Testing Grounds

Episode 7: Saari Residence - Art and Decolonisation

October 27, 2023 Season 1 Episode 7
Testing Grounds
Episode 7: Saari Residence - Art and Decolonisation
Show Notes Transcript

What could it mean to decolonise art, and to use art as a tool for decolonisation?

Saari Residence is NAARCA’s Finnish partner. It’s located in Mynämäki, Southwest Finland, and maintained by Kone Foundation as a residence for artists of all disciplines and nationalities.

Leena Kela is a performance artist, and the Residency Director at Saari. She introduces us to the region, to Saari, and to our two contributors: Taru Elfving and Pauliina Feodoroff. Taru is a curator and writer focused on nurturing “undisciplinary” and site-sensitive enquiries at the intersections of ecological, feminist and decolonial practices. Pauliina is a Skolt Sámi theatre director, artist and land-guardian whose performance piece Matriarchy appeared in the Sámi Pavillion at the 2022 Venice Biennale. Taru and Pauliina explore ideas of decolonisation in art and “the art world”, both in the Nordic region specifically, and more broadly.

Find out more:
Saari Residence (https://koneensaatio.fi/en/saari-residence)
Snowchange Cooperative (http://www.snowchange.org)
Contemporary Art Archipelago (https://contemporaryartarchipelago.org)
Matriarchy (https://oca.no/thesamipavilion)

Leena Kela, performance artist, Residency Director at Saari Residence (http://www.leenakela.com)
Taru Elfving, curator and writer (https://contemporaryartarchipelago.org/about)
Pauliina Feodoroff artist, film and theatre director, land guardian, Sámi advocate (https://oca.no/thesamipavilion/thesamipavilion-pauliinafeodoroff)

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!

00:00 Leena: It's now autumn in Finland. And it looks quite colourful. When I look out of my window, there is the park of Saari and yeah, at the moment it's changing its colours. There's like yellow and red and orange as the leaves of the big, big and old trees like oak trees and maple trees and lime trees are changing the colours, and slowly also the leaves are falling down. So it's really beautiful now, but at the same time, it's the changing season so there's a bit of feeling of like, maybe even sadness. The migrating birds have left and also the winter is really approaching.

00:55 Various speakers: Velkommen. Tervetuloa. Tikilluaritsi. Välkommen. Fàilte. Bures. Velkommen.

01:04 Narration: Welcome to Testing Grounds, from the Nordic Alliance of Artists' Residencies on Climate Action. Episode 7: Saari Residence – Art and Decolonisation

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.

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 Finnish partner, Saari Residence.

02:10 Leena: I'm Leena Kela. I'm the Residency Director at the Saari Residence in Finland. And besides being a residency director, I'm also a performance artist, a curator, and a doctoral candidate.

So Saari Residence is an international artists' residence. We host artists from all disciplines, but we also host researchers. And we are located in the countryside in the southwest Finland, by the Baltic Sea. The residency is maintained by Kone Foundation, which is one of the Finland's largest foundations supporting academic research and culture and the arts. The residency started in 2008. So we've been running for 15 years.

03:04 I've been working here since six years now. And, uh, we're hosting around 80 artists and researchers every year. In so-called winter season, kind of from September till late April, we are running individual residencies. So then that means like nine artists and researchers are spending two months together here.

And then in the summertime, it's for the group residency. So then the groups can be up to 16 people. And then around that, we also host researchers who are on Kone Foundation funding, and then they can come to the residency to, to retreat and focus on their, on their work.

03:52 As a residency, we do have a strong focus on ecological and social sustainability, also including psychological sustainability. But instead of like that being a theme, we consider it more as a, as a culture or, or the conditions in the residency. That kind of shifted maybe around three, four years ago when we started to kind of examine our residency practices and activities in terms of their environmental impact and also made some changes in minimising our emissions.

But since, and as we are international residency, transportation creates a huge part of our, our emissions. We do support ecological travel or slow travel, if you call it that. But we don't want to completely avoid flying because we want to also invite and host artists from Global South. And we do support their flights also financially.

04:59 So we think that kind of when the artists and researchers arrive here and when they live here for two months, for example, because of the culture here is, is paying attention to, to environmental questions. We think that, uh, they kind of can become aware of their own habits and actions. So we are putting a lot of attention on, for example, recycling and our buildings are heated by geothermal heating and we avoid using fossil energy and we only serve vegan food.

05:34 And so on. And also, as part of the ecological residency programme, we have learning circles, which can be reading books or articles or then having discussions or then doing some practical workshops, for example, picking mushrooms. And then we also host Saari-invited artists-in-residence. So they are here to open their own practice, share their practice around ecological questions, and then kind of offer the points of views and knowledges in ecological thinking for the other residents, but also for us as the staff working here in Saari.

06:14 Narration: Along with Cove Park, in Scotland, Saari is a founding member of NAARCA.

06:19 Leena: I think, and we think here in Saari that, that the work around kind of, yeah, sustainability in these different aspects is never done. It's like a constant learning and learning from others and with others and sharing knowledges and sharing best practices or just posing questions together.

So that was the reason why NAARCA initiative started. So we started as a kind of three years programme or project. So as we are approaching the end of that, the next year is gonna be the last year. Um, the question that, uh, we will be asking ourselves is that should we expand the network or is the work done? I'm, I'm kind of doubtful on that. Or kind of how would we like to move on or are we kind of more individually carrying on the practices and, and sharing those knowledges.

