Ane Graff, Ingela Ihrman, States of Inflammation, 2019. A Great Seaweed Day, 2018–2019 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Editorial: Weather Report – Voicing a Call for Nordic Responsibility

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

 

24 May 2019

 

Last year, when Kiasma and the Finnish National Gallery took responsibility for co-ordinating the Nordic Pavilion for the 2019 Venice Biennale, we decided to focus on the main global concern of our times. The Nordic Pavilion’s exhibition, Weather Report: Forecasting Future, is themed around the complex and varied relations between the human and non-human in an age when climate change and mass extinction are threatening the future of life on Earth.

From this year on, the Nordic Pavilion’s exhibition will be co-commissioned by a Nordic Committee representing the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery, Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the Office for Contemporary Art Norway. Together, these three institutions will select the curator and review the proposed themes and artists, and we will jointly provide institutional support for efforts to raise the profile of Nordic contemporary art.

The multiple components of climate change are anticipated to affect all levels of biodiversity. Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on our natural environment.

It is often difficult for we humans to notice life forms that exist on a scale different from our own. When imagining the future, we face the responsibility of acknowledging multispecies entanglements.

According to a recent report in Finland, 12 per cent of all species are under serious threat of extinction. As Ane Graff, the Nordic Pavilion’s Norwegian artist, reminded me the other day: ‘Our human guts are the interface to our environment: the extinction of bacteria in our guts reflects directly the extinction of other species in nature.’ Biodiversity affects our food, medicine, and environmental well-being.

At its most interesting, contemporary art engages in public discourse through questions, proposals and provocations put forward by individual artists and, to a growing degree, also cross-disciplinary projects. Art enriches our vision of the future by casting light on its many dimensions and opportunities.[i] While voicing a call for responsibility, future-sketching is often a collective process that brings people together. The Nordic Pavilion provides a forum for reflection on the future in various formats: in our curatorial notes, in the selected exhibits, and in a series of scholarly discussions.

Along with Ane Graff, the other artists invited to exhibit in the Nordic Pavilion this year are Ingela Ihrman from Sweden, and nabbteeri, an artist collective from Finland. They all work across a wide range of media, including sculpture, digital media and text. Their practice is interdisciplinary and often produced collaboratively or in dialogue with experts from specific fields.

The work of artist duo Janne Nabb and Maria Teeri is context-specific, engaging in close interaction with the venue and its immediate location, materials, and multispecies neighbours. Their new intervention, Ethnographies of a homespun spinelessness cult and other neighbourly relations, consists of three parts: a 3D-animation and plant installation, Gingerbread House, displayed in an enclosure of sandbags; Compost, a compost heap growing herbs and vegetables outside the pavilion in a container made of discarded mooring dolphins partly digested by naval shipworms; and Dead Head, a wire sphere, also outside the pavilion, that contains twigs collected from the immediate environs. Together, they constitute an endeavour to create a self-maintaining, life-producing ecosystem in front of the pavilion.

Ane Graff employs a wide-ranging multidisciplinary approach incorporating perspectives ranging from feminist new materialism to microbiology and chemistry. In her Cabinets of Inflammation, Graff focuses on the environmental toxins in our daily environment and their destructive effect on vital microbes in our bodies. Graff’s works make connections between climate change, Western societies driven by economic growth, the extinction of immune-modulating intestinal microbes and the spread of inflammatory diseases. The three beautiful glass vitrines and objects on display refer to the human body and its current inflammatory state, emitting signals from the past and hinting at possible future scenarios.

Ingela Ihrman comments on the environmental wave of the 1970s, while also drawing from queer theory and ethnobiology. In the exhibition Ihrman highlights colourful species of algae in her multipart installation A Great Seaweed Day, which reflects on the direct, near-bodily connection between humans and other species. Ihrman’s algae installation tells a story of the liquid origins of human bodies and the existing connections between diverse lifeforms. Silent, large-scale seaweed sculptures invite the exhibition visitors to partake in a bodily experience. I believe that a growing interest in the energy stored in seaweed also yields a promise of a viable renewable alternative for our future post-fossil age.

