Incubator: Adaptations Utö

Site, Stories and Sensory Methods

September 24–27, 2015 at Utö (Turku Archipelago, FI)

HIAP – Helsinki International Artist Programme and a number of partners explored questions of site-based and sensory artistic methods and the entwined local and global ecological concerns, by organising a multidisciplinary workshop on the island of Utö, in Turku Archipelago, with the theme ‘Adaptations’. 68 participants – artists, curators, art students and their supervising professors, local interlocutors, and specialists embodying diverse fields of expertise – joined the four-day event.

Due to its geopolitical position, Utö has a history, infrastructure, and social ecology distinct from its surrounding islands. For centuries, it has been an important strategic location influenced by the presence of a lighthouse, a military base, and a navigation station. Depending on the point of view, Utö is simultaneously at the forefront, and the final frontier before the open sea. Histories of communication technologies, military infrastructure, and ecological changes converge there. Besides allowing us to look into questions of locality, we can see how global changes affect this small island.

Facing the open Baltic Sea, Utö is the furthest inhabited island of the Turku archipelago. Taking the form of a slow-paced incubator, the workshop set out to engage with the local ecology, the human and nonhuman forms of life, and current concerns specific to the site. These were explored especially through sensory forms of observation and communication. The participants shared and extended both their research methods for approaching the site, and their methods for capturing site-based research.

The workshop employed and fused local knowledge, scientific expertise that is closely and empathically attached with the site, and artistic approaches. Also, it attempted to engage with nonhuman forms of knowledge. What kinds of understanding of the local eco-systems these experiential and experimental practices produce? What kinds of artistic devices could mediate these understandings? Through looking into the various ecologies (the marine biosphere, social and economic structures) of Utö and its surroundings, the participants were encouraged to rethink how to approach questions of locality and the concepts of ‘frontier’ and ‘periphery’. Change was another key concept, as the invited experts and local inhabitants shared their knowledge on how the archipelago has transformed over the centuries, and what kinds of changes call for adaptations in Utö at present. A historical perspective to life on the island opened through stories shared by long-term inhabitants of Utö.

The objectives of the Adaptations workshop were to share knowledge and multidisciplinary methods, as well as to develop new ways for approaching questions of locality, ecology, and change. It aimed to form horizontal platforms for knowledge exchange through slow transitions, talks by various specialists, field trips with local hosts and guides, subtle exercises, film screenings, and discussions.

The Adaptations workshop took place within Frontiers in Retreat (2013–2018). The workshop was curated in close collaboration with CAA – Contemporary Art Archipelago (Taru Elfving and Lotta Petronella), Jutempus (Zooetics) – a working group led by Gediminas & Nomeda Urbonas (Art, Culture and Technology Program, MIT); associate partners from Aalto University (Professor Pia Lindman) and University of the Arts Helsinki (Professor Ulrika Ferm).

–Jenni Nurmenniemi in dialogue with Jutempus (Zooetics), Taru Elfving & Lotta Petronella (CAA)

Adaptations Utö was attended by the Finnish photographer Katri Naukkarinen, who created a series of photographs during the Incubator. Part of the series can be seen on this site.