07:13 So yeah, it's, it's, it's very important, uh, group of amazing residency representatives from the different Nordic countries and yeah, with very specific questions that they're bringing on the table.

07:31 Katie: What are some of the ways that, that the area is being impacted by the climate crisis? Maybe something you've noticed specifically, or something that you know is going on?

07:41 Leena: One thing is that the winters are getting very wet so we don't get snow every year as we used to, and this is really influencing the trees and the plants and the animals which are used to hibernate in the cold weather and cold winters but now they are reacting to the changing climate. And one example for me - a big realisation happened last January when we were foraging in the middle of the winter and we could find fresh chickweed and usually like January is a month when everything used to be frozen and now kind of green is growing, and I think something like shifted in my, in my mind and I got a little shocked and also like how there are new species coming to the north.

08:32 For example, we are located by the bay, which is one of the busiest spot for migrating birds. And it seems like every year they are spotting new bird species, almost on a yearly basis. But then another thing, as Saari Residence is located in an old manor, this house where I'm, I'm now, it's the main building of the, of the manor.

This was built in 1779, and it's built for the climate where the winters were cold and it was like quite clear, four seasons, so to say, in a year. But now since the winters are wet and mild, this building had to be renovated because of microbes growing in the wooden structures. So it really functions on, yeah, multiple levels, this climate change, even though you don't see it like as such, we don't see the, the sea level rising yet. Or the effects that could be easily spotted, but it's more kind of like slowly coming in and affecting.

09:43 Narration: In this episode, curatorial researcher and educator Taru Elfving will be in conversation with Pauliina Feodoroff, a Skolt Sámi artist, director, land guardian, and Sámi advocate.

09:56 Leena: Yeah, I wanted to suggest Taru Elfving and Pauliina Feodoroff as contributors to Saari episode, as both of their work stems from ecological crisis and concerns and both of their work somewhere in the intersection of art and science. And this is also something that we do in Saari. And I think that what is especially important is that they kind of, they indicate how ecological and decolonial thinking are intertwined.

10:30 And thinking and practices, how they are intertwined. And this is also something that we are, uh, aiming at in Saari by addressing how social and ecological sustainability should be considered together. Taru Elfving, she's been working closely with Saari Residence, both as an expert of contemporary art, and then an expert of ecology, and she has taken part to many of our gatherings and seminars. She was also the one who was advising in our process of this building and developing the ecological residency activities. And she's also one of the mentors to our residency artists. And then Paulina Feodoroff is a Sámi artist and activist.

And here I want to acknowledge that the country of Finland is partly located in the homeland of the Indigenous peoples, Sámi. 

11:24 Narration: This homeland is called Sápmi, and it stretches across northern parts of what is now Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

11:32 Leena: And Pauliina is an advocate of Sámi culture and Sámi rights, and has done a remarkable work as an artist and activist in the questions of land rights and the raise of awareness of deforestation.

And here I just wanted to speak a bit about the forests too, because I wanted to invite Taru and Pauliina to this episode also because of the questions around biodiversity and forests are important both for us in Saari and then for Kone Foundation at large. This year Kone Foundation started a new initiative. In Finnish it's called "Metsän puolella" and in English that would be "for the forests", and that aims at bringing more voices and points of views to the discussions about forests, and this initiative funds researchers and then artists and also activists who work with or for forests.

12:36 This aim is to diversify how forests are understood and also how, kind of, how to bring in multiple voices and, and meanings in that discussions. So I thought that Taru and Pauliina also bring aspects to that.

13:02 Pauliina: That is my Sami name. My Finnish name, my baptised name, is Pauliina Feodoroff. I come, uh, from a small village, Keväjärvi, and my father is from Sevettijärvi and my mother is from the middle of Finland, from a small village called Uura. I'm a theatre director by my education and the last couple of years, or last ten years, I've been calling myself Sámi activist because mainly the projects that I'm working with is trying to use the openings that art gives to create space for land protection and promoting our cultures.

Taru: I'm Taru Elfving. I'm a curatorial researcher and educator and writer. I've been working in recent years in Turku archipelago, an archipelago region in the Baltic Sea, off the southwestern coast of Finland.

14:03 Narration: The project’s called Contemporary Art Archipelago, or CAA.

14:07 Taru: And my work has been focused on bringing together artists and scientists to think with, and alongside, and about the environmental changes and urgencies in that very specific ecosystem, but also to think of our own methodologies and practices and structures and how they need to change also towards kind of sustainable futures.

14:29 Katie: How do you guys know each other?

14:32 Taru: Hm, good question.

14:35 Pauliina: There are not so many people who are trying to bring artists and scientists together. At least maybe five, six years ago, there were not. And that's why, because we are having similar kind of ways of thinking about who should be on table on deciding about the issues, about who should be doing the change.

And we both think what I guess is that the decisions should be based on knowledge, the best possible knowledge. And Taru has worked for many years of bringing arts knowledge and scientists, researchers together, and I've been doing the similar kind of things and adding the traditional Indigenous knowledge.

15:19 And, uh, trying to have, uh, practical examples of that this is doable, that it's not that difficult, and it's not that these ways of knowing, even though they are different, they would be against each other, or they should be quarrelling about the attention rather than that the only true vice is ignorance.

