The river is larger than its waterway

As part of CROWD 2022, I took part in residencies by Taikabox in Varjakka and Dance Limerick in Limerick with my dear artist pair Rita Marcalo. For me, these two residencies together formed a view on community engagement that has specific ties to locality and place. I think one of the nicest things in this residency programme was to witness how the local dancemakers and arthouses work as part of their own communities, with their own local methodologies, while in parallel developing my own thinking around, and my own artistic practice in terms of social engagement.

The following text is written a few days after my second residency in Limerick, with more than a month since the ending of my first residency in Varjakka. The text includes journal notes from Limerick.

On the first day in Limerick, we drove with Jenny, the director of Dance Limerick, from the train station to the house where Rita and I will be staying for the next two weeks. When crossing the river, it was mentioned that it is called Shannon, and I thought it’s an especially beautiful name for a river. The house where we stay is owned by Deirdre. She recommends the walk of the three bridges, which are the bridges that cross the river in Limerick area. The walk is apparently especially beautiful in the evenings when the river is lit up. Deirdre leaves. I find a book about the River Shannon on her bookshelf.

-Limerick, August 2022

In my and Rita’s first residency in Varjakka, our facilitator Julian welcomed us by noting that by being in a place we are also participating in moving and altering that place – that we are not just hovering through space as isolated bodies. In Limerick, the River Shannon became an anchor in emphasising this form of thinking for me – the river is present in a very tangible form, making curves through Ireland and through the city of Limerick. Rita and I had landed in a material somewhere, instead of any abstracted nowhere.

As a starting point in both Varjakka and Limerick, I was drawn to the landscape and maps of the places in order to clarify visually and through form the place where I had arrived. It was the first step in grounding myself in the reality, that I had arrived in a place, and that this place was now the material context for the artistic process ahead and the meetings with people.

Landmark – an object on land that marks a locality.

Upon arrival I was quickly drawn to the River Shannon, only to notice that so was, what felt like, “everyone” else around me in Limerick – there was a sense of urgency. I told Philippa, our facilitator, that I would like to get to know Limerick through the river. She quickly turned around to Gearoid, the technical manager at Dance Limerick, to ask, “what do you know about the river”, a perfect example of how Philippa finds her way into communities by being interested and asking for advice. Gearoid’s father had spent all his life working with boats and recommended a boat club for us to go visit. Alice and Molly, two young dancemakers, were currently working on a dance performance in reference to River Shannon. Not to any major surprise, many activities and communities are built around the river. It seems, that the river marks a locality for every individual in a different way.

-Limerick, August 2022

I have been most touched and inspired in both residencies by coming across dance and artmaking practices by local organisations and artists, that ground themselves deeply in the context of the place where they appear from. I have named it for myself, for instance as dancing, that literally appears from somewhere, not out of thin air. In Limerick local dancemakers are working on performances for instance about the river and about boat-making. In Varjakka many artistic responses have been made on the island of Varjakka. Social engagement has for me, through these examples, appeared interwoven with locality and place, as an approach that does not overlook or underestimate its own context but firmly rests itself in it.

Aoife told us that “the river is larger than its waterway”.

Philippa drove me around Limerick and its close regions meeting people with knowledge and insight on the river. On a sunny Sunday we met Aoife on her organic farm in Clare, with seventeen satin black Kerry cows. We sat inside her house as she was talking about the ecology of the river, a field where she is more than an expert – she uses her words like a poet. Aoife told us about how the river includes its riverbanks, that sit next to the river, and how whatever goes onto the land, even far away from the river, ends up in the river. In Varjakka, Julian spoke about community as accumulation of knowledge by many, which is what the river, larger than its waterways, started representing for me. Julian mentioned how also those who just hang around the artmaking are an important part of it, like the riverbanks are “hanging around” the river. And the land far away from the river – a visualisation of a periphery landing slowly onto the large and speedy waterway.

The river is larger than its waterway – the river is also the communities and individuals around it.

-Limerick, August 2022

There was a lot of talking with people, both in Varjakka and in Limerick, as well as listening. The prominence of orality, and accumulation of knowledge through it in the field of dance, is something I have heard Chrysa Parkinsson, professor in Choreography in Stockholm University of the Arts, talking about multiple times. I amounted talking to dancing during these residencies, as a kind of preface or prelude to movement with bodies.

The difficulty with a two-week residency is that in comparison to the durational work that the dance houses and local artists do, two weeks is a blink of an eye. The brain and the body need rest, in order to unpack what has accumulated in the form of information and experience. Most of what wants to come out of the process has no time to come out there and then.

The pleasurable thing is, that I felt in both residencies an interesting view on “artists at work”, which is both thanks to the frame of the residency and the facilitators. The open-ended frame for research and artistic investigation in the residencies has complemented my view on artistry as a durational practice, rather than one mainly occupied by, and built around, isolated projects or immediate outcomes. The residencies have taken a form of learning experience and research – the insight I have gained here, will gain tangible fruit in future endeavours.

On my last day in Limerick me and Philippa were taken on the river by Pat, an older gentleman, who has spent his entire life living and working around the River Shannon. We spent almost three hours investigating different nooks and corners of the river and speeding through soft, glittery waves. Philippa described what she had experienced earlier in the residency with Andrew at the boat club, as “handing out generations”. It was something similar that was happening with Pat as he was describing us the tiniest details of markings on stones under the bridges and the events that led to those markings. The morning after our trip on the river, I crossed the bridge over the Shannon at 5.30 am on my way to the train. My view on the river had changed drastically from the first time we drove across it with Jenny, and it was “simply” a river with a beautiful name – now it was wider. The tide was very low that early in the morning, and there was one single swan, swimming still, carefully navigating the soft stream of the river.

-Limerick, September 2022

I come out of the residencies with admiration toward both Taikabox and Dance Limerick, who are doing embracive, durational work as part of the places and communities where they operate.

Special thank you to everyone met on the way, including, but not only: Rita, Tanja, John, Impi, Mummu, Lölä, Jussi, Eija, Janne, Niko, Tapio, Julian, Jenny, Philippa, Gearoid, Alice, Molly, Katy, Fiona, Siobhan, Andrew, Eugene, Tom, Pat, Aoife, Ciaran, and Sophie.

Warmly, Silja Tuovinen

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