Testing Grounds

Episode 6: Narsaq International Research Station - Who Defines "Progress"?

September 29, 2023 Nordic Alliance of Artists' Residencies on Climate Action Season 1 Episode 6
Testing Grounds
Episode 6: Narsaq International Research Station - Who Defines "Progress"?
Show Notes Transcript

Please note: this episode features brief mentions of suicide, alcoholism and violence.

What does “progress” mean in an age of climate crisis? Who should define it? And how can the process of defining it be made more inclusive and democratic?

Narsaq International Research Station (NIRS) is NAARCA’s Greenlandic partner. It’s an independent non-profit research platform with a focus on cultural and scientific research in South Greenland.

In this episode, Lise Autogena, an artist and founder of NIRS, outlines some of the tensions at play in Narsaq, and in Greenland more broadly. Here, the climate crisis is dramatically disrupting people’s ways of life, and simultaneously opening up opportunities for the exploitation of globally-prized natural resources. Indeed, the community of Narsaq is itself at the centre of a fierce dispute over a proposed mine.

Lise introduces us to our contributors, filmmaker Inuk Jørgensen and community psychologist Peter Berliner. In different but overlapping ways, Inuk and Peter are both engaged with exploring visions of “progress” in a Greenlandic context. They explore how Inuit values can help make the process of defining progress more inclusive, respectful and productive.

Find out more:
Narsaq International Research Station (https://www.narsaqresearchstation.gl)
Siunissaq (http://siunissaq.gl)

Lise Autogena, Artist, Professor, Director of Art, Design and Media Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University and founder of NIRS (https://www.autogena.org)
Inuk Jørgensen, filmmaker (https://www.inuks.dk)
Peter Berliner, Professor of Arctic Community Psychology, Ilisimatusarfik/University of Greenland (https://uk.uni.gl/find-employee/department-of-social-work/peter-berliner)

Credits: Testing Grounds is produced and edited by Katie Revell and includes original music by Loris S. Sarid and artwork by Jagoda Sadowska. With thanks to Alex Marrs and the rest of the NAARCA team.

Contact us: naarca.art/contact-us

Who we are: Art Hub Copenhagen (Denmark), Artica Svalbard (Norway), Baltic Art Center (Sweden), Cove Park (Scotland), Saari Residence (Finland), Skaftfell Art Center (Iceland) and Narsaq International Research Station (Greenland).

Thanks for listening!

00:02 Lise: It's a very, very, extremely beautiful place. And it's got fjords on all sides and it's, there's an ice fjord and very dramatic scenery. The light is unbelievable. So there's something, um, in terms of the physical environment, very otherworldly. And everything looks beautiful when you're in Greenland because of the light.

00:31 Various speakers: Velkommen. Tervetuloa. Tikilluaritsi. Välkommen. Fàilte. Bures. Velkommen.

00:40 Narration: Welcome to Testing Grounds from the Nordic Alliance of Artists' Residencies on Climate Action. Episode 6: Narsaq International Research Station – who defines “progress”? Just a note that this episode includes brief mentions of suicide, alcoholism, and violence. Please take care while you listen.

01:06 The Nordic Alliance of Artists' Residencies on Climate Action, or NAARCA, is a network of seven artists' residencies across the Nordic region and Scotland. They've come together to explore what potential artists residencies have to be testing grounds – testing grounds for new ways of living and working that are ecologically, socially, mentally and financially sustainable.

01:32 I'm Katie Revell. In this series, I'm talking to people in and around the NAARCA residencies about the themes, the challenges, and the questions they're grappling with, that we're all grappling with, in the context of the climate crisis. In this episode, we're visiting NAARCA's Greenlandic partner, Narsaq International Research Station, also known as NIRS.

01:56 Lise: My name is Lise Autogena. I'm a Danish-born artist living in the UK for many years. I am also a Professor of Cross-Disciplinary Art at Sheffield Hallam University. In year 2000, I established Narsaq International Research Station in South Greenland.

02:20 Narsaq is a small town in the very south of Greenland. It's like a sort of big archipelago area, lots of islands. It's the centre of food production in Greenland, in a way. It's surrounded by sheep farms and the sheep farms are passed from generation to generation. It's a very strong cultural tradition. And there's a lot of pride around the sheep farming tradition.

02:46 There is lots of fishing there. There's tourism. But Narsaq is special, I think, for many different reasons. It's like a sort of little microcosm of challenges the world is currently facing, and it feels like a real epicentre for understanding decision-making and geopolitics and the kind of balancing of progress and sustainable development, and also in terms of the social environment, the future of Greenland and the making of a new nation. All these kind of questions are really focused on the many things happening in Narsaq. And so for this reason, it feels like the centre of the world.

03:37 The effects of climate change is very much felt in, in the Narsaq area, both in terms of higher air temperatures, uh, sort of changing of seasons. Of course a huge melting of glaciers that is visibly different each year. And also in terms of more extreme weather events – it's very hot weather, droughts, and also sort of floods and storms.

