I very much looked forward to AARK as a place to rest and recoup, which didn't necessitate a great deal of social activity. Choosing to be alone with only my art for company felt liberating and energizing in some way; the silence was magical.
I visited Korpo at the tail end of 2017, arriving on a cold, damp December day, where I was welcomed warmly by Renja, Benkku, and an otherwise empty studio/apartment. It's strange to look back at the stretch of time between leaving Finland, and the present day, where we are only just now emerging from a long second lockdown brought on by everyone's favourite uninvited houseguest - COVID19.
It's become a tired cliché to bemoan the various grievances that have come with 2020. Here in Australia, we watched in horror as much of the country burned away during a ferocious summer fire season as our leaders found new and inventive ways to direct the blame at anything other than global warming.
There was the freak explosion in Lebanon, the eroding of civil liberties in Hong Kong, the glacial lurch of Brexit, continued protests across the US over Black Lives Matter, and the ongoing circus that is the Trump administration, not to mention the floods, plane crashes, hurricanes, oil spills, train derailments, earthquakes, and other disasters that would in any other year register as more than just a blip on the news cycle.
Through all of this, I can't say that making art has felt easy or comfortable. Our second lockdown lasted for 111 days - the majority of which came with harsh stay-at-home restrictions and curfews. If the current reopening strategy holds, we will return to a semblance of normalcy in late November, after spending a total of 235 days under one restriction or another (masks will continue to be mandatory in public spaces).
I am fortunate to live in a household with enough space to stretch my legs, and with room for a dedicated workspace. Many of my friends and colleagues are not so fortunate, and it was sad to see them confined to smaller spaces, or be left with few opportunities for human interaction.
Throughout lockdown, I couldn't help but think back to my time at AARK, as well as various other residencies from the past. There is a strange similarity between seeking out such programs in far-flung places, and my current state of enforced home isolation. Both scenarios involve seclusion and social-distancing, but for wholly different reasons and costs.
Seeking out residencies always came with so much anticipation and excitement, and it was a joy to be allowed space and time just to think about my practice. Meanwhile, back at home, with an interminable stretch of time ahead of me to do little else, I quickly lost the drive and motivation to work. As more time passed, it became more difficult to make anything at all; and the less I made, the more my guilt would build up.
Through all of this, I can't say that making art has felt easy or comfortable. Our second lockdown lasted for 111 days - the majority of which came with harsh stay-at-home restrictions and curfews.
Apart from the occasional visiting artist, open studio, or Renja excitedly taking me out to forage for mushrooms, my time at AARK was quiet and contemplative. I had just come from several long stints at residencies in Shetland and Norway, broken up by travel in between. I was emotionally spent, and I very much looked forward to AARK as a place to rest and recoup, which didn't necessitate a great deal of social activity. Choosing to be alone with only my art for company felt liberating and energizing in some way; the silence was magical.
During the most restrictive stages, we were only allowed to leave the house for four reasons: 1) work or school, if unable to do so from home; 2) to purchase essential supplies; 3) for health reasons or to provide care, and 4) for up to one hour of daily exercise. We were restricted from visiting other households, and could not travel beyond a 5km radius of our homes. Schools, restaurants, cafes, retail, places of worship, and most other non-essential services closed, and a nightly curfew between 8 pm and 6 am was enforced.
These measures appear to have worked; we are now only recording one or two new cases daily, while a second wave seems to have overrun parts of Europe, and the general state of things in the US continues to worsen. I held onto the stubborn belief that these lockdowns were a necessary evil and that things would be easier when we emerged on the other side. However, I felt neither liberated nor energised with these thoughts in mind as I sat in my all-too-familiar home studio.
At the start of the year, when the coronavirus was merely a rumour, I was busy booking flights back up north. I had been accepted to a small residency in the town of Uummannaq, in central-western Greenland, and I had to keep pinching myself in case it really was some long extended dream sequence. Surely enough, the shadow of COVID grew and became more tangible, and a few months later, I was contacted by the residency to say that my place would be postponed indefinitely. I can't help but wonder how things might have turned out differently if instead of bouncing off the walls at home, I was bouncing around a tiny village on the other side of the world instead. Whatever I could have made there, I suppose we'll never know.
I look back on AARK with great fondness. When such residencies were readily accessible to me, I knew I wanted them to be a constant throughout my working life. I just can't describe the creative energy that comes from being dropped into a new and unfamiliar place armed only with time and a backpack full of paint and brushes, but that all feels behind me now. I wouldn't consider a solo artist residency as being high on the list of ways to effectively spread the virus, but for the foreseeable future, I am bound within the borders of my state and country (even if I can now travel beyond my 5km bubble).
I will dream and think about AARK - of that musty basement sauna, of the barefoot path (either cold and damp, or caked in fresh snow), of Renja's unbridled joy watching slow passing ships, of the frigid grey water lapping against the rocks, and of feeling perfectly content in my little Finnish home - until my next adventure.