I’m not one of those artists who goes from residency to residency, an eternal nomad. I am no longer as restless as I once was or have the energy to sustain that lifestyle. On this point, from what I see, a lot of those artists who do, produce the same or similar stuff wherever they go. It’s like they don’t actually go to where they are – it’s all seems a bit formulaic, easy, empty.
Which of course brings me to my latest research around the dual crises of climate change and mental health. I am particularly interested in being ‘present’, dis/connectedness, alone/lines and the effect on mood mediated through the weather.
We are the most connected on demand generation and yet loneliness is an increasing epidemic. When I used to travel I could wander into a café and strike up a conversation relatively easily with a random stranger. People were more open to it. Now I go into a café and everyone is in Tokyo or Oslo or Murmansk or Dundee – they aren’t present. They aren’t having a face to face organic interaction – rather life mediated through the screen. Other people mediating their life through their screens impacts on my sense of connection, to them, to the place I am – and sometimes even to myself.
I arrived in Kirkenes, a small harbour town on the Far Northern Arctic coast of Norway, 20km from the Russian border and not much further to the Finnish one. All the road signs are in Norwegian and Russian. This is a border land and no mistake. This creates a wariness and an exciting fusion of people, cultures and politics.
I flew in at dusk over the fjords, melting sea ice and the small glow of sodium lights on the waters’ edge in the near distance. Home for the next two weeks, on residency at http://www.pikene.no a small arts organisation funded through a mixture of government and grant monies. They have just moved into a new location with a showing space, office, open plan kitchen and an artist’s flat upstairs and another flat across the square. It really is an amazing set up and as an organisation they punch way above their weight.
The journey here had been remarkably easy. Setting off at 4am from home to catch a 6am flight to London, then to Stavangar, Oslo and finally Kirkenes. Having been met at Oslo by Zhenya, a production manager for Pikene, I had a quick tour of my new environs and there I was, alone in the flat. I took a moment to check myself, look around, this was after all why I was here. Partly to research curatorial practice and partly to explore loneliness. I took myself off to the hotel for my first proper meal of the day – yes that really is £30 for a standard main meal and £8.50 for 500ml of beer. Wow, welcome to Norway.
Meeting Zhenya at Oslo Airport was fortuitous but the hosting started there and then. Anyone who knows me knows my opinions on the importance of good hosting. Pikene pa Broen are excelling at hosting. On the Friday morning I went down to the office, met all the staff who were in town. Two other artists are in town on residency – Tobias, a set designer from Oslo and a choreographer, Ira, from Berlin. We all had coffee together before setting off to NIBIO https://www.nibio.no/en an environmental research centre. There we met Tore, an air scientist who spoke as an incredibly informed scientist and an incredibly warm person – a superb combination.
The drive was eventful due to the snowy conditions on the road. So glad I didn’t need to drive.
On the Friday evening the good folks at Pikene took us all out for a meal. At the table there were 2 Norwegians, 2 Russians, 1 Australian, 1 Dutch, 1 UK, just another Friday night in Kirkenes. This area is so international, unusually so for such a small town of only 3000 inhabitants on the northern edge of mainland Europe. And the party went on. And on.
On Monday morning I went to visit a local artist – or the only artist – living in Kirkenes, Silje Figenschou Thorensen https://siljefig.com originally a sculptor but now focussing on drawing. With some amazing old drawing boards. Identifying as a Sami she is part of a discriminated minority, although she often gets work for being a Sami artist – any similarities with disabled artists I wonder?
This visit was organised by Pikene, as was the afternoon group visit to Skoltesami museum http://www.skoltesamiskmuseum.no in Neiden. This was an eye-opening tour to the geo-political history of the area. Christianisation, assimilation, denial of identity. Similarities and the circle of history turning and repeating itself is evident with Syrian refugees all too visible in town. Indeed, the spectre of the second world war is all too prevalent here, and not necessarily beneath the surface. I didn’t realise how much the land borders had shifted, and so comparatively recently.
Again, to have a visit organised by the host organisation and driven there and go the extra mile as if it is ‘well, this is who we are, this is what we do and this is how we do it.’ Walking the talk.
On Monday evening I said my farewells to Tobias and Ira. At midnight I wandered down to the harbour and stared northwards. There were clouds in the sky and snow began to fall. The bitter wind numbing my face. I felt alone but not lonely. I felt a disappointment that the aurora was obscured. Looking out to sea I reflected on an amazing 4 days since getting here, including witnessing the aurora on the Sunday night with new found friends Ira and Tobias. I turned to walk the short precarious distance to my flat. The party was definitely over, I was alone and I was well and truly hungover, but not on alcohol. I was hungover from the warmth and generosity of strangers here at the edge of the world.