04:06 That is of course impacting on, particularly in an area where there's farming. The changing weather makes that difficult. And in the winter, where the farmers are dependent on being able to drive across the ice, because they can't use boats to get around, they're often limited in terms of whether that's safe. The ice has become more unpredictable.

04:33 What is also important to note is that mineral deposits are now exposed that were previously under the ice sheet, and therefore there's a lot of attention to Greenland, and focused on possible mining activities. So this kind of geopolitical interest from all over the world, and in the kind of, particularly the rare earth resources in Greenland, is something that Greenland is very interested in, but it's also a huge challenge, which is exemplified by the Kvanefjeld mine next to Narsaq, which has recently been rejected, and the country is now facing a massive court case with an Australian-Chinese mining company, because of the rejection of this mine – potentially threatening to undermine the entire Greenland economy.

05:25 In this way, climate change is providing new opportunities for Greenland to earn money, but it's also a massive challenge in terms of balancing a sustainable development of Greenland with respect of nature and local citizens.

05:46 Katie: What is your connection to Narsaq? How did you end up having a relationship with the place? 

05:51 Lise: My way to Narsaq is slightly strange. I came to Narsaq to explore the reasons behind a uranium/rare earth mine that was planned in South Greenland. I was part of a research project in the UK where artists were involved in a conversation with the nuclear industry to try and make discussion around the nuclear industry more public.

06:17 In the UK they're very closed because of the weapons industry. It came to my attention that there was a very controversial mine being planned in South Greenland. It was a rare earth/uranium mine and it had split the population. I was interested in the reasons behind wanting a mine like this so close to a town and in the middle of the only farming area in Greenland.

06:41 So I, I went to, to the Narsaq region to do interviews and it ended up becoming a film. And really, it became a film about the difficulty of discussing this mine in the region, it was kind of a taboo to discuss it. And I became interested in the lack of stakeholder involvement in this mine, and the need for the population to have more knowledge about the risks involved with a mine like this.

07:09 And I lost my heart to Greenland, and started coming to Greenland quite a lot, and ended up buying a house overlooking this mining area. It was also at a time where a lot of international researchers from all over the world were kind of embarking on Greenland, mainly to study climate change. And it felt like so many of these researchers, just like me, would come, arrive, and take away their research and publish it elsewhere.

07:41 And I felt there was a need for a place that would ensure that all this kind of knowledge generated or accessed locally would benefit the local population and be communicated back to the local population. I also felt that there was a big need for, for culture and making sure that culture was involved in these conversations and in this knowledge creation.

08:02 And that's how Narsaq International Research Station started. It has a board of people from the local community and people from the research community in Greenland, and artistic community in Denmark and it's become a very, very busy research platform in Greenland. 

08:22 Katie: Can you just explain briefly what the activities of NIRS are?

08:26 Lise: We usually have people staying for around a month. We have really only been operating during the summer period, from the early spring until autumn time. And this is to do with how difficult it gets to access the region. It's already quite difficult. You know, there's no roads between the towns in Greenland. In the summer, you have direct flights to a town near Narsaq, and you then have to take a boat or helicopter. Often, flights are cancelled because of the weather.

09:02 The summer period is generally where the scientists are coming to do their research because the landscape is more available. We do aim to start being open all year, but not as yet. We are part of a network of research places in Greenland and we are working closely with the Arctic Hub which is based at University of Greenland, and they operate as a kind of platform for connecting researchers across Greenland and it's important that all research that happens in Greenland is kind of coordinated with them so there's an understanding of what is happening in Greenland because it's extremely overwhelming for Greenland to monitor, particularly the kind of foreign research activities taking place in Greenland.

10:03 Narration: Our guests for this episode are filmmaker Inuk Jørgensen and psychologist Peter Berliner. They'll be exploring the different, and sometimes conflicting, visions of progress that are currently at play in Greenland. And they'll be discussing how Inuit values can make the process of defining progress more inclusive, respectful and productive.

10:24 Lise: Inuk Jørgensen and Peter Berliner are both in different ways involved in Narsaq International Research Station. Inuk is on our advisory committee and Peter Berliner is on the board of directors of NIRS. I really wanted them to have a conversation because they both, from very different perspectives, have a lot of awareness and a lot to say about the very powerful and transformative role of art and culture in Greenland and its impact in Greenland society, which is, uh, quite different from other places I have been.

11:04 The arts play a very important role in Greenland and often is very powerful in generating social change. And I think those two that have both worked in Narsaq and knows Narsaq very well, perfectly placed to have a conversation from their different perspectives about those things and about the kind of priorities and challenges in Greenland society today. So that is why I have suggested that Inuk and Peter have a conversation. 

11:44 Inuk: My name is Inuk Jørgensen or Inuk Jørgensen. I'm a Greenlandic filmmaker based in Sweden, where I also teach film at a high school here. I grew up in southern Greenland, in Qaqortoq. The film work I do, I do exclusively out of Greenland and I am very much focused on issues that deal with my home country of Greenland or the, you know, Inuit culture and, and history of my people.

