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Academy of Fine Arts Alum Natalia Kozieł-Kalliomäki in residence: LIFT 2023

To write this blog, I started by going through the photos I took during my three-month residency in Toronto—a substantial folder indeed!

The aim was not merely to reminisce about those past moments, as the images and experiences are still very vivid in me. Instead, my focus was on the tangle nuances, and delightful details. During that period, I photographed everything in sight, eager to fill my camera, mind, and pockets with a flood of images and captured moments. The conviction that I wouldn’t be able to absorb it all was obvious, a sentiment confirmed by the thousands of photos and collected film footage.

Natalia and Catbriecheese (Kathlen Byers) street crossing assistant

The first in my folder is a brief video recorded just before departing for Canada—a glimpse into my packing process, where essentials like the camera, magnifying glasses, prisms, beloved textured papers, and filters for building strange matte-boxes were taken. At the same time, I am the happiest version of myself, beaming with excitement for visiting the LIFT studio.

The logistics of the Helsinki-Toronto trip were swift, requiring only a document, an entry permit, a plane ticket, and I was set. However, securing short-term accommodation in Toronto can be challenging, regardless of the season. The market is heavily burdened. There is a huge demand for renting apartments, the supply is low and the prices high. The LIFT residency is one of those unusual ones where you need to secure your own accommodation, but they provide a full assistance and help. And success! I found the perfect place, which for September-November became my home. I lived in a small basement beneath the house of artist and filmmaker Francis Duran, associated with LIFT, situated in the legendary Kensington Market district. During the early 20th century, that area became populated by eastern European Jewish and Italian immigrants and became known as ”the Jewish Market”. Today it is an eclectic neighbourhood with a multicultural mix of supermarkets, street food, hole-in-the-wall boutiques and vintage clothing stores. It hosts artistic events almost every weekend, drawing both local and tourist crowds and I liked that common fuss.

The most populous city in Canada, introduced me to the dynamic over six-million Greater Toronto Area (GTA) agglomeration for the very first time. It emanated speed, cultural diversity, and a constant buzz, action and activity, making every moment worthy of attention, full of pictures that you don’t want to miss. I quickly realized how open and eager to engage in conversation the Canadians are, especially when you’re ending up with tripod and camera between them, saying that you travelled from Finland. However, from day one, I felt secured and safe.

I was eagerly waiting for my first day at LIFT studio, meeting Chris Kennedy, the executive director. I was thrilled to finally visit a place I had admired for a long time. The residency arrangement exceeded my expectations, offering not only the opportunity to be in this inspiring space but also the ability to work and learn there for the entire 12-weeks.

Franci Duran and Robin Riad at the darkroom, photo: Natalia Kozieł-Kalliomäki

From the moment I walked into the lab, it was clear to me that this is the place where creativity and professionalism happens. The functionality of this place was exceptional. I was thoroughly impressed by every aspect of the entire studio, working suites, darkroom, equipment, and each machinery that I have fallen in love with. I was especially focusing on mastering animation stands, the JK optical printer, and the Oxberry 1700.

People that I had a pleasure to work with were simply outstanding. They were not only incredibly knowledgeable but also passionate about what they do. Their enthusiasm was very infectious, and it was evident that they genuinely care about the quality of the work that they produce. The entire LIFT team warmly embraced me, creating the best atmosphere that resonated through each day. Despite my printmaking background they valued my project, made me feel included and supported throughout.

In the Autumn, the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto was already abuzz with activity and projects. I got priority access to all film workshops they produced. I received a small studio called ”artist suite,” a key granting 24/7 access to the entire building and facilities, the technical team at my disposal, as well as a bicycle. The bike played a significant role in exploring and manoeuvring through bustling city of Toronto.

LIFT’s role as moving image centre stands strong not only locally, but globally. This was evident daily as the main building’s doors welcomed a diverse, international crowd of students, artists andexperienced film industry professionals. Almost every day brought me opportunities to meet new individuals eager to share their film knowledge, influencing my work and tightening new contacts.

I had the privilege of attending LIFT’s major event, TRANSFIRMATIONS, a showcase of films produced in the studio. This occasion brought together artists involved in the project, providing me with an opportunity to connect with a significant portion of this creative community, exchange information, and forge new friendships.

Black and white photo of films.
Photo: Natalia Kozieł-Kalliomäki

I worked with a 16mm and super 8mm cameras and mostly black-and-white film. In the beginning, I meticulously observed every detail up close, employing a zoom lens that resembled inspecting each angle and summit of skyscrapers as if through a magnifying glass. The imagery gradually progressed towards the boundaries of structural abstraction. As time went on, I broadened my perspective, ultimately using only a wide-angle lens. My focus shifted towards people and their interactions within this lively urban passages. What started as an observational city inventory evolved into an exploration of more significant issues. Among them was the challenge of housing in densely populated areas like Toronto. This theme strongly resonated in my film material, recorded conversations, and notes.

The conclusion of my residency was highlighted by an impactful finale—an expanded live-cinema performance and Q&A session meticulously organized at LIFT. This event unfolded as a vibrant, public gathering, attended by a diverse audience comprising the local artist community and individuals I had the pleasure of meeting during my residency. Titled ”Warm Data,” my 30-minute spectacle featured a presentation of all the fresh material I had developed in the lab.

This is what I wrote:

I stumbled upon my first lonely shoe on Collage Street, and from that point on, they seemed to multiply. A lawnmower sat patiently at the bus stop, as though it had been left there only briefly. On bustling Spadina Street, a pot of soup cooled next to a lamppost. I passed by a plastic dog that was barking and a wooden booth filled with books perched above the gas meter. Then, a Coca-Cola truck, an everything bagel, and a theatre adorned with a sign that read ”Welcome to Paradise” came into view. From my position tilted downward and with my head held high, I’ve derived pure pleasure during my three-month gazing at Toronto. It’s a city where contrasts coexist harmoniously.

At the end of this journey, I would like to thank the Saastamoinen Foundation, the Academy of Fine Arts and LIFT for making this efficient, extremely enjoyable and enriching experience possible.

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