From 1–8 July 2018, It’s Nice That visited 180 Creative Camp in Abrantes, Portugal. Below we give a round-up of the week spent creatively exploring different disciplines with a distinct point of view.
For a week in Abrantes, a tiny town slap bang in the centre of the Portuguese countryside, creatives from around the world descend to collaborate and chat. Run by TV channel Canal180 in collaboration with the city’s council, a group of participants of around 100, spend a week listening to designers, artists, illustrators and photographers in presentations and hands-on workshops. It’s a week far away from anything really, the rest of the creative world and the technology that goes with it, but purposefully. It gives a chance to create something entirely new.
Now in its seventh year, the 180 Creative Camp is in full swing as an operation. Everyone taking part sits within one of three groups; an academy which encompasses workshops by an array of creatives and those who take part; a factory of invited artists making work to live in the town long after they’re gone; or a festival counterpart where invited bands play each evening.
Not once are computers really involved for participants as Luis from Canal180 explains, “we’ve been realising that what people actually enjoy when they come here, even though I’m not advocating it to be an offline event because it would quite fake to say that, but it’s just this opportunity to go off site,” he tells It’s Nice That. "Being offline for us is like a metaphor for the physical gathering and creating of conversations and opportunities.”
The week begins with a dinner where everyone — speakers, workshop runners, participants and even Abrantes’ deputy minister for culture — is in attendance. The following day activities begin with a tour of the city, which only takes a few hours on foot. Luis from Canal180 leads the tour, joking that we should count how many people we see (barely any), showing us artworks built into the town by previous years’ artists. Most, however, are stolen at some point which he takes as a compliment. One year, a bronze statue that had been in the city for years went missing after it was covered in plasticine by one of the factory’s artists.
It’s here that strangers begin to chat. Most have travelled there alone from corners of the globe, Singapore to Poland or nearby Porto. One participant is from Abrantes herself but isn’t working or studying in the creative field, actually studying management of transportation systems. However what 180 Creative Camp encourages is an environment where she’ll be chatting with an advertising student from another country or a set designer from Germany. One evening, while at dinner at a local restaurant, an activity encouraged by the camp, one boy reveals it’s actually his parent’s restaurant and translates the menu for people from all over the world.
Settled and acquainted, talks take place in this first afternoon acting as a starter course of creative thinking for the week ahead. Speakers include artist Jordy van den Nieuwendijk, director Jack Turits, a duo of photographer pals Devin Blaskovich and George Muncey, graphic designers The Royal Studio, architects Husum & Lindolm and Elise by Olsen, to name only a few. It’s jam-packed but there’s an instant buzz — not common when everyone’s been sitting in front of people talking all day — which is carried through to an evening of cheers-ing beers before heading back to a hostel where everyone, professional artist, a producer from Canal180 or student stays together.
The next day workshops kick off following a programme that will continue for the rest of the week, apart from a day off to go swimming in a nearby lake (a dream). The 80 or so participants are split into four groups and ferried off at the lead of a creative who they heard speak the day before.
Each workshop holds the fort at a different corner of the city. Up a hill, beside a castle and gardens, Devin and George the photographers set up a shop tasking participants with two different projects using two pieces of equipment over the course of the day. One is a large format camera, a rare treat for those not involved in photography, the second is a bunch of polaroids handed out but these must be shared too. The sharing aspect, as George and Devin explain, is to combat how “photography is very solitary,” they tell the group, “but we’re going to be working together.” As everyone in their group is from all over the world they want participants to present their view of Abrantes, creating a unique perspective by combining the thoughts, views, and memories from someone who has lived there for their entire lives, to someone who has been there for under 24 hours. “You’re from Portugal right?” Devin jokingly asks one boy in the crowd, “so you’re used to this shit, you’ll have to work a little harder to find a point of view.”
Across town, Jordy transforms one of the rooms of its university into his Micro Nation workshop, a day-long activity which sees groups decide the fate of a nation including details from how it will look, the rules and values of its population, represented in an exhibition of flags at the end of the week. The different background in participants comes to light again here as no matter what they study, or where they’re from, they’re thrown in together, kneeling on the ground around a massive sheet of paper, heads (and elbows) together, drawing collective ideas.
A short walk away, the town has given a large outdoor space to graphic designers The Royal Studio, but design programmes are at the back of João Castro’s mind placing pots of paint, brushes and graffiti cans in the hands of his class. One half of the group has to portray sculpture, masking tape at the ready as they sketch out an illustrated landscape. The other half is free to play with movement, spraying curved shapes that look a world away from what’s happening around the corner. It’s a workshop that feels a bit naughty if we’re honest, graffiti is rarely an encouraged art form but João just lets everyone run with it, even looking to find his own spot to leave a mark by the end of the week.
The final workshop participants take part in is by Jack Turits, a New York-based director who has worked on most sets from independent films to commercials. Adding something completely different to the rest of the workshops, Jack entrusts his group with a script he’s written for them to visualise, but it has to be filmed through the rear view window of an open top car.
Set up so the rest of the group, who aren’t cast in the film themselves, can watch what’s happening on a screen, everyone is asked repeatedly by Jack on what they think is missing from the narrative at hand. Is it too long for instance, is the protagonist looking at another character for too long, is too little happening? Most involved have never worked in film before but Jack encourages a confidence in each of them, by probing everyone with questions anyone who has just watched a film could answer: “What makes you lean in and watch a film?” he asks the group. “What makes you bored? These are all exactly the right thoughts!”
Before we leave, Abrantes is already transforming into something new from what we saw upon arriving. Sculptures have been built, for instance, by Mads-Ulrik Husum of Danish architects Husum & Lindholm, spotted in different corners of the town. DIY garden structures known as Growrooms are built by teams before local school kids get to fill them with plants.
It’s activities like this that reflect 180 Creative Camp as a whole, an invited artist builds something with participants before it has handed over to the community to live a new life. “We’re spending one week here,” says Luis from the camp, “but there are 51 weeks that we’re not here. It’s important for us to make people involved and make something for when we’re not here.”
Overall it’s a rare week of consistent exciting conversation which is diverse from one chat to the next. This is a result of the camp’s curation of invited artists chosen for their ability to jump between mediums, their outlook, and just someone they really want to meet and learn about. It allows, encourages and enables stories, projects and friendships to develop too.
Earlybird tickets for 180 Creative Camp 2019 are now available here.
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