Saari Residence


Evaluator of residency applications to the Saari Residence: A fellow sufferer in a position of power

Kuva: Otto-Ville Väätäinen

One of the evaluators who assessed Saari Residence’s residency applications this spring talks about their experiences as an evaluator.
How do you weigh the importance of an artist’s work? Is an international exhibition more valuable than an exhibition in a library? One of the evaluators of residency applications to the Saari Residence tried to find a super-gaze that would allow them to see not only the peaks achieved but also the seeds of opportunity.

It was not difficult to acknowledge my position of power as a selector of artists for the Saari Residence. In my position of power, I identified with my fellow sufferers: those who receive a negative decision.

In making my decisions, I wondered how to put on the same starting line artists who work at art centres – those who are invited to exhibitions, who receive a lot of support and visibility – and artists who may work far from big cities and whose networks are limited due to their situation in life, their education or place of residence, and artists who have to apply not only for grants but also for exhibition slots? How can you compare those who receive a lot of support to those who, despite challenging circumstances, are still making art?

I don’t believe in the myth of the artist genius, but I do believe that to make better art, we need opportunities: intellectual and financial support. The more opportunities we have, the more spectacular the art we make. When I made my selection, I tried to see through the applications, read between the lines, see what was behind the artist, supporting them or holding them back. I reflected on the definition of artistic quality.

My position raised the question: is an exhibition held a few years after graduation in an art museum in the capital more meaningful than years of consistent toil and exhibitions held in library corridors in a remote area? Which is more meaningful to the community?

I tried to see beyond what the A4 format allows: some art can be easily photographed, recorded or expressed in words, while other art works are challenging, perhaps even impossible, to convey through a standardised format. Where could I find a super-gaze to see past the distortions and reflections and ensure that I see not only the achieved peaks but also the seeds of possibility?

It would have been quite easy to hide behind the quality of the art and select only artists with impressive careers, brilliant works and dazzling CVs. It would have felt safe to stick to applications that were perfectly written and that met today’s requirements.

But if we don’t give opportunities to the unknown, the undefined, the uncertain, the questionable, the not-ready, the hesitant, will we end up impoverishing art itself? If we never take risks, if we never give space to the unknown, we will probably never discover anyone or anything new.

The regeneration of art does not happen overnight; it requires a systematic acceptance of failure and regular risk-taking, even when we don’t see any opportunities. After all, who would have guessed, looking at 27-year-old Matisse’s paintings, that ten years later he would be creating Fauvist paintings?