keskiviikko 18. lokakuuta 2023

Tracing Suburbia – starting points and reflections

(tämä teksti löytyy suomeksi / you can find this writing in Finnish:

One of the starting points of the long-term project Tracing Suburbia (2017–2026) has been to reflect on what happens to artistic work when an artist breaks away from more traditional scene-based perspectives and finds themselves in the suburbs and outside the city centre areas. There are looming questions in the background about what happens to the artist's identity or professional growth as contexts and environments change over the course of a long-term project?

The impetus for the project is to focus on experience, movement and being connected to the environment. It is also based on an interest to explore/discover/create/experiment with different ways of presenting and sharing contemporary dance and artistic/movement practices outside stage contexts and urban centres.


Tracing Suburbia – on writing, improvisation and the process

In this text I aim to open up my own thinking, experiences and work as a dance/contemporary artist in the long-term project Tracing Suburbia. In the course of long-term artistic projects I have found different ways of writing and various ways and needs to write about events, experiences, encounters, thoughts. A more documentary commentary on experiential movement and on humans as movers has transformed into a poetic crystallisation, a reflection on contemporary art and society, an exploration in the sociology of art or an improvisational dive. Writing has slid between these different layers and modes. Impressed both by writing and by the many dialogues and encounters, I have found myself immersed in research, poetry, essays, fact, fiction, podcasts, lectures, discussions.

Writing has also been a part of the project’s dance workshops and solo or small group movement work processes, either as homework or as part of the exercises themselves. The writings have either been kept private or shared with others. At times, writing has also influenced the working process.

I find that immersion in both writing and experiential movement helps to identify or clarify many of the interactions, connections and currents between ourselves, others and the world around us. Both writing and dance are about being in motion, seeking, discovering, sharing and the possibility of being interested in or surprised by something. Often, at least personally, I notice how quickly enthusiasm, curiosity and the desire to share, hear and learn more carry or uplift the working process, taking it in different directions and layers. Writing always opens new doors to improvisation and, at the same time, is already improvisatory. Also, as movers and as beings in the world, we are improvisers, more or less, depending on how aware we are of our choices and how automated or memorised our movements are.

Exploring movement, being in movement, discovering oneself on the move and investigating and tasting different movement patterns and ways of moving can lead towards an experience where one suddenly realises the infinity of alternatives, the continuity of movement, the fact that everything is in motion.


In Tracing Suburbia, neighbourhoods and suburbs become places and environments for experiencing and creating art. When art moves away from the indoors or the stage, the environment and society enter in an entirely different way. Moving art into our everyday lives and environments can also change the way we experience our everyday lives or that which is happening around us. It can also increase dialogue between residents of the area and its visitors and enrich our own urban relationship. In everyday environments, the artist's work and artistry can also be transformed and shaped in different ways.

Nowadays, instead of staying in one area, I find myself thinking about wanderings between neighbourhoods and encounters with different people, wandering dance workshops and personal immersions and experiences in artistic work. We are not as "possessive" with our neighbourhoods or districts as we were before. Locality is mobile and transformative, cross-regional; I can go to street festivals in Myyrmäki, an event in Kontula and a dance workshop in Myllypuro, Kannelmäki or Malmi, and so on. My own experience is that we can talk about people living in the area and people enjoying and visiting the area at the same time.

Close-up creative dives into being near

The environmental dance workshops of the Tracing Suburbia project are art- and movement-based, and they invite participants to take a moment away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse themselves in a creative and experiential dialogue with themselves, influenced by and sensitive to the environment.

An artistic approach can add a sense of presence and experience in the here-and-now moment and bring different shades or layers to one's own thoughts and interpretations of one's own experiences and events. We sense and experience our environment as individuals and individually, no place or point is the same for all of us. Everything that is and happens in my immediate environment influences and shapes my everyday life and what I perceive as important or what I notice in my daily life. Movement and dialogue between self, environment and others can also increase awareness of how one's own lived and experienced relationships and the meanings we give to the environment are created, reinforced or kept alive.


In the book Humanistinen kaupunkitutkimus (Humanistic Urban Studies), researchers cite ethnologist Orvar Löfgren, who says that what we perceive or miss in the environment is partly based on how we have learned to perceive the environment and what we find important in it.

I think it is important that lived and living relationships with the local environment and their meaningfulness can be explored, enhanced, shaped, nurtured, shared, experienced – together and alone. Art in particular has much to offer in this area. Through art one can present, also to oneself, things that would otherwise not be brought out so easily.