15:44 Taru: Yeah, I think there was somebody, in their very wise kind of intuition brought us together into some dialogue at some point, you know, when realising that we shared the same concerns around working with ecological urgencies, but really wanting to connect them or feel that we, they, they can't be really addressed without, uh, thinking of them through this sort of intersectional lens, you know, in relation to decolonisation, but also kind of gender and other sort of more socio-political questions that are often still, at least in a Finnish context, even today, are often somehow these discussions are happening in different rooms, you know, from the ecological debates and discussions.

And I think in both of our practices we've seen them so interlinked, you know, that, uh, this is something where our dialogue started. 

16:34 Pauliina: And also both have been questioning that what do we mean by data? That if you say that we are making decisions based on data, like whose data? Taru was saying that there are so many different perspectives of interpreting the same data, set of data, and if you don't contextualise from whose hands and from whose interests this data is produced and with what kind of questions, you end up narrowing reality consciously.

17:08 Katie: To dive in at the deep end a little bit – it's a massive, massive question, but if there's a way of just picking out some key words or phrases or thoughts about the whole idea of decolonisation. What do you associate with that term and that idea, that process?

17:31 Taru: Well, I think to me it's, it's something very concrete and I'm, I'm quite maybe kind of wary of, of using it in relation to much of my work because I think it's, uh, often operates now in a very metaphorical level and it's not a metaphor, but maybe Paulina could you know, define from your perspective and then I can expand from there.

17:52 Pauliina: From my understanding, I, I try to see that word or that concept from two parts. It's the "de" part and "colonise" part. If we look at the colonisation part, it's still an ongoing process. For instance, UK still have colonies and our nature's resources and homelands are still being colonised and there's ongoing war in Europe at the moment.

18:20 "Make Russia great again", so take the colonies back. And the "de", what I understand as a non-English speaker, that you deactivate, that you stop doing something. And in some cases, stop doing something that you use your body or your means, whatever, to stop some kind of action. And the more safe your society is, or more in safe ladder of the society you are, the more intellectual exercise that decolonisation can be, that you can start deactivating certain kind of theories and ideas that have been and still are justifying why the colonial order should be in place, why one group of people or a nation considers itself to be superior to others, whether it be culturally or as a militarily or that just we have a greater right for take over territories.

19:24 If that's appropriate, I would wish to read a part of a short text from a longer text from a colleague of mine, Mr Jan Saijets, who is a Sámi satellite scientist, and he has been the key person when trying to deactivate the colonial actions in Sápmi, especially in an industrial land use and logging, by making the damage already done visible in order to make people to understand how and what is happening.

19:59 And he has been the one who has developed this kind of a remote monitoring methodology, how to use laser scanning images, wrong colour photographs, satellite images, digital maps, and also the horizontal photos from the 100 metres lines, over 120,000 photos to his database to make visible, to show out just one reindeer herding unit's area, that what is the actual status when we are making new decisions. And he's writing that "rapidly increasing human-induced land-use change is an urgent global concern with significant ecological and social impacts. For the world's Indigenous peoples, industrial land-use policies pose a threat to traditional livelihoods and the right to practise their culture as protected by international law.

20:55 From the Indigenous people's perspective, one of the critical issues concern the determination of what constitutes 'significant' and hence 'unacceptable' impact". This is just one introduction part for his longer science article that is still unpublished where he describes his methodology and his results. But I think that is quite good description about what the decolonising work is, stopping the damage that is already happening, showing the damage that is done so that people will be able to start thinking about the steps forward.

21:37 Taru: I think that's, that's it, you know, it's a very concrete – decolonisation is, is a kind of practice and kind of very grounded and rooted in land and, and, and connection of people to the land. And I guess in that sense, my work and what many of us in the arts are doing doesn't have that direct connection. But I think for me also this sort of realisation of my own implication in these sort of power structures and histories and ongoing abuse of power in many ways has happened in, in Sápmi.

22:09 And, and I think the questions that came out of kind of becoming very aware of how little we have tools and methods, critical awareness of how to really start dealing and unpacking our own implication was something that I've taken with me to this other context where I've been working, in the archipelago, where we don't have the same, in a way, comparable situation with, for example, Indigenous people in an ongoing colonisation. But it really got me thinking of these sort of wider assumptions, I guess, that we carry with us and in our practices of how there's a kind of presumption of access, uh, in science and in the arts, that is actually a kind of continuation of this sort of Western colonial project.

22:53 And that's something that requires a lot of effort in trying to dismantle and even just become aware of, that with good intentions in the arts and the sciences, we presume that we have access to places, to knowledges, to material resources, and I've been actively, through the work in recent years, been thinking together with other colleagues and artists and also with scientists on how do we try to dismantle this, how do we start practising otherwise, and really critically reflecting on our own methods of how could we start sort of shifting them away from that.

23:30 So the site where I've been working specifically, it's an island that has 400 years of institutional history from leprosy colony up until a women's mental asylum. It's in the 1960s was closed and the same buildings now house a research institute studying the environmental changes, but also increasing tourism on the island.

23:52 So it's kind of becomes very clear in that context of how we're as artists, or working in the arts, we have to somehow try to find a way of working in that context that a) doesn't follow a certain maybe kind of consumerist, extractive practices in tourism for example, but then I can also kind of see how actually a lot of our presumptions are very similar and at the foundations of our work than in sciences.

