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Poetizing activities

Just encountered a passage in a book called Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy by Max Van Manen that really resonated for me.

I’ve been reading up on Phenomenology and looking at how different contemporary theorists engage with phenomenological research. Van Manen outlines a method for a hermeneutic phenomenological approach to human science research. 

I’m reading it to see if I can adopt/adapt this methodology in my own artistic research. I’ve only made it as far as page 12 - but I really loved this:

Phenomenological research is a poetizing activity

Thus, phenomenology is in some ways very unlike any other research. Most research we meet in education is of the type whereby results can be severed from the means by which the results are obtained. Phenomenological research is unlike other research in that the link with the results cannot be broken, as Marcel (1950) explained, without loss of all reality to the results. And that is why when you listen to a presentation of a phenomenological nature, you will listen in vain for the punch-line, the latest information, or the big news. As in poetry it is inappropriate to ask for a conclusion or a summary of a phenomenological study. To summarise a poem in order to present the result would destroy the result because the poem itself is the result. The poem is the thing. So phenomenology, not unlike poetry, is a poetizing project; it tries an incantive, evocative speaking, a primal telling, wherein we aim to involve the voice in an original singing of the world (Merleau Ponty 1973)….

While I force myself to sit at my desk every day and try to write 1000 words of my exegesis I am grappling with the problem of all creative PhDs - the art is the thing, it is the research and the expression of the research, and yet I have to find a way to write about it in an academic context - this is something I have chosen to do. What I like about Van Manen’s approach is he discusses the interconnectedness between research and writing.

I’m at the stage now where I want the writing to be a reflection of the whole research process. I have been reading other theses and exegeses and some of them are so incredibly boring. How to bring to the writing the life, passion, and sensory engagement that the studio work embodies or elicits - how to write in a way that enacts the research process rather than just produce a list of actions or a timeline with references. 

I guess I’ll find out over the next few weeks…

Lost Astronaut

Many thanks to Brigit Larson for taking the following photographs. These images are early work-in-progress shots of a project called Lost astronaut that I’m continuing to develop. The photos were taken in the area around Arteles Creative Centre in Haukijärvi Finland, where I was an artist in residence in December 2013.

Learning to walk on ice December 2013

Watercolour sketches

More drawings from December at Arteles in Finland - these ones are watercolours inspired by ice, snow and water

Ink sketches

Ink sketches completed in Finland at Arteles in December 2013, inspired by lake and forest

Farewell Finland

Dear Finland

I would like to stay longer, but I leave today. Before I go I’d like to say thank you and I love you and I’ll be back some day. This incredibly short month has given me a chance to focus on making work without the distractions and responsibilities of my daily life, meet a wonderful bunch of smart, passionate, fun and inspiring artists and connect with a new place.

I have a notebook full of writing that I’ll be re-reading and distilling over the next few weeks, so I’m not going to post thoughtful art stuff in detail here just yet. Instead I’ll post some of the quick snapshots I took with my phone:

The view from my window when I arrived

Preparing to go for a drive - I learnt to drive on the right-hand side of the road and only got stuck in a ditch once.

These dudes in Tampere disposing of their underwear

Snowy Tampere

Snow on the shopping trolley shelter at the local supermarket

The view looking down the road towards Arteles

The ice hockey in Tampere

Rugged up at the ice hockey - it was -6C - we kept warm (almost) by dancing

Bottle and can recycling at the supermarket - the guy in the white had put enough bottles in to receive a refund of about 13 euro

Secret santa art making

Post Christmas dinner rope climbing - the party also included dancing, cartwheeling, baseball slides, and penguin slides - most lively post-christmas dinner I have ever experienced.

My desk just before starting to pack to go home

View from my window after the snow thawed

View from the train leaving Tampere

Walking daily

Hello from Arteles!

This artist residency organisation is situated about 40kms from the city of Tampere and a 2-hour train ride from Helsinki. Occupying an old school house, Arteles plays host to up to 10 artists at any one time. For the month of December myself and the other artists here are undertaking a themed residency focussing on Silence, Existence, Awareness. As December is the darkest month of the year, it provides an opportunity to reflect, be immersed in the local landscape and spend some quiet time on our various projects.


Arteles, I’m staying at the far end of the building on the left.

One of my key reasons to travel all the way to Finland was to be able to immerse myself in an environment that was foreign to me, and respond to this experience phenomenologically.

In order to do this I have made a plan to go for a walk every day, regardless of the weather conditions. So far I’ve been lucky - while it’s been snowing a lot it hasn’t been colder than about -6 degrees. Apparently we’re in for some colder weather in the next week or so.

One of my walking rules is to go without a camera, audio recorder or any other means of recording the experience while I’m having it. My aim is to walk mindfully, pay attention to my sensory experiences and ‘write them up’ after the walk.

I have cheated once and taken my camera with me. It was fascinating to see how differently I walk when I have the option of taking photographs. My attention is focussed differently and I will spend time going off the path, stopping and taking multiple photos. I’m not judging this as good or bad, just a very different way of encountering my surroundings, and interesting to observe and try to articulate to myself.

Another observation I’ve made is how my attention moves around. I will be walking and observing my environment looking out at the horizon, noticing the light or the clouds or the velvet expanses of snowy fields and my attention will switch to feeling my feet crunch or sink into snow, the bite of wind on my cheeks and the sound inside my clothes as I walk. My attention shifts again and I begin to describe the experience to myself in my head, or start to think about something I read before I came out, and I become removed from the immediacy of my engagement with the surroundings. 


