At the same time as information about the epidemic in the Wuhan region reached Saari Residence, five artists and one researcher working under a grant from Kone Foundation arrived in Mynämäki in Southwest Finland. The group about to start their two-month period at Saari Residence included dance artist Zden Brungot Svíteková (SK/N/CZ); poet, translator and film-maker Jazra Khaleed (Greece); visual artist Ginta Tinte Vasermane (Latvia/Netherlands); postdoctoral researcher Salome Tuomaala-Özdemir (Finland) and the working partners, artist and producer Jennifer Katanyoutanant (USA/Thailand) and artist and architect Grace Wong (USA/Hong Kong). In addition, Essi Kausalainen’s eight-month long period as the Saari Invited Artist will continue until the end of April.
Just a few days after the arrival of the new residents, the coronavirus epidemic turned into a pandemic and its effects began to appear also in the safety of the Saari Residence and the surrounding countryside. At this stage, the Saari Residence reacted by following the guidelines of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, which emphasised the importance of hand hygiene and called for caution in social contacts. Contacts with outsiders was reduced, and some of the guests meant to arrive at the residence were not able to come due to the travel restrictions already imposed. The regulations gradually grew stricter, and a few residents who arrived in Saari later were quarantined for two weeks. Some of the Saari’s staff also started working from home. The staff arranged food deliveries from a local shop to the residents based on their order and took care of their well-being by every means possible.
The coronavirus pandemic made it necessary to consider the safety of the artists on an entirely new level, as well as various options for safeguarding their health. The staff followed announcements from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare closely, as well as the Government’s new measures and restrictions, and eventually, after the closure of the Uusimaa region, those working at the Saari Residence were offered the opportunity to return home early and continue their work at home. During this process, the idea of a home residence was born, and the group were offered the opportunity to complete their residency at home under a grant. In addition, Kone Foundation responded to the situation by organising on a short schedule an application round to a home residence for artists whose work and plans had fallen through due to the pandemic. The Foundation received nearly 3,500 applications.
Redefining residence activities
The pandemic is challenging us to rethink the fundamentals of international residence activities and what they mean for artists, researchers and their work. At the heart of international residence activities is the idea of travelling around the world to work in a new environment where you can see your artistic processes in a new light. Another basic idea related to residences for artists is getting away from it all to make room for new things to emerge without the obligations of everyday life.
One of the Saari Residence’s special features is its Well concept, which allows those working at Saari to encounter each other at the residence, both as individuals and within the framework of their artistic work. How could the Saari Residence’s sense of community be replicated in a home residence? How could we offer experiences of encountering each other and sharing with each other? How could the home residence provide multi-faceted experiences with multiple voices and a sense of getting away from it all while at home? How is it possible for a residence to leave its mark on the artist also as a location without the physical experience? The concept of the home residence will be an interesting and very important experiment in the planning of the Saari Residence’s ecologically sustainable activities.
Right from the start of the operations, weekly presentations have been one of the most important opportunities for getting together at the Saari Residence. During these presentations, each person working at the residence shares their progress and their thoughts about their work with the others. At the same time, the presenter receives valuable feedback, new perspectives and ideas from representatives of other fields of art and also science. These presentations, which take place every Tuesday, have been organised as Zoom video calls since March, and the residents have also arranged meditation sessions and dinners via Zoom. While these encounters are now virtual, their basis, of course, lies in the residents meeting each other physically when they arrived at the Saari Residence at the beginning of their residency, before the epidemic forced them to leave.
Home residences will challenge the concept of residency and will also open up new ways of doing things. For the home residencies of this summer, specific groups will be created for each residency period for the purposes of communication using the Slack app. Slack is a discussion platform for various types of working communities. In addition to messages, it allows the participants to call each other and make video calls, as well as share files and their screens with the other members.
Changes in work during the residence
Almost all the artists who worked at the residence during the pandemic had to rethink their work and working methods. The majority of them also returned to their homes as soon as suitable return trips became available.
