Gesa Piper: University is a place for connecting, sharing and inspiring

The ‘Working at Uniarts Helsinki’ series presents people who enable the growth of students and help them become highly skilled and broadminded artists and changemakers, thanks to their work in different roles within the university.

Who are you and what do you do at Uniarts Helsinki?

I am Gesa Piper and I mainly work at Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy in various roles.

I graduated from the pedagogical programme in 2014 and have taught there since. I also teach dance and various forms of bodily practices in the Theatre Academy’s other programmes. I’ve also mentored, supervised and examined students’ theses and creative processes. Furthermore, I’ve facilitated and planned courses for the academy’s Centre for Joint Teaching (YOK) on environmental as well as gender topics together with artist Shelley Etkin and doctoral candidate Kenneth Sirén. 

Over the past six years, one of my main tasks has been mentoring, accompanying or supporting the integration process of the international students in the pedagogical programme. And since the beginning of 2023, I’ve coordinated the academy’s International Alumni Network (TIAN) through Talent Boost. 

What is the best aspect about your work?

I personally love to work with students in the studio. Each one of them brings so much into the field as a whole. I feel that life opens up through that sharing, especially when working through and with the body in its multiplicities. 

I have always tried to approach the Theatre Academy first and foremost as a place for people to meet, connect, share, learn, inspire / challenge each other and create in. I am taking part in all those motions through my work and am continuously fascinated by that: by people and their unique and creative forms of being, thinking, living and making. 

My role as a coordinator for TIAN allows me to connect beyond the walls of the institution, which I find hugely important and enriching. When I started the job, I sometimes had the feeling that I am digging in the dark, partly because no one at the academy had been assigned the role of considering the international alumni community, let alone the international student community in that way before. Yet, it soon became apparent how big and immensely interesting that community is, and it is a community that I, as an international alum, am also a part of. I don’t have the feeling that I am creating anything new here. I just hope to shed light on how enriching and diverse the international scene in Finland is.

Where is your mental home?

I have several homes. My life here in Finland as it has come to be in the past years with my close people and routines has clearly become one home for me. 

Home is rather related to people and shared experiences than to a location since I have been living and working in so many different countries and places. I also share experiences with particular places, such as certain trees or swimming spots in Laajasalo where I live here in Helsinki. They offer thinking / feeling and being spaces that bring me home in the felt sense. Of course, time can also play a role in a home growing process. 

Sometimes I think of home as a concept as something like a curry dish with a mixture of ingredients that form one nourishing whole. I also have memory homes, like the Netherlands or Edinburgh that felt like home once upon a time and have shaped me into who I am now. Yet returning to them now does not feel necessary to me, whereas Germany, where my friends and family are, is a place I need to visit ever so often. It will always be a home for me. Also because I don’t get to speak my mother tongue that much elsewhere. 

Share a memorable art experience that you had lately

I was lucky to get to see the Inari Sami artist Anna Morottaja perform at the folk music festival in Kaustinen. It was in a rather small room in a very traditional wooden building. She sang in her native language. Actually, she didn’t just “sing”. It seemed to me as if she opened her body to let the sounds of the Sápmi lands, seasons, the stories of her peoples and their spirits come through her. It was so much bigger than her body or that room we all were squeezed in. I felt like I heard or rather sensed the wind’s whispers over the lands that the Sami live with coming through her. She was like a medium, fully taken in her performance. It felt so moving and so, so important to let that art come through her and express what descriptive words can’t: we need to remember how to live with land, with that bigger body: the Earth body that we and our bodies are part of. 

Would you like to send greetings to someone? What would you like to say to them? 

I greet those who feel greeted by what I say. 

I greet those who have been or are part of my life and have made me who I am. It is a collaborative act to be a living being. 

I greet those who care about the state of the world. Let’s keep standing up for it and do what matters.

About Uniarts Helsinki

Uniarts Helsinki is an open meeting place for the arts – an ambitious university community for bold reformers and experts in tradition. We cultivate a unique environment that helps artists grow and strengthens the power of art as a driver of change. Uniarts Helsinki is among the leading performing arts universities in the world, and it is comprised of the Academy of Fine Arts, Sibelius Academy and Theatre Academy. We have about 2,000 students and about 700 full-time equivalent employees.

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