12:10 Peter: My name is Peter, and I'm a professor in Arctic Community Psychology at Ilisimatusarfik, the University of Greenland. And I study mainly art and community: how you can use art to make social resilience, we used to say, now we say social sustainability, which I like more. I was born in Tasiilaq in the eastern part of Greenland, and during my years, I have been working in a lot of disaster interventions around the world to rebuild communities and societies, but always I keep coming back to Greenland.

12:56 So Greenland is very deep in my heart, and I think that Greenland is a place, a culture, people who gives you a lot. And you always have to remember that when you receive a lot, you also have to give a lot back, and that is what I try to do.

13:20 Katie: How would you say Greenland is being impacted by climate change? And it's a huge question, but maybe if there's something concrete that you've experienced, for example, or a change that you've seen over the years.

13:34 Inuk: I mean, on a grand scale, climate change is affecting Greenlandic culture. I mean, like in Northern Greenland, a lot of people who usually go out and fish on the ice during winter, they can't do it anymore. I mean, the number of dog sleds in Northern Greenland has dropped dramatically, right? And I know on a small scale, me being from Southern Greenland, I was there this summer filming my next project. And I went to this glacier where I've been. I don't know, not a hundred times, but 50. I mean, I used to be a tourist guide, right?

14:07 And I think the first time I was there was in 2003 or something, and you know, you'd get ashore, you'd walk up to this glacier, and the glacier was a wall, right? And just within the five or six years I was a tourist guide, this wall started crumbling and pretty much disappeared. When I was there this summer and I hadn't been there for 15, 16 years, the boat didn't dock at the same place.

14:36 They moved the little, you know, where you go ashore, like a couple of hundred metres in, and this year we walked onto the glacier. There was no wall. And this is within my adult life. And I'm, you know, I'm 42, I've still got half my life or something left, right? And I was, I was shocked. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and you know, being out in nature and all that. But I was still struck by how not just visual this was, but how, how much it impacted me. This thing where I, yeah, where I've gone to so many times had changed this much, this quickly.

15:25 Peter: I can just add that that impression you speak about, that I hear it again and again in a lot of people and in the students. And it's, it's something that really impacts you. It's something very emotional, and it shows very clearly, as you described beautifully, how we are not just walking through the landscape, we are part of the landscape, so we also have the landscape inside us, and that is what I meet a lot of time, that even with the big airport in Nuuk, a person said to me, but how long time will they continue to destroy our mountains?

16:12 And I mean, that person was not against the airport, but it was a sensation. It was "what is going on here?". We are impacting so much on the environment and the landscape that it's doing something to us. Something we were part of is disappearing.

16:37 Katie: What do you think people need to understand about Greenland to be able to understand the context of the conversation we're going to have? If you had to sort of distil the essence of Greenland down, I guess, what makes the place unique, would you say?

16:53 Inuk: Well, I think coming from a, an arts background or a background in film, I think one of the things that, that makes Greenland special is that as opposed to other places in the Nordic countries or pretty much in the rest of the world, the underrepresented part of the population is not a minority.

17:12 Inuit are by far the majority in Greenland, but because Greenland is still a part of the Kingdom of Denmark in that sense, Greenland is a minority, and it really shows when you think about arts and film, because funding, for instance, is near impossible. That's one area where it's impossible to get Danish funding for a Greenlandic film, if you're supposed to divide it like that.

17:38 And I think that's one thing people should know that even though we're a minority in the sense of the Danish kingdom, we're definitely a majority when it comes to dealing with Greenland, which makes it difficult to get funding, for instance, because we can't apply for minority fundings and all these things from like the European Union and so on.

17:57 Katie: That's really fascinating. Yeah. Peter, what, what would you say? 

18:03 Peter: I would say that it's very important to change the overall discourse about or on Greenland, because in Greenland, the culture is alive, the language is alive, people are very much alive, and it's a very productive and beautiful culture. And because Greenland is still a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, there has been for many years like a discourse that everything is wrong. Social problems, alcohol abuse, violence. And there's a lot of comparisons between Denmark, the Nordic countries, and Greenland. But as Inuk just said beautifully, Greenland will become, I think, the first nation of indigenous people.

19:05 And we have to keep that in mind, that in that perspective, the people of Greenland are doing very, very well. And also, Greenland has been very active in promoting the rights of indigenous people. And I use the word indigenous. I know that some people say, ah, you shouldn't do that because then already you make stigma and all that, but that is not correct.

19:33 It is to say you have particular rights, but also you have all the rights of being a citizen in the Kingdom of Denmark. And that should be kept in mind. The majority, all the culture, the language in Greenland is Inuit culture, Inuit language. It is a culture with self determination and that should be kept in mind that it's a very good example of how indigenous people can reach a state of self-determination.

