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Interview with Nicolina Stylianou

In the international alumni interview series Christy Ma interviews Nicolina Stylianou, a performer with a strong background in visual arts and design.

About Nicolina

Nicolina Stylianou explores the depths of embodiment that untangle the performative complexities of social systems. She experiments with the conditions of performance through sculpture, sound, and movement to research how the body is represented in society.  She is the founder of SENSORIUM SPACE Happenings.  She graduated from Live Art and Performance Studies programme with a Master of Arts (Theatre & Drama) degree from Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy (FI), and a BA (hons) in Art & Design from Kingston University London (UK).

Dear readers,

Following on the blog post about the insights we’ve gained from the Boost Your Future event, Elle and I are motivated to get to know more about the art scene here and perhaps gain some useful tips to integrate to Helsinki through alumni’s sharing and experience. As I have just graduated from the Comparative Dramaturgy and Performance Research(CDPR) programme from the Theatre Academy in June, I am personally very curious about how fellow international artists are doing after graduation. Which has driven me to connect to a few alumni and organize interviews. The way I am writing this blog also includes my personal thoughts as I am navigating my life here as well. I hope you will enjoy it.

I interviewed two alumni from the Theatre Academy in June and it was an interesting coincidence that we all decided to have the interviews at the Tori (meaning ‘the square’ in Finnish) at the Theatre Academy. I think we are all emotionally attached to this place in a way. It is also a great place to mingle before the performances and get to know what projects fellow students and artists have been up to.

Nicolina and I met on a sunny afternoon, we have never met in person before so it was a bit difficult for us to find each other at the Tori. Nicolina was wearing a very cool looking purple and green jacket, I really liked how the colors match with her makeup too. The reason why I am mentioning this is because apart from being a graduate from Live Art and Performance Studies (LAPS) Master’s degree programme, Nicolina has a strong background in visual arts and design. I definitely admire her sense of colors and style and it is shown in her daily outfit too. Nicolina works at the intersection of live performance and various disciplines, her interests cover body movement, behavior, psychological ways of approaching the body, as well as sound and sculpture. She breaches these worlds by creating wearable musical instruments which she calls —body-sculptures.

I asked Nicolina what brought her to Finland. She said that she was attracted by the content and approach of the programme. It is one of the very few courses that incorporates critical theory, history, artistic and curatorial practice. Nicolina expressed that “I feel grounded the first day I arrive, although I do not know the language or anyone.” The city really has its own charm even before the working network grows. The programme also supports the development of the students in many ways. Nicolina expressed it was the way she has developed as an artist, a thinker, and a person that made her finally decide to stay. She has been here for six years already.

We also discussed artistic practices and how they are incorporated in research. The ways artists approach research varies, depending on the areas of practice and influences from the society and zeitgeist. What Nicolina has experienced in the LAPS programme is that the programme “encourages students to think and to question, to be critical and to research”. The way research is positioned in the programme is not to value research over artistic practice, but more like an encouragement of thinking through the practice itself and delve deeper into the possibilities of experimentations.

Life in Helsinki

Coming from Cyprus, an EU country, the challenges with Visa is not an issue. However, as every artist would agree, securing a stable income is always a challenge. As international artists, we both agree that this is the case in many places. Finland is good in a way because there’s the opportunity of working grants which support artists in their working process, supporting residency and collaborations.

It is nevertheless mentioned that in some cases, the language barrier does pose an obstacle. The challenges to socialize do exist, English is commonly spoken in Helsinki but in some cases, you’d still wish you could speak Finnish to better incorporate here. We also talked about how the weather affects socializing, we are both from small towns near the coast, Cyprus and Hong Kong. The way people embody the unique climate and weather has led to differences in how we handle daily life and communicate. We have changed as we moved here. One thing I have learned is to allow for the weather to affect you, instead of trying to force yourself to be energetic all the time. I am sure Nicolina would agree with me that it is amazing to see how the people and the city blossom when Summer arrives. The challenging winters might instead be a chance for you to slow down and navigate the culture and lifestyle here.

The unique characteristics of the art scene in Helsinki

Nicolina has remarked that people here are very direct in communication which has drawn my curiosity. I asked her to further elaborate on what she meant by “direct”. She has perceived honesty, care in her experience with the artists here. People here do not make assumptions towards one another and they take great consideration on social responsibilities. Not only the Finnish people but how the environment here creates space to care and speak from the heart. Caring is an important topic not just in Finland but globally, perhaps with the honesty and sense of care happening here, artists feel safe to speak up and be direct in speaking one’s mind without the fear of offending others. You can be direct but also be respectful to others. That is one of the beauties of the art scene here.

Funding in Helsinki

Nicolina has expressed that the fundings here can be unpredictable. It is known that Finland has great working grants systems in various disciplines that support artists in their working process and actualizing their visions. There are many talented artists and competition is always high. Nicolina thinks that artists should not be discouraged if they don’t get grants. It does not determine the value of their works. There are other opportunities such as coming from your network or open calls and commissions from the venues.

As a new graduate, sometimes I look for quick tips to boost my artistic career in Helsinki, but the interview experience with Nicolina reminds me that one should develop one’s daily life along artistic achievements, to allow for the taking place of the environment’s influences. The interview itself has also been a precious networking that we have talked a lot about. I am so grateful to have started this alumni interview series with Elle. For those who are interested in Nicolina’s work, you may find more information on her website: https://nicolinastylianou.com/


Life of an art student

In this blog, Uniarts Helsinki students share their experiences as art students from different academies and perspectives, in their own words. If you want to learn even more regarding studying and student life in Uniarts and Helsinki, you can ask directly from our student ambassadors.

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