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.