the cosmopolitics of residencies ——– Taru Elfving Taru Elfving is a curator and writer. She has contributed to many events at the Well at the Saari Residence as an expert, planner and participant.
The word ‘residence’ is from Latin (‘one who remains seated’) and means the domicile or official residence of a ruler or high official. It usually refers to an imposing dwelling such as a castle or manor – the Saari Manor being an apt example of this. On the other hand, the English words ‘residence’, ‘residency’ and ‘resident’ open up a plethora of positions, associations and related practices: foreign agents in the history of colonialism and espionage, medical students specialising in hospitals, individuals and businesses registered in some location, student housing, student and teaching positions and residing at your workplace. In a more general sense, however, residence refers to longterm or permanent domicile, or a program or file that is in the memory of a computer instead of a program or file that must be loaded from somewhere else. It also refers to birds that do not migrate according to the season such as the part-time neighbours of the Saari Residence, the migratory birds that assemble in great numbers in the nearby fields and waters.1 Birds, however, are unlikely to define their commitment to locations and residence in this way and we can only guess at the future relationship between computers and artificial intelligence with location. For people, on the other hand, settling or making a home in a place is always somehow finite, temporal and regulated. An examination of the terminology and practices of residences reveals that this human-oriented perspective and attempts to define different degrees of belonging somewhere or to something are negotiable and culture-bound. on the move In its various meanings, the word residence epitomises the faultlines of our time on the vacillating interfaces between permanent and changeable, roots and rootlessness, and local and planetary. The term artist residency strikingly places artists and their work in these borderlands of unresolved contradictions and inseparably intertwined opportunities and challenges. In the past twenty years, residencies have played an increasingly significant role in the field of international contemporary art. At the same time, their operating models and their roles in the ecosystem of art have become more diverse. Various forms of artist residencies have been initiated in biennials and museums as well as in scientific research institutes, universities and even businesses. Traditionally, the core aim of residencies has been to support artistic development by providing time and space for work, research and critical reflection. At the same time, residencies are founded on the idea of promoting mobility across geographical and cultural borders in order to challenge the ingrained frames and patterns of artistic practice.2 As globalisation accelerates, residencies have become a key part in the machinery of the international art world, the continuous movement and financial pressure of which does not always allow room for critical situatedness and polyphony. On the one hand,
residencies are, as a result, increasingly servient to intensive production processes, the project economy and competitive international career development. On the other hand, the potential of residencies as their counterforce is growing stronger as the ways established residency centres operate changes and new residencies are founded. Urban residencies are often located in connection with artists’ studios where dialogue between guests from different countries and networking with the local art community have traditionally played an important role. Today, residencies are increasingly often in large centres and they also support local artists by offering space, time and resources for work and experiments that the art market, for example, does not invest in. Even major museum institutions are now interested in residencies as platforms for longer-term community and research projects. In the growing new centres of contemporary art, residencies play a key role in their international development and are closely associated with art education, exhibition and outreach activities. Also, universities and multidisciplinary research institutions invest more and more on artist residencies to promote interaction and mobility between disciplines. On the other hand, a resurgent move away from centres is also apparent alongside these trends, to novel residencies founded in remote locations by artists’ collectives, which are deeply committed to their environment rather than aligned with regeneration projects based on tourism. Residencies are also responding acutely to societal changes and challenges of our time by developing, for example, artist-run alternative education, eco-critical sitesensitive research, and support structures for artist in need of political asylum. This demands rethinking of the key goals of residencies, including mobility and hospitality, both on a conceptual and practical level: at the time of escalating climate and refugee crises, how and when is travel