20:10 Katie: A related question I wanted to ask is, Inuk, I know that your Inuit identity, that heritage is a big, big part of the work that you do. And I guess it might seem like a bit of an obvious question, but you know, you don't live in Greenland most of the time. Why is it important to you that that heritage is still such a big part of your work?

20:32 Inuk: I think there's a couple of reasons why my heritage, my background, makes up so much of my work. I find it very fascinating. So I think it's almost in my biology to make films and focus on stories that focus on like the culture and the history of the Greenlandic people. And there's a, very much a self-centered way of thinking about this.

20:54 My parents’ generations were told that “get an education abroad, do good, come back, make your country better”. And I, for one, am married to a, a foreigner. That's why I don't live in Greenland, right? So I think making films about Greenlandic issues is, on a very personal level, a way for me to confront my bad conscience, I would almost say, yeah.

21:20 So I think there's the positive side, that I think it's very interesting and it's a big part of me. And there's definitely also me fighting my conscience. Even though I'm far away physically, I still feel that a lot of my work, and both in film and teaching, is very much connected to, to Greenland. 

21:38 Katie: Peter, can you tell us a bit about your background? Where in Greenland did you grow up and what was your experience? 

21:46 Peter: My mother came from Denmark, my father as well. I always felt very attached to Greenland. I was born in Ammassalik, it was called at that time. Now it's called Tasiilaq.

21:54 Narration: But Peter ended up spending a lot of his childhood in Denmark, after his brother was taken there for medical treatment. Later, his family did move back to Greenland for a while, to the capital, Nuuk. 

22:11 Peter: And then we came back to Tasiilaq just for the summer when I was 12 years old. And at that time we went by a boat crossing the Atlantic back to Denmark. And I remember finally leaving Greenland, I saw the sunset, and Greenland disappearing in the horizon. And I said, “I will come back. I will come back”. So that I did.

22:50 Katie: Something I'm really curious to explore, and it's come up already in what you guys have said, is this idea of progress. From what I've read, from what I've heard, the conversations I've had so far, it seems that in Greenland, at the moment, there are quite a few different, maybe competing, but certainly contrasting ideas of what progress means, which vision of progress should be prioritised and how that decision should be made.

23:15 And I was wondering if, first of all, you guys could maybe just sketch out what some of these different ideas of progress are as you see them, as you experience them. 

23:26 Inuk: For me, at least there are, there are two competing ideas of, of progress in Greenland. And I think one of them is based on strengthening the Greenlandic economy, for instance, making new airports, strengthening the infrastructure and all these things. And the other is with a focus on the coming generations, on the kids. And I mean, they could go hand in hand, but the way I often see it play out in Greenland is that there's a contrast between, do you focus on the wellbeing of the children? Or do you, in the case of my newest short film, build an airport?

24:10 Right, and I think that really does put everything into perspective, because I think a lot of the ideas about progress politically in Greenland is focused on infrastructure. In several towns, they're building new airports, the likes of which have never been made in the Arctic, I think, if you discount the, uh, military bases that, uh, the Americans and the Russians have everywhere.

24:35 This is good because this will definitely strengthen the economy of Greenland, but I also think people are forgetting a lot of the issues that, especially the school system, a lot of the social issues that are also present in Greenland. And I think to me, it's not only very fascinating to, to work with, but I think at times quite frustrating.

24:57 Peter: Just a few days ago, I saw your short film, Inuk, and it made a very big impression on me. And in fact, I went there with the head of the Office of the Rights of the Child and she's always repeating one thing that I think is so important. She says, “listen to the children, listen to people”. And also she speaks about the many cultures.

25:28 We have many cultures, many Inuit cultures in different settlements and towns and so on. And she says, “listen to people, and always meet people with human dignity”. And that is what I think you did in the film. Okay, we can also listen to the ideas of the airports, but we should also listen to the children.

25:53 Because as you end the film by saying is, maybe children do not dream about airports. But they dream about a good life, security, trust, confidence, empathy, growing up with other people and the sense of belonging. And I think that Greenland is at a turning point now because a lot of the institutions, a lot of the systems, they have been in a sense imported from Denmark.

26:28 And I'm not criticising anyone. I just say we also have to look at new options because we are still losing too many children. They drop out of education. They are not happy in some families or in institutions. So I think time has come to rebuild the institutions based on Inuit values and ways of conflict resolution and social support.

27:00 That's a new way of thinking. It is growing. We hear from the students here, the PhD students, a lot of people out there in the institutions, and it's very, very important because we have spent a lot of money in systems which did not fully solve the problem. They did a lot of good, but they did not solve the problem. And Greenland is in a position to start leading the way in using Inuit approaches in all this.

27:37 Inuk: I see the same thing that in Greenland we are in this very unique, yeah, turning point, right, where we have the ability as a society to focus more on traditional Inuit values. I come from a mixed background. My dad's Danish, my mum's Greenlandic, so I grew up in a bilingual home, right? I was spoon-fed academia, pretty much, right? I was spoon-fed the, the, both languages, the language of the coloniser and the language of the colo, colo... 