I have been savouring the Finnish word lähiö (suburb or residential neighbourhood), which refers to a certain type of high-rise residential area outside the city centre. I read on the internet that the term lähiö was originally a geographer's term, appearing in geographer J.G. Granö's book Reine Geographie (Pure Geography, 1930) as a landscape science concept for the suburban environment. The concept of lähiö, neighbourhood, meant an environment close to us, while a more remote environment – a landscape – was something we looked at from a distance. In Tracing Suburbia I often find myself returning to the word lähiö, and I find its original meaning to be closer to my own work. Being close by involves the senses and touch in different ways rather than looking at a more distant landscape. Tracing Suburbia is the art of being and staying close, of finding oneself near things or events and having time to notice, feel, experience and recognise.


That which is and happens in my immediate environment influences and shapes my everyday life and what I consider important. We don't just pop up in different places and disappear. The environment leaves its mark on us and we leave our mark on the environment. As an artist, I believe that environmental and art-based work can sensitise and inspire people of all ages to discover and explore more ecologically sustainable alternatives and possibilities of coexistence in a diverse and changing environment.

A magical spot in the forest, reached via a narrow path. Corridors of light and green, layers, floating atmospheres. The rustle of the wind in the treetops. Suddenly it is quiet. There is a rustle somewhere, a bird trills briefly. Crackling music and indistinct phrases can be heard from the loudspeakers on a nearby field, but fortunately it fades soon. This spot, this landscape, this place, this time, this experience, could remain. This is not something we can take with us, even if later, after the workshop is over, we walk away in a calmer and more cheerful mood, talking about the changes in our state of being and how being in the forest affected, moved and still moves us.


Tracing Suburbia is neighbourhood art at the grassroots level

Neighbourhood art enables participatory experiences and events in everyday environments. Working as a neighbourhood artist means developing different working methods and creative experimentation in a place that is home to many and a place of passage for many. I find it meaningful and important to work locally and at the grassroots level. Tracing Suburbia is a site-based, grassroots activity that focuses on working in dialogue with and between individuals.

During a lecture, sociologist Lotta Junnilainen mentioned that in urban culture research we can talk about side-by-side living instead of the face-to-face ideal. In cities, not all people need to meet face-to-face, it is more important to find and create ways of living and being side-by-side. As an artist, I don't need to or I cannot draw everyone to the kind of art I make and offer. It is far richer and more relieving to present and increase awareness of the diversity of art, different artists and different ways of making art. Participatory and community art also can and does have a wide range of starting points and practices.

Tracing Suburbia has made me reflect on and nurture the longevity of creative processes in everyday life and at the grassroots level. There is room for the creation and experimentation of different working practices and encounters between individuals. The people who take part in the workshops and other activities choose to do so. Free workshops, events, creative work processes, draft presentations and other sharing opportunities are communicated through social media channels in local groups, email lists, and through participants and actors. At the local level, the diversity and uniqueness of individuals is highlighted and cannot be ignored.

In the book Humanistinen kaupunkitutkimus, researchers write about the ways of making the city artful that escape the tendency to include all different ways of doing, experiencing and thinking as part of the same urban, market-driven “buzz”. ”Following Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's term, one could speak of minoritarian, that is, minor or minority forms of artistic production that do not manifest themselves in manifestos or campaigns, but rather in the form of aesthetic experiences that are incidental to everyday life, hidden or shared by only a few.”

The aim has not been to gather maximum numbers of participants, to get on the national news or to make a lot of social media posts. Rather, it is about everyday creative practices and diving into artistic processes where the individual's own experience and attention to it play a major role. Not so that others notice, but so that you yourself notice.


The Kone Foundation has awarded Pia Lindy a personal working grant for the period 2022–2023.The grant plan included the text Tanssitaiteilijana erilaisissa ympäristöissä ja konteksteissa -teemoista kuten ympäristötanssista, kaupunginosatyöskentelystä ja kaupunginosataiteilijuudesta kirjoittaminen.

This text is the first in a series of articles that will appear during 2023.

Warm thanks for reading and commenting, Anniina Aunola and Jonna Lehto.


Pia Olsson, Jenni Rinne & Tiina Suopajärvi (2021) “Kaupungin tuntu – Paikka moniaistisena kokemuksena”. In Tanja Vahtikari et al. (eds.), Humanistinen kaupunkitutkimus. Vastapaino, 31–59.

Helmi Järviluoma, Inkeri Aula, Sonja Pöllänen, Eeva Pärjälä, Milla Tiainen & Juhana Venäläinen (2021) “Kaupunki taiteena ja taiteilijat kaupungissa -- Taiteentekemisen ja ympäristön yhteismuotoutuminen aistielämäkerrallisilla kävelyillä”. In Tanja Vahtikari et al. (eds.), Humanistinen kaupunkitutkimus. Vastapaino, 61–94.

Humanistinen kaupunkitutkimus. Vastapaino 2021.

Translated by Essi Brunberg.

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