Only if it violates us
Foreword to the exhibition catalog of Lehmä pitää viedä jäälle, jotta se tanssii at Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie. Martin Born, 2017.
Despite growing curiosity in the past decade or so, Finland in Germany is by and large still perceived through remote projection and patinated stereotype. Closeness to nature, sauna, the pared-down forms of Scandinavian design and the heavy-drinking, taciturn forester jumping, hand in hand with his well-educated offspring, into an ice hole are probable emblems of our imagination on the Northerners’ lives. Needless to say that they do a culture injustice that provides its tax and municipal documentation online and in English, has gained renewed international import through their achievements in the digital sector, and drives a most massive construction effort in its focal cities right now. Helsinki is expecting a thirty per cent population increase before 2050, the largest influx of which coming from foreign immigration. Also nicely inconclusive: the country’s praised education system has undergone complete conceptual overhaul and faces equally severe cuts as in countries further south, the government’s spending for the throwback forest and paper industries have re-surged since the center-right took cabinet in 2015, and ninety-two per cent of children between seven and eight use their own mobile phones. The real-estate market remains impermissive with hardly urban fallow land for civic initiative to develop, wherefore it remains the monetizable Wi-Fi-hipster food and coffee culture that flourishes in new, small shops.
To offer a sight of this culture in a frame of contemporary art, as a German living in Helsinki, forbids the attempt at a unified picture.
I came to Finland twice, in 2007 and 2012, and the country I found back after the five years was not the same, and it has starkly changed since again. Maturing digital services at home and about town, private-initiative refugee projects set up, and gone, and set up again, the bedrock craters of Jätkäsaari in the West and Kalasatama in the East that will host humungous apartment blocks, the pirate Sompasauna headed to fall prey to them, the merger (a term from investment-capitalism clearly invites itself here) of the engineering, economic and art schools to form Aalto University and its departure out of town and to campus in Espoo, the extension of the metro line to go with it, the continuing ascend of Flow festival as one of Europe’s foremost magnets for the big names in pop music (Iggy Pop, Róisín Murphy, Kraftwerk, Beck, to name but a few), the creeping displacement of house ownership with tenant life due to escalating housing costs, the triumph of Helsinki fashion in Europe and Far East, the strategic installations by Prada and other luxury boutiques on the Esplanadi boulevard owing to the fact that Vantaa airport has essentially become a stop-over destination for oversea travelers visiting Europe (mainly from Asia) — all this multiplied with the still passionately practiced berry and mushroom collecting, the fixing of furniture by the grandmother generation, the kitchen calendar of holiday-specific pastries made at home, the wooden house fantasy, the Marimekko brand.
Finland is not traditionally a country of debate (among high-income countries it ranks eighth for gun deaths (over ninety per cent of which, suicides)). But in the wake of increasing immigration and the accompanying retreat to right-wing ideology in the country (especially in the rural areas), demonstrations have become regular in the city of Helsinki, and strain is bearing higher on the consensus tradition of the weathering welfare state. Especially the under-thirty cohort, digital natives in their inspiration, information and tools, consider themselves, however grounded through parental or grand-parental possessions of houses in the countryside, members of a global community or, global communities, who quickly travel for culture, education and opportunity and so substantially break with customs engrained even still with their parents. Considering that, only three generations ago, over eighty per cent of Finns worked in forestry and agriculture and that this rate decreased to only four per cent by 2010 (with an urbanization degree today of over eighty-three per cent, higher than Germany, the UK and even the Netherlands), one will imagine that the stretch marks in this society are rather visible.
We have tried to reflect with Lehmä pitää viedä jäälle, jotta se tanssii the ruptures running, in their multiplicity, intensity and close temporal succession, through this fast-learning culture, and inflect them in their likeness as considerations valid beyond Finland’s borders to the visitor at Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie and the reader of this catalog. There may be little agreement found between the positions shown. And this not because the artists would reject one another’s works (some may), but because the fields of investigation are shattering, skewing and morphing so rapidly that so many questions arise, virtually at the same time, to be pursued in artistically different ways.
It shall be up to the visitor and reader to follow these ventures and to consider the pieces distinct, divided and even segregated expressions of a society that is as closely bound as it is not at ease with itself and the world. As I have tried to show, many of the structural, societal and political concerns faced by Finland are not unique to the country. They relate, if differently textured, to all community around Europe, and many beyond, just the same. In a way there is of course Finland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia, France (and Bielefeld, on that matter), yet with the same justification one may ask whether there is not. We face the task of a formulation of life that requires from each of us the navigation of a necessarily impure whole, and of incompatible solution. Such is no state, but such all state requires.