Playing the long game

Suvi Oskala

Suvi Oskala. Photo: Paula Suvitaival

The journey of a multi-art work, from the first idea to the finished product which is ready to be performed to the audiences, is often a very long and intricate process. When starting a new project, the creator is bursting with energy, the team practically builds itself, and things flow effortlessly. The author is enthusiastically writing grant applications and keeps coming up with new potential directions for the project. The first applications often present the project through the slightly abstracted vision of what would be possible with a dream budget. However, very few of us ever get to work with a dream budget, so over the course of the lengthy period of securing funding, often stretching to years, the project, team, and the original ideas have a long time to evolve.

If a grant is secured and the work can commence, a new chapter begins. At first, the project starts tentatively – figuring out how the team can work together. Searching for a method which uses everyone’s strengths to a maximum in order to create something exhilarating. The team’s shared, active working stage often lasts just a few months, sometimes even less. During this time, however, the project has to be squeezed into its final expression, and it finally receives its premiere. And after the opening night, the work keeps evolving over the course of each contact with a new audience.

Prompted by my climate anxiety, I worked on my artistic-scientific project titled Merisairas (Sea Sick) from spring 2018 up until this year. The team began work in earnest in summer 2019, and from there we shifted our focus on working towards a music video release and the opening night of the staged work. Our planned premiere, however, was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, and after four consecutive cancellations, we decided to present the premiere performance of the staged work virtually, streaming an audience-less recording from our opening night.

In addition to having to postpone the premiere and eventually cancel it altogether, the pandemic threw many other obstacles in the way of performing the work, but we navigated through all these different challenges with a hope that we would eventually get to perform the work we had spent years working on. The disappointment we experienced when things turned out differently was visceral. We are proud of the recording of our audience-less opening night, and we stand behind it. However, in addition to the music video released this spring, that single performance without an audience represents the culmination of years of work.

An artist’s livelihood is a sum of many small streams, each of which represents a financial transaction. The myth about the bohemian artist is hard to dismantle even though each performance that reaches an audience, each concert, and each artwork is a result of a long process. Although an artist’s job may sometimes look like fun and games to an outsider, it still involves complex work, anxiety due to the uncertainty of funding, and above all perseverance in developing one’s own artistic practice. Work that offers joy, bliss, and sparkle is nevertheless work, which deserves to be appreciated as it also offers new experiences and viewpoints to those who get to receive it.

The writer is a violinist-singer whose climate issue activism includes carbon free bicycle tours, inspired by her duo partner Emilia Lajunen. A video recording of her project Merisairas can be found at the YouTube channel under username Meri Sairas. The working team will now take a short breather, but remains hopeful that they will be able to perform the work for a live audience in the future.