24:19 We assume access. So working especially with these natural scientists who do long-term monitoring of the environmental changes, who spend decades and across generations on working on this site, have this very long timescale of working with the place. It's been a very interesting mirror, you know, to kind of somehow think critically of our own practices in the arts, and what does it mean to actually work in ways where you can really become much more aware of and respond to and address critically also your own entanglement in that environment, but also in those histories.

24:55 And what are those sort of structures of, institutional structures of knowledge and power and access that we are actually kind of somehow continuing or part of these longer genealogies. And so that's where I feel that there's a kind of resonance with decolonial approach or sort of in a different context than Indigenous lands.

25:17 Pauliina: I think you are describing a very essential phenomenon, which is a lack of consent, what the colonial process is, whether it be done in the name of freedom of arts or freedom of sciences or freedom of nations, that let's skip the dialogue part for asking for consent. And it's many times said that, no, if we would have started the dialogue or we have tried to have a dialogue, but they don't agree on anything, so it's better just to skip the process and make whatever you want to do.

25:53 And especially in sciences, which has also very long legacy of being in the front line of getting access to areas, getting openings to areas where people are not willing to be occupied yet. And science has been also the one who has been writing and creating the veils for these theories of why we can do it.

26:21 Before that it was the God and nowadays it's the science, but in the same time it's saying, "okay, this is the best what humankind can do. So it would be very, very unwise to not open doors to every space that the scientist wants to look at". One definition of colonial work is something that it doesn't dialogue, or if it dialogues, it just dialogues with its own terms, and those terms are very narrow, and you cannot never have the access for the broader picture, or the broader plan.

26:58 And if we think about the dialogue, that you really would have a consent among a group of people, among individuals, and also having the dialogue with the land, it would slow things, yes, up massively. It would slower different kind of ways of producing goods or materials also remarkably. But in a similar time, it would create consent and it would create acceptance for the actions that are taken. And I think that's the core of democracy.

27:36 Katie: For people listening who aren't from a Finnish context or even a Nordic context, say, could you explain what that lack of consent and that presumption of access and that lack of dialogue looks like? 

27:53 Pauliina: First of all, I want to mention that Finland has been colonised for 700 years, first by the Swedish crown and then 100 years by the Russia, and Finland only got her independence in 1970.

And the administration model is from the Swedish crown, just the language was changed and a certain kind of a bureaucratical practices came from Russia. So Finland has never decolonised her own nation state. If we look at the few pieces of traditional Finnish way of governing or endemic Finnish way of governing, it has been based on villages for territorial councils, whether it be constituted by a group of fishermen or the hunters.

28:46 And also I need to address that the Finnish towns or even villages with the fixed settlement are not that old. In the UK, or in your country in Scotland, there are thousand-year old cities. That's not the case. That kind of stabilisation with the housing happened almost 800 years later. And that's a very different story with the crown of Sweden, which was the superpower, or Norway, which also was occupied during the Second World War, and Denmark, a kingdom, old European superpower dynasty. So we don't belong to same language group than the Nordic countries and we have been the ones who were sent to war when the European 100 Years War raged, and Finns has been sold as slaves to Russia and so forth. So all this kind of a decolonisation work with the history, with the power structure, with the governing structures, is undone.

29:55 It's quite interesting that it's just now when the Ukrainian war started that the Finns have been able to start discussing a bit more about the things that happened between Soviet Union and Finland after the Second World War, because we have been so also heavily influenced by the Soviet Union and Russia afterwards, and that has created a kind of a, that we don't verbalise things, and if we verbalise things, we don't verbalise it in a manner that it would be too direct.

30:30 Taru: I think it's really good actually, Pauliina, how you kind of emphasise that it's never just a local issue, it's never just something that is happening here, you know, today. I think wherever you would go in so-called Finland, you know, what is now considered Finland, you know, there's these really, really complex histories of, colonial histories are very much there, but also the colonial connections that were also connected to trade routes, you know, and also already a circulation of natural resources that were being exploited and extracted and, and, and so on.

So these same connections have been there in many ways for hundreds of years.

31:07 Pauliina: Yeah.

31:10 Taru: And, and, and so now we just have to recognise them in different ways. I guess also historically, you know, there were always some parts of the society benefited from being part of empires and part of certain kind of trade connections, you know, and some others sacrificed their lives.

31:26 And now just, it's a kind of much more openly kind of global in, in scale, you know, these, these sort of connections. But I think it's a really, really good way of kind of summing up how I think in probably something that Finland shares with many other countries. Because of these particular histories, it allows for the state today and for many of the people to totally kind of ignore their own implication today, or the kind of fact that they are actually now abusing that power, you know, in relation to some other people.

31:58 Pauliina: Without the decolonial work in the state level as well, you just end up repeating the repressive models because all the colonies were governed in a manner that just take some resources out and benefit the centre, not to benefit the area itself and let it flourish.

32:21 Taru: And I guess when we talk about state structures or these structures of power that are, you know, not just governance structures, but also always financial power structures, of course, you know, the arts are totally, or the sciences, of course, also kind of part of the same structures and they are in many ways a mirror, you know, those same structures.

And so I think this is something that you, of course, then find down to whatever institutional framework you come down to, you know, that it's also built on those same. So you need to kind of, in a way, the decolonial work has to go through from the sort of smaller units up to the kind of bigger.

33:00 Pauliina: You know, all the, all the pipelines needs to be cleansed.

