We need to be aware and present

Una Meistere


Q&A with Norwegian-born artist Marita Isobel Solberg, the curator of Nordic Art Week in Pärnu

Nordic Art Week, an event that brings the artworks of Estonian and Nordic artists to the streets of Pärnu (popularly known as Estonia’s summer capital) as well as Pärnu Cultural Center, is taking place from July 22 to 30. The festival’s schedule includes tours of exhibitions, outstanding concerts and performances, and a film program.

The central theme of this year’s art week is “Soul and Soullessness”. Under the direction of its curator, Norwegian-born artist Marita Isobel Solberg (MaRa), the event explores our nature – what we really are and the times in which we are living. MaRa’s ancestors’ roots can be found among many northern peoples: Sámi, Swedes, Kvens, Karelians and Finns. She has grown up in an environment closely linked to nature, crafts and seasonal work, and explores the possibilities of expression through art and various music genres. The common denominator of her projects is to challenge both the audience and herself – to try to get to the core and create powerful, fiery vibrations.

“My intentions are to bring things together and open up how we perceive ourselves and the world, how we all interconnect with each other and all that is in the universe. Weaving is the right word I feel, and I believe we have to weave much more,” says MaRa.

How would you characterize the essence of the central theme of this year’s Pärnu Art Week, “Soul and Soullessness”, and its relevance in today’s turbulent world? Do we, humanity, still recognise the notion of a “soul”, its uniqueness and mission – or has this notion been lost in the global rat race and we are now in a state of global soullessness?

The essence has different but connected possibilities, and is in so many ways relevant today!

First, this theme in itself is a question, and I should not give you (one/an) answer for this. Through Soul or Soulless, we (the artists) are responding to this question by taking many different angles on it. Who and what are we, really? Through the art presented at the festival, I am sure all of us will find new things to consider and new thoughts to fill into our big puzzle – as well as triggers that will lead our minds to flow in unexpected ways. I think we all need to think about these questions to be able to change things.

The different systems in the world have made us become selfish, and in the end, it is all about money and power. But what is really the essence and meaning of it all is often forgotten, and this has to do with soul and spirit. We are running, trying to conquer everything – and in the rush, our time is suddenly gone.

The soul as a phenomenon can be read in so many ways: through our bodies, through our artworks, through music, through how we are present in the world with all of nature and each other. Having soul in what you create, present, perform or make. We talk about places with or without soul, about having a soulful presence or not, about art with soul or without it… and so on. We are also drawing lines to the metaphysical, the esoteric, the spiritual technologies and the big picture. Our relation to all.

Soul or Soulless.

Yes, the current world system definitely has big challenges when it comes to the soul, but I also believe we are able to recognize that if we are aware, if we listen and use our hearts and bodies in everything we do, all is connected.

The program of Pärnu Art Week tries to interweave culture, traditions and nature. People are increasingly conscious of their roots, realizing that this is the only way for humanity as a whole to survive. For the first time ever, the Nordic pavilion at the Venice Biennale was presented as the Sámi pavilion. At the same time, there’s always a fine line between becoming a trend and having real impact/resonance. What is your sense of how strong the voice of art is today, and whether or not people are ready to hear it?

I am very aware of trends.

Focusing on our roots and our connection to the earth and land, animals, plants, mountains, the sky, rivers and so on is very important for us. To dig deep.

Many good things are happening and I also feel that there are so many good intentions, but many times the result is too focused on very particular things and it often becomes narrow-minded.


I’ve gotten the feeling that many believe that important old knowledge only exists in certain indigenous groups of people. Of course, I believe that there really does exist much wisdom and old knowledge in certain native and indigenous peoples, but at the same time, we must not forget that we all have the same starting point – we come from the same place, we all have old roots. If we start listening to the earth, to ourselves and to what’s around us, we will be able to find deep knowledge and wisdom. Around the world there are many people that really do have deep knowledge, be they native, indigenous or other. It is important to bring in wise voices and messages from all parts of the world and people that are close to the earth – those who have important things to tell or express – from different places, different voices, either indigenous or not defined.

The world today, even in most indigenous communities, is so colored by production and money that it is hard to find those who really are deep into old knowledge and how to live in a way that disturbs the circle of things as little as possible.

All over the world we use machines and motorized moving objects in the landscape, we produce our designs in countries that are cheaper to produce in, we buy too much from industry (food, clothes and materials), we mass-produce meat and veggies… we build luxurious cabins, we throw away our garbage in nature, thinking first of ourselves and our economy.

How the political system in each country works is what controls things to stay this way.


I think that art has many languages, and that the reason to do art is often lost if we present the message directly through words before the audience has had a chance to experience it. In art, we should be more inclusive and without these kinds of borders – be open for things to happen. We all have our own thoughts and definitions, but I would say that in art, the politics and ideas of things have to be transformed, transcended to somewhere. As artists, we should use our own soulful art language to create all of the wonderful mind blowing “pictures” and experiences that can give so much more… we can create vibrations, resonance and diverse impacts upon our bodies. We have to use our languages in art to create settings and triggers so that each human can use themselves as a tool with which to think, reflect, wonder, dream, make changes, be inspired and so on.

