FiR Conversations: Nabb+Teeri

FiR Conversations

interviewed by Tracey Warr, from HIAP, Suomenlinna Island, Helsinki, 19 April 2017


From a series of conversations by Tracey Warr with Frontiers in Retreat artists in residence in Farrera and the Centre d’Art i Natura curator, Lluis Llobet. The conversations considered the work that the artists were developing in Farrera, experiences of artists’ residencies, and notions of ecology, frontiers, and retreat.


What did you work on in Farrera?

We are working with long-term processes. During our first Frontiers in Retreat (FIR) residency period, which took place in Centre d'Art i Natura Farrera in spring 2015, we learned about so-called  focal practices. It has been suggested that focal practices are able to resist the ongoing destruction of localities (based on concepts of Albert Borgmann, developed further by Antti Salminen and Tere Vadén). We decided to start a methodical series of focal exercises during the residency. Focality (lat. focus, hearth) is a condition of objects and practices that requires concentration, commitment, and dedication and has a deep, often intergenerational relation to its site of origin. We investigated the local materialities we faced, and how they affected our work. Some traces of the focal exercises we went through during the residency period in Farrera were presented in an open studio event at the end of our stay. Our paradoxical attempt to reach some kind of focal ways of being and of artistic work in the geographies of temporary artist residencies  later took us to Serbia and Suomenlinna.

To be able to delve into a chosen location is a privilege, which was made very possible during our residency in Farrera. It felt as if we could form longer-term connections with some people we met. The place itself became part of our mental map. Some level of reciprocity occurred even though we were invited guests working with a European Union grant. We were sharing everyday tasks and occupations, which in many cases could have some connection to the focal, intergenerational practices, and this was meaningful.

We managed to maintain a sort of unproductive state of mind. Getting to know local artists from the village was important as we could see their vital connections both to the site and the village community. We are drawn to thinking art as commons and we hope to be able to establish such directions in our own work as well in the future. Further details of our engagement with focal practices in Farrera are in our diary excerpt that follows this interview.

How is ecology reflected in your work?

We want to cultivate a diversity in our practices and thinking processes, so we keep our work open for different encounters, chances and coincidences. Ecology could be thought about as a mindset or a tool, through which situations or other constellations manifest themselves. Connections and interdependencies appear anywhere, unexpectedly. Working and other parts of life become inseparable. We strive for appreciating other beings and agents and also collaborating with them if necessary.

When it comes to practical artist ecology we're very down to earth. We scavenge materials, and with them try to articulate the current contexts or the lines of thought we're working with. Although our interest towards working with scarcity initially started due to the circumstances, it can be seen as preparation for the society of decreasing resources. At the level of everyday working conditions the scarcity state of mind manifests itself mainly as the increasing lack of interest towards big productions, international promotion, white cube infrastructures, touring exhibitions, or permanent displays. The freedom of choice still very much flourishes in the material multitude of leftovers. Nevertheless, the coping strategies (that also start to feel the most enjoyable strategies for us) map the possibilities for the transition towards a scarcer but a more meaningful world. Possible approaches used are scavenging, bartering, borrowing, and all modes of self-sufficiency, including learning different crafts and skills. We prefer to work locally with local resources, and try to minimize the need for art transportation and preservation. This exploration is still only in its beginning.


Is the term ‘frontier’ relevant for your work? How?

frontier n. a boundary between countries. syns border, boundary, limit, edge, rim, bounds.

boundary n. (pl. -ies) a line marking a limit of an area. syns frontier, border, borderline, limit, edge, dividing line, perimeter, margin, bounds, periphery, fringe

[Oxford Mini Dictionary & Thesaurus, Oxford University Press, 2008.]

The edges of different biotopes or cultures are rich in diversity. As a peripheral place a frontier works almost as a synonym to the retreating happening in in the later part of the project’s name. In addition a boundary or a frontier has a dualistic quality as a dividing entity. We're more interested in porous kind of edges or margins that allow unforeseen events to take place.

