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

Outi Pieski, Our Land, Our Running Colours, 2015, Sámi shawl thread, wood, 300 x 300 x 170cm. Detail. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen§

Hand-Knotted Landscape – Reflections on Outi Pieski’s ‘Our Land, Our Running Colours’

Emma Lilja, MA student, University of Helsinki

This article is published as a result of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery

Introduction

One day I overheard a discussion that some teenage boys were having about an artwork exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. One of the boys said: ‘No fell is pink. They are white in winter, and brownish-green in summer.’

The work at stake here was Outi Pieski’s Our Land, Our Running Colours. It is an installation from 2015. In 2017, it was acquired for the Kiasma’s collections from the ‘Greetings from SUOMI’ summer exhibition by ONOMA, the Cooperative of Artisans, Designers and Artists in Fiskars, Finland.[1] A little later, in the spring of 2019, this work was installed as part of the exhibition ‘Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections’[2].

The materials used in the installation include wood and thread – more specifically stripped rowan twigs and polyester fringe thread that is used in making the shawls of traditional Sámi dress. The fringes have been tied to rowan branches hanging from the ceiling. The work occupies about 3m x 3m x 1.7m and can be approached from all sides. The colour scheme of the threads is very rich: from basic colours such as red and yellow, to burgundy, pink, light blue and bright green.

Outi Pieski (b. 1973) is a Helsinki-born visual artist of Sámi origin, who divides her time between Numminen in Southern Finland and Utsjoki in the far north of Lapland. She graduated from the Painting Department of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2000. Pieski works mainly with painting, collage and installation. In recent years, she has also participated in various (environmental) community art projects.[3] Her works have been featured in various private and group exhibitions both in Finland and abroad.[4] She is also represented in several public and private collections. Our Land, Our Running Colours is the artist’s first work to be acquired for the Finnish National Gallery / Kiasma’s collections.

[1] To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finnish Independence, the exhibition (curated by artists Minna Suoniemi and Petri Ala-Maunus) focused on multicultural Finland and the Finnishness of our time. See ‘Greetings from SUOMI’, 2017.

[2] The exhibition will be open at Kiasma until 1 March 2020.

[3] See for example Rájácummá / Kiss from the Border (2017–2018) by Niillas Holmberg, Jenni Laiti & Outi Pieski.

[4] Pieski is also one of the founder members of the Miracle Workers Collective which hosts the Pavilion of Finland at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019.

Featured image: Outi Pieski, detail from Our Land, Our Running Colours, 2015, Sámi shawl thread, wood, 300cm x 300cm x 170cm. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Ellen Thesleff, Self-Portrait, 1894–95, pencil and sepia ink on paper, 31.50cm x 23.50cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Hidden Influences

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The esoteric interests of Finland’s fin-de-siècle artists have been brought out of the darkness by two ­researchers, as Gill Crabbe discovered at a recent conference at the University of Turku

The Finnish painter Pekka Halonen stares intensely out from the canvas in his Self-Portrait of 1906, his face glowing with light; in sketches for the Jusélius Mausoleum near Pori, built by his friend the industrialist F.A. Jusélius to lay his young daughter to rest, Akseli Gallen-Kallela designs frescoes featuring vibrational waves in vivid orange and blue; Hugo Simberg paints a child enchanted by strange forms emerging from the darkness in Boy from Säkkijärvi (1897); Ellen Thesleff materialises herself from a deep sepia chiaroscuro resembling the spirit photography of her day. All highly regarded, even revered, artists from Finland’s Golden Age, all interested in esoteric influences that were part of a wider fascination in fashionable fin-de-siècle society across Europe.

Art-historical research has sometimes had an uneasy relationship with the theme of occultism in art. Esoteric influences on many artists in the art-historical canon have remained largely at the margins of academic research, or at worst ridiculed as flights of fancy. Now, however, with recent successful exhibitions such as that of the Swedish artist and medium Hilma af Klimt (1862–1944) at the Guggenheim Museum New York – the museum’s most popular exhibition to date – and with the current resurgence in interest in esoteric subjects by contemporary artists, as seen in some of the works in the Kiasma exhibition ‘Coexistence’ (until 1 March 2020), the presence of occulture in artistic output is something that researchers are starting to take more seriously.

Featured image: Ellen Thesleff, Self-Portrait, 1894–95, pencil and sepia ink on paper, 31.5cm x 23.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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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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