28:09 Peter: Colonised.

Katie: Colonised. 

28:10 Inuk: Colonised, thank you. Yeah. And so, so I remember moving to Denmark because we were quite many young people from Greenland moving to Denmark to get an education. And I've, even though it wasn't easy, always, I definitely had a lot of privileges, just being with my background, than a lot of my peers. And I think we have a unique opportunity in Greenland to maybe even out these differences between cultures and languages. 

28:44 Peter: Yes, and I mean that sense of Greenland is in a beautiful and very strong position to play with these things, these categories, to find other categories. And that is what I think is so productive in the culture now, in the theatre, in the art, in, in your films, that is the position to play with the categories, with the concepts and say, "ah, but we can create our own concepts from this culture. We can contribute to all the world and say there is another way of doing things".

29:27 Katie: To come back to what you were saying about Inuit values, what do you mean by that? What are those core values as you see them? 

29:37 Inuk: To latch on to what you said, like listening to, to the elders, I think it was very beautiful about, you know, the image you gave of sitting with the elders and, and learning and not just learning knowledge, right, but learning to take care of, of people, you know, learning the trust and learning they are all the human values, I guess.

29:57 I mean, because that's what we learned through the elder generations. But I think another very Inuit value that I think is present also in what you said, Peter, is the ability to maybe not make such a distinction because what I think is quite fascinating, at least within traditional Inuit culture, is that because everyone is needed in society, right?

30:20 The Inuit had a way of incorporating everyone in their own unique way into society. So everyone was important as part of the whole. And I think that's very beautiful. And I think a lot of the way that I see a way of tearing down these categories will be to install this sense of being part of something greater and the importance of it. Because I'm not a psychologist, but I, I think a lot of the issues that younger generations in Greenland deal with is being stuck between one category and the other and not really knowing "where do I belong?".

31:02 I mean, that must be horrific, not knowing who you are. And I think by taking away categories, you just are: you're part of this, this thing. And I think that's, that's a traditional Inuit value, I think I would say.

31:18 Peter: We have to start with listening to people. We have to start with the value you just mentioned: everybody is needed. Everybody is a beautiful person. Everybody has a lot of resources. Everybody wants to contribute. And when we meet people with that approach, at least in my experience, mainly with teenagers and young people in their 20s, they really start to use the Inuit value of supporting each other.

31:48 I think Inuk, a value is also that we should be in harmony, we should not have conflicts, we should support each other, we should integrate, include each other. And that is a very strong value, or values, in the culture. But what happens? Violence, we are transgressing the limits of other people. We are abusing other people.

32:17 We are not listening to them. We are not listening to, to the silent voices of victims. And that is what we should do. We should open another kind of dialogue and to me, as I see it, it is the Inuit way put into practice and it makes all the voices heard without creating a lot of conflicts because in this diversity, people, they can accept each other and listen to each other.

32:52 Stop the shaming, stop the fighting, stop the bad words and politics. And remember the Inuit way of listening to each other and integrating. Also, now we're working in a project we call Sustainability Portraits, and we are trying to make it bigger and include Narsaq and other places. And I mean, maybe coming back to you, Inuk, what we try there is to say these values, maybe it's easier to make them visible in, in art, in visual art, maybe even in poetry and literature and, and photos.

33:38 And because then we can reach the felt sense, the emotional intelligence of people and also the social intelligence of people. And you just came last week, Inuk, to the university, and you spoke so beautifully about this, how to get in contact with people more directly than in what I'm doing all the time: words, words, words, words. No: pictures, emotions, connections.

34:09 Katie: Thank you Peter for raising that subject of art. How do you think that can help in this process that you're talking about of reviving Inuit values, of, of co-creating this more inclusive idea of progress? What role does art have in that?

34:29 Inuk: I think one of the ways that the arts have a strength, at least in a Greenlandic sense, is that Inuit culture is by default a storytelling culture. I know a lot of people say this, that people have always told stories and such, but, um, Greenlandic culture has a very strong oral tradition. They've always had it, I mean, for thousands of years. And a lot of these stories and a lot of this way of, um, of handing down knowledge through culture, through art, I guess you could say, is through telling compelling stories that may not deliver facts as much as they deliver feelings, as much as they deliver a sense of community.

35:13 I mean, a lot of like, um, even in the Nordic countries, right? You, you, you have like the old folktales of Northern Germany or Denmark or, and what have you, the folklore was used in a way to bring up children, to tell them what was right and what was wrong. And the same is definitely true in Inuit storytelling, that the oral traditions was a way of communicating the values much more than communicating the facts.

35:41 Katie: Inuk, I'm curious to know, you know, as an artist, as a filmmaker, how do you see your role in all of this, in this process of exploring, discussing, sharing visions of progress for Greenland?

