A two week collaborative research residency between Helen Sargeant and her son Naoise Sargeant at Takahuhti ArtcenterTampere, Finland, supported by Nicola Smith’s We Are Resident project and funded by the Arts Council.

In September 2016 I spent two weeks with my youngest son Naoise (age 7) taking part in a collaborative arts residency to Takahuhti, Tampere, Finland. The residency was part of the We Are Resident project initiated by Nicola Smith whose aim is to create a supportive family friendly arts residency programme.  This would be the first international arts residency that I had managed to undertake in fourteen years since becoming a mother.

It was a deliberate action on my behalf to go alone and to make my son a collaborative partner.  The work was informed by Leah Lublin’s Mons Fils (My Son) 1968, in which she cared for her baby son during the opening hours of an exhibition at the in Paris. This 14 day performance piece like Lea Lublin’s work was about maternal labour and emotional gestures of care. It was also about making art out of play and caring for each other in a new place, home  and country. Each day of the residency I wrote a blog which included autobiographical writing, our drawings and photographs.  I also read to myself and Naoise from Tove Jansson’s book A Sculptures Daughter,  her childhood memoir of growing up with artist/parents in Helsinki and Finn Family Moomintroll. I was interested to draw out any parallels between the stories of Tove Jansson in particular her relationship with her own mother and ideas about home,  journeys and thinking about the world from a child’s perspective.

I attempted to make the piece child-led. I was interested in how art could be made out of play and out of care work, but I found this very hard. Naoise whole routine had been messed up, with a two hour time difference he struggled to wake before 11am or sleep before 11pm. Naosie often disrupted the work that I was attempting to make with with him, by refusing to meet up with strangers, by running away from the camera lens and by ignoring creative invitations such as the art materials provided on the junk table. He struggled with negotiating our plans, the different place, people, food. Often he missed his dad and brother and all he wanted to do was to leave the city of Tampere and go back home either to the quiet and peace of the art centre at Takahuhti or our family home in Todmorden. I struggled to care for him, to contain and manage his worries and insecurity and I often longed for some childcare and adult companionship.

The anxiety, vulnerability and at times the loneliness that both myself and my son felt in taking part in this residency manifested itself within the work that we made.  When Naoise was reluctant to go to an exhibition, I calmed him down by finding a ladybird which I placed within his hands, then we took the ladybird with us to look at the paintings in the art gallery.  When Naoise was frustrated that the amusement park was closed down for the season,  he decided to throw apples over a high fence onto the metal of the giant dipper. He loved watching the apples smash upon impact, and asked me to film him, so I did. We played this game until we worried that someone had seen what we were doing and that we were going to get into trouble. 

M(other) & Son, Water Play, Smart Phone drawing by Helen Sargeant

As well as the challenges there were many joyous moments such as going to see Tove Jansson’s illustrations at the Moomin Museum, finding a fountain that we had seen illustrated in a 1970’s guidebook to Tampere and then discovering an amazing playground behind it. Baking Finnish bread together with Tina and Leena in their home. Enjoying the big disabled access shower which ran hot water a plenty and which Naoise hugged goodbye before leaving.  Rolling cars down a huge ramp in the studio/playroom. Visiting the International School.  Making dens, drawing on my nightie, hunting down treasures at the Kirrportori (flea market), eating hot doughnuts and chocolate, catching the bus, finding mushrooms, playing with our shadows, running through the forest and hugging each other tight through the dark of the night.

M(other) & Son, Riding the Reindeer, Smart Phone drawing by Helen Sargeant & Naoise Sargeant

This residency posed many questions, and was an attempt to answer some of these:

What is play? What is art? What happens when play becomes art? What affect do the demands of care work, and parenting have on arts practice? How is it possible to do both art and mothering? What are the rules of the game? What rules can be broken? What is freedom? What is collaboration? What is child led? What does my child think? How does he perceive the world? How can I collaborate with my child? What is home? How do we value art and parenting? What happens when two artists, a mother and her son travel to a strange place and make art work alone together?

Find out more about this project via the M(other) & Son blog.
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