What about ‘retreat’? Does it relate to remoteness or withdrawal for you, or do you have some other approach to that word?

retreat v. withdraw after defeat or from an uncomfortable situation; move back.
n. 1 retreating. 2 a quiet or secluded place. syns v. 1 withdraw, pull back, back off, give way / ground, retire, turn tail. 2 go back, recede, ebb. n. 1 withdrawal, evacuation. 2 refuge, haven, shelter, sanctuary, hideaway, hideout.

[Oxford Mini Dictionary & Thesaurus, Oxford University Press, 2008.]

I don’t think any of these issues around leaving or staying in the art world are clear-cut or fixed: they’re wrestled with over the course of a life and modulated by circumstances. But better that than not wrestling at all.
[Martin Herbert, interview by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech]

Artists are usually chronically uneasy with the current state of things, so in this sense (physical) withdrawal can be seen as a phase in a lifelong practice. However, we see it as both an important and a very personal step since we moved in 2013 to a rural area near the west coast of Finland. At that time a colleague said that retreating is wise only if one has accomplished something important already. This sounds a bit of an outdated thing to say after the internet made it possible for artists to work and be equally heard from relatively peripheral locations. We must admit that also after 2013 we have been travelling a lot and worked in many short-term projects all around. To settle in a location permanently seems to be either a surrender or a luxury we can't yet afford.

In remote areas the conception of time is very different compared to the accelerated rhythm of urban life. That may be one reason why we have found the rural or remote residency periods the most meaningful.


Why do you think artists’ residencies have been the main method for FIR instead of commissions, exhibitions etc?

For artists, residencies function on a different level compared to exhibitions. Exhibitions often portray ideas which already have fixed forms, whereas residencies function as places of contemplation and forming of new things. It seems the emphasis of the project has been in the dialogue (or cross-sectioning monologues) between the FIR artists, and also in the cultivation of the discourses and aesthetics of ecologically driven contemporary art. When it comes down to deep ecological thinking, international contemporary art exhibition with multiple artists from all around the world would seem to be a rather ineffective way to address the subject matter. The FIR project has instead created a temporary community in which something forms under slow processes. Residency work and life allows things to be slower and more organic than in any commission or exhibition.


How has working within the Frontiers in Retreat network affected your work so far?

Five years is a long time to be engaged with a project without much contact with the others involved. To be committed to something without a clear purpose or mission can also make openness feel like a burden at times. However, being constantly aware of the themes of Frontiers, and the actions taking place within its framework, for us FIR became a multishaped guiding device and a mirroring surface.

It's hard to tell what kind of works we would have been doing if we didn't take part in the project at all. In one way or another, everything we have read and places we have visited have influenced our own thinking and working.


Geographers, biologists, environmentalists – and then, what do artists bring to stewarding and contemplating our ecological future? 

When compared to natural scientists, artists really aren't 'experts who can deal with a problem', but rather their role is to stay with the trouble, gather and mash-up information and make barbaric reinterpretations out of it. Remembering things and practices that may have been forgotten is crucial, but by contrast, forgetting needs to take place as well. Artists need to define and live the ecological future now, being exposed to all imaginable experimental ways of living.


Farrera Diary Spring 2015  

Nabb+Teeri (written by M.T.)

12/04/2015 Farrera, La Bastida, the rock-walled studio in the ground floor

I've been in Farrera for almost two weeks now and I constantly sleep too much. Window shutters darken the room so effectively that the pineal gland can't keep up. In the mornings I remember many layers of dreams. Last night I was with my sisters at Tuira beach in Oulu, our Northern Finnish hometown. I measured the river water temperature in a pit at the waterline, the surface water was ten degrees but at a depth of a few centimeters the temperature was five degrees less. Two nights ago I resided in the otherwise empty house of my grandmother, and from the courtyard I looked at some celebrations that took place in the room with a fireplace, where old fellow students discussed with glasses of sparkling wine in their hands. One night before that me and my father visited a flea market in some city. With great satisfaction I found an eighties softcover plant book, it was similar to that which had been in my parents' bookshelf in the childhood of the dream. The paper had slightly yellowed. Each plant in the book had its own spread. Illustrations consisted solely of documented field discoveries the author had made of parts of plants that resembled something else. I opened the book at random. At the birch spread, a nuanced black and white landscape opened in a square piece of birch bark. Small, light, primitivisticly simplified but recognizable car drove down the road at the bottom of the bark image. It had just passed a soft gray boulder three times larger than itself. A serene open lake glistened in the background behind the lightly outlined trunks of birch trees.

