This residency was made possible by the generous support of Creative Scotland.
It was a very bleak, wet Sunday when I landed in Tampere, Finland at around 5pm on the 2nd of April; it was so foggy that it wasn’t until we were on the runway that I could see anything at all. After a short time waiting in a rocking chair (!) for my bag, I was met by Reetta from Arteles and we were soon on our way in the little blue residency car to the train station to pick up another resident. Arriving at Arteles was a little daunting, I was excited by the prospect of seeing it for the first time and starting the residency, but I knew there would be a lot of new faces and names to remember so I was glad I wasn’t arriving alone.
Arteles is in the area of Hämeenkyrö, Finland. Not far from the town of Hämeenkyrö yet it is very rural and there are loads of lakes and forests all within walking distance, the closest of which was only a few steps from the main building.
Arteles started life as a school, now the larger of the two buildings houses most of the residency artists, the communal studio spaces (still with gym equipment), the chill out/sofa area and a large kitchen.
I was excited to discover I would be staying in the Timber building, the smaller and older of the two buildings built in 1902. It houses the office and accommodation for the staff and has a separate entrance for our little house which has four bedrooms the meditation room and a communal kitchen.
My large private room was just off the kitchen and looked out over the forest, a glance to the right and I could see the sauna, to the left and I could see the lake through the trees! There was plenty of space, with a work desk, a large bed (because as Arteles say “sleep is important”), and a comfy chair with footstool. I loved the large windows and the amazing Finnish double glazing. The room smelled like smoked burnt wood, tar and cosiness all at once thanks to the wooden walls; massive slabs of wood layered up and stuffed with wool for insulation. I was sad when my nose got used to the smell.
I was so excited for the residency and tired when I arrived that I didn’t really know what to do with myself so after the tour of the buildings, introductions to everyone, eating some food and unpacking it took me a while to actually get to sleep that night!
My first full day in Finland was spent getting to know the area, I went on the first of many walks with one of my housemates. We ventured into the forest directly behind Arteles, which is full of sculptures and artworks created by previous residents.
I later chose my desk within the communal studios, I went for a space with a lot of natural light, which so far north in spring is not hard to do! My desk had an amazing view to the left, one thing I noticed almost as soon as I got to Finland was how much I enjoyed having the vast views across the fields, lake and trees. I enjoy views like this because you can see the changing weather as it rolls in across the landscape, being at the residency really intensified and reminded me of this. I spent many happy moments in the kitchen with a freshly brewed cup of tea staring out over the lake, drinking in the view with astonishment that I really was in Finland!
My starting point for researching my creative process was to try different methods each week, things that I had used before like exploring my environment, taking photographs, drawing from nature, drawing from photographs, collecting objects and drawing from them. As well as some things that I hadn’t done or explored in a while like larger drawings, working with charcoal, and reading more about the creative process as a whole.
In the first 48 hours of arriving I had started an interesting conversation with my housemates about creativity and its processes which cemented my belief that there was bound to be a wealth of knowledge amongst the other residency artists on the subject! We discussed the use of art as a form of therapy for lots of mental health issues; as a way of processing things that happen to, or affect people in some way. There is often a sense of laying yourself bare when you show people something you’ve created. This is because “creativity is the expression of self” and what you’ve made can come from a very vulnerable place. Understandably this makes it hard to share your work with others because you’re trying to protect yourself from the anguish it might cause when you explain the process to an outside perspective.
The forest walk and conversations on Monday spurred me on and I ventured out on my own on Tuesday to explore more of the surroundings with my camera. I went with the purpose of experiencing the sights and smells of Finland. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful crisp clear day when I ventured down to the lake, which was still frozen over. I then followed a dirt road that wound round the back of Arteles. It was so quiet, that was the first thing I noticed, but the silence here was not quite silence. There was the noise of the wind in the trees and the birds singing, as well as the scrape and thwack of my hiking boots on the dirt road. I breathed in the scent of the birch forests which were interspersed amongst the pine, I was fascinated by these straight tall trees with their papery bark that peels away. I hadn’t really noticed before the large triangular and diamond shaped fissures that open up on the surface of the silver birch trees as they grow.
