TaikaBox is based in the small village of Varjakka on the coast of Gulf of Bothnia, about 18km SouthWest of Oulu.

Varjakka has a school, harbour, manor house, bar and is currently home to around 400 households.
A small deserted Island sits just off the coast, accessible by boat or cable ferry in the Summer, and by walking or skiing when the sea becomes frozen.

It was not always so quiet.

100 years ago, Varjakka was a busy industrial centre, with the island home to Varjakka Sawmill – one of the biggest in Europe at the time. The mill attracted workers from all over Finland, Sweden and Russia and Varjakka was home to most of the 700 employees. In 1929, the Wall Street crash had affected international trade and when the main drive shaft failed, it was decided that the mill was no longer viable. Gradually the island became abandoned. During the second world war, prisoners from the nearby POW camp worked on the island making charcoal and then it was a holiday destination in the 50s, 60s, 70s and early 80s.

We are fascinated by the local history and have a mission to increase cultural activity in the area. In 2017 we started a programme of artist residencies, launching an open call for artists to come and spend two weeks in Varjakka. Over the last few years we have developed the project to focus on bringing artists together to research collaborative practice.

Varjakka sawmill in the early 20th century. photo © Kansallisarkisto-Uleå oyn pääkonttorin I

In 2017, Luke Fair, a Canadian visual artist living in Denmark, arrived and spent time in the local village association’s fishing hut, kayaking around the island and collecting materials to process into natural paints. He experimented with a range of drawings and paintings and ran a workshop for the local community. We ended the residency with a big picnic evening of food and chat.

Luke’s workspace in the fishing hut
the journey to the island for the evening party

2018 featured the OHO KEHO collective, with a group of dance artists making site-specific movement sketches in the konttori building on Varjakka Island.

In 2019 we ran an Art Lab, opening the konttori every weekday throughout July and running a regular ferry service. In addition to this, the international residency featured Sunčica Pasuljević Kandić from Serbia, Nancy Dewhurst from the UK and Oulu’s Inkeri Jäntti.

Nancy and Sunčica in Varjakka Artists Residency 2019 – photo by Inkeri Jäntti
OHO KEHO in Varjakka Art Lab 2019 – photo by Pirjo Lempeä

Unfortunately, the events of 2020 led to the international residency being impossible and travel to the island made much more difficult by the pandemic restrictions. Instead we focused on the mainland, developing Warjakka Community Gardens and AR experience, and working with local artist Mirjami Mäkelä who created an art walk through the forest and a programme of workshops and activities.

artwork by Mirjami Mäkelä in the Art Walk 2020

In July 2021 we returned to the island with three dance artists as part of a much larger international project initiated by Goethe Institut in London.

CROWD is a dance residency programme developed together with European partners in a time when international sharing and human togetherness is needed more than ever.

This research programme aims to support dance artists with an established practice in community engaged dance making for a series of residencies in Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and England. Participating artists have the opportunity to extend their professional network, work alongside peers to exchange and develop their individual and collective practice, whilst generating new knowledge in the area of community engagement in dance.

The three artists who met for the first time in Varjakka in Summer 2021:

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Hannah Sampé

Hannah Sampé is a dance artist and researcher currently based in Cologne. She works at the margins of contemporary dance, performance, writing and community activism. Hannah works as a choreographer developing her own projects, as a dance disseminator working in and developing various formats of dance dissemination and as a dancer/performer in her own or other people’s work.

Pontus Linder

My main background is in dance training outside of established studios and education. I’ve harnessed a lot of my dancing skills, artistic expression and cultural engagement from hip hop. However, I have also a bachelor’s degree of art and pedagogy from University of dance and circus (DOCH), Stockholm 2013. Work-wise I’ve done my own work which has circled in breaking, hip hop and contemporary context. With a direction of physical theater and social commentary. I’m also part of the national team in breaking in Finland and I do a lot of culture work with the national organization of Breaking in Finland.

Emma Lewis-Jones

I have been an independent choreographer since 2016. I have a Dartington Degree in Choreography from Falmouth University. Since studying I have been dedicated to supporting people to realise their own choreographic potential in a multitude of contexts. My training in performance-making and interest in visual art underpin my creative practice today. I draw on matters close to my heart such as feminism, sexuality, climate justice and the refugee crisis.

In 2022, CROWD returned for its second year, this time the network had grown to incorporate producers and hosts in Ireland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Scotland. In this year’s project, pairs of artists were brought together to research, focusing on exploring and sharing elements of socially-engaged dance practice.

Check out crowd.dance for more details.

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