Could community-based arts create new ways to connect and heal?

We – a team of contemporary artists from the North of Finland and Russia – are welcoming you to follow our research project on the community-based art making and site-specific performance through dance, technology, text, film-making and media art.

“Keho on Dacha” has been funded by the Finnish-based KONE foundation as a long-term project to make an impact in society through art and science. It is run by dance artist and choreographer from Finland Tanja Råman, visual artist, DJ and interactive systems designer from the UK John Collingswood, journalist and activist Elena Vlasenko (all based in Oulu, Finland); dance artists Susanna Voiushina, Dmitry Melnikov and film maker Elena Gutkina from Russia (based in Arkhangelsk and Moscow).

Here is what the project’s leader Tanja Råman says about “Keho on Dacha”:

I was recently very fortunate to be awarded a significant grant from Kone Foundation to start a new three-year project next Summer. Kone Foundation supports brave new openings in artistic and scientific research. They emphasise the slow incubation of ideas that have potential for making a strong foundation for long-term impact in society. I have applied for this funding many times previously. This time when I wrote the proposal I had a feeling that – if I am ever going to be successful with Kone application – it is going to be now. The project felt right for this funding. And yes, gaining this grant also feels like an achievement in my writing skills.

The project is called ‘Keho on dacha’. The title is a mix of Finnish and Russian. ‘Keho’ is Finnish and means ‘the body’. Dacha is Russian and refers to an allotment of land with a small cottage. The body is seen as a metaphor for a dacha. The project is taking place in two locations simultaneously – in and amongst the community gardens in a small village called Varjakka, near Oulu in Northern Finland and in Kalinushki dacha village, near Arkhangelsk in Northern Russia. There are going to be two teams of artists working in this project. In Oulu, I will be working with video artist (and my long-term collaborator) John Collingswood and with Russian-origin journalist and activist Elena Florina Vlasenko. In Arkhangelsk, there will be two dance artists Susanna Voiushina and Dmitrii Melnikov, as well as Moscow-based film maker Elena Gutkina. The two teams will work in conjunction with each other but produce local activities. We are aiming to initiate social change through the arts. Our plan is to engage in site-specific performance, installation, video and film making, as well as writing in Finnish, Russian and English. We will be mixing gardening and dance, community activities with high arts, virtual with real connections.

Oulu and Arkangelsk are located in the same latitude and experience similar climate. They are friendship towns, both with industrial backgrounds. The Warjakka community gardens were created only a year ago inside the foundations of old sawmill workders’ homes. In early 20th century there was one of the biggest sawmills located on Varjakka island. It brought wealth and workers to the area. The collapse of the industry had devastating effects on the local community. Even now, the politicians don’t know what to do with it. Arkangelsk seems to be going through similar industrial collapse with mass unemployment and particularly young people moving away. Kalinushki dacha village – located just outside Arkangelsk – consists of small plots of land often fenced around and with a small house in the middle. Although modern dacha represent small green heavens for their owners they have a dark history deriving from slavery and have been shaped by the political and social changes of the Soviet Union and Russian Federation. Both locations in Varjakka and Arkangelsk have broken communities. Could community-based arts create a new kind of engine for these locations and find new ways for communities to connect and heal?

Warjakka community gardens are home for the historical augmented reality experience and virtual art gallery which are accessible with the Warjakka app – downloadable free from AppStore and Google Play. My aim is to bring Russian dacha to the virtual art gallery in Warjakka gardens and make performances that combine live activities with virtual installations. I am also hoping to livestream short performances from Varjakka to a greenhouse in Kalinushki dacha village. The aim of this exchange is to connect the local communities, provide fresh new perspectives on their daily lives and promote change through their connections. I am excited about the prospects of potentially re-choreographing the future of these communities.

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