Once I’d walked clear of the forests behind Arteles a wide expanse of farmland, fields and sky opened up in front of me and took my breath away. I felt at home in this landscape where I could walk for miles and only see a few people. Every walk that I did on my own became a kind of meditation and a chance to process my thoughts and feelings. This was the first walk where I really began to process things that had happened in the lead up to me arriving in Finland. The silence and space of my walk allowed me to come back to the house feeling refreshed, I sat down at my desk with a cup of tea ready to work.
I spent a lot of time in the first few days of the residency reading about creativity and everything was telling me to JUST START! Which was good, as I was initially scared to make a start, my mind immediately began to wonder where things were going, what the finished idea or outcome would look like. This has been a long standing problem of mine which I hadn’t yet addressed; my mind jumps ahead and I stop myself from starting because I don’t have a finished idea! How bizarre. So I put down my reading materials and started to draw things that I had found on my Monday forest walk, like the lichen covered branches and the small leafs. Before too long I found myself getting distracted, I wanted to create 3D objects, not just draw them. So I followed that train of thought and started making models in paper, which is something I’ve not done since university and had forgotten how much I enjoy!
The start of this first week did feel like a state of limbo as we were waiting for the last three residents to arrive before we really got started. We had our first group meeting on Tuesday evening, introducing ourselves and telling each other what we did, why we wanted to do the residency and what we wanted to get out of our month. It was really interesting to find out that so many of my fellow artists had moved around quite a lot, were looking for some direction with, or to reignite their creativity. We all seemed to have a few shared questions and goals!
Swiftly following the meeting we handed our phones in as part of the Back to Basics residency programme, the week from then on was a reset period with no internet access and no mobile phones until the following Monday. I actually felt excited to hand in my phone, it was part of the process of letting go of everything that had gone before and being present in the moment as well as avoiding distractions! There were lingering worries that I’d miss events or something would happen at home, but I knew the important people in my life would be able to contact me through Arteles so that alleviated my fears, slightly…
We started Wednesday with our first official morning mediation. The meditation room was a bright beautiful room with a painted wood floor and welcoming wooden walls. It had a view out over the lake, which made it all the more beautiful. Every morning when I walked in here the view would somehow be different. There were meditation cushions, bolsters and benches for each of us and we could do a 25min or 50min session morning and night if we wanted to.
Meditation was HARD! I had done some meditation before as I said in my last blog post, but that was guided. Without someone reminding me to refocus my attention on my breath every few minutes my brain would be so noisy and distracted. However I found over the course of the month I got better and I preferred the morning meditation, it allowed me to wake up slowly and helped me get into a peaceful and open frame of mind for the rest of the day.
On Wednesday evening we had our introduction to the sauna! Sauna is a huge part of the Finnish culture and it’s usually the first building built if you buy a plot of land to build a home. There is a Finnish proverb that: If alcohol, sauna or tar won’t cure you, you’ll die. It was known as the cleanest room in the house and it was where people were born and read their last rites. This beginners guide is really helpful if you want to know more about it.
Sauna is a cleansing experience, to calm and relax you. In Finland, private saunas are traditionally used naked, it’s about cleaning yourself so to wear a swimming suit or towel would be counter intuitive. We were shown how to set the fire under the coals and the water boiler. Water is drawn straight up from the well and mixed with hot water in a bucket so you can wash, once you’ve rinsed off you can sit in the steam of the sauna until you’re nice and warm or sweaty and then head outside to cool down before repeating the process. You can also take a plunge in a nearby lake or roll in the snow which are both said to increase your circulation.
I will tell you more about my experience at the public smoke sauna and dip in the lake another time!
After you’ve done as many rounds as you want and sweated out the day, you have a good scrub, wash and rinse yourself with warm water. I stayed in the sauna for a few rounds and I felt tired and ready for a long sleep afterwards so this was a wonderful way to end our first full day with no internet and no mobile phones!