The Interformat symposium on remoteness brought together over 40 organizers and artistic practitioners from the Baltic-Nordic area and abroad for a series of presentations and discussion on the topic of living and working in remote areas. There was a special emphasis on community building, interaction with the locals, and the very theme of remoteness and living in the periphery. I had the opportunity to participate as part of the discussions as an intern at the Nida Art Colony so I saw the presentations from the perspective of living within the location of the symposium.
My participation in the symposium was focused in trying to educate myself about different centers, their mandates and their locations in relation to the cultural centers. I found that I was most deeply engaged in the guided discussions, but each of the case studies helped further ground the issues and positions of each center.
Thursday, 17th of May
The symposium opened with a guided tour of Nida, helping our guests to gain a perspective on the location in which we were about to begin the symposium. The tour included the different areas of the Nida Art Colony followed by a short game on Justin Tyler Tate’s Basket Ball Court (produced while in residency at Nida Art Colony last year), and a walk up to the dunes.
Afterwards there was an introductory soup dinner and snacks, followed by Pecha Kucha presentations by the participating Centers. This gave a basic overview of the operations and locations of each center. It also made clear distinctions between centers in terms of mandate and operation strategies.
Friday, 18th of May
The day’s activities began with Irmeli Kokko’s lecture on European rural artists’ colonies – past and present routes of artists mobility. The lecture outlined the beginning of artist colonies and residencies starting in the late 19th century up until the present. It focused on the changes that occured after the 1970’s in artist residencies and the fascination with the rural.
Her lecture was followed by the first case study of a residency: Skaftfell Center for visual art in Iceland, by Litten Nystrom. Like the Nida Art Colony, the residency is situatied in a national park.
In the second session Joanna Sandell, guest speaker from residence Botkyrka, presented a talk on Challenging the social in a context specific residency.
Before lunch, Henrik Noor, of Sanna Culture Manor presented a space walk at the speed of light. By scaling our solar system down to a short walk from the Nida Art Colony – where he positioned a to-scale sun, 10,000 times smaller than its actual size. The walk took us down the road past mercury, venus, and the moon, to the earth. Which we walked at the speed of light according to the scale. This meant that we would walk one meter every 3.3 seconds.
In the afternoon, the symposium opened with a case study of Mustarinda (FIN). The residency is located in the old growth forests of Finland. The residency tries to bring scientists, social researchers and artists together in one place.
This was followed by the first discussion of the symposium, moderated by John Grzinich of MoKS residency. The discussion began with a short description of how MoKS operates, and then opened into a discussion about the role of the facilitators of the residencies. The conversation moved into how ethics determines how a center functions and which proposals it accepts, and how the funding of a given center determines its ethical leaning. I think Nuno Sacramento made a good point by asking the question “can someone tell me what a community is? I don’t know what a community is“. This echoed my own sentiments. To think of local residents as neighbors also seemed like a better semantic term for any residency working within a community. A final point that stood out from the conversation was made by Rasa Antanaviciute – artists are frequently dismissed as “crazy artists“ rather than something that the community is engaging with. It is more difficult to get the community to be as self critical as the artists working are. This was a particularly interesting point
The discussion was followed by tea drinking provided by Serde and Signe Pucena. First we drank tea, then we had a presentation a general overview of the practices of Serde, followed by a presentation of the Rojal festival in Latvia.
The night ended in the sauna, which was a highly welcome relief after being eaten by mosquitos.
Saturday, May 19
The day began with Donna Lynas, director of Wysing Arts Center – one of the more established centers that took part in the symposium. The presentation focused on projects at the center, such as the Escalator program which brought curators and artists from the artistic centers of the UK to the periphery, to give them another perspective of how and where art could be made. The collaborative projects included working with a local air field as a partner, and exhibitions that were organized by young curators and artists.
The next lecture was by Adam Sutherland, director of the Grizedale center for arts in the UK. The presentation outlined the residency’s relationship and history with John Ruskin, especially his thinking in later life which was primarily concerned with community rather than art for arts sake. The center tried to orient artists towards working as a group, and to making work specifically for a place, rather that artwork for exhibition.
After the break, Kultivator presented a documentary film on their center that outlined the main concerns and objectives. On that stood out in particular was the marriage of agriculture and art. The facilitators also work as artists and integrate their work with agriculture.
After lunch Nuno Sacramento presented on shadow curating as an alternative to having an assistant curator or a co-curator. The main role of a shadow curator would be to question the choices of a curator and their goals, but not to replace the curator. The concept was developed in his book „ARTocracy“
The day’s lectures were followed by a guided tour of artist studios and presentations of artist works. The tour began with Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen, who presented his work from the last 4 months at the residency. Two of our residents, Pawel and Ewa Mendrek, had left just prior to the symposium, so we visited a small exhibition that they had left of their work in progress. This was followed by Judit Hettema, a photographer who showed part of her process both in photography work and her recent body of video. We then moved outside to take a look at Carolina Aponte’s fabric work and finally headed out to the beach to see two final pieces.
The first was a site specific installation on the border, specific to the context of the Symposium, by Bita Razavi and Jaakko Karhunen. It consisted of a series of radios that were tuned to Neringa FM, which was „highjacked“ by Radio Alqvist (a collective that the two artists are part of)at precisely 6 pm and played the Polka of Säkkijärvi over and over again. According to myths from the WWII period, the song had been used by a small town to disarm Russian radio-controlled mines that were tuned to a series of three notes. The song jammed the signal and kept the mines from exploding until their batteries ran out.
After that, we visited our final artist in residence on the beach, Helen Acosta Iglesias, who had installed a sculpture for taking photos with.
Sunday 20th of May
The day started with a presentation of the artwork of John Grzinich, a past participant in the Nida Art Colony Residency program and a current facilitator at MoKS. Working primarily with sound and video, he used the location of Nida as an instrument that played itself.
In the afternoon, a series of discussions in small groups took place and were moderated by Melody Woodnut of NES Residency (IS). The discussions both reflected the key words of the symposium, especially „Remoteness as an advantage“ and addressed a number of questions that the representatives of each residency had for eachother. A larger group discussion was held afterwards that brought the key issues from each small group to the whole. A final, smaller discussion took place specifically between the Remotenet partners – whether or not to continue, and how.
The day finished with smoked fish, tomatoes, rye bread and beer. Farewells were said and promises to continue conversations in the future were made. Breakfast on Monday would be for a much smaller group as people had already began to return home.