Niklaas was commissioned to write a piece for local ensembles who would sign up to play it. The result, with the same name as the festival, was an exuberant mass for the dead in which De Malsche makes fine use of the church’s spatial potential.
Border between art and life
The show in the church was preceded by a deafening parade by Cadence Drumline outside on the Marktplein. Obviously you did not have to buy a ticket to see the drummers at work outdoors. Many coincidental passers-by who would not necessarily come to the concert in the church or had not even heard of the festival, stopped to listen.
The borderline blurred between visitors and passers-by; the village square became a stage for unexpected performances by musicians who filled the streets with music.
The other street events had the same effect. The girls from the local dance school performed in a school playground, in the marketplace and in an empty commercial building, residents told local stories to fascinated passers-by and musicians popped up here and there and filled the streets with music. The entire event was coached and coordinated by professional artists: choreographer Koen De Preter, storyteller An Melis and musical improvisers Luc Mishalle and Tim Finoulst
More than just a festival
An event like Samhain needs more than just existing productions and formats on the programme. However there were travelling international sound installations involved, such as The Speakers by British collective Aswarm and the Public Juke Box by the Czech artist Kristof Kintera, but both of these were given local input relevant to the festival.
Nevertheless, most of the projects at Samhain were new creations requiring a different approach. These often arose from unusual new partnerships. A good example is KIDSCAM, for which primary school pupils went to visit a home for elderly people with the composer Thomas Smetryns. The children used the results of these inspiration sessions to make a musical animation film with professional coaching.
The Belgian-Dutch sound art duo Donia Jourabchi and Taufan Ter Weel were also inspired by the local surroundings to create their installation All That is Solid. They took two groups of children on an excursion in Neerpelt to record surprising sounds. The result was a remarkable installation in an empty shop.
Storyteller Joke Emmers found the inspiration for a musical and theatrical partnership with pianist and digeridoo player Johan Taens in the stories she heard locally. The streets of Neerpelt were also shown in a different light. Stijn Lauwers coached various classes at the art academy to create images of the village’s future (Postcards from the Future), based on old postcards and contemporary village life.
Listen here to Radio 2 Limburg’s report on ‘Joke Emmers vertelt’.
Between past, present and future
The theme of Samhain 2014 was ‘memory and transformation’. What do people remember about the past? How have life and the surroundings changed? How will they continue to evolve in the future? This theme also ran through the multidisciplinary evening productions in Dommelhof. On the Saturday evening, old or found image material was raked over to create new meanings in Cinéma Invisible (with Heleen Van Haegenborgh, Jasper Rigole and others) and the repetitive Congo Stamps by Simon Halsberge and Wiet Lengeler.
The previous evening, Elise Caluwaerts and Jurgen De bruyn from Zefiro Torna and the puppet theatre company Ultima Thule performed their show NERF on stage. This magic-realist production was all about human memory as well, and the impact it has on the present. The past and future give us a different perspective on the present.
‘Retro DJs’ Thomas Smetryns and Benjamin Dousselaere demonstrated exactly that in the pub ’t Vlaamsch Huis. With their78 rpm records and an old record player from the Radio Museum in Overpelt, they bathed the charming interior of the pub in nostalgia for two evenings running.
Watch the festival after-movie here:
Samhain ’14 – Co-Art Festival is a community art festival organized every two years by Musica and Dommelhof. The festival was held from Friday 31st October until Sunday 2nd November 2014 at various locations in Neerpelt.