Tuula Närhinen: Encounters are observations of the world

Tuula Närhinen hopes that observations would inspire people to think and be curious about things humans don’t know yet.

The newly elected member of the Saari Residence Advisory Board, Helsinki-based artist Tuula Närhinen intends to bring the voices of artists to the fore, as the only artist member of the board.

Nature and natural phenomena play a key role in Närhinen’s work. Concrete places often serve as the starting point for her works. The artist’s studio is located on an island – not in Mynämäki, but off the coast of Helsinki on the island of Harakka. In her work, Närhinen has often been inspired by marine nature, tackling environmental issues, from the movement of water to plastic pollution. As well as her love of nature, Närhinen is also fascinates by the peace she finds on the island.

“The island of Harakka turns its backs on the city. When I walk to its southern tip, all I can see is the sea. In many ways, I find it easier to stay in a place like that, away from all the noise of the city, away from the crowds.”

At the residence, artists encounters themselves

Residencies also offer Närhinen the opportunity to withdraw from time to time. In her opinion, the primary reason for staying at a residence is to encounter yourself.

“I think this is the whole idea behind a residency. It requires you to rethink many things, beginning with your work plan. Why do I do what I do and who am I really?” Närhinen explains.

A withdrawal means breaking away from everyday routines. A new perspective and detaching yourself from your habits give you the opportunity to make observations about yourself and the world.

“In everyday routines you often find yourself wearing a kind of protective casing. It makes it difficult to receive anything and perhaps also to give something to others.”

However, you don’t have to encounter yourself in solitude, as there are usually other artists at the residence too. Närhinen points out that simply the knowledge that there are other people in the same situation provides support for your work and for challenging the status quo of your life as an artist.

Observations and new perspectives

During the residency, an artist is forced to observe their own ways of working and reflect on their identity as an artist and a human being. Observations overall are an important aspect of Närhinen’s work.

“Being an artist, my fascination with nature and natural phenomena is probably related to perceiving and seeing, the observation threshold,” Närhinen explains.

She compares the work of an artist to that of a natural scientist. Both are standing at the precipice of the unknown. In her works, Närhinen strives to find new perspectives through visual experiments.

“There are many things we don’t know, see, know how to see, or understand, and which are nevertheless fascinating and which you can approach or try to make visible through art. Or at least ask the question, does this exist and what is this?”

Art and science approaching the unknown

Närhinen’s works are installations which often include photographs. Even the camera used as a tool for depiction has a vital role to play in her works.

“You can outsource your vision using various situations or devices. With a camera you can produce images of things that the human eye cannot see.”

The camera, like a scientist’s microscope, helps you observe the world around you.

Närhinen hopes that such observations will inspire people to think and be curious about things humans don’t know yet. According to Närhinen, observations are also linked to the meaning of art and science.

“The role of art and science is to create new thinking, approach the things that are unknown to us. Art and science broaden our perceptions of reality. They can show us everything there is in the world.”

In Närhinen’s view, observations emerge through various encounters: an artist learns about natural phenomena through the camera, and a scientist makes the acquaintance of the bacteria in a microsection.

In short, encounters are observations of the world: discovering and learning to understand various phenomena and things.


Tuula Närhinen, an artist, architect and doctor of visual arts from Helsinki.

Member of the Saari Residence Advisory Board since 2019.