A Finnish Experience
by Jacqueline Ball
I had the pleasure of spending three and half weeks at Villa Sillanpää Artist Residency program in November 2011. The residency is located in Varistaipale in the Eastern Provence of Finland. It takes six hours to get there on a bus from Helsinki and is approximately two hours from the Russian border. It is a very small village in a very isolated location. However, these elements contributed to making this experience so magical. The residency studio and apartment is surrounded by endless interconnecting lakes and expansive forests made up of birch and pine. The landscape is breathtaking and so very different to the landscape that I’m familiar with. Even during my short stay I could notice the seasonal changes. By the end of the residency the lakes were starting to freeze and the snow had begun to fall.
The residency provided me with a space outside my everyday life to reflect on my practice and process my ideas.
Being submerged in this environment – unsurprisingly – promoted contemplation and reflection. I spent the majority of my time drawing, going for walks, documenting the environment around me, reading theory books, planning future work and looking out of my studio window. Projects that require extensive materials and/or equipment could be challenging to arrange due to location practicalities, however, this was not a concern I experienced. Having time to work on my practice without the pressure to produce final outcomes was very much appreciated.
Jaana, who runs the residency program, was very accommodating. She shared with us many local specialty foods, drove us to nearby towns and showed us how to pick wild mushrooms in the forest. The opportunity to engage further with the community could be arranged and there are many possibilities to integrate your work with the environment around you. The experience of the Finnish landscape has left a strong imprint on my imagination and I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity.
About Villa Sillanpää
Villa Sillanpää Art Residence opened in 2009. The residence can accommodate up to eight artists in two fully equipped apartments. There is a small studio in the basement and more space can be arranged depending on the artist’s needs. A large yard and surrounding area offers space for environmental art projects or performances.
The region is known for two Orthodox monasteries and is famous for its large wooden neo-Gothic church. During summer the church becomes a huge art gallery with curated exhibitions. Sillanpää is a small, cosy, easy going place. The residence has no strict outcomes, but looks to each visiting artist bringing a new special flavour to the experience, while becoming a part of the growing network of artists.
The northern light, nature, its various elements and the dramatically different four seasons give any artist an interesting starting point. The natural materials and atmosphere are especially interesting for artists with an environmental/land art orientation. In the nearby city Joensuu, there is the University of Eastern Finland with a faculty of Environmental Aesthetics. There are interesting open lectures and talks by visiting international artists.
Sillanpää is managed by artist/art teacher/curator Jaana Lönnroos, who is connected to the Finnish art scene, museums, galleries, and other residency spaces. Jaana visited Fremantle in January 2013 and is looking to build relationships with Western Australian artists. Visit www.villasillanpaa.com for more information.
Jacqueline Ball has been an Artsource member since 2012. This was a self-funded residency.
This article featured in the Artsource Newsletter, Autumn 2013.
Artsource supports the practice of professional artists with the Global City Residencies.