Even though one’s intentions may be good, today it seems like often the opposite things happen, that being “woke” and "important" is taking over and (ab)using the momentum. This becomes (in my mind) too selfish within the expression, and the potential is lost on the way.

If we as artists are CLEAR and EASY to understand, and if we always express ourselves so that everybody can understand us – without requiring from the viewer any curiosity, or attempts at making sense of what appears as nonsense, or deeper reflection and other experiences – good potential outcomes are lost.

My intentions are to bring things together and open up how we perceive ourselves and the world, how we all interconnect with each other and everything in the universe. Weaving is the right word I feel, and I believe we have to weave much more.


In many ways, many trends are so focused on one thing that the whole picture is forgotten, and the expression often becomes rather selfish instead of inclusive. I think we need to be able to see that we are all together in this. Although trends can be good if they are giving and willing to develop.

Nothing that is only this or only that! Our roots are important, but I feel that it is a thing these days – the need to know if we are this or that. I believe no one is only this or only that; we are all mixes of people from the earth, moving and staying here and there in various ways.

Having this in mind, when we talk about culture and traditions, we are able to see ourselves in new ways and not be selfish about ownership and who has the right to do this or that, who owns this and that… Who owns the land and who owns nature, anyway?

If we have the soul in mind, we are able to work things out in respectful and interesting ways. We also need to challenge each other, otherwise we might end up being worshipers of something that is not right.

I think that the voices in art are growing stronger and stronger. I believe that if we were all to start thinking like artists in the things that we do, i.e., if we would all start living and doing our things with soul and presence, the world would be a better place.

People are ready for so many things... if not now, when?

MaRa performance during Art Week. Photo: Arvo Sailev

Your ancestors’ roots can be found among many northern peoples: Sámi, Swedes, Kvens, Karelians and Finns. Are there any characteristics that unite them all? What are the most important lessons you have learned from your ancestors? Do you recognize a part of them in yourself?

I grew up in Manndalen/Olmáivággi/Olmavankka, a place where today Sámi culture is becoming stronger and the Kven culture is growing. The Norwegianizing that took place for a long time inflicted deep trauma on our society, and we had to find our identity again and regain our language and pride. This is an important change, and I think the ongoing research and openness about this is important. But I am also skeptical when we focus too much on being one thing. I feel our heritage is more than one thing, and today there are more things we need to grasp. We are many people. Before I started researching my heritage, I already knew many things. I felt it in my body. I will say I am a result of this unity :).

The most important lesson might be that we need to get close to nature, see and dream, and listen. We need to collaborate, be intuitive, and improvise.

We need to be aware and present.

There is an element of ritual in your work. Historically, ritual is also part of the old song traditions of the north, which is one of the inspirations behind Pärnu Art Week. How do you see the role of ritual in the contemporary world? Why is it important for us to remember, experience and indulge in them?

Rituals are important, but they don’t necessarily have to stay the same forever. In art we can be receivers, creators, and givers, transferring both energy and the things that come to us. I also like the fact that things evolve from time to time, like how we humans evolve in natural ways, taking with us important things and always finding new ways. The way of taking with us the old but creating something new – transforming things. Our minds and bodies absorb universal information.

I feel that when being in a ritual mode, I get closer to what is important. It is about focus, about being in it; it’s not about setting rules. We create circles.

I could be washing my body or brushing my teeth or rolling in wool. In our lives, it is about being present with yourself and taking all needs seriously.

To do it with care and intention(s). Maybe even being slow.

That there is a will and trust.

For me, it is about trusting that the essence will come to life.

Ritualistic approaches are important because they make us more alive and aware – we get to see ourselves in new ways when we focus in these ways.

What are the advantages and challenges of an art week whose location is a city like Pärnu?

There are always advantages and challenges. I think that all places are potentially good. It is more about finding ways. Pärnu has a wonderful place like Lovelinnak [Pärnu Cultural Center – Ed.] and the energetic Non Grata group. This is fantastic creative energy. So that is an advantage here. The people are wonderful and the weather is perfect.

How do you see the role of curator as a profession in the current changing cultural and socio-economic landscape – as well as from the viewpoint of the artist?

I am, as a profession, an artist, but sometimes I happen to be a curator – I like getting people together and connecting art and interesting themes to explore. Then something happens. I think that as a curator, I can make things happen that would not happen otherwise. It is like being a little flame that gathers others and makes a big fire. A fire that brings heat and makes magic happen.

Sometimes I feel a curator gets too much attention and too much credit. Maybe too much money, too. I feel that artists need to get payed as well. It needs to become more balanced. Each of us has important thoughts that we want to bring into the conversation. I really think that it is all the voices that are part of a “curated” exhibition, festival or whatever that make the whole.

As we well know, everything is energy and everything has a frequency. What would be your ideal energetic and intellectual footprint for Pärnu Art Week?

A week with wonderful people, electric and transformative experiences, good conversations, minds floating, being challenged, learning, sharing love, and that everyone participating as either an artist or the audience goes home feeling that they have a new magical spark and are inspired to do and create amazing things for whatever is to come.

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