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ArtRadius Saksala


international artist-in-residence program in rural Finland


Dominique van Ipenburg

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  • student-in-residence 2010-2011
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  • Dominique van Ipenburg will start her three months internship in November 2010

    Dominique van Ipenburg is a student at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Utrecht, the Netherlands. She is invited to plan and execute her trainee program in the art center. In co-operation with the local schools and with the art center's program she can organize different art activities.

    The content of her program is based on:
    - Knowledge, skills and competence to be acquired
    Specific training and knowledge in art education methods and processes for secondary school students to use art as a medium to acquire knowledge.
    Literature study on art education methods and philosophy, and art teaching attitude.

    - Detailed program of the training period
    Planning and executing of an art program for students in rural Finnish secondary school, including:
    * 32 hours art education as responsible art teacher
    existing of:
    * 24 hours art practice
    * 8 hours art history
    Research of differences between Dutch and Finnish art education curriculum and the effectiveness of both programs.
    Observation of different Finnish teachers and reflection on their methodology.

    - Tasks of the trainee
    Creating and teaching series of lessons art education related to the own invented program, reflect on the result and improve these lessons.

    - Monitoring and evaluation plan
    Review of the knowledge, skills and competence from teachers and mentor in Finland.
    Weekly essays about the process to the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht
    Final complete internship essay based on the conditions of the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten including images and gained competences.

    - Own art research and art production
    Installation in one of the rooms of the AllaprimA MuseuM during Christmas time.
    Art research and art production in the atelier of Saksala ArtRadius.
    Participating in the art program of the art center.

    EVALUATION after 3 months student-in-residence.


    My reason to go to Finland has always been a bit vague. I'm triggered by the complex language and want to know all about it. I'm curious how the culture is, since the nation is still young, and nature demands a lot of attention. And because I want to become a teacher, the schoolsystem in Finland should be very interesting.

    Finland has one schoolsystem, compared to the (for me) well known Dutch systems I've had been taught, that's not much. I expected to do notice culture differences, and to have some trouble in language difference, but most of all I was just curious how teaching would be different from what I've seen in earlier internships and from the theory I've learned from the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU).

    in general
    Since I already did a language course in the summer, I hoped to learn more Finnish by practising with normal Finns. I also wanted to travel some more, to see cities I've not yet been, and go to museums, concerts and other cultural events. And to meet people and make contacts, to make this journey a lively experience, for my own art, for my time there, and for memories after I'm gone.

    My school in the Netherlands (HKU) send me with internship-goals. Those are written on paper, and are to be done as good as possible. My own goals are more free, because I choose to go on adventure, and that's why I wanted to achieve more than I would have wanted staying in the Netherlands.

    Teaching 24 hours of art practice
    Teaching 8 hours of art/culture history
    To make own lesson programs/material

    Improve my Finnish language.
    To learn about nature, culture and the places I'll visit.
    To make contact with people, learn to know them, learn/understand Finnish ways.
    To write and learn about the Finnish school system for my research.
    To be open to what happens, and to make it a positive experience.

    In practice

    I've searched an internship spot via internet. Because I'm Dutch I got a very easy hit in google on Saksala Artradius. I didn't doubt, because I was absolutely sure about my choice to do my internship in Finland. So I went with this opportunity, and that's where I stayed.
    The owner of Saksala, Marja de Jong, has contacts with the school, and assured me that I could do my internship in a school near her residence. I've been to her place in summer already, to introduce myself. We spoke about the goals of the internship, and she told me that it would be possible, that there is a good teacher I could work with.
    Although there was no artist at that moment, there would be artists in the winter-period (my internship-period). I arived at Saksala end of october, which turned out to be a vacationweek in Finland.


    The residence is situated in the old nursing home for old people. It consists out of three parts: the hotelrooms (where the artists sleep), the exhibition area (stuffed with art made through the years, and also more empty rooms with art from a current exhibition), and the atelier (a library room, with lots of books, and place to sit and use internet. And a atelier place with water and tables and a lot of stuff). The owner lives on the atelier side, but since the house has no modern-heathing, she has to make fire in the cellar on the residence side (which provides heathing for the whole house).

    The field behind the house is used by a farmer, in front of the building there is a labyrinth (with pine-trees, and artworks). There are about 4 houses 'close' to Saksala where Finns live. They are all living there for many years, just like the most of the people in the village. The centre of the village is about a 6 km walk from Saksala. The village has two supermarkets, a library, and schools (ala-aste and yläaste/lukio). It also has a sportshall, where the local happenings are taking place.

    It has a trainstation, and also a busstop, but there are only 5 busses a day, and not much more trains. The closest city is about 40 km away. But the trains and busses are reliable, even if they are too late, the will come for sure. Winter doesn't stop a Finn.

