Helsinki International Artist Program: Summer Residency 2020
Supporting Curator, Helsinki International Artist Program (HIAP), Helsinki, FI
As one of two Associate Curators (w/ Marianne Savallampi) I was invited by Helsinki International Artist Programme (HIAP) to select artists for the HIAP Summer Residency 2020, and to work with the selected artists during their 3 month residency period.
in 'IN BETWEEN', HIAP summer Residency publication, (pub.) HIAP, Helsinki, FI
'[...] this publication, as a collaborative endeavor between the curators Marianne Savallampi and Ali Akbar Mehta and the artists-in-residence, is a culmination of an ‘in-between’ time. It documents this time conversations, discussions, email-chains, and chats, collaborative explorations, and confessions – that aim to act as a guide to the methods of working adopted by these artists/ duos/ collectives. For us, it maps a brief moment of time, of histories and memories. For the artists, it is simultaneously a space to reveal and share the processes that go into the making of these varied multi-layered practices, and possibly a speculative imaginary of what lies beyond their own horizons.'
The full pdf as a downloadable file is soon available on the HIAP website.
Below is the Introduction to the publication written jointly by Marianne Savallampi and Ali Akbar Mehta:
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates tells us of the Egyptian God Theuth, [T]he inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. [...] when they came to letters, “This”, said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit”. Thamus replied: [...] “this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth” [...]
- I had been imagining a relaxed summer day in Suomenlinna, when I would be enjoying the light sea breeze on the ferry deck before taking a scenic walk to Hiap. Yet, the Finnish summer weather betrayed me, as usual, resulting in me instead to have to fight the trip through rain and horizontal winds in clothing vastly unprepared for such a task. So I struggled my way to the HIAP offices at gallery Augusta resembling more of a drowned rat than a curator credible enough to make consultations of any kind. Yet, I made a desperate effort to dry my shoes and hair before proceeding to make myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Things started looking up. I then headed up to Anikó´s studio to begin an experiment of “how many cups of coffee can a curator drink before noon”, as in each consecutive studio we were met with a friendly face and brewing coffee.
- It was raining on the day of our first visit to the HIAP residents’ studios on the island of Suomenlinna. I also got lost, thanks to G**le Maps, which directed me along a path marked around the perimeter of studio walls, or was it because I took a right turn, instead of left? As I walked around the outer walls and didn’t find the promised shortcut, I felt a brief yet familiar pang of despair, that sinking feeling when you know you’re going to be late. When I reached Aniko’s studio, with corrective directions by Marianne, and was welcomed by hot tea, biscuits, and what Aniko called ‘racist peas’ – a memorable incident (ask her or us to tell you the story when we meet*)
The development of letters, and then its logical extension of the archive, is heralded as a tool both for memory and forgetting. This binary is old and ineffective – binaries are no longer sufficient to the task of attending to our experiential and epistemological complexities. Our current reality demands an encounter with ‘newness’ that is not part of the continuum of past and present. It creates a sense of the new as an insurgent act of cultural translation, and we are instructed to seek relations not between but beyond the paradigm of the past (existing knowledge) and future (perceived knowledge).
- Our meeting with Jesse began with text, first in the Australian studio (apparently that one has had a tradition and history of Australian artists living in residence, and at this point, it is a 13-year-old tradition already. Jessie is working on a series of texts about the body and the abject objects it produces: shit, pee, vomit, blood among others. To say that it is again raining in Suomenlinna is an understatement, but we make our way to the HIAP Common area because we must – we want to look at books in the library. My umbrella is almost in pieces due to the wind. We chatted more over coffee and eyed the not-so-secretly hidden stash of HIAP alcohol. I made mental notes to tell them to hide it better (I never told them).
- You don’t step into Jaakko’s studio. You tumble down a rabbit hole. Jaakko’s practice is an exercise in gravity-defying world-building. It took us almost the entire duration of our time with him to go through the tessellated folds of his fabric works, drawings, digital works, and videos. Stepping out we literally gasped for air. But while in it, we couldn’t stop looking, inspecting, touching. It is an addictively immersive experience.
