The world comes to visit the Saari Residence

As the permanent Executive Director of the Saari Residence since the beginning of October, curator and performance artist Leena Kela is inspired by the conversations that artists from around the world bring along to the Residence. Leena has already completed one year at the Saari Residence as a substitute for Hanna Nurminen who set up the residence but has now passed on her role as Executive Director to Kela.
Photo: Heljä Franssila

You started your work as the Executive Director of the Saari Residence exactly one year ago and have now seen it in operation for a full year. What does the world look like from the Saari Residence?

Over the past year, I’ve come to understand the special status of residencies in practical terms as places that the world comes to visit. Although the Saari Residence is located in the peace of the countryside, we are involved in the conversations brought here by artists from different places and different backgrounds. What is topical at the Saari Residence at a given time, are the subjects that its current Saari Fellows are involved with. The Residence stays the same: it is a platform where each group defines its own world.

The composition of the groups at the Saari Residence is not thematic, but always depends on a number of things, such as schedules or the need for workspaces. What has been surprising is how beautifully different subjects cross paths. For example, one question that connects the first residents of this autumn is what kinds of imprints humans leave on their culture or the universe. 

What are you plans for the future of the Saari Residence?

The Residence is built on such a strong foundation that nothing needs to be radically changed. The Saari Residence is a special place where artistic work and academic research are highly valued. The methods and techniques of artistic work, on the other hand, have changed somewhat in the last ten years. What we can do is develop different practices and tools so that the residence will continue to serve artists in their work in the best possible way.

I think we will also ponder ways to break the concept of the western artist travelling to a residence and instead work on creating greater diversity.

Another issue to consider is how to better take ecological sustainability into account in our activities. In terms of the environment, the challenge for residences such as ours is the travelling required for artists to get to them. Perhaps we could support ecological travel choices.

What particularly inspires you in your work?

The most inspiring thing for me is the opportunity to dive into the work of artists and researchers, follow it at close range and take part in their conversations. The fact that I have a background as a curator and an artist helps me to understand the world of artists from the inside.

I learn new things all the time. Usually, we are so firmly focused on one particular area that we don’t know much about the practices of other art forms. But the Saari Residence receives artists from all fields of art, which gives me a unique opportunity to learn about things that are completely new to me. The residents talk about their work during presentations given on Tuesdays. Last time I learned about the methods used in composing music. Before that, I hardly knew anything about what it takes to turn music from ideas into notes on paper.

In addition to your main work, you are also a performance artist and the artistic director of the New Performance Turku Festival. You are also doing your doctoral thesis at the University of the Arts Helsinki. How do you combine these different roles?

The fact that the world comes to the Residence gives me new ideas and perspectives. At the Saari Residence, apart from a few annual events, we don’t exhibit the artists’ works; instead it is a place reserved specifically for working. My work at the festival is like a vent for me, through which I can negotiate the questions that arise during my main work into a broader context.

Just this morning I was wondering what my next artistic work will be and where it might be brewing up. When a question begins to crystallise, I need to look at it through the medium of artistic work.

Whereas my work at the Festival offers me the opportunity to deal with issues that I want to see in dialogue with each other, artistic work and academic research provides me with the space to deal with the issues I want to emerge myself in.

 

Heljä Franssila