Åbo/Turku: Sites of Learning

art, recent work, time-out

Leaving Stockholm on Sunday evening, May 14th, sleeping across the Baltic sea and waking up early Monday morning to sunrise over Åbo/Turku… In 2010 and 2011 I made this trip quite a few times, when engaged in the Nomadic University project at Åbo Akademi. Now I’m back to take part in a conference hosted by the Donner Institute and the University of Helsinki: Religion and Spirituality as Sites of Learning.

Nice to trod the streets of Åbo once more…

..and nice to be back in the facilities of Åbo Akademi University. Niklas the caretaker helps me to arrange a poster exhibition that I’ve brought for the occasion. Soon, conference guests begin to arrive and register. Then: coffee time, and next the welcome introduction by Ruth Illman, research director of the Donner Institute, and professor Terhi Utriainen from the University of Helsinki – followed by a keynote speech on Unlearning by professor Kim Knott of Lancaster University; a productive opening to three days dedicated to learning.

The conference proceeds with three parallel sets of lectures throughout the day. Among the presentations I manage to attend is Jaana Kouri‘s research on Learning in contemporary shamanism (carried out congruently with her own shamanist practice); among the ones I’m sorry to miss out on are Miriam Feldmann Kaye‘s Learning as Idea: ‘Hospitality’ from a Philosophical Perspective and Emine Neval’s Where are the Women?.. This first day  is wrapped up with a reassembly and panel discussion on Eastern Spirituality in Arts. Panelists Nina Kokkinen, Måns Broo, Linda Annunen and Ville Husgafvel open for a highly interesting and well-grounded discussion along the themes of Inspiration, Appropriation, Conversation… upon which follows a get-together reception and the awarding of Donner Institute Research Prize 2022 to Maija Butters for her book Death and Dying Mediated by Medicine, Rituals, and Aesthetics.

Leaving the gusto of seventy researchers gathering ‘in real life’ for the first time since covid 19, to enter the calm atmosphere within the Bridgettine sisters’ guesthouse… where a modest room is waiting for me, and the singing of psalms accompany Tuesday’s breakfast.

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Morning choir at the Bridgettine Convert’s guesthouse

The second day of conference begins with researchers from the University of Helsinki sharing conclusions from their project Learning From New Religion and Spirituality. In addition to informal talks and tasty lunch (the menu is all vegetarian), I enjoy and learn from Lena Roos and Laura Wickström lecturing on, respectively, The Green Sabbath Project and Learning about the Environment Within Islamic Tradition – just to mention two out of many appealing themes.

The third and final day starts directly with the sets of parallel sessions; in Auditorium Källan – the Well – we delight in multi-skilled university lecturer Mikko Autere reciting Sufi poetry in Urdu (or was it Hindi?) and introducing us to South Asian practices of aesthetic and mystical cognition; his talk followed by doctoral student Olivia Cejvan, reporting about secrecy as a didactic tool in a Swedish esoteric society. I feel very favoured to be the third one to present in this sequence – even more so, being the one non-academic person to attend the conference. My talk takes place by the entrance, in front of the poster exhibition; retelling the story of Interfaith Dialogue in Images (a  workshop in two parts, which I conducted in the autumn of 2019), presenting the concept of Pictorial Reasoning and inviting feedback from a researcher’s perspective. Again, I’m privileged to get insightful comments and questions from such an extremely qualified audience. Two of them to appear on stage a little later…

After the coffee break, with continued discussions, it’s time for professor Mulki al-Sharmani to hold her keynote speech on Women Living with, Learning from, and Reasoning with the Qur’an – sharing experiences from long-time engagement with a number of Muslim women. Some of her informants belong to the islamic minority in Finland, others to the majority in Egypt; some are fairly well-off, others underprivileged; each one of them possessing deep resources of judgement and agency.

Next out, in the closing set of parallel sessions, is Laura Hellsten, dancer and doctor in systematic theology. The subject of her lecture is Dance as a Spiritual Formation Practice… partly treated in connection to her project The Praxis of Social Imaginaries; Cosmologies, Othering and Liminality, which has recently been launched in collaboration with Lindsey Drury (PhD at Freie Universität Berlin/ University of Kent). I’ve already had the pleasure to take part of Laura’s and Lindsey’s work within the framework of the Nordic Summer University. More to follow there…

And so: time for some closing words, and one more cup of coffee before we leave. The walk along the Aura river, on my way to the ferry , brings me close to the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, where a rich retrospective of Jan Kenneth Weckman’s painting is on view. I cannot just pass by, of course; after three days of intense listening, I need to wash my eyes in colour to see again. Need to pay respect to Jan Kenneth’s corpus; to art as materialized thinking.

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Jan Kenneth Weckman: Mother of God (2016); oil on canvas

What, then, do I remember from these sites of learning in Åbo/Turku?

