The Presence of Absence: Trauma, empathy and Sámi knowledge in the age of Arctic exploitation.


My current practice engages with how indigenous Sámi are adapting to traumatic change in the Arctic. Sámi have maintained empathetic dialogue with their natural environment for thousands of years. My understanding is that those who are holistically connected to this frontline territory can determine how we might adapt to our crisis now and in the future. 


My arts and academic research is being facilitated by a €25K grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation in 2022. I'll work with Sámi in the Arctic and scholars at the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi. This is followed by a 12-month Postdoctoral Arts Fellowship at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (HCAS) from August. My arts research develops my doctorate ‘Emotional truths in documentary making’ (2019) about recognising empathy as a creative process to explore traumatic memories. My approach is led by considered decolonial strategies supported by empathetic engagement. Work processes are collaborative and measured by mutual consent.


While collaborating with Sámi partners, I will research themes of cyclical time, migration and memory in the context of trauma of loss. I’ll develop a concept I call the ‘presence of absence’ while citing two key criteria:

  • How memory evidences and maintains the presence of what is absent or lost within traumatic contexts.
  • How holistic beliefs suggesting ineffable phenomena simultaneously define what is present and absent in natural environments.

We’ve become familiar with end of times stories associated with the Anthropocene. But how we colour our memories and hopes for the future is up to us. I’ll reference Sámi storytelling structures while paying attention to how stories may be embedded in natural landscapes. I want to ask how the presence of absence may assist in understanding and learning to live with the impacts of the climate crisis.