Saari Alumni Stories: Nada Gambier

Nada Gambier is inspired by the everyday, the absurd and by new questions.

Hailing from Turku, artist Nada Gambier worked at the Saari Residence in early 2013 and again at a group residencey in summer 2017. Gambier has trained as a dancer and choreographer, but in her work, she merges theatre, performance and visual arts. Her pieces can be described with words such as the everyday and absurd. “An ongoing desire to reveal the extraordinary in ordinary life is one of my best-known trademarks as an artist”, she says.

Exploration and experimentation play an important role in Gambier’s work. Her pieces are inspired by curiosity. According to the artist, finding answers is not as important as the new questions that arise along the way. She also wants her pieces to provide the audience with an opportunity to wonder: “I like to think that through my work, I offer people a space in which it is ok to not know, not be able to rationally explain everything yet reflect and feel. I invite people to be lost, to contemplate, to question, to let go of rigid rules and known logics.”

During her residency period in 2013, Gambier examined the untamed nature of motion, language and objects through improvisation. She is particularly interested in the purpose of objects: “Through a series of explorations, I juggled with the meanings of things and turned them upside down in order to see what happens when the things we know and can name acquire a new identity.”

At the residence, Gambier made use of everyday objects, such as a hammer, pail, toilet roll, jar of mayonnaise, spectacles and a piece of meat. In her improvisation work, she combines objects with language and places. “Going from very simple, straightforward placing of an object in space and naming it to more complicated games where I would add repetition, costumes and bodily presence to alter the way my actions in space could be perceived”, is how Gambier describes the progress of her work. She also involved other guest at the residences in her project: “I also proposed a game to the other residents where they had to group the objects I was using into unusual categories, such as sad objects, philosophical objects, naked objects, objects that exist through destruction…”

Letting go of everyday routines proved fruitful for Gambier. “I don’t think I have ever been as productive as during those two months in winter 2013”, she says. “I worked pretty much non-stop but in my own rhythm, sometimes late into the night, sometimes very early in the morning, sometimes taking a three hour break to look at the light changing outside.”

In summer 2017, Gambier returned for a group residence with Mark Etchells and Thomas Kasebacher. They worked on a multi-disciplinary project called The Voice of a City, based on urban narratives and subjective observations of the everyday. “It has been a process of collecting and creating texts, photographs, filmed footage and audio recordings that will eventually lead to the creation of a book, an exhibition and a performance that will go on tour from spring 2019 onwards”, she explains. “Our aim is to produce something that in indirect ways reflects on issues such as time, community, wealth and change and to celebrate the power that ‘little’ stories have in making us see the bigger picture.”

According to Gambier, her two stays at the residence were very different. The longer duration and independent schedule of the individual residence, as well as the grant she received, freed her from everyday demands and allowed her to focus completely on the artistic work. During the shorter group residence, she had to plan her use of time differently, and she wouldn’t have minded staying for longer than two weeks.

Lately, Gambier has given a lot of thought to the position of an artist, as well as the role often offered to artist as a political and societal operator. “I think it is crucial to dare to be experimental and question your own work and methods and this does not always sit well with the demand to take a clear stand because it puts you in a difficult position where you know, in fact, very little and where sometimes the most important thing is a word, a simple gesture… not the entire world”, she says, reflecting on the nature of artistic work. The existence of places such as the Saari Residence can be especially important when the artist needs to ponder the relationship of his or her work with societal themes. “Places like the Saari Residence are indispensable in that they not only offer amazing working conditions but they also protect art’s need for failure”, Gambier says. “Residency places that allow artists to take their time and be lost and that encourage them to go wild without pushing them to it. Places, in short, that value research and the fragility and uncertainty that this entails.”