The Res Artis conference in Rovaniemi 18. –20.6.2018

In June, the Saari Residence’s staff travelled to Rovaniemi for a meeting of the worldwide network of artist residencies known as Res Artis. The theme of the event was ‘Exploring Sustainability under the Midnight Sun’, with a special focus on arctic areas and indigenous peoples.

This year, the theme of the international Res Artis conference was cultural, social and ecological sustainability. At the same time, the meeting celebrated the organisation’s 25 years of providing a network for members who today total roughly 600. 

On the first conference day, sustainable development was examined from the point of view of tourism and colonialism. Researcher and curator Mario Caro (MIT) talked about the relationships between art, culture, tourism and colonialism in the context of art institutions and artists. In the Pecha Kucha presentations of the afternoon, Niko Valkeapää, Tina Kuckkahn-Miller and Coral Lu discussed the challenges and opportunities faced by residences focusing on indigenous peoples. The points made previously about ethical tourism and indigenous cultures were brought together in a panel discussion. In her talk, Áile Aikio, the curator of the Sami museum Siida, presented an important question: how can a museum that in itself is a colonialist institution give something back to the indigenous community?

The conference continued the next day with discussions about the future of art, science and technology in residency programmes. Erich Berger (Bioart Society/Ars Bioarctica), Oron Catts (SymbioticA), Veronika Liebl (Festival/Prix/Exhibitions of Ars Electronica European Digital Art and Science Network) and Antti Majava (Mustarinda) each presented their activities. Art, science and technology are combined in the most diverse residences, from that located in the middle of the wilderness and fells in Kilpisjärvi (Ars Bioarctica) to organisations employing state-of-the-art technology, such as CERN (the European Digital Art and Science Network). 

Antti Majava gave an illustrative talk, in which he examined the cultural turn towards post-fossil and post-consumerist residence models. According to Majava, the current average carbon footprint of an artist in residence is 30,000 kg per year, while a sustainable carbon footprint would be 3,000 kg per year. As a reference line, an average Finn leaves a carbon footprint of 14,000 kg per year. Majava emphasised that the climate change will change and challenge all sectors and structures of society. He also reminded his audience that if the residence centres wish, they can create platforms for cultural change towards a post-fossil and post-consumerist world. 

The conference guests spent Tuesday afternoon on field trips to Kemijärvi, the KulttuuriKauppila Art Centre in Ii and the village of Sammalvaara and the environmental art exhibition Oranki Art in Pello.

The final day of the conference began with a discussion entitled Alternative Ecomonies of Exchange, moderated by the Frame Contemporary Art Finland’s Head of Programme, Curator and writer Taru Elfving and the founder of HIAP and lecturer at the University of the Arts Helsinki / Academy of Fine Arts, Irmeli Kokko. Elfving and Kokko brought forward the activities of the residences and information concerning them, based on their book Residency Poetics Alter-Politics of Time and Space, which will be published this summer. In this discussion, residences emerged as places of change. The topical themes relating to residences are their ecological effects, financial pressure and relations of power, as well as future generations and other species. 

Before the afternoon workshops, the participants learned about views on sustainable development in relation to residences, for example, from Lucy Latham from Julie’s Bicycle. Julie’s Bicycle is a charity based in London that supports organisations in the creative fields in their efforts to work towards ecological sustainability and against climate change. 

The workshops dealt with issues such as artist residences that are just starting, the challenges of sustainable development within residency programmes and the residences’ drawbacks and opportunities as regards equality. The workshops inspired and generated even some concrete ideas for developing residence activities.

The Res Artis conference in Rovaniemi offered numerous new ideas and viewpoints for the operations of the residence sector, strengthened networks both on the national and international level and promoted the exchange of information. Thank you, Rovaniemi! We can’t wait to learn what the subjects of the 2019 conference in Kyoto, Japan, will be and look forward to seeing both old and new friends there.