In this edition of FNG Research we republish three newly commissioned catalogue essays from the Weather Report. Forecasting Future exhibition catalogue. In her contribution ‘Being and thinking with(in) the pavilion space’, co-curator of the exhibition Piia Oksanen writes about how ‘the exhibition is a temporary guest that must adapt to the space’ with its three European nettle trees (Celtis australis) growing inside the pavilion. Hanna Johansson, Professor of Contemporary Art Research at the Academy of Fine Arts/University of the Arts Helsinki, writes a critical reappraisal of climate issues from the perspective of air and the atmosphere, within the context of art and philosophy. A new media theorist Jussi Parikka, Professor in Technological Culture & Aesthetics at the Winchester School of Art/ Southampton University, analyses the challenges of forecasting the future, both throughout history and in this age of climate crisis, in his essay ‘Abstractions – and how to be here and there at the same time’. The catalogue is co-published and distributed by Mousse Magazine and Publishing.

We are also delighted to publish a new article by our recent research intern Eljas Suvanto. In his article ‘Examining the acquisitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland 1939–46: a case study of Arvid Sourander’s donations’, Suvanto focuses on the ideas behind the acquisitions of the time of the Second World War. His motivation is to understand the formation of the collection during that time of crisis through correlations and variations between purchases and donations, especially from the perspective of a specific private donor, whose donated collection contains 63 works now in the Ateneum – a museum governed by the newly established Fine Arts Academy of Finland at that time.

[i] Renata Tyszczuk and Joe Smith, Culture and climate change scenarios: the role and potential of the arts and humanities in responding to the ‘1.5 degrees target’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2018, volume 31, 56–64.

Featured image: Installation view of works by the artists at the Nordic Pavilion exhibition, Venice Biennale, 2019
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

European nettle trees that form part of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Being and Thinking with(in) the Pavilion Space. Curatorial Notes

Piia Oksanen, MA, curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Also published in Leevi Haapala and Piia Oksanen (eds.), Weather Report: Forecasting Future. Ane Graff, Ingela Ihrman, nabbteeri. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 169/2019. Milan and Helsinki: Mousse Publishing and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

Dead Hedge is a two-metre diametre structure packed with twigs and branches gathered from around the Nordic Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. It is a work by the artist duo nabbteeri and is situated on an elevated section behind the pavilion, blocking human visitors from accessing a shortcut to the building. The work offers a suitable home, however, for many non-human species inhabiting the Biennale gardens – or at least, this is the proposal of the artists.

There are bird spikes attached to the beams under the pavilion’s eaves. The spikes are there to deter pigeons, unwanted guests. The built environment often draws species boundaries. Here, the exterior wall indicates the beginning of territory reserved for human activity.

The demarcation between the Nordic Pavilion and the Giardini[1] is both radical and virtually imperceptible. The rectangular building is distinct from the lush gardens, yet it opens directly onto the Giardini via its wall-high sliding doors. The spikes are installed to drive away birds, but it is otherwise difficult to prevent non-humans from entering the open space. Furthermore, wind, heat and humidity flow freely through every pore of the pavilion, undeterred by the spiked obstacles and built barriers. There is, moreover, no mechanical air-conditioning sealing off the building as an inward-looking, mechanised system.

In front of the pavilion, there is another work by nabbteeri, Compost, which consists of organic matter routinely removed from the exhibition premises and its grounds. The vegetation generates a steady stream of garden waste. By means of composting, this organic material is transformed into nutrient-rich humus, both as part of Compost and in the peripheral areas of the gardens behind the exhibition pavilions: thus, waste is only its temporary status. The Nordic Pavilion’s porous travertine tiles must be kept clear of rotting leaves, but the very same waste is transformed into life-sustaining fertile matter as part of nabbteeri’s works. How any given material is defined is contingent on the space or place it occupies, and attempts to designate separate spheres of human and non-human agency.

[1] Garden in Italian.

