Simmering together – a new mentoring programme for live art professionals begins in Finland

This year marks the launch of Hautumo, a new mentoring programme for live art professionals working in Finland. The programme is organised by LADAF, Live Art Development Agency Finland (1), which is an ongoing project of Presentaatio ry, the communication centre for live art in Finland. The mentoring programme had its first run in the Satakunta region of Finland, with five mentored live artists taking part.

Hautumo – deriving from the Finnish words hautua, to simmer, and hautomo, meaning incubator or hothouse – supports the work of Finland-based live art professionals aspiring for an international career. Its current team of producers, artist Aapo Korkeaoja (LADAF), regional artist Marika Räty (Taike) and artist Essi Kausalainen believe that peer-to-peer support offers artists and other freelancing art professionals a valuable chance to share their work processes, receive feedback and to situate themselves in the field of live art both in Finland and internationally.

“The Finnish art scene is rather limited in size,” Kausalainen reflects. “Collegial support is a key element here, not competition.” Kausalainen, who has been the very first mentoring artist involved in the programme, feels she has been lucky to have a great support network enabling her own practice to grow through the advice, feedback and helping hands of her peers. She is happy to be able to participate in Hautumo, where such support is systematically provided for artists at different stages of their careers.

Simmering Together Hanna Ohtonen

LADAF and Hautumo were developed in collegial friendship with LADA, Live Art Development Agency in the UK (2). Last year Presentaatio ry contacted LADA for advice in starting a mentoring programme for performance artists in Finland. LADAF was born as an adaptation of its English namesake, which has been supporting artists in the UK since 1999. Korkeaoja, Räty and Kausalainen have been in awe of how efficient and generous LADA has been in sharing their knowledge with Presentaatio ry. “It has been a mentoring relationship in itself,” says Kausalainen with a smile.

 

Structural support

“All artists should have this available to them, all the time,” states Liina Kuittinen, one of the five artists chosen for the first run of Hautumo. She adds that Kausalainen’s advice has been of great importance in helping her articulate her artistic agency: “She has offered me insights into my practice that I had not thought about at all before,” she describes.

She adds that it is important for her to know that Kausalainen is paid for the mentoring. “You can always ask a friend or a colleague to read a text, come watch a rehearsal or help with an application, but when you know that everyone is equally busy and burdened by the difficult processes of making a living with art, the threshold for asking is rather high.”

“All artists should have this available to them, all the time”

Räty and Kausalainen echo the same views. “There are certain people I know I could ask for help with my work, but the actual number of people I ever ask is much smaller,” Räty reflects. She and Kausalainen agree that if collegial support were regarded as a natural part of artistic work in Finland, the local art scene could be much more unified and easier to work in. They describe Hautumo’s atmosphere as “warmly critical”. Like Kuittinen, they wish the same were available to all artists and art professionals indefinitely.

The first run of Hautumo started in early 2017, and will end after ten months of peer-to-peer meetings with Kausalainen, several weekend-long residencies including workshops and sparring, and a shared trip to Great Britain. Its main mission has been to create a working support structure for artists to learn from and with each other. After the mentoring programme ends in November, its producers will create a related publication together with the group of mentored artists: Salla Valle, Jaana Pirskanen, Elisa Itkonen, Laura Puska and Liina Kuittinen. The team hopes that the publication will inspire other organisations to take up peer-to-peer mentoring, and that it could become a common practice in Finland.

 

Relax, lean in

Art is often understood as the concrete “result” of a process: a ready work, an exhibition, a performance or a screening – the defining moment it is placed in the public realm. Ironically, these tend to be the least active moments of artistic work, as artists put their creative processes and studio practice on hold for the duration of presenting their work to others (3). As important as these moments are for art and its makers, they are only one of a multitude of stages that go into artistic labour. However, as CVs only recognise visible outcomes, there is great pressure for artists to exhibit and produce demonstrable results.