Taru: Yeah.

33:15 Katie: I'd like to talk a bit more specifically about art in this context and specifically, Pauliina, about your work, "Matriarchy".

33:26 Narration: At the Venice Biennale in 2022, what would normally have been the “Nordic Pavilion” was instead presented as the “Sámi Pavillion”. The pavilion hosted a work commissioned by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, called Matriarchy.

Matriarchy was a hugely collaborative project, involving – amongst others – artists, dancers, curators, land guardians and Sámi elders, as well as the Snowchange Cooperative. Snowchange is a pan-Arctic network of Indigenous cultures and community associations, which are working together to combat climate change and biodiversity loss. Pauliina is one the cooperative’s regional coordinators.

Matriarchy was described as a “collective performance of healing and renewal, conceived as a process of rematriation to return to a world of kinship between people, land, waters, spirits, and other-than human beings”.

34:23 Katie: Can you just tell us a bit about the work and the idea behind it? Especially as I understand it, the sort of closing demand - what you were saying to people was "don't buy our land, buy our art instead". Can you just tell us a bit about that? 

34:38 Pauliina: The concept in what was proposed is that we are auctioning viewing rights for the landscapes, that that is the art piece that you are able to look at the landscape, that we are not selling the land into protection, we are selling the right to look at the landscape, we will buy land from the private markets, protect it, rewild it, or restore it if needed, and that will be done into community-owned land again.

35:06 Which is the traditional, endemic Sámi way of governing as it has been in Finland as well. The motivation or reasoning for the Matriarchy has been in two separate ways and how to try to put them into together. The first is obviously that both the protection work, meaning the stopping the logging or stopping industrial projects, whether it be the mining claims or senseless tourism projects, stopping that kind of a destructive activities.

35:55 And also not just saying no to everything, but trying to show how this could be done instead. How we can start managing our lands if they get permanent protection. How we can start undoing the damage that is man-made, and secondly that what kind of futures it opens up if you know that for 100 or 200 years of scale that land starts to heal, and three, four, five generations of the people that have been there since the time immemorial, that their descendants will be there continuing the livelihoods, because that's an eternal cycle.

36:29 It always renews herself if you don't intrude her. And what kind of a different kind of a political or economical or rather blurry solutions you can find out to make that protection happen. The reason we have been starting to buy land into protection is to do that the landowner has the final say how the land is managed.

36:53 And when the kind of a co-management has not been possible with the Finnish state in so-called state-owned lands, because the Sámi or the traditional knowledge, uh, Indigenous traditional knowledge has had no place in that management planning, just a mascot kind of way, just that you can add some place names in the traditional languages, or let's take some nice photos and let's put some signs with the languages or maybe even tell a nice story where this place name comes, but that is obviously not enough, because we still have at least some pieces left on the knowledge, how do you actually communicate and take care of the land?

37:47 And since that has not been officially recognised, we need to pace things up, not only because of the tiredness, but also due the climate crisis, that if there's a way to find money somewhere, let's buy the lands into protection, and let's just start doing the things.

Let's start with small patches of land, see that if we make terrible mistakes or if we are making the situation better than it was in the beginning. So that was the first route. The second route was that if we look at the term "matriarchy" and it's a concept that says that or suggests that everybody is leading and no one is leading.

38:33 That is something that is so comforting that nobody needs to be the kind of last action hero who takes everything into his shoulders and saves the world by sacrificing himself, rather than connecting to all possible physical and non physical forms of existing, trying to find out a network of connections among us, the women who were in the group, and also with the land.

39:06 Asking that from the land that we try to protect and ask for consent, that do you wish this process to be driven through and trying to put these two very different kind of processes together, which one of is very masculine and very harsh. It involves money, industry, ministries, politicians, billionaires, art institution, Venice Biennale, and so forth, and money and money and money. And the second part is very silent, very slow.

39:44 That, for instance, that we practise by sleeping on the land. And how to intertwine these two together, not as a statement, but just as, rather that this is a path that co-existed and still co-exists. And both works needs to be done, because the question is, what do we then do when we stop the engines, when the decolonial work has been done?

40:14 What is the next steps forward that suggest something new, something better? Rather than just saying "no" to everything, but just saying, "okay, let's take this pathway". And I think that the bringing back the matriarchy, at least in my heritage, and I think that resonates in quite many other parts of the world, that if you dug deep enough to history, you find out that the, quite many of the societies were matriarchal from the beginning, because women tend to be communicating with the land, with their waters, better than men, and this is not excluding non-binary people by saying this. They have also their role with the land, but it seems to be that the woman's body is a very special vessel for transmission of information, in that kind of a sense.

41:11 Matriarchy is and was that kind of a process and the using of tools, how to make something valuable in the context of art in order to become valuable also in a political sphere. And also that was a practice of showing that this is doable. You can, you can do something so silly as this. And if you succeeded with once, maybe some serious actors, Finnish state for instance, starts to do similar kind of things, protecting the Arctic forests. Because the scientific community, IPCC included, says that Arctic should be a no-go zone since the one third of all soil-based carbon is in the Arctic.

So it's just not our little families that wish that area to be left alone, but the whole globe needs it.

42:20 Katie: If we're talking about decolonisation in the context of art, there is the idea of using art as a tool to encourage or, you know, initiate decolonisation. And then there is the process of decolonizing art and the art world. I'm curious what you guys think about the latter part of that. What would it mean to, to decolonise the art world and maybe specifically in your context, your geographic context? What might a decolonised art world be like? And again, I know that's a huge question, so answer it however you like. 