The view from my window - early in the morning

It’s interesting what a cocoon my clothing provides - I can walk without really hearing my surroundings because I’m rugged up in layers of wool and cotton. Today I took my hood off when I heard a dog barking in the distance. As I listened for the dog bark I became aware of a proliferation of twittering noises coming from the forest. So many tiny birds darting to and fro in the trees. It took a few moments for me to be able to see the birds - so for a time the sound had no visual source - it was just this incredible, subtle, mobile twittering sound.

As well as the mindful walks I’m taking daily I’m also going out with the camera to photograph and video the surroundings. Below are a few shots from my first few days here.


I haven’t seen the sun or a blue sky for a few days - but in the first couple of days I was here it was glorious. The frozen lake above is not yet frozen enough to walk across. Apparently when it is frozen enough the Finns run car rallies on it.


Art immersion Helsinki

It’s such a luxury to have time to wander through foreign galleries. An art gallery says so much about the city and country around it, reflecting, representing and commenting. Galleries can be ambitious; conservative; out-of-step; lively; lumbering; slumbering and/or so many other things. Having been in Helsinki for two days I can only guess at how accurately the Kiasma gallery of contemporary art reflects the Finnish art scene.

What I can say is that Kiasma hits was the perfect exhibition for a visitor from overseas to stumble upon, presenting as it did a survey of the Kiasma collection, including a number of Finnish and international contemporary artists’ work. There were some ‘old’ favourites – one of Nam Jun Paik’s cellos, Baldessari teaching a plant the alphabet and Vito Acconci speaking with his mouth open. However it was the sculptural and installation works by younger artists that captured my attention. Being a collection survey there was a variety of work with broad-ranging conceptual concerns, but thoughtful curation gave the show a sense of cohesion and a satisfying conversation between the works on show.

Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen  Levitation 2012 

One of the works that had the biggest impact on me was Levitation 2012 the one that I missed the fist time I visited and only saw on my second walk through. This subtle work by Finnish artists Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen using magnets was simple and complex – exquisitely balanced.

Another highlight was Elevated jam 2012 by German artist Thomas Westphal. The installation was comprised of a video shown on a screen running on a track down one wall – as the screen reached the end it would rotate from either a horizontal or vertical orientation to make it’s journey back to the other end of the room.

The image of the artist’s hand walking a high wire playfully kept time with the movement of the screen itself, an absurdly complex presentation of a simple act.

In the same room a projection of a percussionist playing a wall with a pair of drumsticks is shown up near the ceiling drawing attention to the architecture and appearing in an oblique relationship to the endlessly tracking video screen.

Kimmo Schroderus’ Expander 2004 was also a playful yet quite monumental work – an adjustable sculpture that can be adapted to fill different environments.

Hilda Kozári’s copper discs spelling the Finnish word Terve (Hello/Healthy) in Braille were another elegant and poetic work, the copper becoming tarnished by the handprints of gallery visitors.

This was just a small example of a few works in an expansive exhibition that was lively, thoughtful and varied.

In the upstairs section of the gallery was an exhibition of the work of Erkki Kurenniemi a pioneer of digital art and music in Finland. Presented as a survey of Kurenniemi’s life and work the show included many interactive elements – especially DIMI musical instruments, Kurenniemi’s home film collection and his experiments with early computer art and robotics.


I’ve been told the Espoo Museum of Art (EMMA) is not to be missed as well – hopefully I’ll be able to visit there on my way back through Helsinki at the end of the month.

A quick zip around Helsinki

On my brief stopover in Helsinki last week I managed to duck in and out of a few galleries and museums. I caught a beautifully wacky exhibition of early 20th century surrealist postcards at the photography museum  and a dreamy exhibition at the Ateneum of work made by the Tuulsa Arts community, a Finnish arts and crafts commune.

I then spent a dark rainy afternoon immersed in the exhibitions at the design museum (http://www.designmuseum.fi/) – one on graphic design Don’t shoot the messenger had a fabulous room featuring Carnovsky wallpaper with different images becoming visible depending on whether there were R, G, or B lights shone on it. 


Image from: http://www.carnovsky.com/RGB_limited.htm

The knockout of the visit for me was the Nordic jewellery show in the basement – From the coolest corner featured the work of contemporary jewellers from the Nordic countries and Estonia. This was really smart, intriguing and bold work. I was fascinated by the work of Icelandic artist Hildur Ýr Jónsdóttir;  Norwegian artist Lillian Eliassen and Finnish artist Anna Rikkinen


Anna Rikkinen, necklace A Dutch Encounter Portrait, 2011


Lillan Eliassen, neck piece Run Baby Run,2012,betong, kobber, stål 

On the contemporary visual art side of things I popped into the Taidehalli http://taidehalli.fi/english/ to see Young artists 2013, a survey of young Finnish artists under the age of 35. I went to the opening, so the hall was packed with artists and friends.

The show presented works across a variety of media and a broad range of conceptual concerns – and because it was the opening, it was tricky to see everything. The overall impression I was left with was of an energetic and engaged group of artists sharing many of the interests and concerns I’d expect to find in a show of Australian artists at a similar stage in their careers.

I also visited Kiasma - the Museum of Contemporary Art - but I’ll write a separate post about that…