The Identity of Finnish Residencies


The Identity of Finnish Residencies

image by Julia Fidder


written by Julia Fidder



Research review

Residencies hold an unmistakable important position in the artworld. Through evolution over the years they have moved away from an ‘institutional utopian framework’ that was characteristic in the 90’s. Where previously the emphasis lied on creating art on site, experimentation, international mobility, and interaction, we have now reached a peak in international mobility and globalization but this approach is no longer compatible with the world we live in today; it is not sustainable in times of climate change. We have gradually moved to where we are now: a period in time where we have to re-negotiate the place and role of art residencies according to the current state of the world. The need for reconsideration and obtaining a critical attitude towards the own practice might be the cause of a more divergent approach amongst the residencies: ‘today, residencies are their own art world within the ecosystem of contemporary art; they have their own institutional identity, their own history, operating methods, values, tasks, and goals,’ as described by the founding member and former director of HIAP (Helsinki International Art Programme) Irmeli Kokko  in Rethinking Residencies, 2023. The identities of residencies have grown into various directions, allowing for a diversified supply. 

Catering to interdisciplinary artists, curators and writers, not only the institutional approach of the residencies but also the objectives of the residents themselves are varied: the hope for peer-support or to extend ones international network, the possibility of finding dedicated time to concentrate on one’s practice or the physical closeness to a specific case-study; the choice for a residency can have many occasions. There is an abundance of residencies in Finland to meet these needs and amongst them, we can quite evidently point out these constructed institutional identities that are indicating the different modes of governing and hosting: having a group of international peers or spending most of your time in seclusion, the facility of many workshops for artistic work, receiving an artists fee or having to pay a fee to the residency for their labor and maintenance, the option to have studio visits with local professionals or relating to a specific thematic that is put forward by the residency place. Some of these differences lie in available resources, others are connected to locality, but mostly they can be attributed to the people that are shaping and re-imagining the role and future of these residencies. It is upon closer look that we can also point out some similarities within these institutions. Slowness, being remote, the importance of encountering either related to community or solitude and finding modes to support the (temporal) community, are facets that can be found in many of Finland’s residencies. 

Time-space compression

Due to the expansiveness of its landscape, distance, in Finland, becomes an abstract concept at times. HIAP, through its location in the capital of Finland, is perhaps the least remote residency, while the 20-minute ferry ride to Suomenlinna and the seclusion that comes with it being an island, still can offer the callmess one might look for during an intense working period. An Paenhuysen in a conversation with Eleni Tsitsirikou for NO NIIN calls it the ‘ferry ritual’ which forces the residents in Suomenlinna to slow down as one has to ‘live on the ferry schedule,’ Tsitsirikou: ‘Yes, it’s a forced slowing down, acknowledging this dependency. Also for bringing stuff in, for carrying materials with you, it’s a good limitation because it forces you to see this reality, to think twice about what you get there because you have to take it back or know how to dispose of it.’ As articulated by Vytautas Michelkevičius, traveling to a remote residency is as much a part of it as the time you would spent in the residency itself as slow travel initiates the experience of a slow residency: ‘Travel to and from a remote residency is always an important experience included in the residency itself. Without long and exhausting physical travel, you will not realize the level of remoteness of the place. (…) Not to forget that the landscape you experience through the travel window is being slowly transformed from the one you know to that of the prospective one. The slow speed of travel facilitates the shift both in your mind and body and gives you time to leave your needless ideas behind and prepare for new ones.’ 

If we would want to consider an apparent ranking order regarding the remoteness of the residencies, the winner is probably ÖRES, which is located on the island of Örö, a former military fortress island in the Archipelago National Park. When traveling from abroad, its geographical remoteness asks for a several day trip due to the limited ferry-schedule that allows transportation to the island. By slow travel over land and sea, there is a more evident experience of geographical relocation that defies the so-called time-space compression that one would experience when traveling at a higher speed. The idea of compression or the feeling of the world becoming smaller is increased by the high pace of traveling through airplanes but also through the fast pace of communications. By initiating slowness and attentiveness not upon arrival but during the travels, slow travel potentially brings the residents on the path towards meaningful engagement and immersion. Expansiveness and slowness that can be found in (traveling to) the residencies in Finland is an active reminder of distance that defies time-space compression and allows a more mindful connection to the place. 

