On our way back home we stayed one more night in Helsinki that gave me a chance to catch up with my artist mother friend Anna Puhakka and a research visit to HIAP Helsinki International Arts Programme located on the island of Suomenlinna. My on-going fascination with Finland really started with Anna being the first Finnish person I had ever met when we did our fine art degree together at Sunderland University back in 2007. We talked over drinks about possible collaboration in the future and it was really exciting to have those ambitious ideas again for exhibiting as often I find it difficult to sustain an interest in re-showing my own work. Although a two-person show could be an interesting visual dialogue and how that could work structurally with a new collaboration to bring our two practices together. Anna suggested starting a process of writing about each other’s work and we both spoke of having someone else curate our work into one show, would this be possible, could this actually work? It was nice to think about the possibilities and reminded me how important it is to keep having these kinds of conversations with your peers.
This may seem random but I have to mention our journey from Tampere to Helsinki and how child friendly it was. In the main ticket hall in-between the seating are many wooden train sets for the children to play with. On the train my son was given his own train ticket and had a lovely interaction with the conductor giving Cassius just as much attention as the adults. On the futuristic looking double decker train on the top deck was a play area with a slide and everything where my son played for almost an hour of the journey. This was quite overwhelming to see and again is an example of how children’s needs are met in the form of specifically designed spaces for them. Too often we expect children to fit into an adult world and I feel the UK could really learn how public areas are designed in Finland.
On my last day I met with Marina Valle Noronha, curator at HIAP and we took a short boat ride to the island of Suomenlinna to see the residency spaces and current exhibition Weaving Around The World in gallery Augusta by artist Wolf Von Kries. The island is a heritage site and you really feel this as you walk over the cobbled stones with tourists taking pictures of the many beautiful buildings here. On the island there is an art school and buildings are privately owned with people actively living on the island. The HIAP building is an elongated pastel pink structure with archways flowing within it and we entered a side door into the exhibition space, which is open to the public. I really liked how the project space and artist presentation area flowed into one another furnished with wooden cubed cushioned seats, the ceiling covered by fabric sales, which changed the feel of the room.
Artists’ in residence live in there own house within a row of them where other visiting artists stay. Inside the house it is split between a downstairs studio space and upstairs accommodation. A current artist in resident is here with his family and they have two houses next door to each other with a corridor that adjoins them. The family are struggling to find activities for the children, as it is summer time here with the schools on holiday break and the language difference has made it difficult to understand exactly what is required although this relationship is developing with time. I thought this could be a good way to find out about the challenges of having a family here from an organisational perspective and from the family’s point of view. HIAP facilitates a vast range of residency programmes for national and international artists’ that feels like a good place to learn from such a well-established organisation.
As a family we have been getting re-acquainted with our surroundings and making a mental note of the places that will be of interest to the following artists’ in resident. I had plans of hand making a map although I feel something more factual is needed such as Google maps, images of landmarks on the way to a particular destination. There is plenty available within walking distance from the accommodation such as the bus stop, a small play area, supermarket, and lake all within a mile radius. Takahuhti is located within a park and Cassius is very happy to play on the grass and run around the trees. Walking in suburbia or in the city we regularly come by really well designed play areas not only for the children but also for the adults for example the spaces are softly framed by greenery with wooden benches to sit on. The flooring is always covered with sandy stone material which the children can dig or draw into that is soft under your feet when you walk across it. I particularly liked this wooden Wendy house structure which had different pots, boxes, scoopers to collect materials in with shelves to place them onto. These play areas are places that a family would want to spend time in unless your child is having a continual tantrum about sharing the swing.
The main focus of this research residency is to re-connect with the Tampere Artists’ Association in person as there is only so much that can be organised by email correspondence. On Monday I met with Arja, the director of the association at there offices at Maltinrantaa where there are two galleries, atelier rooms, shop, art lending services and printmaking facilities. The meeting went well and I felt they where supportive of this project offering more of a higher profile space at Maltinrantaa for the resident artists to present there work. I was surprised to hear that blogging about artistic practice was not very common in Finland although the association are keen to write an article about this project which will feature in the free monthly arts magazine later in the year. During our meeting I was introduced to some artist mothers who where very enthusiastic about the idea of a family residency there was also a visiting artist from Dussledorf where there are many artist exchange programmes that I must research further into. Finally I got to meet Saara the Finnish artist mother to discuss her upcoming residency at Islington Mill.
Saara is keen to meet other artist mothers and my idea of an open crit where invited artists can come and talk about there work will be a good way of introducing people. It’s important that partners and children can also attend, this needs more planning to accommodate everyone involved. This will give Saara the chance to hear more about how the women are balancing a working practice with parenthood. Back at Takahuhti although I have access to this amazing studio Cassius is the one taking over the space with his toy cars. We did manage to start with an idea for a new performance which involved creating a child trap where a broom precariously balances on top of a ladder whilst he speeds cars off the edge of the steps. For months I have been thinking about glueing together the many structures we make as a family which I planned to do on the residency. However every time we complete a build Cassius quickly destroys it, there is something in this, the work that never gets made that I like although I still want to stick the bricks together…
I had hoped to start this blog really positively although I have to share my reality of flying with a two year old who did not want to wear his seat belt for the last part of our flight from London Heathrow to Helsinki. This was my sons worst tantrum and being offered a cup of water in a pretty marimekko designed paper cup by the hostess was not going to calm down this meltdown. For me this was the final straw for my already shredded nerves since having a month of little sleep we landed with both of us in floods of tears. Not the ideal way of beginning our journey together on route to Takahuhti. We stayed for 1 night air bnb in Siilitie as the hotels in central Helsinki where incredibly expensive although the train station was just over the road from the apartment we were in. Staying in someone’s home was really enjoyable and I liked being around a well loved collection of reclaimed furniture. It reminded me of how design is so important to Finnish people’s everyday lives such as beautiful colourful prints, modern wooden furnishings, and bold graphic shapes dotted around the home. Trying to stick to any particular schedule has been really challenging as Cassius will not be strapped into a pram and has noticed the many play areas we pass wanting to take up any opportunity to get on the swings. We eventually get to Helsinki central train station and have some down time meeting up with my artist friend Anna Puhakka and her family for lunch.
The next part of our journey was to get the train from Helsinki to Tampere and I was surprised to see double decker trains in use. I was partly excited but also anxious of how we were going to get on this thing with a pram and two suitcases. Again after an hour or so Cassius gets restless on the train and wants to move around and get out of the door. We arrive in Tampere after an hour and a half with the final part of our journey ahead a short bus ride to Kirjastoauto. As the bus drove to Takahuhti we could see the residency house as we pulled into the last stop, finally the good feelings started to come back. As we made our way across to the house Cassius was smiling and giggling running along the grass. Artist and permanent resident Soile came to meet us to pass on the keys to the residency space. Finally we have arrived two years since our last visit and quite a different traveling experience with a two year old child. Varpu an artist mother who lives upstairs here with her family left two boxes of toys for Cassius to play with and he was very excited to play with them.
I am always fascinated watching Cassius play and I question if this is simply a distraction from what I am supposed to be doing or if I am learning from his freedom to enjoy the simple things. This weekend is a settling in period, getting this written and preparing for my meeting on Monday with Arja from the Artists’ Association in Tampere city centre on Monday morning.