43:01 Taru: I think somehow, I feel that art as a tool for decolonisation or opening up possibilities goes kind of hand in hand with the question of decolonising the art world and those structures, because that's, you know, it's the work from within, somehow, where that can happen and I think this sort of art as a, as a realm where it's also possible to shift those practices or to test out on a smaller scale maybe, for example, the kind of matriarchal approach. It's something that you can start practising. You can start, you know, in a way, trying out, you know, or experimenting and gradually maybe moving towards what that could mean in practice.

43:44 I think that's kind of really crucial. And the other thing then is in this project, Matriarchy, or the ongoing work, more than a project, the way of actually shifting resources and funds and shifting this focus from those structures of ownership. Challenging that. So you're kind of directing those funds in a way.

44:05 And also attention away from ownership and actually totally kind of unsettling the foundations of, assumptions of, ownership and possibility of ownership and directing that towards actually the kind of, uh, work of transformation and how do we challenge these sort of structures of property and ownership that the fi, you know, finances are connected to, you know, in the arts very strongly, in the visual arts.

44:49 And so I think in that, that's kind of definitely all part of also actually decolonizing the art world or the arts as a particular structure, I guess, how we understand it today. But then there are also questions around access again, you know, how there is these assumptions, presumptions of access, the circulations that happen in the arts, the question of how do we commit to these sort of hundreds of years of a perspective, for example, how do we shift these circulations and practices and that logic in a way towards actually thinking in a much longer timescale and also kind of ground them in a sense that really think, you know, how do we relate to and how does our practices in the arts and work that we do, how does that actually connect to places, to different kinds of realities, communities, ecosystems, in other ways than just kind of as this sort of visitors who come in and intervene and then leave?

45:26 That kind of how art operates somehow detached, the arts operating in this sort of autonomous zone, supposedly, where there's constantly that cut to the rest of the reality is sort of exercised, you know, and, and rehearsed. How do we kind of, you know, reconnect in a way somehow, reattach? And what does that mean then? That can mean quite fundamental changes to how we understand arts in our society today.

45:52 Pauliina: I think that was a fantastic answer. You, you put it very, very precisely. I just want to add that I see these questions very, very practically. Because sometimes I also have been speaking about science and politics and art in this discussion myself. It's like art would be some, some entity somewhere who is always offended or it needs to be defended or whatever, but in the same time, art is what people are doing through art and science is what people are doing scientifically and politics is people doing decisions in the different political positions.

46:37 And that being said, that, uh, if I use this process of matriarchy as an example, we started with our working group. meaning the group of performers, that have the similar path as myself, that we have gone through art schools, we have been trained by theatre school or dance academy. And instead of going to black box and me telling, explaining about the forest, we begin by going to Asta Balto, who is a Sámi educator and elder and a great tradition holder and asking her permission first how to do that.

47:19 We spent two days for beginning that, how do we enter to this process in a manner that we make as little harm as possible. And after working with Asta and working with the land and asking for the permission and listening her guidance, and he was constantly saying that this work is not about you, this is about the land.

47:47 And if you stick to that, all goes well. And if you lose that from your eyesight, if you lose that goal from your eyesight, you will get lost. And then the next phase was we went to the forests that we were auctioning the viewing right and stayed overnight in the forest and just constantly not like rehearsing anything but that the first week was just used for asking, just slowing everything down, shutting everything down just to ask and let the world reply to you, and exchange knowledges or "how do you feel that?", "is this inaccurate or are we just imagining things because we have so high hopes and wishes for things to happen?"

48:43 And same time, both all the time checking with the community whose lands we are speaking with, the people at whose lands we are from. Learning the stories about what has been the loss, why they have lost their lands in the first place. And, and making that kind of a connection. Every land plot has been several years of process. Venice is just a small peek of that process.

And then going through the Venice factory and using all the media attention, all the speeches, following that Asta's principle that it's not about us, that how do we give the space for the land. And then if somebody responds then, "I will want to collaborate with you and participate to the protection".

49:39 One thing is that obviously that if people work they need to have salary, that everybody in the working group needs to be paid. That's a no-brainer. But if somebody buys your art artefact and supports you, one possibility is to do the old school way that be the praised artist that gets rich and you get branded that this is the famous Pauliina Feodoroff touch that go through everything. And then I'm able to buy a studio or whatever, want to take drugs or whatever. Our second option is that I don't take a dime outside of that salary of mine that belongs to me for the certain work.

50:28 And I use that money for buying back for more community-owned land. And give it back to the community. I don't describe this to be like the general model that everybody should be doing. This is what we did. And was it easy? No, it was not easy because the lack of sufficient funding because our work group was so big.

But in similar times, have we gotten international funding for the new land buys? The answer is yes. And has that attention, global attention, through the news flashes or the articles or interviews brought out something very concrete? The answer is yes. Have I been drained by this process or energised by this process?

51:22 Both. I've been so drained, this has been the most difficult process that I've done because it's so interconnected with so many things, and so many people, and at the same time I feel like I've lost part of my brain permanently, that I'm not able to function anymore in certain ways that I used before.