Remoteness as exhilarant for slowing down

The choice to go to a residency that is more remote can be rooted in the need to find dedicated time to focus on a project without the hustle of a busy city and the closeness to the competitive nature of the artworld that is characteristic of many of the ‘art capitals’. Leena Kela, residency director of Saari Residency, explains how their team encourages the residents to go out, explore the premises and meet the more than human world that is surrounding the beautiful landscape where the rural residency is located. Kela questions how we can slow down while our pace is really fast. Through the invitation to connect to the particular place, to rest, recalibrate and regenerate, the pace at Saari is gradually lowered. Here, there is no need for production while the team is very eager to follow alumni residents to see how the processes that may have started at the residency develop further. Other methods in support of slowing down can be found in the objectives Arteles cherishes. They highlight the importance of disconnecting from the digital world, a gesture that allows the residents to step out of the fast pace of ongoing communication to become more present in the new environment. While finding focused-time to work, Arteles also finds importance for free time and community by offering various optional group activities. 

solitude within community

A repeated benefit of remoteness and closeness to nature is the solitude that can be found in these places, an opportunity to spend dedicated time with one’s practice without the hustle and bustle of busy city-life. While, on the other hand, the city-residencies provide an opportunity to more easily meet peers outside of the current residency-pool. Forging a dual approach between dedicated time to focus on one’s practice and being able to connect to the community is Serlachius. Over the years they have hosted many residents that have interacted in one way or the other with the local community. Eileen Jeng Lynch in Bringing Worlds Together explains that community-building is often not the focus of artist residencies, but it is a favourable concomitant: ‘These relationships often develop because of creative engagement and participant interaction over an extended period. Artists connect with their cohort, residency program staff, and guests. During public events, artists have exchanges with visitors.’ These slowly expanding relationships at different fronts are apparent in the approach Serlachius fosters. 

Being in a small village like Mänttä, allows for a small-town approach to the production and hosting of the residency. ‘When in need of something it’s like I would go to the local cafe and tell somebody that I need my sink fixed and their neighbor knows somebody whose nephew is a plumber,’ says Laura Kuurne, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at Serlachius Museum, who is also directly involved in the residency program. This approach also seeps into their organizational efforts. Anita Hannunen, residency coördinator, emphasizes how the structure of their program and modes of hosting are dedicated to make the stay of the artist as easy as possible, to allow them to focus on their practice rather than practicalities, while there is also a vast place for outreach through weekly artist talks, projects for school kids and open studio’s or exhibitions hosted in the premises. The embeddedness with the local community is a focal point, the artists that are permanently based in Mänttä welcome the temporary visitors as one of their own, rooting them in the community and taking some of the labor off of the residency by hosting the residents outside of office hours. 

being present in nature

Remoteness in Finland usually goes hand in hand with being close to nature. John Grzinich describes in his reflective text on his residency at Mustarinda how the closeness to nature and the Paljakka strict nature reserve made him reconsider his understanding of “nature” at large and putting the palace of humans in nature in a new perspective: ‘[I]n some way, by communing with “the other”, I could begin to close gaps in the distances which alienate me from “nature” and release feelings of dependence, in the very least, on the many tentacles of civilization in which we are bound. (…) Through daily walks and durational overnight recordings I experienced some of the deepest silences to date, so much so, that I could at least grasp the idea of a non-anthropocentric world driven by semantics of falling snow, wind, animal movements and communication, rather than the ubiquitous industrialized soundscapes of commercial media, internal combustion engines, radial tires and jet propulsion transport (not to mention what we are doing to our seas).’ The silence and closeness to the non-anthropocentric world led him to a much deeper understanding of the relationship between human and nature. In his text you can find a description of this discovery that is so profound that it touches beyond his practice and relates more to a change of worldview or perception of life. But while Grzinich’s practice is rooted in these inquiries towards nature and (non-)antroprocentic forms of living, a residency close to nature can be just as fruitful for those who do not focus their practice on these thematics.

