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.
On Saturday I had my first home residency check-in with Helen Sargeant and her son Naoise that started with a lovingly made lunch, which we sat around the table together and ate. Eating and talking over a meal has been regularly coming up in the development of this project for example at Islington Mill they regularly put on a Pot Luck Dinner on a Wednesday evening and it continues to provide an informal way for anyone to get to know the Mill. It was good to see Helen and Naoise in their everyday environment where it felt a more natural way of getting to know each other. I was aware that Naoise had to go to a party later in the afternoon and soon after lunch Helen and myself got caught up in a conversation when Naoise sweetly interrupted us to get on and use the fun weekly planner for the residency. To make the planning session more visual we put on our special researcher glasses and I used a whiteboard, different shaped magnets, colour pens and stickers for the family to create a loose activity structure. This plan helped me to find out what else I needed to do to support their residency. Once Helen and Naoise started marking out there activity over the two-week period it soon became filled up and it was a good way to get more of a realistic idea of what could be achieved within the time frame.
We talked about visiting or maybe even attending a Finnish school, which both Helen and Naoise commented that it could be a bit daunting to go to a new school for a full day. I have been thinking about this a lot in relation to this project and when I have seen residency opportunities that mention day care for the child, would I trust leaving my child in that instance during a short term residency, answer probably not. Although part of this residency was to allow for a partner to go with the artist to provide additional childcare support. However Helen and Naoise are making and playing together which is the focus of their residency. Organising school contact will take time to develop although a tour and maybe an afternoon at a Finnish school would be a meaningful way of engaging with other children of Naoise age and for Helen to see the difference or similarities in the schooling environment. Naoise raised an interesting question: ‘why do we have to go away to make art?’ This would be a really good question to reflect on as part of the evaluation.
It feels like the residency programme is writing itself with all of the artists’ involved holding the pen at the same time. All three artist mothers Helen, Saara and myself taking part in this project have very different practices although we are all negotiating our work whilst being a parent. What conversations and questions will come from spending time together? This has got me thinking that a group informal crit of our work at Islington Mill would be a good opportunity to see the commonalities of our everyday and differences between our work. Would other artist parents be interested in attending?
Naoise stayed back a bit later even though he had planned to leave for the party and he signed the residency agreement in a special gold pen.
It’s only been a few weeks since I last posted a blog although in this short time I feel I have forgotten how to write. This is because I have been trying to get a press release written, planned, re-planned and now considering ditching my Kickstarter campaign. As part of my ACE application I need to raise £500 and the amount of work to create a campaign, rewards, design and delivery of the rewards is very time consuming which I did not account for in my time. Will this crowd funding campaign turn me into a busy fool? Is there not an easier way of getting one or two supporters for the overall project? Being a working mum and slowly getting through my project to-do list can occasionally get in the way of reviewing that list and not being scared of changing it. I spend a lot of my time at home and with all these written elements I prefer to work from my desktop computer although this week I’ve changed that routine which has injected a new flow to my project day. New ideas or solutions to problems surface when I am in motion or doing repetitive tasks such as walking, taking a train journey or washing up and these actions have got the ideas moving again rather than getting bogged down in word.
I had my monthly project meeting with Maurice Carlin at Islington Mill and its really good to get his feedback and advise on my plans. As we were talking I could see how I was forcing parts of the residency programme to fit with the crowd funding campaign and this set the alarm bells ringing. What I love about Maurice is how he always brings the focus back to what is essentially most important about this residency and questions other parts that could be time consuming distractions. I wanted to get a second opinion on using the sheds as creative spaces for the visiting Finnish children and had another site visit with Michiko Fujii. Michiko could see the potential of using these temporary spaces and we had a good look around the courtyard space which has lots of interesting materials such as plants, bricks and pots. There are two sheds and I thought that each child could have their own although Michiko suggested thinking in opposites for the inside of the spaces such as hard and soft. I have been thinking that it would be good to have more of a chill out space and the other as a collection/making space.
Not to fall into the trap again of planning to far into the future I need to talk with the artists’ and their families. Later this month I will be meeting Helen Sargeant and her son Naoise at their home to have our first ‘check in’ about there upcoming 2-week residency in Tampere, Finland.
