Silence Awareness Existence artists-in-residence

Arteles Creative Centre Finland, February 2015, Kath Fries
I'm delighted to be at Arteles Creative Centre in Finland, for the February Silence Awareness Existence residency, with my fellow artists Sandra Beer (Germany), Angie Gunnoe (USA), Will Harris (USA), Antonia Kuo (USA), Constanza Gazmuri Lyon (Chile), Grace Peters (USA), Mauricio Rodriguez (Mexico), Louise Bøgelund Saugmann (Denmark) and Pia Zölzer (Germany). 

Arteles Creative Centre Finland, February 2015, Kath Fries

All the artists participating in this residency work with silence in some way. We each have slightly different cultural ideas about what silence is, and very personal ones about why and how we want to experience silence and work with it here. more info

View from Arteles Creative Centre Finland, February 2015, Kath Fries

Although I've only been in Finland for four days, during this time I've been interested to learn that the Finnish have their own very specific relationship with silence, and consider it an essential part of their culture. In Finland customs and culture (2005), Terttu Leney asserts that the Finns have a sincere respect for silence, and are comfortable with it. Finnish folklore praises the virtue of silence as a sign of wisdom, and silence continues to be seriously studied as a form of communication by Finnish academics. Long silent pauses in a social situations are regarded as perfectly natural, "… Silence at the dinner table does not bother the Finns, but it can feel very awkward to someone from the English-speaking world, who is accustomed to keeping the conversation flowing." Leney recounts how a British travel writer, trekking in Lapland with a Finnish guide, remembers such an encounter: "We had walked for two days without seeing anybody. Then I saw someone in the distance, coming towards us, and really looked forward to exchanging views about the beauty of Lapland in the full glow of autumn colours. The man came closer and closer, passed us with barely a nod, and continued on his way. I turned to my guide to ask why we didn’t stop to talk. The guide explained that this man would have come to the wilderness to enjoy the silence and to be alone, and that we had no right to disturb him."

Branch with snow in the forest near Arteles Creative Centre, Kath Fries

The Finnish cultural engagement with, and understanding of silence is very different to its negative associations in English speaking cultures, including my own. I’ve just begun reading Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence (2008). She's a British writer and feminist, describing herself as a ‘seeker of silence’. In the first chapter, Growing up in a noisy world, Maitland describes how we generally live very noisy lives - we choose to have incessant sound pumping into our environments, homes and ears, then feel uncomfortable or scared when we have to confront real silence. Although "we all imagine that we want peace and quiet... we seldom seek opportunities to enjoy it. We romanticise silence on the one hand and on the other feel that it is terrifying, dangerous to our mental health, a threat to our liberties and something to be avoided at all costs.” Despite these customary views, Maitland values silence as a positive, nurturing and creative way to engage with existence, and I agree. She says "Silence is not an absence of sound but the presence of something which is not sound … there is an interior dimension to silence, a sort of stillness of heart and mind which is not a void but a rich space … as a whole society we are losing something precious in our increasing silence-avoiding culture and that somehow, whatever this silence might be, it needs holding, nursing and unpacking."

Tall trees in the forest near Arteles Creative Centre, Kath Fries

Here in Finland, amongst the like-minded artists at Arteles, I'm keen to engage with silence more deeply, working outside where dense snow continues to blanket the countryside around us, muffling sound. Indeed this place could easily be the setting for a fairytale - and within that is the potential for silence to be a little spooky. 

Arteles Creative Centre Finland, February 2015, Kath Fries

Tomorrow all ten artists in residence here are embarking on our first silent day, with no speaking and no internet access. I hope it will be positive, nurturing and creative - and no one gets lost in the forest. 

My footprints going into the forest near Arteles Creative Centre, 2015, Kath Fries

My participation in this residency has been made possible with the support of The Ian Potter Cultural Trust, supporting Australian emerging artists to develop their skills and gain experience through international professional development opportunities,, and NSW Artists' Grant Scheme, an Arts NSW's devolved funding program administered by the National Association of the Visual Arts on behalf of the NSW Government,
Thank you to The Ian Potter Cultural Trust, NAVA and Arts NSW