In Praise of Residencies: Greetings from Saari

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It is now my second week at the Saari Residence in Finland, an institute to support the arts, which is generously provided for by the Kone Foundation. Artists, writers, film makers, choreographers, composers, translators and researchers can apply to reside here for two months to concentrate on their work in the peaceful Finnish countryside and I am one lucky recipient.

‘Saari’ means ‘island’ in Finnish, after the fact that it was once surrounded by the Baltic sea. That was until about a thousand years ago, when the land began to rise. The island heritage suits the ethos of the place. As artists, we are all of us islands, each working quietly and solitarily within our own disciplines but here we are by no means cut off. Informal meetings with the other residents over meals, during our weekly brunch designated for sharing our work and discussions with the community artist Pia Bartsch and invited artist Hanneriinna Moisseinen, allow you to make as many connections as you’d like.

This meeting of people draws on the idea that, in the past, people would have congregated around a well to gather water and to discuss and exchange ideas. This metaphor is essential to Saari’s philosophy, promoting an exchange of perspectives and practices and fostering interdisciplinary work. Many Saari Fellows have gone onto collaborate, such as sound poet Dirk Huelstrunk and dancer Milla Koistinen, visual artist Oreet Ashery and Timo-Juhani Kyllönen and most recently the composer Aki Ito and poet Eira Stenberg. Already, within my group, there is a sense of camaraderie, a recognition of similar temperaments and intellectual ideas – though our mediums are very different – and perhaps, potentially, the seeds of collaboration.

But Saari isn’t just an environment to nurture the artist – though it certainly does that – it is also a living artistic space where previous residents have displayed and deposited their work, their gifts to Saari’s legacy. Photography, artwork and sculpture fill all the buildings, and outdoor installations merge with the Saari landscape. As I write this now, I stare across at Gerry Loose’s artwork Sanctuary, a circle of trees, only saplings now, though I imagine how they will grow. And I think of all the artists who have been ensconced within Saari’s grounds, who have similarly grown and developed.

Remote landscapes are very important in my work and to the production of my work. Surrounded by woodland, with the sea close by, I feel my ideas can breathe here. This is my second residency now and like my first, it isn’t just the time or the physical space, the distance from day to day commitments and obligations, which allows the most for creative growth – though they are important factors. For me, it is the headspace it provides, the clearing out of all the extraneous material you carry around, of getting lost, selfishly, in the world you are creating. And when you do resurface, you find yourself among other creators, all of whom know what it’s like to get a little lost too. So fellow writers, I cannot urge you enough to consider applying to Saari and to read more about the residency and the work of my fellow residents, please click here.

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