still significant despite the global connections offered by technology? How can residencies continue to provide time and space for artistic work without the constraints of predetermined outcomes, economic precarity or political pressures? What does an international residency community mean to an artist or, then again, to the local community? islands and archipelagoes Saari (‘Island’) is a good place to start. Like islands, residencies allow artists to distance themselves from their everyday practices, communities and surroundings as well as from the related structures, hierarchies and histories of the art world. They can enable momentary detachment from the pressures of production and allow artists time to reflect on their own work. They also function as spaces for learning and research outside of academic frameworks. Residencies are nevertheless always also entangled in webs of connections that like streams flow between islands. With global connectivity, deadlines and opportunities follow us everywhere. In fact, residencies have become an integral part of the global circulation of contemporary art, the community and discourse of which are typically present everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There is no escape – rather, it is increasingly important to recognise the impact of our actions in their complex resonances within and reach beyond any locality. As a frightening number of people are today in favour of building walls, it is urgent to argue for the importance – or indeed necessity – of mobility. Yet this also requires
thorough critical reconsideration of sustainability and accessibility with regard to residencies. Who can afford to choose mobility or, correspondingly, the moments of pause that residencies offer? Who can cross borders? Which borders? How does continuous movement from one residency to another as a survival strategy impact artistic practice? What processes of value production in the field of art do residencies contribute to? And what is the cost of mobility – ecologically, socially, intellectually and personally? In other words, sustainability in residencies, as in any other activity, must be assessed more in depth than simply by measuring carbon footprint. According to art historian t. j. Demos, the ecological crisis cannot be distinguished from the history and ongoing practices of colonialism or other forms of oppression. Demos calls for intersectional solidarity also in the art world.3 To follow philosopher Felix Guattari, this requires that at least three intertwined ecological registers – the environmental, social and mental – are considered when we assess the many crisscrossing paths and impacts of our work in the field of art.4 Our work not only affects the environment but it is also implicated in the power structures and practices in our communities and the wellbeing of individuals. How does the value and knowledge it creates uphold or challenge unsustainable social structures? For instance, residencies can accentuate individualism and competition – from one open call for applications to the next – as integral to an international career. Do residencies further isolate artists while aiming to bring them together? How can collectivity and community be fostered within structures that encourage continuous movement? The autonomy of art, or the momentary liberation from everyday obligations that is crucial to artistic work, can no longer mean non-commitment – or lack of acknowledgment of differences and privileges, traditions and genealogies, and complex codependencies. In fact, residencies can be seen as space-times of transition and change instead of isolated islands. Thus the roles of the residency guests and the residency organisations as intermediators between locations and communities, site-specific and disciplinary forms of knowledge, and subjective and shared experiences are emphasised. In a residency both professional and everyday encounters test the thought and practices of everyone involved. At best these collisions will unveil connections between the local and the planetary while questioning normative perspectives and universalising tendencies. Residencies are places where the local and the global rub against each other yet do not merge. As nodes on the map of the international circulation of the art world they are grounded in specific contexts. But as climate change has made apparent, every location is always also a crossroads of planetary forces. Attentiveness to local contexts and their specificities hence requires that a residency artist, curator or researcher, as well as the residency organisations must situate themselves critically and also pause amidst the continuous movement. Like in an archipelago of islands, residencies draw attention to the fragility of diverse and ceaselessly changing ecosystems. What are the impacts of our encounters? What and whom do they serve? How will residencies nurture experiments without predefined ends and not only career development? How can they enable unpredictable dialogues rather than extraction of experiences and encounters as material for new art works intended for global circulation?