35:59 Inuk: How do I see my role? Yeah, well, I, I don't think I've ever been that conscious of my own role in society. I like what Peter said before of doing what feels right. I mean, being nice, I guess you could say. And I think what motivates me in my films is always something personal that, that either angers me or fascinates me. And what I've experienced at least in the last five or six years through my filmmaking is that they resonate quite a bit with the, with the Greenlandic population. And I, and I think it's, it's very humbling, but my films don't really come from a place where I see myself, or I have this role, I have to tell this story.

36:43 But somehow at least, yes, as I said, in the last few years, they've kind of filled that role, which I think is, is deeply, deeply moving as an artist. But I think going forward, I think I will continue doing what, what moves me. I'll just be pleased if people like it or find it fascinating. But I do think that art, and maybe especially film, because we've seen throughout history on an international scale, how the medium of film has been used, at least within the last 150 years, as a way of almost nation-building.

37:22 I mean, after the Russian Revolution, I mean, film was the medium to communicate to the masses. We see it after the First World War, where Germany was this huge film centre. We see it after the Second World War, where Danish national feeling had to be reborn, and we had a lot of the traditional Danish cinema being born back then, we see it with Hollywood today and American influence, and I think what we're seeing, at least within the global indigenous community, is that films dealing with indigenous issues are doing very well in the international scene. I think that's very interesting.

38:09 Katie: Peter, I wanted to ask also about your relationship with art. I mean, you're a psychologist, but you've done, as I understand it, quite a lot of work with artists and specifically, for example, and I have to apologise for my pronunciation, with the Siunissaq project. 

38:28 Narration: Siunissaq is a Greenlandic word meaning "the future". It's the name of an art-based psychosocial project with young people. Peter co-founded the project in 2015 together with a community psychologist, a visual artist and a photographer.

38:44 Katie: And I was wondering if you could just tell us a bit about that. 

38:47 Peter: Yes, the Siunissaq is still, and it started also as a project to support young people because a lot of young people, they drop out of school and, and suicide, unhappiness. And then we said “there must be another way”. And it was impacted very much by a former project called the Madu Project. Today it's called Kaassassuk. It's a project for young people, young men, in fact, with a history of violence and challenges, but also a history of being marginalised. And there we had the experience that by training these young guys in sports and also in social abilities to live peacefully with other people then they changed and they became very happy and they became accepted in the community.

39:59 So we said, "ah, the therapy should not be on these young men. It should be on the surrounding community". So we said, "ah, we have to make community healing to include these". And then later we had a big, big program in a town called Paamiut, and it was all organised by the people in Paamiut, and it was an example of self-determination. "Asasaq", it was called: "my beloved place", Paamiut.

40:32 Everything was organised by these principles and values of the Inuit culture we talked about, and, and it was more social, more collective, more community-based, and also with this, like, support. Very few conflicts, but “let's find a solution. Let's give place for everybody”. Of course, you cannot abuse other people, but it seems like when you give space for everybody, people, they stop doing that because then everybody, can freely speak out.

41:08 And that was a very great experience to work in that. It was a little bit inspired by something I experienced in the Philippines, a place called the Space for Peace. And they were Catholics, indigenous people, and Muslim people. And they said, "we don't need all these categories. We want to intermarriage. We want to have good times.

41:35 We want to share the crops". The, they were farmers. "And we want to have a peaceful life". “So we said ‘no thank you’ to all these categories coming from outside. This is not our conflict. This is not our war. We know how to live peacefully together". That is what they did in Paamiut. They said the same, "we know from our tradition, our history, our sense of belonging.

42:04 We know how to live together here". And then violence dropped and it stayed very low for like 10 years. And people, they felt more wellbeing. And so the Siunissaq said, maybe we cannot get money again to make such a big programme. But, we can support young people about this social resilience, how to work together, so support each other, and we will use a lot of art, because in Paamiut Asasaq, they used a lot of theatre, drawing, and very, very big community meetings.

42:43 And they were done what I dare to call the Inuit way: people they could walk in and out and eat and children could play and in one corner there could be music and in another deep discussion and that was amazing, that nobody forced anyone to do something. And with that freedom, people, they started to, to blossom. Make the space as they did in Paamiut and people will benefit because that is what people want to do.

43:15 So if you stop all the discipline and all the examinations and all the control, then people will blossom and the culture will, as it is, come to its right and be very productive. I have been an examinator at the university for decades. And now at the end of my career, I can tell you I hated it every time.

43:44 And now I ask myself, how could I ever be such a perpetrator of violence to say, "ah, you get an A. Ah, you get a C". For the productivity and the desire and the lust of life in young people. I mean, if we stop that kind of things, and then people will say, "ah, but what about the progress of the community?". I will promise you, it will grow.

44:27 Katie: Why, as a psychologist, did you want to work with art and with artists?

44:33 Peter: When I'm doing workshops in different areas of conflicts around the world or in a lot of places, we always used creativity, like drawings, like sometimes even dancing and, and poetry and little texts and photos. And so little by little, I started to look more into that.