And in the same time, I think that is the price if you promise to a land, if you promise to a place, that's the reality. The slowness, the heaviness and the toll, what it comes if you start decolonizing, even in a small-scale place, the people within, and then rematriating something. And that is the work for the future generations. And that is work for land. As, as long as I remember that I work for land, I'm okay. But if I start to think that I work on my own, I... I'm so exhausted that I just fall apart.

52:43 Taru: Going back to this notion of decolonizing the art world, there's so much interest and work around indigeneity and decolonisation now, but I think the problem is that so often there isn't that commitment to the land. I'm not blaming the artists necessarily for this. You know, I think in some cases they could maybe look in the mirror, but it's also the structures within the arts and the funding and so on, this kind of sense that you can only work on anything in this sort of project-based, very fast-paced logic, and that it's totally impossible to develop and to hold on to that kind of commitment. That it's not just about you, in the end. But it's actually about something else.

53:24 Pauliina: Yes, because you have to sell it to the funders that it's about me, but I will use it – heh heh – a bit differently. And at the same, as you were saying, the temptation also for the Indigenous artists to get some of the piece that we have been seeing since the William Shakespeare or Francis Bacon.

"I want to be the superstar. I want to be songs written about me and statues carved out of marble, that would be so wonderful. And I want to dwell on money and buy proper housing to all my relatives" and so forth and so forth. I think that the thing, first of all, that we were able to have access to the Sámi pavilion shows the desperation of the Western world.

54:15 The West is running out of the ideas and this is like the train has passed already long ago. So Venice is drowning, so let's get the Indigenous peoples in there. It's not about that we have now somehow magically achieved the same level of quality that the Western observing eye of art would approve. Rather that nobody cares a damn anymore in the planetal crisis. And it's the very same that the minute we start to get in the access, it's already too late.

54:46 Because if the climate specialists are saying, like Sir David King from the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, saying that we have three years of working time. Like who gives a fuck if I now use my three years of building up a career and deciding what would be the next thing, so should I write a play or direct a movie or form my own theatre company? And then it's like, "oh, but I need to have the funding". Yeah, but you need to have a funding and the world is going to end. Nobody gives a shit any longer.

55:20 So that puts us in the situation that we have to somehow, Indigenous artists, be better and more noble and more wise than the Western artists have been like the last 500 years. We have to like stay sane in the situation where we are offered an access for nice exhibition that if this not benefits the situation, or if it doesn't make, make any concrete change, this is a waste of time.

55:51 And who is willing to say that if they are not able to pay their bills at the same time? Tero Mustonen, who is the leader of the cooperative, and he has been one of the main writers in IPCC's latest reports, he's a, like a very hard and harsh mirror. You don't have time for jibber and jabber about the art world. You just have this very short period of time and window of opportunities. You only have this one shot. Use your energy wisely. So maybe... Maybe not the statue in the New York.

56:33 Taru: That's the dilemma, isn't it, that we have very little time, but at the same time, we have to somehow really think in a completely different timescale. Yeah. And work in a different timescale. 

56:44 Pauliina: Exactly. And I think, but the three years, what this, Sir David King means that, that we have three years time to work in a still organised, democratic society. Because when the nature's own system starts to collapse, it will be chaos and havoc. And then somebody saying, "what about my art project?" is, like, "what about food and shelter? What about survival?" will be the next questions then.

57:13 Taru: I guess the question for me is also a lot in, in recent years, working in the arts, but working with this sense of urgency is that do we really want to face this on our own individualistic bubbles or is there a way that we can actually somehow work together instead? 

57:32 Pauliina: That is so wisely said, and especially within art systems that do we face it alone and compete each other whose suffering is the most interesting and artistly most qualified?

57:46 Katie: I totally agree. Something that I personally struggle with is that tension between the knowledge of the urgency and the very immediate existential threat versus the desire not to kind of get caught up in the kind of burnout culture and this very linear way of thinking is itself part of the mindset that has got us into this position in the first place.

58:15 Again, it's, it's an extractive approach to yourself and to other people and it's so difficult to balance those things. But I think Taru, you're absolutely right. I think community is crucial. It's so obvious it shouldn't need to be said, but, you know, that's, that's how we survive, if we survive. And that's the reason to survive, I think, as well, for me, certainly.

58:48 In your mind, what would it mean for an artist's residency to be "radical", in the context of everything you've been talking about – different ways of working, different ways of understanding success, different ways of collaborating and valuing knowledge. What might an artist's residency be like if it was genuinely radical?

59:11 Taru: I don't know what radical means anymore, I guess, in a, in a, it's sort of, I feel somehow radical as a term is also connected to this idea of avant garde or something I can't quite relate to. But, uh, yeah, maybe just the kind of how, how do we actually really address and situate our practice now in, in the relation to this state of emergency?

59:31 I've been. Always really interested in residency. So for a very long time from as when I started working, I guess, as professional in the arts, I've been really drawn to residencies that I realised more and more, more recently, that the reason being that residencies don't have to be so product-oriented and outcome-oriented, that they are these sort of a space-time where, where we don't have to somehow predetermine where we're going, and we don't have to necessarily produce anything, you know, which is quite unusual in the arts, um, in the art world today. And, and so that space, time to also come together, to spend really time in a place and together with others, making those sort of connections across geographical distances, across maybe disciplinary distances, cultural, you know, differences. I still feel that there's a really huge potential and important significance in that. But at the same time, the pace of circulation and that mobility of kind of touching down and flying off again is so problematic.

