TUO TUO cultural pollinator residency: Ellenor Rose Nish
posted by Ellenor Rose Nish on 11 December 2023

In spring 2023, our friends at TUO TUO offered a residency opportunity for Bioart Society members. Ellenor Rose Nish was selected to join a week-long nurturing residency opportunity in TUO TUO's eutrophic facilities in Joutsa, Finland. The residency was part of TUO TUO‘s community of cultural pollinators project which is a platform designed to increase cross-pollination among artist communities in Finland and internationally. In this blog entry, Nish writes about her experiences in residency.

During the golden days of autumn, I was at the TUO TUO residency for one week. The home was full of traces of other artists and inspiration. The starting point for my working process was this simple yet intricate question: how do plants survive winter? My time was spent researching this question and documenting my learnings in the pages of a handmade book. This text is a documentation of the process.

Originally I am from Australia, where it is warm and sunny all of the time. This has been a stark contrast to Finland, where the winters are as cold as outer space. Every spring I am amazed at how the plants come back after being frozen and covered in snow for months. For three winters I have carried this burning question with me; becoming more and more curious as to how these beings live. At last, I got to focus my artistic research on this aspect of these amazing plant beings. 

A day in my life while being in residency would go like so; I would wake up at 6 and go about my morning routine as the night slowly faded into the day. With warm tea, I would research on my laptop for 2-3 hours by reading research papers and internet sites, and watching videos. After lunch, I would then translate the morning's learnings into gestures on paper. Each afternoon I would go for a spicy cold swim in the lake and enjoy the nature outside. By night I was writing my bachelor thesis by hand with pen and paper. I had written the draft in the old library at the plant museum, and so I began writing the final version. 

I ended up with way more questions than I started with. The research process started with the difference between annuals and perennials. I am amazed that some plants exist only as a seed during winter. Then, I looked specifically at how plants exactly sense the cold. This is still not entirely understood, but it is thought that the changes in the cell membrane due to temperature initiate the sensing of cold. Cell biology and genetic pathways became too complex, so I read about storage organs. It is amazing how a plant can survive winter by existing under the soil as a rhizome or other underground storage organ. This led me to go digging in the nearby forest. I found less seeds in the soil than I imagined, but there were lots of roots. Aquatic plants can also survive by becoming storage organs. The ice on the lake and the snow are actually very protective. Finally, I asked about the autumn leaves and dormancy. 

I was actually falling in love the whole time I was at Tuo Tuo. It was very romantic. I was romancing with the warm-coloured autumn leaves, the coziness, the change of season and the incredible plants. I felt so much love and amazement. I walked in the first snow of the season and regularly gazed outside.

The book, titled ‘How Plants Survive Winter’, was made from single pages. Each day I captured what was going through my mind with gestures to the individual pages. A kind of translating of knowledge. Nature is a library full of books. At the end of the week, I made only one book and thought of myself as too slow and unproductive. I spoke with the other artists about this and one of them said, ‘slowness is radical’. As I have been writing my thesis by hand, which is very slow, I have been wondering about the value of slowness. From society I have learnt to be fast and that my value depends on my productivity. But slowness and softness are valuable, and need to be kept safe and grown. Nature also goes slowly. 

I hope that more people get to read the book. Contact me and come visit my studio. Next year I have the opportunity to do a course in Advanced Plant Physiology, where I can deep dive into how plants work. 

Ellenor Rose Nish is an Australian artist and founder of Studio Mokii with a practice laying between art and science. She studies in the printmaking department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. A viewer of Ellenor’s art may find a moment of quietness, calmness and curiosity. The materials that have made her works include shadows, paper, plants, glass, water, salt, flour, clouds, shapes, words, air currents and scientific phenomena. In the future her art will simply continue.

https://studiomokii.com / @studiomokii on Instagram

TUO TUO is an artist-led project space and residency concentrating on the ecological arts in Joutsa, Finland. Established January 2020, TUO TUO negotiates the point of convergence across sound, visual art, performance and the environmental arts and sciences. TUO TUO’s mission is to function as fertile ground for ideas and to nurture close cooperation between artists, thinkers, researchers and other cultural actors through transdisciplinary programs and residencies. In seeking the balance between pancultural pluralism and local consciousness/ knowhow, TUO TUO is committed to integrating with the social and cultural life of Joutsa and the rest of Finland, while maintaining a strong international focus.

TUO (Finnish, nominative, eng. ‘the Other’) TUO (Finnish, third-person verb, eng. “brings”). The name TUO TUO speaks of our commitment to praxis and the progressive, pluralistic values at the heart of our operations.  Our response to the growing emergencies facing our planet is not to turn away from culture, but to become all the more demanding of it. We see the keys to progress through participation, experience and openness. The environments we create for ourselves shape the kind of humans we might become.