Writing alone – while remembering everyone influencing my writing – can never be lonely.

In this piece I am reflecting on my process with writing a hand-out for MASSIA residency in Southern Estonia. Located in the old schoolhouse of Massiaru, Pärnumaa, MASSIA residency is an open residency without any selection process, existing for the past 5 years. Due to its rural location – as well as the isolating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic – you may not have heard about it. Or you may have heard about it but never got to go there.

My current goal with writing a hand-out about MASSIA; explaining its ethics and what it offers, is in order for institutions, groups and individuals from all over the Nordic/Baltic region and beyond to feel invited to start using the space. As someone who only started to use MASSIA this year (2022), I am attempting to describe a space that has a history that I have not been a part of, as well as opening up for a future of the space that I can only speculate on.

When looking at the basic structure of MASSIA: The open residency model – welcoming artists and researches of all fields to motorize their own knowledge production whenever throughout the year – I understand that the space facilitates community and solidarity across fields in a way more built into the fabric than that of other residency spaces. At MASSIA it is an ongoing experiment to communize the space with other artists and researchers. Getting closer to such conceptual differences, has been the very basis of my writing. Simply looking at how MASSIA works and give it precision in writing.

I am occupied with writing a hand-out for MASSIA as I believe our Nordic/Baltic region is in dire need of a space such as the one MASSIA offers. A space where we can autonomously meet across artistic and academic fields and find spontaneous community. Loneliness – as a product of isolation – is a real thing in all of Northern Europe. But isolation – as the rural location of MASSIA comes with – can also lead to concentration and unavoidable meeting eye-to-eye with others. Loneliness is a product of isolation, but also of lack of connection, which can even occur when surrounded by people. MASSIA subsequently offers more than the typical residency space.

When looking at what is going on at MASSIA, I realized that the residency space is more closely connected to the old phenomenon of a schoolhouse; where learning and communal living goes hand in hand. One user suggested me earlier this fall to insert an anecdote into the hand-out, arguing that to understand the phenomenon of MASSIA, it would be best illustrated in the small moments of magic that happen in the space. I asked them to give me an example and got the following response:

Once I was attending a workshop at MASSIA and there was this parent that was not part-taking in the workshop, but taking care of their children, so that their partner could take part in the workshop. We did not see the person very much, as the children’s rhythm was different from that of the workshop. But one late evening – after we had all went to bed – we were woken up by someone playing beautiful classical music on one of the ground floor pianos. Not knowing how the sound travelled through the whole building, we realized next morning it had been the parent playing in all solitude. Suddenly we got an insight into the person that we hadn’t gotten before that. They had suddenly added to the collective artistic experience at MASSIA during the time of the workshop”.

As the user describes in their anecdote, a workshop (learning) is going on in the space, but all the while there are people present that are simply there to live (care-taking for their children). In the midst of the night the parent suddenly steps out of their presence as care-taker and contribute with an (unintentional, out-of-schedule) artistic experience! The lines between learning and living easily become porous in MASSIA. My writing aims at reflecting that. And to understand the particularity of MASSIA’a character I rely a lot on conversations with others. My writing becomes a clear product of dialogue. One could say it is a collage of conversational pieces that I sort out and understand in their essence through writing. If conveying MASSIA in a typical residency space lingo, would confuse new users’ expectations of the space. The schoolhouse term thereby helps to take the mind to another type of space for learning that seem to fit the very (not just architectural) contours of MASSIA.

Hand-out – to reach a hand – to give insight – to hand information – to step out of the known – to hand a hand to other voices – to be handed a place to give one’s hands to – to be handed the torch – to say: “you can hand it over as well” – to hand over and allow the unexpected to happen.

I easily feel connected to people that seek to communize their work and/or personal lives. I have for some years already been interested in conducting writing processes where I – as I write – stay in community with others. I look to write from a transindividual place. This means that I am not just writing from my own experience (the individual), but also writing from experiences that exists between me and others, as well as between others and others (the transindividual). Even though I now sit in my kitchen in Jerusalem/Al-Quds in Israel/Palestine, writing under the florescent light, far away from Estonia and the Nordic/Baltic region, I clearly remember how it is to be in residency at the old schoolhouse. Knowing that others are there as I write, it is as if I am there too to some extend. I know that their work and experiences in the space will linger on in the shared memory of the building. These memories will still be there for when I come back next spring.

Circular writing – writing in circles – circling around the same topics – taking up new topics – the centrifuge of a tornado – some being in the eye of it – some on the periphery – everyone being part of the tornado – a tornado drawing circles – hard to draw a perfect circle – circling again and again – attempting to draw the circle – attempting again – and again

The openhandedness of writing for MASSIA, writing in circular manners, where I return and discover new things about the space while writing about it. Similarly to using MASSIA, each visit gives a new aspect of what the building and its community of users can offer. Likewise, each visit have me discover what I can offer to the building and its community. MASSIA is dynamically shaped by its users and so it should be. MASSIA is under Perpetual Construction.

On the other side, MASSIA upholds certain boundaries and is loyal to a social and professional culture. The emphasize on Everyday Ecology – meaning the commoning of space or taking care of the space together aka. part-taking in the self-organization of the space – is an unchangeable principle of MASSIA. In writing the hand-out and trying to understand the principle of Everyday Ecology, I have conducted multiple conversations with users of MASSIA to get a sense of how the principle manifest in the day-to-day. Their experiences and thoughts organize and edit my writing. I am continuing to converse-edit-converse-edit until January 2023. This will end a 6 month long process of gathering inputs, with the goal of having the hand-out ready for the next season opening in March 2023.

When you live, you learn – learning is living – living is a learning curve – curve your learning in order to live – live and learn from the wilderness of life – life is wild – wild is alive – alive is dynamic – dynamic lives are growing community – community in order to break loneliness – loneliness as not the same like being alone – being alone is never lonely when in community

To do anything collectively is challenging, as we are losing our abilities to be and stay in collaboration. Collaboration takes time. Society doesn’t advocate for collaboration, but for competition and individual growth. Society doesn’t have time. Writing for MASSIA is an experiment in trying to stay in collaboration and slow down so as many of the users’ voices can influence the writing.

Writing for MASSIA, I am at a descriptive language in the name of its past, current and future users. There are aspects of MASSIA and experiences that have occurred, that I have not been a witness to and thereby cannot have inform my writing. I must lean on what I have encountered myself and through what I receive in conversations with others. Being one with a lot of experience in giving voice to self-organized projects, like MASSIA, I know how to lean on strategies of collecting input and process that into writing. In the process I believe that we all get closer to multiple understandings of what MASSIA is about. It should be like that – the writing of the hand-out is not a process of cementing what MASSIA is, but to give written life to its character that can contribute to its future development. When collaborating we must invite a transindividual view into our process. We must look at what happens in between us and how it forms us. MASSIA is all about that intersection between individuals, working as individuals, but also agreeing to be sensitive towards the in-between. Consequently, writing for MASSIA alone can never be lonely.

Photo: Anna Siggelkow