We look forward to the rain, which hangs in the snow-capped mountains and doesn't ever seem to reach the village. The valley is full of different sounds. When the sun has become overcast, insects and lizards stay quietly still. Birds do not. Here I find it often difficult to distinguish between the sounds of human origin and other sounds of nature. Small meltwater torrents in the notches of the slopes initially sounded like distant and uninterrupted flow of traffic. The cars following the height curve whish in a different way. The cries of cats and children exchange places. In the afternoon, girders by the southern wall snap rhythmically in the sun. The perambulating buzzing of bees and flies coming near and drawing away might as well be Lluis in his office talking on cell phone. By the Jet aircraft engine sound I am not mistaken.


01/05/2015 Farrera, La Bastida, the library, the window next to the central vertical girder of the building is fully open, crag martins (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) are making circles above the meadow, cloudy but dry

The building is full of pictures of the view that opens from the window like a picture. Even this eco-residence is dependent on the achievements of the Carbon Liberation Front: intercontinental air traffic, well-maintained road networks, wireless networks.

I have got to know the site conditions for thirty days now. Conclusion: The mountains are a miniature of the world. In a party of two, we have walked medieval paths from one holy place to another, and experienced solitude together. The meltwater temperatures we have measured with the skin of our feet. I have obtained some decent bruises and healed them with arnica cream made by the witch of the village, I have plodded through the snow and dried barefoot shoes in the sun. We have encountered smugglers' cars and cattle corpses, abandoned to the slopes. I have familiarized myself with the rings of the stamens around the pistil of a cherry blossom, and from under the leaf mould I have collected dandelion leaf rosettes, sorrel and lady's mantle to eat. São has literally been felt at soles of the feet where morels have risen from the ground. I have fermented strawberry and raspberry leaves, and hung mushrooms to dry with sewing thread above the electric radiator. Bones, cans, pieces of rope and plastic and a pencil that reads UNITED OFFICE have been found from fields and meadows. We have seen the sun-faded world maps and books spine arrays of the library, and on rainy nights the water has been dropping along the watercolor painting into the kettles next to our bedroom wall. Last night, in the black and white panorama of my dream, mushroom clouds rose behind the forest in line from left to right or right to left, and an additional teaching video illustrated how people were torn to pieces.

The landscape does not need artists to do their interventions. Everything is already here. After one winter white wool yarn that was forgotten outside has been colored dark with humus. The shift of the tree line needs half a generation.

16/05/2015 Farrera, Casa Ramon, it's almost noon, and the internet tells me a cold wind is blowing from the North four meters per second, in gusts wind speed is more than double

This residence has been a honeymoon and two honeyweeks. The temperature has risen close to thirty in the afternoons and the darkest slates may have burned bare feet. Working feels most days almost impossible. Now that July is temporarily over, we start to walk new paths.

The orgy of the wind-pollinated trees has covered all the horizontal surfaces with yellow dust. Every day a new pollen filter is formed on the laptop's display with static electricity. We take with us ice cream boxes faded green by the dishwasher detergent and filled with gnocchi in aubergine sauce cauliflower on chick-pea bed slowly simmered in cast-iron skillet.

17/05/2015 Farrera, Casa Ramon, a small lizard is lying on her stomach on the wooden balcony floor, all legs in the air

Janne moves the solar heat energy stored in his body in me when he comes to check the models rendering in the Agisoft program. My right hand is colder than the left, the mouse hand is farther away from the sun. Balcony door is open and Hykuu and the man's drumming cover the sounds of the swallows, bumble bee passes can still be heard. Sun messenger visits me again to make sure to save before the program is allowed to build the texture of a polyporus.



Garcia-Fenech, Giovanni (2017) ’Goodbye to all that: Why do artists reject the world? – Interview with Martin Herbert’, Hyperallergic, 7 March. Online at:

Salminen, Antti & Vadén, Tere (2015) Energy and Experience: An Essay in Nafthology, Chicago: MCM Publishing. Pdf available online at: