The word “abracadabra” is believed to have magical powers. When uttered from the mouth of a magician, it becomes a magical formula for incredible changes and transformations; it may enchant, disenchant, cast a spell, cure a fatal disease, bring luck, transform a Prince Charming into a frog or an old witch into a beautiful girl, a snake into a fabulous bride, a wealthy kingdom into the desperate ruins of a civilisation. Or vice-versa. It has power over reality, it is beyond logic and ratio, i.e. in the world of the imaginary administered by imagination, dreams, beliefs… Has the pessimistic reality stripped us of the hope for a better world, a more beautiful future, which lingers deep down inside every individual?

Due to the political and economic collapse that threatens us every day as we open our eyes and look into the world, the most precious corner of the human mind – where the utopias, ideas and wishes for the righteous, the beautiful, the magical and the different thrive – becomes ever more distant. The foundations of Western civilisation have been considerably infected by a series of rapid changes rushing headlong into the unknown, which, upon reflecting on our own future and destiny, provoke collective fear and anxiety. The reality conditioned by media additionally aggravates the general issue of lost direction, the feeling of insecurity and of being cast out. When, in his lecture Art and Life, Life and Art, the artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña says that the politicians have taken our imagination and replaced it with fear, he triggers with a poisonous arrow a mechanism for confronting disturbing questions and feelings that are not only individual but collective. The euthanasia of imagination can also be noted in various professionals who offer in media their visions and answers to the questions as to what – given the current socio-political and economic condition of the local and global community – will the near future bring. Failing to provide an answer, the experts all too often ‘direct’ us to clairvoyants or to other such similar alternative diplomats.

In this apocalyptic time, when predictions of the end of the world or of the system as we know it are ever more frequent, we chose the topic “Abracadabra” in order to – through various artistic projects and disciplines – address the constructs of socio-political and individual transformations. Rather than immersing ourselves in the transcendental, we were interested in the relation between the rapidly changing contemporary times and the construction of new mechanisms and positions in society and the individual alike. We were drawn to the mystics and magic as a particular critique of the pessimistic state of things.

The same as every year, the festival’s programme is transdisciplinary and encompasses artists of various generations with projects that have a strong experimental tone, an interest in genre hybridity, participation, etc. We strived to supplement the cultural mosaic of events with practices and artists not very often seen in the local cultural sphere and that provide a hint of different(ness).

This year’s novelty is a residence programme, organised in collaboration with Tobacco 001 Cultural Centre, hosting the Polish-German artist Justyna Koeke. She will present three projects, unusual yet witty artistic actions distinguished by a specific aesthetics inspired by a curious fairy-tale world. Another novelty is a post-festival event, the co-production exhibition Murder, My Sweet by local artists Meta Grgurevič and Urša Vidic, who revived the heroines of Film Noir in a site-specific installation at Vžigalica Gallery.  The exhibition NadaLandia, held at the Slovenska Kinoteka, will bring documentary shots of the most fabulous inhabitants of the City of Women over the last ten years, captured by the lens of our honorary citizen and photographer Naga Žgank. The principal exhibition, entitled Spellbound, was conceived and co-created by curator and the festival’s programme collaborator Predrag Pajdić. It is an international group exhibition of 14 artists presenting magical formulas, mysterious rituals, unusual transformations, revelations and reflections about the future, past and present. He selected those artists who, with their work, try to understand, experience and influence the world through magic, the mysterious art of altering realities, either by channelling supernatural forces or through knowledge of occult laws unknown to mainstream science.

The exhibition is accompanied by a broad and most diverse performance programme. With her durational performances in Tabor Park, the Irish artist Áine Phillips will create a magical forest of mysterious girls, whilst Miwa Matreyek will traverse with her body the fantastical oceanscape of fabulous animation. In her extravagant quotation Ma√15' {idiosyncrasy}| sin x= ly-fx²¯, Dasniya Sommer combines Japanese rope bondage with elements of classical ballet. Sandra Sterle’s multimedia performance deals with a more socially engaged subject: as the figure of the Virgin Mary, the artist draws attention to the specific relations between religious icons and social aspects of capital accumulation in the countries in transition. The Mexican performer Violeta Luna radically opens the discourse of death broadcast in her country by dark designs of power in the name of national security. Heather Cassils, an artist and bodybuilder, drew inspiration for a physically challenging performance in the mythological prophet Tiresias of Thebes, who was transformed into a woman for seven years. She will melt a neoclassical Greek male torso carved out of ice with her body heat and enact the gender transformation.

The performing arts programme offers a handful of interesting projects. In her project Nobody Is Innocent, the Croatian choreographer Nataša Mihoci explores the role of media and pop culture in the process of the premature sexualisation of young girls’ bodies and simultaneously draws attention to the radical curtailment of childhood and innocence. The unclassifiable maverick artist Liz Aggiss has been active in the field of choreography and dance for 30 years; in love with grotesque dance and British music hall, she focuses on her aging, post-menopausal body and exhibits on stage the survival tactics. The role of the body on stage – the interaction of a moving body and interactive virtual space – is also addressed in Avatar by the Spanish group Erre que erre. The famous and radical La Pocha Nostra, an interdisciplinary Los Angeles-based art collective, has created for the City of Women a new adventure: La Pocha Remix: Psycho-Magic Actions For A World Gone Wrong. It is a combination of experimental theatre, dance, ritual performance, shamanism and activism with a series of ‘corporeal transformations’, including the sampling of performance classics and new work, addressing and trying to make sense of the current culture of far-right isolationism, xenophobia and the violence of organized crime. You may participate at the workshop mentored by Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Violeta Luna and Erica Mott, who will share with you their eclectic performative techniques, challenge you to develop hybrid personas, images and ritual structures based on your own complex identities, personal aesthetics and political concerns. With the Emanat Institute, we have also organised the cabaret performance workshop held by the performer Marisa Carnesky and the musician Rasp Thorne. Your theatre ideas and short cabaret or physical theatre pieces may become a part of the final performance.

In the music programme, there are three musical delights. The first is Iva Bittová, a magician on a violin with a dreamlike voice who, accompanied by her longtime collaborator, guitarist Vladimír Václavek, creates magical soundscapes. The second is Chinawoman, a rising star on the global alternative music scene, a Canadian with an exotic Russian accent and the performer of sentimental melodies with a touch of shadowy glamour. And finally, Soap&Skin, the experimental musical project of the young Austrian musician Anja Plaschg, who was being dubbed a “Wunderkind” after only a few concerts. Her music and voice come from the dark side of the human soul. The voice coming from the edge of the abyss…

The festival’s film programme brings several segments. Let us draw attention to the retrospective of the great lady of French cinematography, Marguerite Duras, the views of Arab directors who found themselves in the arena of the “Arab spring” and present current political stories from Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia, and the story by Polish director Dorota Kędzierzawska about three young fugitives who look for their place in the sun in the “promised land”.

And there’s more to it than that! In addition, we have prepared some other projects and small surprises. You are warmly invited to step into the magical City of Women!

Mara Vujić, Artistic Director of the 17th International Festival of Contemporary Arts – City of Women