I have seen lots of really interesting and experimental residencies popping up on my social media feeds over the past few weeks and this is helping me reflect on what We Are Resident residency could be. Idle women launched an arts centre on a boat creating a moving and static intervention in different communities along the Blackburn to Pendle canal which is part of the Super Slow Way programme which aims to stage a new, creative revolution powered by art and people. In December 2015 there was a callout for an outstanding artist to join idle women for a three-month live in residency on the boat to create new work. It’s really great to see the ambition of this project aimed at a more experienced artist with a socially engaged ethos with development support from the projects live in producers Rachel Anderson and Cis O’Boyle.
I came across an article about how in 2014 the Aguilar Family where invited to take part at the Open Engagement annual conference in New York City where families stayed with local people and the children had access to on-site day care. WOOLOO created the idea HUMAN HOTEL offering accommodation to attendees with like minded people after the practical issue arose at a busy conference where all the local hotels where fully booked. With the family being accommodated meant that everyone took part in activities and collectively the Aguilar family gave a presentation at the conference. This family residency sounds wonderful and shows what can be achieved collectively and individually with the right support although it does bother me that these opportunities are piloted at big fancy conferences, the weight of the institution behind it and that the family residency was by invitation only.
The hottest residency I keep seeing and being tagged into is Lenka Clayton, An Artist Residency in Motherhood, which has some useful planning tools and an open invitation to start a residency in your own home. Sometimes I feel that artists’ may think that they have to go somewhere to do a residency and Lenka’s work is a fantastic example of how you can use your home to do it in. Although I would not want to do a residency in my small flat with a 2-year-old child nor is my work about motherhood, which can be an assumption made once you become an artist parent. The artists’ who applied for the We Are Resident residency in Finland where split between practices that related to motherhood or not at all. All of the applicants where artist mothers which identifies to me that there is a definite need for opportunities that allow family participation regardless of the theme of an artists’ practice.
This is the final week for applications for the residency in Finland and I am excited to see people’s work, also a little anxious to see if this is of interest to the artist community. I have to remind myself that this is a small opportunity in a sea of residencies out there but I am hoping that this will catch the eye of someone who will make the most of it. Today I booked our travel to Helsinki and I am looking forward to re-visiting Tampere and the Takahuhti art centre with my husband and now 2-year-old child. How will my son Cassius react to being in this new place again, will he have any memories of being here once before? I have started conversations with Finnish artists’ Ritvamarja and Varpu about my return to Tampere in July and how we could possibly work together to make the UK artist welcome on their arrival. I have been reading this useful Family Arts Standards guide of how to provide good family experiences and have found that it is really important for them to have a warm welcome with activities that the group can take part in together. Although when we went to Finland we where happy to make our own way to our destination and I created my own plan of what I wanted to do, however Cassius was only 6 months old then and required limited activity. During my residency at Takahuhti I performed at an event and presented an artist talk in my studio where I naturally connected with the local artists in my own time, although I am aware that my outgoing nature helped initiate those interactions. However I am aware that other people may want a different way of carrying out there residency and I want to support that the best I can.
I have been scamping some quick illustrations of ideas using the postcard format as a way of offering choices of activities to the visiting artist to select from. I am enjoying the handmade quality of them, which reminds me off the front cover of the Takahuhti residency folder. What if all the residency literature was hand written? So often text is typed and printed from a computer, to be honest I rarely read through lots of copy and prefer quick guides or picture menus. I am enjoying thinking creatively about how to visually communicate with a family aside from the administrative part of managing a project like this which is very time consuming and challenging for me to structure the written elements. I have felt incredibly well supported through all of this by my mentor Susan Jones and I really look forward to our Skype chats about the development of the residency. Working closely with a mentor I can see how important it is to have an outside critical perspective particularly from someone who has such a wealth of experience but most importantly for me Susan always talks to me in a supportive and nurturing manner. I am also very grateful for the support of Islington Mill, who will kindly provide the accommodation for the visiting Finnish artist family and the opportunity to experience living amongst the vibrant artist community. I met with the Mill’s director Maurice Carlin to confirm dates and discuss ways of using the resources in and around the studios such as the sheds in the courtyard, making a connection with St Philips the local school just over the road.
The final piece of the residency puzzle is who will be the UK artist visiting Finland? I will find this out very soon, if you are interested please follow the link below and apply the deadline is 12 noon 2nd May 2016.