Kaitlyn D. Hamilton, one of two initiators of TUO TUO residency, describes how especially for residents who come from (big) cities, remoteness and the closeness to nature can be a big motivation for coming to TUO TUO. In the middle of forests, lakes, agricultural land and swamps we can find the rather new residency place, initiated and run by Hamilton and Joni Judén, which has now existed for four years. The spaciousness of the studio and the house but also the expansiveness that can be found in the landscape is something that artists coming from the city miss, according to Hamilton. In A story of (nature) love, Elisa Aaltola describes how being close to nature can defy the efficiency-driven mindset that is dominant in our society: ‘Thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about nature experiences. The human abandons cramped office spaces and industrialised cities, and walks to the mountains or the forest and then becomes another version of themselves. According to these thinkers, stepping into nature can enable a new version of humanity and make it possible to perceive the human-nature-future as an alternative to the monotony of effectiveness. This is based on the idea that in nature, humans can realise something that transcends everyday thinking, and through that, reposition him or herself in relation to the surrounding world.’ These objectives of generating a new perspective or developing a new branch of one’s practice are often the cause of deciding upon a residency. It is the closeness to nature that can foster fruitful ground for transcendent thinking so that new insights may emerge. 

point of transition

The choice to do a residency is a choice to temporarily relocate one’s practice, but also one’s life – putting aside any new-day digital formats for residencies that allow working from home. Residencies might go further than influencing a certain project or defined period of time in the practice of the resident as residencies can offer a postgraduate or non-academic format for learning and growth. According to HIAP director Juha Huuskonen, the artist residency goes hand in hand with a certain journey. It can be a professional choice as it points to a certain direction in one’s practice and maybe a wish to profile oneselves as a professional artist with an ongoing artistic practice for which the practice of going on residencies might be beneficial. But according to Huuskonen is can also be a life choice: ‘The other view to this thing is the notion of a certain transition,’ the residents are at a certain point and they want to go somewhere else. Typically it is not only professionally but also connected to their life situation, Huuskonen says. This makes the residency period special and sensitive. 

The choice for a residency then becomes a personal affair where attention for the profile of the place, a deep understanding of one’s own motivation and an attentiveness to the imagination of one’s new temporal circumstance are a necessity. It is already in the application to the residency then where the potential growth for our practice starts. The possibility to  re-imagine and through imagining relocate or change our environment are in itself possible tools to slow down and to make space for reflection. The many roads that lead to these residencies, whether they are physical or in our imagination allow new possibilities to crystalize and deeper or expanded understandings of our practice to emerge. 


Aaltola, Elisa. “A story of (nature) love.” Mustarinda. 

Grzinich, John. “Silence and forest sentience in Mustarinda.” Mediateletipos. 29 November, 2019. 

Kokko, Irmeli. “A Brief History of Artist Residencies.” In Bringing Worlds Together – a rethinking residencies reader, eds. Kari Conte and Susan Hapgood., 2023.  

Lynch, Eileen Jeng. “Community-Building.” In Bringing Worlds Together – a rethinking residencies reader, eds. Kari Conte and Susan Hapgood., 2023.  

Michelkevičius, Vytautas. “Rooted and Slow Institutions Reside in Remote Places.” In Contemporary Artist Residencies – Reclaiming Time and Space, eds. Taru Elfving, Irmeli Kokko, Pascal Gielen. Amsterdam: Valiz, 2019. 

Tsitsirikou, Eleni . “Moment of Welcoming: Conversation With Eleni Tsitsirikou.” Interview by An Paenhuysen. NO NIIN, November 2021. 

Warf, Barney. “Time-Space Compression.” Oxford Bibliographies. 27 September, 2017.


The author would like to thank Anita, Ida, Juha, Kaitlyn, Laura and Leena for their kindness in the time to host her and expand on any questions related to this article.

An overview of Finnish residencies can be found here

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Julia Fidder, Finnish Residencies review
Julia Fidder, Finnish Residencies review
Julia Fidder, Finnish Residencies review