44:56 And in a way, I always wanted to be an artist and I wrote a lot of poetry. And in fact, I wrote two little short books for children and I even got them published back in the time. And I was very fascinated by all that, but always to have this, um, contact with people. And then little by little, it showed that people, they have a very diverse way of expressing themselves, so it's very good to use other means than just words. And so when we started the Siunissaq project, we said, "ah, we also want a lot of art in this to open another space, another way of expression". So we did that especially with photo, but also little sculptures and sometimes music. And suddenly we saw other sides of life.

46:00 Narration: Photography is a central element of Siunissaq, the thinking being that it’s an accessible way for young people to tell a story, express a mood, or present their point of view. One group decided to take portraits of the people around them. 

46:15 Peter: And it was for me a very learning process, because people, they wanted to show themselves in a particular way in the portraits. And what they wanted to do, they wanted to make a difference in the people watching. And this was amazing because the people on the portraits, they were in a way the artists. They really wanted to make an impact on you when you looked at it. I think that is so beautiful way of using art. I really like, like you see a short film and it makes an impression on you.

46:57 It's a piece of art, but the artwork includes also the performance, the audience, the impact. So the process, the viewing, the emotion, it's all part of the artwork. And I really like that because then, then we start to create reality, our shared reality together in a very creative way. That is why I'm so fascinated about this. I think I will not become an artist myself, but I really would like, so I say I have to make psychology an art.

47:39 Inuk: Yeah, and I remember one time when we, we also talked, Peter, I was really fascinated about how, if you tell your own story, or if you focus on positive things, how you can boost the self confidence of young people. I can't remember your exact words, but you, you expressed something like that. And I think art, as such, also has the role of telling not just positive things, but things that are true, so you can look inwards and discover who you are and why you are or why you're important.

48:14 I mean, this comes back to the idea of being part of something. I think, I think that's what fascinates at least me with music and literature, film and everything. And it's not just a point of identification, but it makes it internal for you in a way, right? You, you absorb the art. I think it's, it's a beautiful way of expression. Yeah. 

48:37 Katie: I love your comment about making psychology an art. I mean, part of it, I guess, is about expanding our ideas of what art is and who an artist is as well. What would you say your vision of progress is in a Greenlandic context? And it could be something very concrete, or it could be more abstract. You know, maybe it is to do with values or principles, but when you think about progress, what does that mean to you?

49:10 Inuk: I think for me, progress within a Greenlandic sense would definitely relate more to us stopping lateral violence within the community of Greenland. I think when we reach that, we could do anything, but I'm not saying that we should not focus on a lot of the more traditional capitalist ways of progress. People in the modern world, we do need jobs. We do need to make money and we do need to, in Greenland's instance, have tourists who come and spend money. We do need that. But I think as a people, I think stopping lateral violence is, for me, priority number one, accepting that we do have different opinions, but there is room for everyone. 

50:09 Katie: Yeah, I think often it's very tempting, and I find myself doing this a lot, it's tempting to fall into kind of binary thinking, you know, either it's resource extraction and tourism, or it's something else, and actually making the point that it doesn't have to be that binary choice. So yeah, I think that's really helpful. Peter, how about you? What's progress to you?

50:32 Peter: This holistic idea that sustainability, which is like a keyword everywhere now, and it's very important, that it also includes the economic sustainability. But what I think, I think that progress here is to put human dignity into it, to say, "ah, we have to work, we have to have tourism, we have to have mining, maybe, we have to have...", but do it in a way with human dignity.

51:05 Many years ago, it was a big discussion if people, they could show up at work in the morning and all that. But if people cannot show up at work, maybe it's something with the work we have to change. And that way of seeing it all connected. I think that is very, very important in this. And also to listen to people.

51:28 Make peaceful conflict resolution to show another way. In a global sense, it's a small population. In the very old time, in the old Greek system of Athens, you had basic democracy, but you have more men participating in the basic democracy than you have in the population in Greenland now. So I think to work with another sense of democracy and say, why do we have to copy the representative democracy instead of trying to work with something else?

52:07 So I think this, this attitude of playing with possibilities, also to confront the social challenges, because we cannot continue to leave people behind and we have to regain human dignity in this, that social justice, equality, human rights for everybody, and protection, as you say, Inuk, protection from violence, to stop the violence, is very, very important in this.

52:56 Katie: I'm really sorry to bring the tone down at the end of the conversation. Hopefully I'll bring it up again afterwards. But I am also curious to know if you have any anxieties or fears about the future in Greenland. 

53:11 Inuk: Yeah, I think maybe, I think that, that I fear is the opposite of, of what you said, Peter. Not having a holistic approach to solving the issues, because I feel though I have had a great life and I've been very privileged in my youth and growing up. I also have been witnessing a lot of people struggling just to get the basics. And I think. It's going to sound very harsh, but I think the worst thing we can do is continue down that path of not really doing anything, because I really agree with what you're saying, Peter, about the importance of it, of trying something else.

