Heidi Grönstrand: Art and science bring structures into view

Stockholm University’s literature lecturer and researcher, Heidi Grönstrand, thinks that you need to have time for surprises in the world.
Photo: Magnus Laupa

A few times a week, literary researcher Heidi Grönstrand closes the door behind her and walks into the forest. The forest is a place where work can be forgotten for a moment. A similar opportunity for quieting down can be found at the Saari Residence, whose Advisory Board Grönstrand has been a member of since the end of the last year.

“Nowadays, space for winding down is needed more than ever before. The Saari Residence has the opportunity of communicating that you have the permission to stop to think and focus on art,” she says.

Science from art

Grönstrand’s weekday consists of travelling between Stockholm and Parainen, but variety is the spice of life. She will be spending the next year working as a literature lecturer on the subject of Finnish language at Stockholm University. At the same time, The Multilingualism of Literature in Contemporary Finland research project is continuing, in which researchers and artists have been thinking together about how multilingual authors use language in their works, for example.

Multilingualism has been a familiar part of Grönstrand’s life since her childhood. As a child, she would devour books in Finnish and Swedish, but switching between two languages in a Finnish-speaking school did not turn out to be entirely straightforward. In literature studies, the multilingualism of writers did not receive attention. Grönstrand wanted to find out why.

“Henrik Tikkanen is a good example. He is known as a Swedish-speaking Finn author, but his writings include several works in Finnish,” describes Grönstrand.

The multilingualism of authors such as Tikkanen is overshadowed in Finland by a desire to foster the ideal of monolingualism.

“Traditionally, literature in Finland has had the task of supporting, advancing and sculpting such traditional national values. That has often meant that only Finnish-language literature is advanced. This old understanding of language should be let go of.”

Breaking boundaries

Working together with artists is not new for Grönstrand. She has edited the ‘Både och, sekä että’ (Både och, Both… and) essay collection together with Kristina Malmio, in which both researchers and artists write about multilingualism through first-hand experience.

The collaboration has been fruitful.

“This new way of working with artists has encouraged me to have a more relaxed relation to the longstanding and strict barriers in literary research, such as what is text and who is an author,” she explains on the phone from Stockholm.

Interest in art is part of the workmanship of someone who researches it.

“I can’t imagine what exactly a literary researcher does if they are not interested in art very broadly,” she says, laughing.

It is the task of artists and scientists to make visible the societal structures that lie behind personal experiences. A desire to bring down barriers comes up frequently when Grönstrand talks. One example she uses is the divisions between scientific fields, which sometimes reflect academic traditions more than reality.

“Phenomena in the world do not divide into any clear-cut categories. I have learned from the Saari Residence and other projects that you can approach the same thing in several ways. The questions that artists and researchers ask from themselves and their work are the same,” she states.

The differences arise from how the questions are answered: the researcher looks for solutions using the scientific method, the artist does so through creative work.

Dare to be surprised

Grönstrand thinks that art and science encourage us to think about things in a new way. They are united by the desire to both ask questions and answer them.

“The danger is that the discussion about the way of the world becomes one-sided. I know, too, how easy it is to go into the world of networks, hurries, emails and performance. There is so much talk about the economy in the world that it is good to also talk about things in other ways,” she describes the prevailing discourse.

It is important to have time for surprises in a world that demands efficiency. The Saari Residence has offered experiences that could not have been planned beforehand, Grönstrand explains. As an example, she talks about the art that fills the residence’s grounds, which you can bump into in surprising places when walking around.

Especially memorable is an evening in August, when the sky filled up with shooting stars.

“The residence has reminded me that you should have room for spontaneity.”

 

Encounters arise when… there are people present.

Encounters do not arise when… you do not want to surrender to the flow.

The most significant encounters of my life… have taken place on trips and travels. A new environment reveals new sides of even a familiar group of people.

 

BIO

Heidi Grönstrand, 47, is the University of Turku’s literary researcher and literature lecturer at Stockholm University.

She lives in Stockholm and Parainen with her husband.

She spends her free time doing outdoor activities and gardening.