Paavo Halonen, Shaman Drag, 2014, mixed media: sleigh, antlers, textile shreds, swan herald, 260cm x 80cm x 6cm Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Shamans, Star Charts, and Ecological Lore: Towards Nature-centric Thinking

Kati Kivinen, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

A figure wearing a white garment threaded with colourful beads and mystical embroidery slowly treads a fern-lined path. The figure carries a small creature that looks half-human, half-animal – somewhat wolf-like. It lies motionless in the figure’s arms, its flesh pink and raw, as if it had been skinned. The surrounding primeval forest is silent. When I Go Out I Bleed Magic (2015) is a video by Norwegian artist Ingrid Torvund (b. 1985) fusing sci-fi and fictive mythology. The artist’s imagined world is interwoven with elements of pre-Christian religious ritual and the folkloric practices of western Telemark, the location of the film. Torvund is interested in how local pagan traditions have, over the centuries, become intermixed with Christian heritage in the region where her parents grew up.[1]

This article reflects on how people feel an increasing urge to connect with the past, to unite ancient customs and rituals with today’s digitised existence, and how this has spurred newfound global interest in local heritage, age-old traditions, and alternative belief systems. For instance in northern Europe, established notions about nationalism and the supposed hegemony of mainstream culture are being challenged through the inclusion of local folkloric elements in music, visual art, literature and handicrafts. Many practitioners are also taking a special interest in indigenous peoples and cultures.[2] Current discourse additionally emphasises human dependence on the wellbeing of nature, prompted by a rising concern about the threat of climate change.

[1] Torvund has said that one of her main sources of inspiration is an ancient book of spells and enchantments, Norske Hexeformularer og magiske opskrifter. Edward Picot, ‘Blood and Magic: An Interview with Ingrid Torvund,’ Furtherfield, 2015. http://archive.furtherfield.org/features/interviews/blood-and-magic-interview-ingrid-torvund (accessed 27 November 2018).

[2] A good example is ethnofuturism, an aesthetic and philosophical movement that celebrates the unique character of a marginal cultural or language group, enriching its archaic folklore – such as ancient legends and incantations – with elements of world culture and experimental art and technology. Ethnofuturism is principally found in the Baltic countries and Russia, particularly among Uralic groups. The movement has its roots in Estonia. Ville Ropponen, ‘Tulevaisuus on merkitty marginaaliin’, Kulttuurivihkot, 31. vk, nro. 2–3/2003, 48–51. There is also newfound interest in the cultural heritage of the Sámi, the only indigenous group surviving in the European Union. The Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) honoured the 100th Sámi Jubilee and dedicated its 2017 programme to ‘A year of Indigenous art and thought’ (Tråante 2017). Also the Lithuanian Nida Art Colony’s Inter-PAGAN research network for Baltic and Nordic cultural organisations dedicated its summer symposium ‘Inter-Format Symposium on Rites and Terrabytes’ (20–24 June 2018) to discussing how artists examine and harness local cultural heritage, traditions and belief systems in their art.

Featured image: Paavo Halonen, Shaman Drag, 2014, mixed media: sleigh, antlers, textile shreds, swan herald, 260cm x 80cm x 6cm
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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‘Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections‘ is open until 1 March 2020, with an expanded display opening from 23 August 2019