…from Jan Kenneth: to focus on painting, not on the picture.

…from the sisters’ guesthouse: A key. Clean surfaces, plain clothing, sparse colour, morning oats, singing voices converging to the unison. Austerity and care. Time stripped bare of signs of change.

…from the conference: the Q’s and A’s. Living world transformed to words, aligned according to rules of logic. A poem in urdu (or was it hindi?), ungraspable by logic. Delight in meeting, delight in sharing. The beautiful sign on the restroom doors.

Musical Quarter Interlude: Art and Spirit

art, curating, painting, recent work, time-out

“Art and Spirit – like a twelve-tone scale, the works of eleven artists sound in the Musical Quarter. The exhibition takes place on all floors within the building​ – in the doorway, the entrance hall​ and​ stairwells, ​in the foyers and the concert spaces.”

A one-day-only exhibition at Stockholm’s Musical Quarter, curated by Tobias Sjöberg – up and running from noon at Saturday, March 11th, into the wee hours of the night when the last guests are leaving the party.

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Tobias Sjöberg at work; photo HHW.


participating artists:


Amanda Cardell

Beata Fransson

Helena Hildur W.

Jakob Sjöstedt 

Jouko Mario

Margrethe Sjöberg

Mats Adelman


Tiago Altink

Tobias Sjöberg

Viktor Kopp

– – –

Friday, March 10th: gathering together to hang the artworks. A colourful curtain – made for the occasion by Amanda Cardell – will greet every guest at the main entrance. In the Clara Schumann hall, works by Viktor Kopp and myself have found their place, waiting quietly for tomorrow’s artsy sounds, klezmer swing and late night disco. Manager Andil Dahl always seems to be in the right place to make everything run smoothly.

Hanging completed in the Clara Schumann hall; on display from my part are three diary paintings (oil on wood panel) and four monthly pictures (blood, ashes and chinese ink on silk).

In the first floor foyer, painted wood sculptures by Tiago Altink are put on display.  At the second floor, Jakob Sjöstedt’s sculptural sounding objects interplay with scenic elements of the locale. Missing on photo are Margrethe Sjöberg’s embroidered birds of fantasy, and Jouko Mario’s enigmatic paintings opening up to views of strange streets and buildings.

In the stairwells, Mats Adelman builds exquisite cabinets where the night fly finds rest and the barn owl can be seen flying…  The old and the new meet in the third floor foyer, where Beata Fransson’s  playful photographic sculpture echoes the brick wall of a building across the street.

Halfway down another staircase, Stefan’s self portrait is a world in itself; I’m humbled and grateful to have my cloud drawing placed next to it.

Missing here are Tobias Sjöberg’s Octave – watercolour paintings covering two huge windows, creating a quiet virtual space opening to pure colour; turning the room into a floating vessel, carrying living people and pale plaster muses along outside of time …

Saturday, March 11th: giving the installations a last finish; then removing tools and ladders, doing a bit of  cleaning up; and, the Art and Spirit exhibition is up by noon. At four o’clock,  the Swedish Wind Ensemble gathers for a sounding parade around the neighbourhood. When they return, guests are already queuing to get inside. Scendödsfestival sets off – let the party begin!


Gallery Opening @Digital Dirt Road

recent work, time-out

For three weeks, the annual members’ exhibition of local artists’ association ARTiE has been on display within the city hall of Eslöv (Skåne county, in the south of Sweden). That exhibition closes today (Monday, January 30th) only to re-open in a digital version at the notable Digital Dirt Road Gallery – a ‘somewhat square and grumpy’ corner of the internet, according to the gallerist himself:

This virtual gallery is part of ARTiE’s longtime struggle for improving the cultural benefits of Eslöv municipality citizens. Supporting the initiative, I’m delighted to once more be invited to the party:

ARTiE Opening @’Digital Dirt Road’ Gallery
Opening on Monday, Jan 30th, at 5.30pm GMT+1
– open until March 31st, 2023


reconnecting, attuning, integrating

art, recent work

During the Exhibition and Life (reconsidered), a forgotten painting from thirty years ago was brought into the light… Someone found it touching, somehow – because of the lapis lazuli blue? the mere size and shape of the paper? the little “tadpole” figure? the black charcoal circle? I can’t tell. But there it was, for the first time publicly on display.

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from day 3 of ‘the Exhibition and Life (reconsidered)’

I was touched, too – reconnecting with the almost forgotten place in my life where this image emerged. A feeling resonating from there to now, setting me in tune again. Urging me to respond from another me. To review the elements – their size, brightness, depth, materiality, tactility; to rethink the proportions and composition; to find a new provider of lapis lazuli pigment; to find a way of mounting the large paper for permanent display.