53:53 I don't have the answers exactly to what that is, but I really feel that we should maybe, as you said, play with different ways of solving it. I mean, because at least in my last couple of films, I've been very focused on the idea of, of economic prosperity versus human dignity, I think. And I think we should look at it as, you know, in a holistic way, just as you said, Peter. And I think my fear is that we won't do it, and we will continue down this path, and I think that's, that's a huge threat, and I think it's a very liable threat, I mean, I, I can almost see it in the horizon.

54:37 And I think now is the time to act on a national scale, on an international scale, and that we need to shift towards, yeah, looking at the, at the big picture. I mean, we see the same thing with, with climate change, which is very visible in Greenland. I mean, scarily visible, and we see it all over the world and still internationally, we can't stop fighting.

55:04 Now really is the time to act. I think in a lot of ways, Greenland is maybe a microcosm of this, I mean, not that capitalism is all bad, but you know, we've done that for, for a hundred years. Let's see if we can also focus on something else. We can't just have growth for the sake of growth because we have nothing left to, to steal from or to harvest from.

55:37 Peter: I really agree with what you say. And I think that the unequality in Greenland is very, very huge in this moment, and it has been documented a lot. But it's not just money and income. It's also in security, access to human rights, access to education, access to education in your own language, to the protection.

56:12 So a huge difference. And what I could fear is like, that the society will break into two. And I think time has come to say, how can we all take responsibility? Not just for me and my family, which is very important and I really appreciate that. But also for the, uh, society and for the local communities. And I see people doing that and that's the good thing.

56:47 But I agree with Inuk. If we say, "ah, we just have to have growth and income" and all that, and so maybe we are losing the, the other sides. And I think that other sides, the social, the cultural, the environmental, these are the background for the growth in economy. So if we leave that behind, we will have a, how do I say that, a hollow economy, maybe with a lot of money, but with no soul, and that is what we should avoid.

57:23 Katie: Final question, and maybe this will end up being a mix of the sort of dreams that you've described or the positive vision of progress and some of the fears. But if you imagine yourself walking around in 30 years’ time, what does it look like? What does it feel like? What kind of changes can you observe?

57:46 Inuk: Well, I spent my childhood in Narsaq and Qaqortoq. My, my grandmother lived in Narsaq and I was very close to my, to my Greenlandic family. And so for me, Narsaq will always be full of cherished memories of running around as a child. It's a very open landscape. So for me, Narsaq is a happy childhood outdoors with the sun shining, and I hope in 30 years Narsaq will still be this.

58:19 I mean, when I was there in the last couple of years, I've had the pleasure of filming there or visiting people there. It is a place in physical decay, definitely, but I can still feel a lot of the locals clinging on to what Narsaq used to be – my idea of Narsaq, and I really hope that in the future, Narsaq will still be, will still be what I remembered as a child.

58:47 I don't mean come back to its glory days, because it also was a huge place of, of, you know, of, of, of fishing and, you know, and, uh, uh, sheep farming and all that. I mean, that's also important, but I think again, we've been talking so much on the sensations versus the facts. And for me, I, I hope that Narsaq will be full of, um, happy children running in the fields. I mean, it sounds corny, but I, I really do, because that's what Narsaq means to me. You know, the, the, the feeling of, of home, the feeling of that sensation. And I, I hope that in the future, people will have that feeling of Narsaq as well.

59:29 Peter: When you speak, I can hear the voices of children playing in a long summer's afternoon, running around and being part of a community that is caring and supportive. That is my vision.

59:48 Narration: To learn more about the Siunissaq project, visit siunissaq.gl

To see Inuk’s work, visit inuks.dk

And to find out more about Narsaq International Research Station, visit narsaqresearchstation.gl

1:00:07 Thank you for listening to this episode of Testing Grounds, from the Nordic Alliance of Artists' Residencies on Climate Action. You can find out more about the project at naarca.art. If you enjoy the podcast, please do tell your colleagues and friends, and leave us a rating and a review.

1:00:25 This episode featured Lise Autogena, Inuk Jørgensen, and Peter Berliner. It was produced by me, Katie Revell. Our series music is by Loris S Sarid, and our artwork is by Jagoda Sadowska. This episode also featured field recordings from Greenland by Jeo, from Freesound.org

1:00:46 Thanks also to Alex Marrs, Charlotte Hetherington, Leena Kela, Alexia Holt, Vibeke Koehler, Pari Stave, Jacob Fabricius, Rose Tytgat, Helena Selder, Lise Autogena and Iben Mosbæk.

1:00:59 The members of NAARCA are Cove Park in Scotland, Saari Residence in Finland, Skaftfell Art Center in Iceland, Art Hub Copenhagen in Denmark, Baltic Art Center in Sweden, Artica Svalbard, in Norway, and Narsaq International Research Station in Greenland. NAARCA’s initial three-year programme is generously supported by Kone Foundation and Nordic Culture Fund.