This is why a system like Hautumo is needed for supporting the well-being of artists: it places no added pressure to produce new works, but gives them tools, advice and regular feedback for developing their processes and career plans, taking their practices forward in a sustainable way instead of – or perhaps alongside of – the sometimes shaky, step-by-step structure of exhibition making.

hautumo1

“It is also a philosophical support system,” ponders Kausalainen. “When the support structure is solid, you can relax and lean on it, looking candidly at the deeper parts of yourself and your hopes and fears. And that is exactly where a practice can truly be developed, new ideas tested, and failures overcome.” Hautumo offers its artists a space to concentrate on what they feel they need to develop in their own practices. “It’s not a school. We’re all simmering here together by jointly tackling the issues these artists bring to the table,” explains Räty.

“It is also a philosophical support system”

Kausalainen describes her role as that of a listener to whom the artists are able to articulate their concerns. “Often the answer comes to the person as soon as they have voiced the problem,” she explains. To an outsider, however, her role seems more pro-active. Kuittinen feels her mentoring sessions with Kausalainen have been extremely rewarding because the practices of the two artists have several points of connection. “It’s brilliant to discuss issues with a person who has built a solid career in the same field I am working in,” Kuittinen describes, praising Kausalainen: “She gets what I’m saying from half a word, and recommends festivals and collaborators I haven’t yet heard of that turn out to be perfect for me”.

 

Towards a culture of listening, sharing and trust

When asked to envisage what a long-term mentoring system could be like, Kuittinen shares some pointers: “I would personally like to have a network of like-minded colleagues whose opinions I can regularly ask for, and who will offer sparring support when it’s needed. This is so rare – that I can ask four people for a studio visit and show them what I’ve been thinking about.”

Hautumo will hopefully continue, claiming a space for a culture of sharing in the Finnish art field. This is also a space where curators could be welcomed as long-term conversation partners. As courses in curating have only recently been added to the Finnish university syllabus, the role of curators has been heatedly discussed within the field during the last few years — some have even questioned whether there is any need for such a thing as curators. Perhaps collaboration between artists and mediators would flow more smoothly if curatorial work were understood as a reflective, dialogical partnership: a process shared and negotiated together with artists.

Hautumo Simmering Together Image Roosa Tulvio

Still, the responsibility to develop the field and support its workers should not fall solely to individual artists and curators; structural change in mentality and in ways of working can only come from a unified effort. Here, as in so many other instances of cultural production, funding plays an important role; Hautumo has been funded by sponsors including Frame Contemporary Art Finland and Taike (Arts Promotion Centre Finland).

Räty points out that although financial support has been a key element in getting the programme up and running, the practical help Hautumo has received from a wide network of collaborators in the Satakunta region — such as Rauma Art Museum, Lönnström Art Museum, the Raumars artist- in-residence programme, Satakunta Polytechnic, the City of Rauma, the Regional Dance Centre of Western Finland and the New Performance Turku Festival — has been crucial to how it has turned out.

If we aim for a systematic culture of sharing and support to thrive in the Finnish art field, involvement of Finnish art institutions, unions and promoting agencies is vital, as is collaboration with both national and regional supporters of art. However, all of us working in the field could also individually try to adapt towards a culture of reciprocal helping and trust. The example of Kausalainen’s practice reveals the results of a working process where feedback and advice are a natural part of everyday work. She describes the mentoring process from her point of view very aptly: “It’s not something that I give and don’t then have anymore. I learn here, too, and it’s a valuable, collegial alliance.”

 

Hanna Ohtonen, Freelance curator & writer

 

(1) More about LADAF at https://liveart.fi/news/
(2) More about LADA at http://www.thisisliveart.co.uk/
(3) From a conversation with artist Kati Rapia during a studio visit in September 2017

 

Images: Laura Puska, Essi Kausalainen, Marika Räty & Roosa Tulvio.

In this article series, Frame invites writers and curators to explore and examine topical themes in Finnish contemporary art they feel compelled to write about.