The artist-duo varialambo is currently at the Reconfiguring Territories research residency in Narva. At the beginning of their residency, we discussed getting to know new places, their first impressions of Narva, and the plans they have for their residency.
Hello varia and lambo! You have been in Narva over a week now. How did your residency period start?
We arrived during the preparations for Narva Music Festival and the opening of a new exhibition. The house was full of energy and excitement and we got to enjoy different inspiring shows. Johanna the artistic director of NART and the other residents have been very supportive and welcoming and we have been sharing thoughts and helpful information during spontaneous dinners.
Have you developed ways or methods to get to know a new place? Is there something you do to situate or ground yourself to the social, natural, political environment?
At first we usually check out the local food situation. Since we found some stands with self made food just around the residency – pickled and fresh vegetables, honey and home made pelmeni – it is very hard now do widen our radius to other parts of the city (laughing).
As a method we both like to go on long walks. During these walks we usually find inspiring objects and materials to use for sculptures and locations for possible performances or shootings.
Narva with its abandoned areas invites you to go on little adventures every day and we are finding material to work with all the time!
Right now our walks are a little bit shorter since I am in the 9th month of a pregnancy.
Thats exiting! Does that influence your work?
Yes and no. Art always feels like a source for excitement and relaxation at the same time.
My big belly seems to reinforce that.
In your residency open call proposal you wanted to focus on public space, control and women. You wanted to take the time to explore how the use of public space and its apprenticeship, especially at night, remain different for men and for women. How has your project evolved since then?
The idea to work on this topic came through our experiences in Berlin, were we both grew up. We had just arrived in Helsinki when we made the proposal for Narva and had heard from a friend that she had been attacked during the night and after that the promise of a “safer” surrounding in Finland fell apart. Of course we knew that compared to other countries Finland still offer much more safety day and night for women but with this incident in mind we started to be as careful as we were before in Berlin.
A lot has changed since then. We got the chance to get to know Narva better during a short December visit last year. We heard from locals that even though domestic violence against women has been increasing during the lockdowns, the public space in Narva seems to be safer compared to other cities. It felt strange to keep researching in this direction during our residency and we decided to shift to another direction which is related to the previous approach.
What is it?
After the long awaited #metoo movement we have finally learned new tools to make the every day violence we have to live with heard and seen. It is followed by something which we now call the “cancel culture”, an understandable step in order to get necessary space to heal and have some distance as a survivor of violence. Nevertheless this step should be only one of many and not a stopping stone of communication which it also has become. In our work now we are trying to be gentle to the delicate thread of communication. It seems to us more likely as some say, that every thought in oneself is of the greatest importance for the whole world. We are trying to look at it not as a metaphor.
In your proposal you position your practice at the intersection of Art and Violence, and write that you aim to create utopian social fantasies where violence in general is extinct. How do you approach making these fantasies? How do you plan to make them present in Narva?
About 10 weeks ago Lambo had a dream of somebody who stretched out his arm but then the same arm appeared from another direction and touched body parts of that person. We immediately started shooting video material for it. We felt a connection between the dream and the issue of communication. As a preparation to our residency Lambo learned Russian and shortly after the first Russian poem developed POEM TO PARTICIPATE WITH THE BODY FOR TWO AND MORE.
At first we wanted to use it as an opener for a possible workshop but soon we realised that this would be the starting point for our new work.
We have shot video material in Helsinki and will continue this here in Narva. For this we are collaborating with Kush Badhwar (editor) Valentin Kimstedt (composer) and Graham Valentine (voice artist).
The idea is to create a sculptural installation made out of material gathered in Narva and to finish the video work to be shown in one of the exhibitions spaces at the residency.
Its exiting to get in contact with the Russian language for this work. It feels like an exercise to keep the discussion culture going in times of violence and war.
As a second project we will work with a local choir on LOOK BACK AND LAUGH, a sound installation and workshop idea we started in Helsinki 2019. The idea is to create a symphony of laughter. We will record the workshop sessions and individual laughters and if possible even find a way for a spontaneous live performance.
The fantasy is to be able to simply look back and laugh. This project is an important counterpart to the topic of violence. We can’t take away the pain and the memories but for a moment when we all laugh together, we will at least feel happy.
POEM TO PARTICIPATE WITH THE BODY FOR TWO AND MORE
narva / may 2022