    I got a working contract. Which means that I'm paying for the room, but also have to do some work in and around the house. It could be more light work, like vacuum cleaning the hallway, up to tough work, like shovelling peat.

    Work for the contract that I had to do was:
    Shovelling peat (mostly)
    piling up wood
    shovelling snow
    clearing the last exhibition, and painting the walls white again
    cleaning the hallway and toilet
    being present at asked times.

    In the period I was at Saksala, I got the opportunity to have a little exhibition myself. I've never done it before, and I had no work. After one month I had the opening. I could go with my own idea's (although I didn't really knew what I did), and I was quite pleased with the way the work was presented. In the other rooms where the works that are always there, and in some rooms was also work from an other artist, who had her opening two weeks before mine.


    The school is situated in the centre of Haukivuori. It's an 8 minute walk from the train station. The building on the one side of the road is the lower school (ala-aste), and on the opposite is the higher-level and highschool (yläaste and lukio).

    I was in the yläaste/lukio mostly. The building is close to the haukihalli (sportscentre), and there were opportunities to do sports outside, like ice skating and skiing. In the school building is an separated part for teachers, to drink something, or have meetings. All of the teachers had an workingtable there. In the school were classrooms, some specially organized for certain subjects like music, handicrafts and cooking. In the middle of the building is a room where the students can celebrate certain happenings in the year.

    The classes I've teached in Haukivuori where mostly yläaste groups. They are between the age of 12 to 15. Some of them chose to do the subject, but some courses are basic courses which all of them should get enough points for. I had got to design my own program to teach these groups.

    I also assisted the current teacher in two other groups. One ala-aste group with children about the age of 11. And the other group was a lukio group, aged around 17-18years. The either gave a lesson herself, or asked me to do it. Sometimes even spontaneous.

    At first the teacher didn't understand that I was there for an internship. She thought I came to do some project. As that problem was cleared, we had to make decisions which groups I could do a program with lessons with. We decided on the two yläastegroups. The first group was working three-dimensional, the second group was working graphical.

    For the three-dimensional group I didn't get any clue for their end goals (even after asking several times), so I decided to make a lesson series about sketching in three-dimensional ways. Some weeks went well, sometimes it was tough. Most hard was to communicate clear and easy, and to get everybody to work. Nonetheless I enjoyed the times where the students were busy making things, and sometimes surprising themselves in making something they didn't expect.
    I had trouble in my planning, because I was too ambitious in the time they had to do it. So I had to tune the level down, but still keep it challenging. The last week was really problematic, because most of the students weren't there, and I didn't know in advance. Also that was solved in the end, I left them a letter, and the students worked the final assignment themselves, and send it to me by post.

    The graphical group had one target, they should learn something about logo's. My idea was to build a portfolio, and by doing so, give them idea's about making their own logo. But as I started doing that, I noticed that none of them were used to that kind of working, and I lost them in this conceptual way of working. Although I tried to make more practical lessons, shorter or with lower level, I never got the whole class doing what I wanted to teach them. The hardest things I noticed in this group by teaching them was the big differences in level (some couldn't speak or understand any English, or my Finnish), and also I never got the grip on their full attention. I did like that some of them managed to make drawings that where creative, they found some good material from the papers, and were able to design teir own logo by it. I also liked the little chat the class and I had, about logo's, it was a bit of an eye-opener for them that logo's are used for more than only products.

    I assisted in the ala-aste group. The theme they were working with was colours. The children were working on four assignment simultaneously, and whenever one was finished with all of them, she added another. Mostly she asked me to come up with these other 'fulling up' assignments, but then again everybody had to do it. I tried to make de lessons for them not only extra work, but also instructive. The good thing was that the group had goals to achieve in these colour-tasks. So giving some explanation or theory went quite well. Even speaking English/Finnish went OK, because the students tried to understand me, instead of just the language. The hard thing was to keep an overview while everybody was working on something different, and switching assignments all the time. I also didn't understand how to reflect on the assignments properly, because there wasn't an ending to them.

    The lukio group had the choice of going to music class or art class. So those who were in the art group wanted to do that I presumed. The subject they should work with was 'media'. But the teacher choose to make it more personal, and came up with themselves as theme for their own works. I thought that it would be too heavy, but then again she said she did it before, and so introduced it to the students. The teacher and I agreed on giving lessons in a certain schedule. I gave lessons in figure drawing. And she asked me to try as much techniques as possible. Because of that we didn't get to much drawing technique, we did more material technique. The more we (the group and I) got used to each other, the better we understood each other, and that was visual in their drawings. I liked that process a lot. The only technique my teacher came up with, and I refused to give, was aquarel. Because I didn't see any good link to what we were doing. I tried to discuss it with my teacher, but she wanted to give that lesson herself in the end. Still I think she shouldn't have done it, now the group was really confused because she changed the subject, used a too different technique, and didn't make any connection with the lessons I had given them before. The hardest in this group was letting that go out of my hands. Now I felt this connection with the group, I felt kind of responsible for them to have an usefull and structured lesson.