1:00:42 And I don't really know how the residencies could really begin to operate in a way that they would actually allow for longer timeframes of engagement and a sense of really getting rooted or somehow situating your practice, challenging yourself in a more thorough way and how we work, you know, and to really allow for that space time where we can really start developing different methodologies and different practices together with others.

1:01:10 I think there's a kind of a lot of thinking to be done in terms of time. And how do we allow people and practices to kind of reroute themselves, maybe, but somehow still keep that connection to the world open? Because I think somehow with residencies what I feel that is really the kind of critical potential there is the possibility that you can really, um, situate yourself and your practice in a very, very specific place, community, ecosystem, but also somehow keep that planetary and global connection open.

1:01:43 And I think that's really critical for us today in order for us to be able to somehow respond to this, this sort of climate crisis and the broader environmental crisis that there's also a danger in becoming very, very local. Where you lose that sense of connection to how actually everything that we do has a kind of planetary implications and we need to have alliances and allies somehow to work with.

1:02:11 That community has to be somehow broader than just my immediate neighbours. And so I think somehow that kind of sense of how could we think of that mobility in the arts in ways that allows for us to really root our practices, but at the same time kind of keep those connections and have that kind of sense of community that is more translocal maybe, you know, in a way. So I think there's different temporalities of how, how to be a resident, you know. 

1:02:40 Pauliina: I would add to what Taru was saying that the, all the residences are located to a specific place and there would be a possibility to have a rewilding site near to all the residencies. Some places might be needing some thinning of the forest by hand, some might be needing some aquatic work. It's always site-specific and the resident, even though during the residency, if they would be using two days of their working time altogether on that specific site, it's very concrete work.

1:03:31 And build these kind of alliances, even though I know that the residencies usually lack money, but this can be something that this is very cost-efficient. And rather than calculating each residency's carbon footprint, to try out, look out from the nearby, how do we can participate locally, whether it be cleaning up a small river or a pond from the plastics or whatever. And if that is included to the residency's actions, that already makes a concrete change.

1:04:11 Taru: Totally. And I think that's, somehow really sums up also this, this sense that when you are in a residency, when you are a resident, you are somewhere. And I think there's a bit of that tendency still in the arts, in the residencies, that you don't necessarily kind of know or care where you've touched down. And, and that's very weird to me. That you would go somewhere and not be interested in where you are.

1:04:37 Pauliina: You are just with your laptop.

1:04:40 Taru: Because you're probably just so burnt out, or busy with your deadlines, or you desperately need the time, but you need like a, like a blank space and walls around you where you can focus. But that's something really kind of quite insane about that, that you would go somewhere and just not have the capacity or interest to actually pay attention to where you are. And I think then that is built on the presumption that you have access. That you can just go somewhere to be somewhere without actually being somewhere, because you don't actually connect necessarily at all to where you are.

1:05:12 So there's the both sides that, you know, in residencies, we need to question that presumption of access to places, but at the same time demand somehow that if you go somewhere, take time to ask for that consent to be there somehow. And in order to understand where you are, you know, you need to really pay attention and to kind of think of what is the impact of me being here? And that is not something that you can calculate in a carbon footprint.

1:05:39 Pauliina: Yeah, I totally agree. And that came to my mind what you said that there could be a separate programme even in the same residency that some part of people who come and be resident there can be the burnouts who just come there to rest. If you are so burned out or so sick even you need discussion help there's a service for that because burnout also comes with many times mental health problems and that, that could be kind of a haven to recover. And at the same time, that it's not only the recovering residents, but, the, there would be people who know that they apply, that they are.

1:06:23 They are in a situation, a position, that they are able to come there and be active. And I think that would be also something that it's including. Because what you said earlier about needing the community, I think what the capitalism has done, also the nation state, has made all us individual citizens with all individual rights. And I think the process of decolonizing and rematriating is also becoming "us" again, rather than "I".

1:06:58 To be democratic in that "us", it also includes the crippled and the weak, the ones who cannot bring to the table some great efforts. And especially within the arts, that you don't have to excel to earn your spot to a residency. Sometimes the work is leaving you a very deep mark, but still you are not disposable, still you are valued member of the artistic community, even though we wouldn't know each other beforehand.

1:07:39 But think as that we are colleagues and we respect and understand the realities of the work, that short-term work contracts, no access to healthcare and so forth and so forth. In the same time, that is not just a, like a asylum for broken people, that they would be a place that people are also actively doing things. I think that could be something unique. And leaving the stigma of mental health issues away, because you don't have to be somewhere locked away if you are not useful. Just, just right now.

1:08:26 Narration: To learn more about Matriarchy, visit oca.no/thesamipavilion

To find out more about Contemporary Art Archipelago, visit contemporaryartarchipelago.org

And to find out more about Saari Residence, visit koneensaatio.fi/en/saari-residence

1:08:56 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 tell your colleagues and friends, and leave us a rating and a review.

This episode featured Leena Kela, Pauliina Feodoroff, and Taru Elfving. It was produced by me, Katie Revell. Our series music is by Loris S Sarid, and our artwork is by Jagoda Sadowska.

1:09:27 Thanks also to Alex Marrs, Alexia Holt, Charlotte Hetherington, Vibeke Koehler, Pari Stave, Jacob Fabricius, Rose Tytgat, Helena Selder, Lise Autogena and Iben Mosbæk.

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