It’s September 2022 and the final days of Carol Archer’s month-long artist residency at Cultural Centre Vanha Paukku, in Lapua, Finland. And it’s been a stimulating, creative, fun experience. Located in Lapua, next to the Lapuanjoki river, Cultural Centre Vanha Paukku is dedicated to a range of predominantly cultural and creative pursuits. A former ammunition factory, the Centre includes the town library, an art gallery, a museum, a cinema, a theatre, a chapel, a music institute, an adult education centre, office spaces, as well as several shops and a cafeteria/bar. It also includes the shared studio where Carol worked each day, and the meeting room where, around the middle of their residency, Carol and fellow artist-in-residence Kit Kelen presented talks on their respective work.

Within the first few days of the residency, a tour of the various parts of the Cultural Centre was arranged. The art gallery is currently hosting an intriguing and innovative exhibition called Samaan Aikaan Toisaalla – a collaboration between Susanne Gottberg and Markus Kåhre (18.6 – 22.10.2022). The English translation of the title, ‘At the same time on the other side’, is apt. Hung from the ceiling, the large-scale paintings are viewed from both sides. The continuities and differences between the two sides, in the manner of a pair of not-quite-consecutive film stills, suggest multiple narratives.

Another highlight of our introductory tour was a visit to the museum. Here we learned more about the history of the Cultural Centre including that of the ammunition factory itself. A terrible accident occurred at the factory in the early morning of April 13, 1976. Forty workers were killed, most of them women. In the following months, the factory operations gradually began to be moved away from the town centre, and the council took the bold step of buying the vacant factory properties, and creating a cultural and business centre that would benefit the community. The chapel at the Cultural Centre commemorates the victims of the tragedy that has so deeply affected this community, and a sign marks the place where the explosion took place. An ammunition testing tunnel is still in operation on site, as well as a chapel dedicated to the victims of the accident, so the complex history of this place is never far from one’s thoughts.

In numerous ways, one felt welcomed by the creative community at Vanha Paukku into the local culture and history. During the warmer months there is a river boat in operation that takes its passengers on a cruise through the history of the area. We were lucky enough to catch its final cruise of the season, and learn, for instance, about the merchants and entrepreneurs who built the impressive wooden houses that line the river. At the festival of new Finnish film held at the Centre on our first weekend at Vanha Paukku we saw the historical drama ‘Swamp’ as well as a number of short films which had contemporary themes. We also attended the poetry festival held later in the month, enjoying the opportunity to hear local poets reading their work.

The two day trips we took during the residency were  inspiring. Visiting nearby Seinäjoki, we saw an excellent video installation, by Catalan artist Noelia Mora Solvez, entitled ‘Farming’.  As well, we had an opportunity to see a group of Alvar Aalto buildings (and enjoy an excellent buffet lunch in one of them). Somewhat further afield, in Tampere, we visited the excellent Moomin Museum – a museum entirely dedicated to Tove Jannson’s career – her stories, illustrations and book design.

My creative work at Vanha Paukku has been largely experimental in nature and has two strands. On the one hand I have been working on developing a visual language with which to depict birches, especially their delicate leaves and scarred silvery bark, and the ‘softness’ of birch forest – so distinct from the Australian bush. On the other hand, I have been interested in working more with the colours of the local buildings. The process of developing new work around this place will be a long term one, as I’m interested in expressing something of the rich human, as well as arboreal, story of this place.

Bicycles are provided and there’s a great network of bicycle paths in Lapua, so this has been a healthy residency. One frequent destination for research trips has been the forests at Simpsiö, which provided inspiration for paintings and drawings (as well as blueberries). The local swimming pool is excellent, and has a great spa  and sauna. An absolute highlight of my time here was accompanying local artists Hanna Peltotupa and Minna Rajala for a traditional Finnish experience of ice-bathing in the lake at Simpsiö. Extended periods in the sauna were followed by short dips into the lake. Luckily there’s no ice yet, but it was cold! In this way, I was shown the meaning of the Finnish word sisu, meaning ‘grit’ or ‘determination’. Warm thanks to all those who have made this residency so productive, informative and fun, especially Mirka Sulander, Jenna Minkkinen, Sakari Hanhimäki, Jussi Muilu, Mikko Valo and Raimo Rajala. Kiitos!