June 2–5, 2023, Sintra, Portugal: A durational performance/dialogue by 6 Ukrainian artists about Ukrainian culture, history, and the ongoing war, with special guest Food Think Tank (Wroclaw). Produced by Eldorado Teatr (Fundacja Teatru Trans-Atlantyk)

INTERNATIONAL AGENCY FOR UKRAINE is an immersive, site-specific, improvisatory and long-durational performance and sensory installation created as part of the House of Beautiful Business’s annual event, this year entitled The________Dream,  held June 2 – 5, 2023, in Sintra Hills, Portugal. It was collaboratively realized by Ukrainian artists Polina Bulat, Katya Markush, Anita Nemet, Marichka Shtyrbulova, and Khrystyna Slobodianiuk from an original concept by director Paul Bargetto and in conjunction with Ukrainian writers Piotr Armionowski and Julia Gonchar. 

The war in Ukraine is the most important geopolitical event of our time, an earthquake in Europe and the entire international order, yet Ukraine itself remains for most of us in the West a tabula rasa. This was the impetus for the project. A joint venture between artists and citizens of Ukraine, Poland and the European Community, INTERNATIONAL AGENCY FOR UKRAINE sought an artistic and social encounter, a liminal space shaped by coincidence, surprise, and the unexpected where artists and public could meet for exchange and co-dreaming, creating dialogue, fusions, and synergies between Poland, Ukraine, the local Portuguese context, and European culture.

Food design and research cooperative Food Think Tank, based in Wroclaw, Poland, led the sensory design of the project, bringing the taste, smell, touch, and culinary traditions of Poland and Ukraine into the event and performances through edible artwork, site specific interventions, and fusions of Portuguese, Polish and Ukrainian food and plant culture.

Throughout the war, Poland has given refuge and support to millions of Ukrainian refugees. This spirit of hospitality was explored and manifested in Food Think Tank’s five thematic stations: Distillation, celebrating the time-honored tradition of homemade stills in Poland and Ukraine that turn humble potatoes into strong spirits. Pickling/Brining/Fermentation, the science and culture of preservation, a staple of Ukrainian and Polish food culture in jars. The Family Table, a station where guests made their own “chlodnick” a cold borscht a shared tradition in both Poland and Ukraine. Molecular Transformations, featuring experimental food transformations with molecularly altered texture, smell and taste; for example, cheese- or melon-flavored mushrooms. Herbal and Medicinal Culture, an installation featuring medicinal herbs and dried forest fruits.

The performance took place over the course of four full days, mostly across the grounds and gardens of Quinta da Bella Vista, storied former residence of world-renowned author and spiritualist Arthur Conan Doyle, which sits atop the wooded hills of Sintra along the Portuguese coast just north of Lisbon. The fourth day took place along the nearby coastline at the European continent’s most Western tip. The idyllic, history-laden yet mystical, fairytale-like setting was both site and inspiration for engaging the 300 guests of the House of Beautiful Business. 

Performers wore an evolving wardrobe of coordinated yet individualized costumes inspired by traditional designs, and could present as themselves and/or specific characters taken from Ukrainian history or folklore. Performances offered opportunities for conversation as well as wordless individual encounters from poolside or on the manicured lawns and garden patios, spontaneous interventions in and collaborations with the conference’s program, and orphic, haunting voices raised in traditional song, among other manifestations of a co-inhabited waking dream. 

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