cosmopolitics Residencies can nurture seeds for new cosmopolitanism that is acutely needed as polarisations and the climate crisis grow worse. Art historian Nikos Papastergiadis has written about the significance and potential of locally rooted but globally oriented artistic practices. They provide new grounding for the debates on the ethics of hospitality and cross-cultural dialogue.5 This requires both radical openness and acceptance of irreducible differences. The challenge and promise of cosmopolitanism resonate with the thought of philosopher Isabelle Stengers on cosmopolitics, which emphasises responsibility for a community that extends far beyond humankind. There are no universal solutions, common interests or mutual understandings. We must slow down, according to Stengers.6 Does the new cosmopolitics still require travel? Everything is already networked together by communications technology and globalisation so that close interaction and even political movements are possible across geographical distance. Can travel still somehow work against the detached bubbles and populist polarisations that this very same online media, that has in fact instigated revolutions, continuously feeds? Meanwhile, climate change demands awareness of the inseparability of local and planetary processes. Even if we can choose immobility for ourselves, we need other perspectives that question our blind spots and what we hold self-evident. How can we listen to and open doors for those who have to be on the move? Residencies must now address these questions with regard to ecological unsustainability as the contrast between voluntary mobility and increasing migration grows sharper. As space-times that allow temporary withdrawal and slowing-down – or retreats – residencies may function as laboratories for situating and regrounding ourselves within this turmoil. Residencies can offer a safe haven, a temporary home and a community, which emphasises hospitality, sharing and curiosity instead of intensive competition. They also make us question, what it means to be offered temporary residence today? Promises, possibilities, responsibilities? After all, many do not have the privilege to be hosted and given residence while also being able to return back home when the time is up. To be a resident calls for us to think of how to be other than a tourist consuming novel experiences and environments, or an explorer in search of new resources to extract, or an introvert hermit momentarily retreating to wherever elsewhere. Hence residencies are tightly wound around the changing meanings of the community. It is about communities – changing, imagined, future, overlapping, incompatible, present and elsewhere – in all their temporal and local, material and psychological contexts. In a residency community it is possible and even necessary to open up to what lies outside of one‘s own bubble, to the unexpected, and to adapt. A temporary community that forms at a residency does not have a ready, common language or hierarchy of social relations. There are no pressures created by permanence, only a licence to experiment. This requires awareness of our obligations to the community that takes shape in a residency as well as to the surrounding human and other communities that thus grant us temporary residence. As the philosopher Donna Haraway writes, responsibility has to do with response and reception. To paraphrase, it is time to learn to visit, with curiosity and consideration.7
visiting Travelling may not always mean long geographical distances. It is possible to withdraw and slow down locally, too, as in residencies in the artist’s hometown or outside of art institutions. The kind of withdrawal offered by Saari may require merely small symbolic or physical shifts. Such a retreat may be withdrawal from certain activities or interaction while simultaneously a dynamic activation of other modes of practice, experience and experimentation. It does not have to mean retreat from the centre, to a more remote location somewhere else. Rather, what it takes is the fundamental rethinking of the very notion of a centre. As a result, slowing down in a residency may then actually be an acceleration or intensification of critical and creative capacities of reception and attention. It enables experiments with different forms and methods of community, co-existence and symbiosis that destabilise normative power positions and preconceptions. For residency organisations and other institutions to support this, they have to acknowledge their own internalised boundaries. This requires commitment to opening up pathways across both cultural differences and between fields of knowledge, while making space for cross-pollination between individual practices and collective processes. A guest in a temporary residence is then not powerless, nor without responsibilities – not the lord of the manor but not a servant either. No one is a citizen of the world in their own right but rather always a guest, never really in their own land.
notes ——– 1. Merriam-Webster 2018; English Oxford Living Dictionaries 2018 (https://www.merriam-webster.com; https://en.oxforddictionaries.com, links verified on 8 March 2018) 2. Irmeli Kokko, Taiteilijaresidenssitoiminnan rooli nykytaiteen tuotannossa (The role of the artist residencies in the production of contemporary art). Master's thesis, University of Jyväskylä, 2008. 3. t. j. Demos, Decolonizing Nature. Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology. Berlin: Sternberg Press 2016. 4. Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies. London: Continuum 2000. 5. Nikos Papastergiadis, Cosmopolitanism and Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press 2012. 6. Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitics i–11. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 2011. 7. Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham & London: Duke University Press 2016.
In 'Saari Ahoy! Saari Residence 10 years'.