Featured image: European nettle trees that form part of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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The roof of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice, 2018 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

The Moment of Reckoning: On Forgetting and Remembering the Air

Hanna Johansson, Professor, Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts Helsinki

Also published in Leevi Haapala and Piia Oksanen (eds.), Weather Report: Forecasting Future. Ane Graff, Ingela Ihrman, nabbteeri. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 169/2019. Milan and Helsinki: Mousse Publishing and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

The threat of global warming[1] has recently risen to the forefront of political, ecological, scientific, artistic, and humanistic discourse and action around the world. The debate revolves around two core issues: first, how are we to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to prevent temperatures from rising beyond the decisive 1.5 degrees defined as the ‘safe’ limit of climate change? The second issue, which ominously underlies the first, is an even deeper source of concern: is it even possible to sustain (human) life on this planet, particularly in the form that we enjoy today?

In order to nurture and safeguard life on Earth, we must identify modes of representation that allow the claim of life to be made and heard. This idea proposed by philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler links together media and survival. In short, what we recognise as valuable is contingent upon its claim of life being made perceptible as a thing of value, as something worthy of preservation.[2]

Climate and weather-related events, changes, and fluctuations have made their presence felt more tangibly in recent years. Humanity has woken up to the fact that global warming is among the greatest threats to its survival. Butler’s ideas about making visible the claim of life are difficult to apply to global warming, however. It is far easier, for example, to comprehend the value of a plant or animal under immediate threat of extinction. When a rare insect species that is normally invisible to the human eye is made perceptible, its claim of life becomes something we can readily grasp.[3] Where climate is concerned, however, the issue is more complicated. Not only is climate a more abstract entity than an insect, it is also omnipresent. Furthermore, its core material component, the atmosphere, is virtually invisible.

With this in mind, both art and other media, indeed all who work with any form of representation, have a special responsibility to make visible all those living beings and life-sustaining entities that are otherwise invisible to the human eye.

[1] In the spirit of Timothy Morton, I specifically use the term ‘warming’ to preclude the notion that the climate has always been subject to ‘change’. Morton even suggested that we should start calling global warming ‘mass extinction’, which is the net effect. Timothy Morton, Being Ecological. London: Penguin Books, 2018, 45.

[2] Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? London & Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2009, 181.

[3] See e.g. The Beetle, by Henrik Håkansson.

Featured image: The roof of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice, 2018
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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The environs of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice, showing Dead Hedge (centre), part of the installation Ethnographies of a homespun spinelessness cult and other neighbourly relations, 2019, by nabbteeri, at the Venice Biennale Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Abstractions – and How to be Here and There at the Same Time

Jussi Parikka, Professor, University of Southampton, Winchester School of Art

Also published in Leevi Haapala and Piia Oksanen (eds.), Weather Report: Forecasting Future. Ane Graff, Ingela Ihrman, nabbteeri. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 169/2019. Milan and Helsinki: Mousse Publishing and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

Predictions and forecasts are good for multiple things. You can assume something might take place, you can prepare. You can give warnings, or gentle nudges. You can make money, or ensure someone loses money. Predictions can work in everyday life, and they certainly do work for the military; you can survey and you can pre-empt; you can convince and build an argument about things that do not even yet exist, except perhaps as forecasts.

Traditionally, forecasts had to be separated from prophecies. Prophecies were, after all, the foremost technique for telling the future, long before the advent of modern technologies that combined observation and statistical reasoning. Forecasts offered a tool for trying to understand the dynamic nature of such things as the weather.[1] Meteorology and climatology emerged as part of a systematic attempt to think across scales: these disciplines highlighted how local observation is informed by, and can in turn inform, global patterns.[2] Weather, early on, became technological, based on statistics and data, management and knowledge. And being technology-based, it was also enabled by and integrated into the latest network media of the 19th century, namely telegraphy.[3]

As far as telegraphy and weather go, synchronisation is a key underlying principle at play. But it is not just about synchronisation across a distance measured as space, like when a flock of birds draws patterns of movement in the sky, when trains connect on schedule, or when geographically separated observation towers are able to compare data. Predictions and forecasts synchronise as technologies of time. Synchronisation across time establishes a link that is insecure, yet necessary, not merely here or there, but connecting the two based on the assumption that there is a comparable unit of time, too. Predictions as synchronisation convince us that this, here and now, is somehow related to that, there – what might happen, perhaps, if the statistical probability sticks to its tentative promise. Aesthetics and time go together nicely. At best, they gel, produce, synchronise, cut across a multiple of existing registers, enforce decay and produce qualitative leaps. An invented new threshold of time is like a form of seeing, a fresh form of experiencing, a way of stepping outside one’s own body. Both, also, are speculative.