The lapis lazuli pigment corresponds in an exceptional way with the changing qualities of light; from the midday or afternoon sky, or from electric lighting. An Orthodox rabbi’s wife passes me a quote from an artist whose name she doesn’t remember: “blue is light coming into being”.

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We’re still in the undetermined process of integration. Proceeding with care.

Notes from the Nordic Summer University II

art, curating, recent work, time-out

During the week-long NSU session, I got engaged in a couple of ‘ad hoc’ projects (in addition to my presentation within Circle 7, which was the ticket to my participation here). The first one happened in the context of a cultural evening.* Together with a number of courageous persons, I staged an updated performance of a multilingual poetry reading first realized in August 2014.**


2014 poster – for full story, see Training the Fundamentals of a Democratic Society

The original project sprung from a poem by Ukrainian author Tanya-Mariya Litvinyuk. In this re-staging, Ms. Litvinyuk is actually present through a sound recording sent from Kyiv the day before; her voice is heard from the laptop at the beginning. Then follows an English translation, read by Dr. Lucy Lyons, after which the English reading proceeds with ten words (all singled out from Ms. Litvinyuk’s poem). Back in 2014, those ten words sparked a collective writing process in a group of civil rights activists, and the poetic result of their joined efforts was translated from English into all languages spoken within the group. Here, I’m reading the Swedish version – followed by a fresh translation into Belarusian by NSU participant Alina Kalachova, created for this occasion. Crucial contributions (although not visible on screen) were also made by Maru Mushtrieva.

The multilingual reading evening engaged about 35 attendants, and took place in the school’s chapel.

My second ‘ad hoc’ engagement was in Disa Kamula’s workshop on Co-writing the future, where my contribution was the real-time mapping of an unfolding utopian narrative… From the resulting vision of a bright future, I finally erased all details but three:
…people of all ages…
…essential work… (cleaning up, that is)
…future generations in focus…

Mapping ‘Visionary Tampere Region’ workshop; resulting World Map,
and workshop leader Disa Kamula collecting workshop material afterwards.

What did I gather from this week? Art is knowledge, and artistic research is here to stay. Democratic structures are essential, although never perfect. Disco dancing is fun – thanks, Ami Skånberg Dahlstedt!
And the map is never complete.

* The NSU multilingual poetry evening was organized by Lara Hoffman, PhD student at Háskólanum á Akureyri, Iceland; she is also the editor of Ós – The Journal, a magazine which features works of fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and artworks in multiple languages.

** The 2014 Evening of Modern Ukrainian Poetry was organized by Yulia Oleksandriv and Julia Shevchenko, in collaboration with Stockholm International Library.

Notes from the Nordic Summer University I

art, recent work, time-out

As July turned August, my Latvian Easter experience brought me further, to Oslo; from an intimate three days’ winter session, to one full week of intense exchange in a much larger group of practitioners and academics within the Nordic Summer University

It took two different trains, a replacement bus, and finally the ‘trikk’ (Norwegian for ‘tram’) to reach Rønningen folkehøgskole at the outskirts of Oslo.

The NSU is an independent academic institution, since 1950 nomadically alternating between venues in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Among its founders and early pioneers were Johan Galtung – principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies – and Nobel prize laureate physicist Niels Bohr. Already in its beginnings, the NSU manifested the idea of interdisciplinarity; and to this day, it has remained open and playful, yet academically stringent; and (not least) with an interestingly democratic organization, free from carrying much administrative weight.

Glimpses from Rønningen folkehøgskole, run by the YWCA/YMCA of Norway

At this NSU Summer session, ten ongoing study circles gathered around themes such as Urban Studies: Between Creativity and Power; Nordic Environmental Ethics; Decolonizing Social Work... and The experiential in artistic practice and research: methods, knowledges and reflective processes – Circle 7, that is, where I took part. (The eleventh circle is the famous Children’s circle, where participants’ kids gather to have a good time too, and sometimes to contribute to the evening programme.)

Random moments from a week with Circle 7

There was a full schedule almost every day of the week: for each circle, three lectures/workshops daily, followed by a common cultural evening programme, or the gathering of NSU’s General Assembly (where decisions were taken on next year’s activities and new board members and other in-charge functions were elected). In between, we could benefit from taking a walk in the surrounding areas, take a fresh swim in the river Aker… and for one day off, make excursions in the city.


…to be continued…

Photo credit: Elina Saloranta

Before Completion

art, recent work

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“This hexagram indicates a time when the transition from disorder to order is not yet completed.”

But if the little fox, after nearly completing the crossing,
Gets his tail in the water,
There is nothing that would further.”

“Fire over water:
The image of the condition before transition.
Thus the superior man is careful
In the differentiation of things,
So that each finds its place.”

I Ching / Book of Changes

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