    This is an extra, two week story. I've been introduced to someone who had a connection with the Taidelukio in Savonlinna. Marja told me that it would be a great experience if I could go there to see what it is like. I made an appointment and went there the first week to watch how things go there. I already had a little experience in haukivuori, but this was nothing compared to the taidelukio.

    The school itself is a normal lukio as far as usual subjects concern, but it is specialised in arts. The students have to put extra hours in making art, in all kinds of courses. The week I came to watch, I also talked to the students and teachers about the school and the classes. They were all very open, and willing to explain whatever question I came up with. It gave me a good feeling to have seen it, and to have experienced this kind of school.

    The art-history teacher offered me to come again another time, and give a lesson myself. Because that was such a great offer, I was very enthusiastic to do it. When the week came closer, the other teachers gave me also the opportunity to teach a practical lesson with their groups. The week I got back in Savonlinna, I gave a drawinglesson, three times, and one art history lesson. All of the lessons were so much fun to give. Of course I could have done better in some ways, but I really felt that I could be a teacher, and that I had learned them something. Even though the class and I didn't have a very long history. I think the students are more open to guest lessons than they are in Haukivuori (they might be just more used to it). They were also a bit older in general, and they did choose to go to this specialised school for a reason.


    I wanted to learn more Finnish and make connection with the place I am and the people in it. I went to church (to sing, and hear Finnish), to the library (to get movies, music and children’s books), and also just walking around the area. In the first week I got the best opportunity I could wish for, the neighbour from Saksala, who is also Dutch, asked me to look after her house. Without a doubt I took the offer, because I could learn so much about a real Finnish house, and how to take care of it in winter.

    After some time people started to recognize me, and made a little chat time to time. I got the strongest connection with someone living close to Haukivuori. She took care of me in everything she could. Took me out to local Finnish concerts, made real Finnish food, showed me handworks and other beautiful (nostalgic) things. She invited me on Christmas eve to enjoy Finnish Christmas
    in a Finnish way. She learned me a lot about the live there, and it came just naturally. Some say Finns are really closed and shy, but I do think that you have to give them some time to get used to you, but they are true and open when they do make contact.

    In those months I also travelled around Finland again, like I did in summer. I went to new places, I haven't seen before. Mostly I went there with a little plan, like going to a concert, or some cultural event. In the time around that little plan, I mostly walked around the city, and see what it was like. I loved to be out there, as a contrast to the small village the residence was in. It also gave energy, sometimes for lessons, sometimes for drawings.

    I have to have learned some more Finnish than I came with. By time I understood conversations better, and got really used to the sound of the language. I put a lot of spare time in learning the language in a playful way like reading children's books, singing along with a cd or radio, and make little conversations with those who had the ease to listen to my Finnish-in-practice.
    I learned about culture and local things. By watching historical based Finnish movies. I went to happenings around historical important days, and I had conversations about it. The local history was either visual, or I could ask about it. I loved to hear stories and songs from the local bands I went to.
    I've been to museums, and the theatre, to see historical or cultural things.
    For the research about the Finnisch school system, I've asked teachers and students. Marja took me to a little presentation about it. I found some information on internet too, and most important I have my own experience now.
    I had the first experience with making a exhibition. There were only two people spontaneously coming, but it didn't matter, it's a small village, and it was totally new for me.
    In the residence was one other girl in the end (only my last month) where I felt a connection with. We got along very well, and talking with someone in the same situation was very good. Also about her earlier experiences as artist or student. Because this was my very first time in a place like this I didn't have anything to compare with. So having contact with an other artist learned me a lot.
    About Finnish ways, I learned a lot in the house I took care of. Making fire, making the sauna, the water pipes froze, the snow shovelling, knitting, letting things go, air, and above all fun.

    closing words

    I've written this text almost a month after I left this place. Inside me is a very strong feeling that I have a connection with Finland. I think that drive made this most of all a personal experience. The time in Savonlinna gave me energy to believe in myself as a teacher. As an artist I did get new inspiration, but now I'm back in the Netherlands I have the teachers around me that trigger me to focus.

    I feel that the effort I put into be open to learn Finnish ways paid me back the most. It's an adventure, and I didn't have to do it alone, thanks to teachers, students, and all the valuable opportunities I've been given.

    See also the artistic work of Dominique van Ipenburg.

    The artist-in-residence is supported by:

    Arts Council Finland
    AllaprimA foundation the Netherlands
    AREFS taide ja kulttuuri ry Finland

    Saksala ArtRadius

    information |Marja de Jong | mobile 00358 (0)50 4625 675 | info@arefs.org |

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