Barbara van Lindt

Helsinki as a centre?

Curator and artistic director Barbara Van Lindt answered to TINFO’s question about working with the practitioners on performing arts as she has agreed to be one of the mentors on MOTI programme. Three quick questions:

What’s it like working with Finnish artists/practitioners?

To be honest, their Finnishness is a non-issue in my work relation with Juha (Valkeapää) and Maija (Hirvanen). If I should think of a relevant label, I would use ‘mid career’ and ‘performance’.

Mid-career

The label ‘mature’ seems to point at the beginning of the end, just before the rotting, the decomposition will take over. ‘Established’ is a label much used in marketing: it is meant to suggest that a certain quality or content can be guaranteed. ‘Mid-career’ is more neutral, descriptive and yet it is also open. I have worked a lot with Master students the past years, artists who, after a first phase as professionals want to dive into research and questioning, while being part of a peer group.

Juha and Maija have so much experience as makers and performers, it feels like they have a strong base to start from. Their questioning is not so much existential as in “am I good enough to be an artist?”, rather they allow each other to go deep, to tackle fundamentals in their practice with trust and playfulness. This professional attitude is what I recognise as mid-career.

...Performance (see next question)
 

Now that you’ve seen your mentees at work and may even have had the chance to explore the Finnish performing arts scene more widely, could you share some of your thoughts and observations with us?

I realize that since 15 years I have followed the Finnish performance scene on a more or less regular basis. The Anti Festival in Kuopio, several editions of Baltic Circle with both Eva Neklyaeva and Satu Herrala, Kiasma and its performance program. From a distance I was in awe following the Mad House project unfold from a strong alliance between artists like Juha Valkeapää and Annika Tudeer from Oblivia. Sonja Jokiniemi was a student at DAS (DasArts).

Maija once came to interview me while I was at the helm of DasArts. She was busy with an exploration of the notion of ‘the international’ in cultural policy (if I remember well). I was bothered by the focus on Brussels-Amsterdam-Berlin as the centre and the reference point and asked her as a thought experiment: consider Helsinki as the centre, what would it be the centre of?

Attending Finnish performance events has always generated new perspectives on life, art and politics.

The Finnish performance work felt familiar enough to engage with it, operating in a similar realm where representation is left behind, where there is an appetite for discourse, where practices from visual arts infuse the black box theatre maker.

I guess I was always attracted to those artists who worked with a sense of dry humour, playfulness, dedication and boldness. Less identified as urban and cosmopolitan, the Finnish performance scene seemed prone to connect with cultural traditions and nature, while also charging it politically. Symposium in a sauna. A program co-curated with Sami artist and activist. A sex positivity festival. Maija’s project touring the city in a van.

To me, attending Finnish performance events has always generated new perspectives on life, art and politics.
 

When you’re acting as a mentor, you of course always tailor your approach to the needs of each individual mentee/artist. What would you say are the three most important skills or tools for a mentor working in the performing arts sector?

You don’t – well I certainly don’t – just state “from now on I am a mentor”. It is a role that others imagine you could take on. In that role, I find it important to be available, to listen and observe. Another thing that is hardly a skill one can train, is to have an open channel to experiences of the past, a reservoir of thoughts, observations and insights – also from outside of the arts! - that might be relevant to share in new situations.

Avoiding to make absolute statements, allowing yourself to be vulnerable while not holding back. There, some feedback tools can come in handy. 

 

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Barbara Van Lindt was the artistic director of STUK (Leuven), Gasthuis (Amsterdam), wp Zimmer (Antwerp), and she worked as curator for the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels before becoming the managing director of DasArts (now DAS Theatre) in 2009, an Amsterdam-based Master’s programme for theatre makers and curators. Since september 2019 she started, in a duo Agnès Quackels, as General and Artistic Coordinator of Kaaitheater in Brussels.