During her stay at Saari, dance artist Zden Brungot Svíteková planned to explore the role of the senses, especially touch, in creative work together with the other residents. The coronavirus gave touch a whole new and interesting perspective. From her home residence, she tells us about the changes the pandemic has brought and the feelings it has caused in her: ”The covid-19 has met me at a place, where I had one of the best working conditions ever. Leaving the residency was like experiencing an abortion, at least it felt like one. Being in a home residency altered the preliminary plans in one very important way, I lost access to a gorgeous studio, where my work started to enter new territories. I trust my body would remember that state and will be able to re-connect to it even in spaces, which are far from what Saari offers. I am also grateful for the regular weekly presentations we continue online, this is a beautiful way of keeping the Saari experience and connections alive and vibrant. “
Visual artist Ginta Tinte Vasermane had planned to work in a community-oriented way near Saari Residence and in Mynämäki, with the help of the Saari Residence’s community artist Pia Bartsch’s contacts. After the corona pandemic had started and brought along various restrictions, she changed her plans and worked in the immediate surroundings of the Saari Residence before returning home, examining through the lens of a camera time and the landscape, as well as the daily habits, rituals and movements of the few people she encountered. She will use these observations to create a video installation during her home residence.
Artist and producer Jennifer Katanyoutanant and artist and architect Grace Wong came to the Saari Residence with the intention of designing and implementing a prototype of an edible board game called “Home” cooked. In their project, they study food and its history, game theory and Finnish food culture. Food has reached various corners of the world by travelling with people, and so-called traditional cuisine is not always made of local ingredients. For example, pizza is the world-famous representative of Italian cuisine, but the tomato comes from the Aztecs. This contradiction and the idea of authenticity in traditional cooking fascinates the artists.
”I think Jen and I responded to the pandemic by producing a lot of different things. During my stay at Saari, I had intended to keep a recipe book/diary which selectively documented what we cooked here, and it turned out to also document the how the news of pandemic shaped what we cooked. Jen and I had hoped to spend more time with local communities and learn/cook with them as part of our process of designing what to play. The physical aspect of creating a board game required a lot of in-person communication, physicality of playing, and testing. And knowing that we will have to leave early meant that we had to switch gears. We decided to move to a temporary medium of playing with food in Zoom. Our first idea has been to play with our friends this idea of eating raw garlic together as a meditation,” Grace Wong says. “We will continue to do more experiments involving food, sensory experiences, and play on digital platforms during the remainder of the residency,” she continues.
Greek poet, translator and film-maker Jazra Khaleed’s works are a protest against the injustices in modern Greece, particularly the surge of nationalism, racism and social exclusion. During his time at Saari Residence, he worked on his new book of poems called Haya said, in which he examines immigration and xenophobia. He wants to prove that poets can present a new interpretation of immigration-related realities through their art.
Research fellow and activist Salome Tuomaala-Özdemir, who is involved in the Naapurijurtta (Neighbour Yurt) project funded by the Kone Foundation, wrote about neighbour relationships at the residence. For her, taking a concrete step back from her everyday life and environment is essential for refining her research perspectives.
The work of the Saari Invited Artist Essi Kausalainen has also changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The premiere of her work was supposed to take place in early May at Kiasma Theatre in Helsinki, but has been postponed by two years. You can read more about her thoughts about her eight months as the Saari Invited Artist here.
The long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic currently extend to the group residencies of May and part of June, some of which have been postponed until next year, some will take the form of home residencies and some will take place partly at the Saari Residence, circumstances permitting. The residencies of those meant to be travelling to Saari from abroad in June have been converted into home residencies as a result of the travel and quarantine restrictions. There have also been changes to the events planned for the Saari Residence: the annual Open Day in late May has been cancelled and some of the events with invited guests planned for June have been postponed until next year.
The situation is constantly changing, but we are monitoring it closely and working hard to find new solutions. The pandemic also affects the grants awarded in the application round for residencies that took place in March, as there will be fewer residencies available next year due to the transfers we have had to make. Planning the future has turned from precise preparations to intuitive living-in-the-moment with no room for final decisions.