Between is ‘at, into, or across’ space/time separating two points/objects/regions of space/time. In the words of Homi Babha, “In Between spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood – singular or communal – have initiated new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself”.
- Johanna Ketola, apart from writing poetry and making films, dabbles in Wiccan practices and devising feminist midnight rituals that experiment with collectivized forms of healing and desacralizing (which I personally find particularly interesting) and dealing with what she called states of exception. I suspect she made the sun come out on the day we were meant to visit here, and for that I’m grateful.
- Suvi and Dasha have been working on ideas of intimacies, during their time at HIAP. They have been doing this across continents and time zones. When we met them it was sunny, but I got lost again, walked around the perimeter of the studio area, mapping around, over and under. When I found them, Marianne was already in the studio, sipping coffee and talking to them about napping as a form of resistance.
And yet, “It is the trope of our times to locate the question of culture in the realm of the beyond” – ‘at or to the further side of’, further both in time and space, past and future, over and under, before and after, arrival and departure. Beyond defines the limits, as being ‘outside the range of, beyond the power/capacity of, outside the limitations of, surpassing’, or as a superlative, as in ‘greater than, more than, exceeding, in excess of, above, over and above, above and beyond, upwards of’ as well as the unknown’.
- Ali sprained his leg, and so we met Minou Narouzi online. We, unfortunately, missed the Tiramisu she had prepared for the occasion of our visit. Minou spoke about the recurrent action of leaving the island and coming back to it. It sounds like a meditative practice reflecting on what you look forward to and what you chose to leave behind.
“The ‘beyond’ is neither a new horizon nor a leaving behind of the past.” For Homi Bhabha, the present now does not signify the break with the past or a bond with the future but has a synchronic presence, the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion. For there is a sense of disorientation, a disturbance of direction, in the ‘beyond’: an exploratory, restless movement caught so well in the French rendition of the words au-delà – here and there, on all sides, fort/da, hither and thither, back and forth.
- Fortunately ever since the first visit, the weather keeps getting slightly better, culminating to the last visit, where we were outside in the sunshine with Jani and Eeva drinking wine that they had made out of coffee (really hoping this will be a future trend). It was a fine ending to the season, as well as perhaps indicative of my worsening coffee addiction. I will definitely miss the excuse of going to Suomenlinna, even during a pandemic, as well as the wonderful discussions I had there with Ali and all the resident artists. Yet, I am hoping that the publication will also serve as a concrete memory of this time that I will cherish.
‘Beyond’ signifies spatial distance, marks progress, promises the future; but our intimations of exceeding the barrier or boundary – the very act of going beyond – are unknowable, unrepresentable, without a return to the ‘present’. Being in the ‘beyond’, then, is to inhabit an intervening space.
- The HIAP Summer Residency, 2020, presents itself as a site to emphasize an interstitial time for many of its artists-in-residence. A slow time – in-between the social and cultural implications of time – characterized by the passing of boats, growing of vegetables, picking of cherries, the building of relationships; where the residents make work – currently in practice and in production – while at the same time taking upon the task of dealing with the complex entanglements and the state of exception that our times bring with them, whether socio-political, posthumanist, somatic or archival; through speculative performances, writings and ritual making exploring poetic modes of research-based practice.
And so this publication, as a collaborative endeavor between the curators Marianne Savallampi and Ali Akbar Mehta and the artists-in-residence, is a culmination of an ‘in-between’ time. It documents this time conversations, discussions, email-chains, and chats, collaborative explorations, and confessions – that aim to act as a guide to the methods of working adopted by these artists/ duos/ collectives. For us, it maps a brief moment of time, of histories and memories. For the artists, it is simultaneously a space to reveal and share the processes that go into the making of these varied multi-layered practices, and possibly a speculative imaginary of what lies beyond their own horizons.