[1] Katherine Anderson, Predicting the Weather. Victorians and the Science of Meteorology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

[2] On early phases of scalar thinking and climatology, see Deborah R. Coen, Climate in Motion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

[3] John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, 251.

Featured image: The environs of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice, showing Dead Hedge (centre), part of the installation Ethnographies of a homespun spinelessness cult and other neighbourly relations, 2019, by nabbteeri, at the Venice Biennale
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Fanny Churberg, Winter Landscape, Sunset, c. 1878, oil on canvas, 26,00cm x 40,50cm Gift from Arvid Sourander. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Examining the Acquisitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland 1939–46: A Case Study of Arvid Sourander’s Donations

Eljas Suvanto, MA student, University of Helsinki

Introduction

During the first few years of the Second World War, the art collector Arvid Sourander[1], who was also a lawyer, made two major sets of donations to the collections of the Ateneum, which was a museum governed by the newly established Fine Arts Academy of Finland.[2] He had already gifted three works in the 1920s but the first major donation occurred in 1940, when Sourander donated 35 works by the Finnish artist Fanny Churberg (1845–1892); the second major gift took place in 1941, when he donated a selection of 23 works, mostly by Finnish artists from the turn of the 20th century. Then, almost a year after Sourander’s death in 1946, his widow Aina Sourander donated two artist self-portraits to her late husband’s collection, bringing the total number of works he gifted to the Academy to 63.[3]

The aim of this article is to dive deeper into the ideas behind the acquisitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland during the Second World War, and to understand the formation of the collection through correlations and variations between purchases and donations. The aim is also to focus on the factor of a specific private donor, who has not yet been the subject of academic research and is mainly discussed in the memoirs written by his brother and daughter.[4]

[1] Arvid Sourander (2 January 1873–1 July 1945) was born in Vaasa but in 1887 moved to Helsinki, where he later made his career as a lawyer. Sourander’s art collection was considerable, containing over 300 works. See Ingwald Sourander, Arvid Sourander: Minnesteckning av Ingwald Sourander och Eva Horelli (S.l., 1947); Joensuu, ‘Lakimies kerää aarteita’, Suomen Kuvalehti 21/1938: 808. Times of birth and death, Uusi Suomi, 3 July 1945.

[2] The museum was sometimes referred to as the collections of the Ateneum and vice versa. The Fine Arts Academy of Finland is one of the predecessors of the current Finnish National Gallery, and the museum is nowadays called the Ateneum Art Museum.

[3] Sourander donated two paintings by Fanny Churberg in 1919, and one byKarl Emanuel Jansson in 1921 to the museum. The collection is called ‘Gift of Arvid Sourander’, ‘Arvid Souranderin lahja’ in Finnish, ’Arvid Souranders gåva’ in Swedish. The collection was exhibited at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum in 1990, where 42 out of 63 works were shown. Exhibition ‘Arvid Souranderin lahja.’ Sinebrychoffin Taidemuseo 8–25 February 1990 ([Helsinki,1990]).

[4] See Sourander, Arvid Sourander; Camilla Hjelm, Modernismens förespråkare: Gösta Stenman och hans konstsalong (Helsingfors: Statens konstmuseum / Centralarkivet för bildkonst, 2009), 113, 170; Max Fritze, ‘Unstill Life – Mikko Carlstedt’s Correspondence and Art, 1911–21’, FNG Research no. 1 (2018): 20, https://fngresearch.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/fngr_2018-1_fritze_max_article1.pdf (accessed 2 May 2019).

Featured image: Fanny Churberg, Winter Landscape, Sunset, c. 1878, oil on canvas, 26cm x 40,50cm
Gift of Arvid Sourander. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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