When she was three years old, Sirpa Pietikäinen found the most remarkable thing in the world in her father’s studio: a toxic green paint tube. She then squeezed some paint on her hands and wiped them meticulously on her burgundy dress. When the young daughter wasn’t too busy getting familiar with her father’s tools, she would observe how he saw, painted, and created.
“My mother is a nurse, my father worked from home as an artist. I literally grew up in my father’s studio, under his work desk. It has had a big influence on how I see and perceive the world,” reveals Sirpa Pietikäinen, chairperson of the executive committee of the Saari Residence.
Pietikäinen’s way of observing the environment is fascinating. She likens the world to a round room, where people look out of different windows. Each person sees a distinct part of the same view. A complete image cannot be formed unless people meet, discuss and share their own parts of the world with each other. Encounters like these are central to the Saari Residence, where artists and scientists gather for a few months to think and create together.
“Art and science are parallel, but very different ways of knowing. They lend us their hands, eyes, voices and movements while telling a story about the world. When art and science meet, so do different ways of perceiving. Wandering and seeking can then at their best give rise to realizations and improved understanding, which is desperately needed,” ponders Pietikäinen.
A peaceful haven for researchers and artists
In order for interdisciplinary encounters and wide-ranging understanding to emerge, space and tranquillity are needed. The Saari Residence offers both. It is a good initiative for a country with few communal spaces to offer for its inhabitants. Pietikäinen furrows her brow and laments how the only meeting places are primarily shopping centres.
“Where can you go to meet people here?” she asks and gestures around her, slightly frustrated. “Few of us hang around at the Market Square, waiting to encounter a professor or artist to chat with.”
“We lack an agora, a shared space. It would be wonderful if we could create a natural, open meeting place, which would always have interesting talks and art performances at a specific time,” she fantasizes.
According to Pietikäinen, the Saari Residence has the means to be a modern agora at a time when government budget cuts are making cracks in the foundations of art and research. The Saari Residence is a safe haven for artists and researchers, where ideas can mature in peace, without anyone breathing down your neck demanding innovation.
“When a person has space, peace and the freedom to think and ask questions, innovations also surface. At the residence, people can immerse themselves in their thoughts and develop them in peace. Just as you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, you can’t just tell a person to think a bit faster,” Pietikäinen states.
Dwelling on the chaos does not solve crises
Pietikäinen is wearing a green cardigan and a red wooden necklace for the interview. The outfit reminds her of her first time experimenting with colours as a child. The three-year-old romping about the studio grew into a politician, hungry for life and a burning desire to understand – well, everything. This is apparent in Pietikäinen’s “meditative fondness for astronomy”, for example.
“I have inherited an inquisitive mind from my mother. Since the start, I’ve had a huge appetite for understanding and making things scientific. In my spare time I immerse myself in astronomy, because it makes me feel quite the right size,” she laughs.
It’s hardly surprising that a woman interested in the infinite does not get stuck on trivial details. Pietikäinen dissects the developmental trends of the world sometimes humorously, sometimes philosophically, while painting broad curves on the table with her hands. Right now, her mind is occupied with the relationship between humans and nature (“When an elk wanders into a city, it gets shot. Why does it always have to be shot? You don’t shoot a tourist when he wanders into Hämeenlinna”), and the fear of foreignness surfacing especially in discussions over immigration.
Above all, Pietikäinen prefers to think about the larger question behind the aforementioned topics.
“We should solve what constitutes a humane and sustainable life. How do we encounter other people? It doesn’t help to resolve who gets an immigration permit and what to do with neo-fascists. That’s dwelling on the chaos. We have to reinvent our way of life, and someone has to tell stories about it.”
Encounters arise when… they are given the space to.
Encounters do not arise when… a person is too full of himself.
The most significant encounter of my life… was in the 90s, when I met primate researcher Jane Goodall at a dinner. When that happened, I was close to bursting into tears. Already as a little girl I watched programs about her on the TV, and I wanted to follow in her footsteps to study orangutans in Borneo. Goodall is a remarkable, ecological and sympathetic woman thanks to whom I realised, among other things, how short the human timespan is in the whole history of evolution.
Sirpa Pietikäinen, MSc (Econ.), born 1959. Twenty years as an MP, has been a Member of the European Parliament since 2008. Chairperson of the advisory board of the Saari Residence since 2007.
Her spouse is Tapio Määttä, Environmental Law LL.D., and Head of the Law School at the University of Eastern Finland.
Instead of hobbies, talks about lifestyles. These are reading, astronomy and exploring nature. Pietikäinen reads about a hundred books in a year and likes astronomy because “my worries take their appropriate place when I think: I wonder how many multiverses are out here?”