On Visiting Finland and the Contemporary Finnish Art Scene

As Finland is a remote destination at the outskirts of Europe, we currently only receive approximately 0,4% of all of the travellers worldwide. And most of these travellers only stay for a very short stopover.

However, Visit Finland currently attracts over half a million visitors to its website every month. This goes to show that a staggering figure of annual visitors to the organization’s website must be very interested in Finland as a holiday destination. How to make more of these visitors book a trip here?

I visited Berlin two weeks ago. The city is, of course, one of the most hip destinations in Europe. During my stay there, I visited various sites related to its history, as well as the most popular contemporary art exhibitions currently going on, and many excellent clubs. Perhaps it is the combination of these three types of attractions – historical and cultural, as well as the nightlife – that makes me return there every so often?

I think that Finland, as a holiday destination, caters for many tastes as well, and we can certainly add the spectacular nature to our list of attractions. Now, as the summer is just about to begin, I am looking forward to spending a few weekends at least outside of my hometown Helsinki. For the Midsummer night, there is no better place to be than one with a view on a still lake in the middle of a forest.

But the nightlife scene in Helsinki is hot as well. A few weeks back, we had yet again the Berghain resident Marcel Dettmann playing an excellent 6-hour set in a club in the vicinity of Kallio. And many local artists are a treat for any house or techno lover. Many outstanding festivals for all tastes in music are organized here, the most hip one being the Flow Festival of Suvilahti, and are featured in international travel publications.

For the history and culture lovers, there are many things to experience as well. But perhaps the country brand would benefit of emphasizing the original culture and the excellent contemporary art scene, for example, instead of merely highlighting Suomenlinna Island and other such sites that have more to do with distant events of the past? Helsinki currently has several exhibitions going on that feature contemporary art’s finest international figures, such as Neto and Weiwei.

While I mention that, the Finnish contemporary artist scene is well worth getting acquainted with! Anssi Kasitonni, one of my favourite Finnish artists, is curating this year’s Mänttä Art Festival, first organized in 1993. Being the most hip annual art event outside of Helsinki, this festival that has a history of over 20 years is a must-see. Certainly worth travelling all the way to Mänttä!

And if you should miss that, the contemporary art festival ARS 17 will be taking over Kiasma next year.

The ARS festivals, much like the Documenta in Kassel, have a history ranging back to the turbulent 1960s and 1970s.

While the Documenta will be open in Kassel again the same year, and will certainly yet again be an event beyond comparison most likely attracting over one million art tourists worldwide, I suggest visiting the ARS festival in Helsinki as well. Kiasma will also be the partner organization of Frame Finland during next year’s Venice Biennale.

In two weeks, Visit Finland will organize a seminar related to travel and the field of culture. I will be attending the seminar, and I am very much looking forward to it. The CEO of Creative Tourism Barcelona, Caroline Couret, will be giving a keynote talk, and there will be workshops on the topic, one of them being on contemporary art and country image and facilitated by the Museum Director of Kiasma, Leevi Haapala.

Reflections After Overshoot Day

The average Finnish person currently uses over three times more resources than what is sustainable in the long run. Our “overshoot day” has already passed for this year, just last week. In general, I attempt to make better choices in everyday life, but I think being an average Finn, my overall lifestyle is very likely to be very unsustainable. I travel a lot, for example, mostly by a plane, I keep buying new clothes, I sometimes eat meat nowadays, and more often than not, I do not buy organic food.

But I think the main issue here is that making sustainable choices is not made too feasible. Our culture is based on consumerism, in fact, our whole economic system is.

So how to make an impact for a more sustainable future?

This week, I got to visit a very exciting think tank company called Demos Helsinki. As researcher Mikael Sokero demonstrated in his presentation to a group of students, the overuse and fast-paced deterioration of natural resources challenges companies and organizations to address and adapt to new trends and a more sustainable future.

Demos Helsinki calls for a “resource-wise economy”, and helps various organizations to create more sustainable products and services and to change their policies. Another area of expertise of Demos Helsinki is increasing democracy by creating and providing a co-operative platform that connects various participants to pursue common interests. As Sokero explains, Demos Helsinki “has two customers”, one of which is the original paying customer, the other one being the people whose well-being is increased.

Currently, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. According to Demos Helsinki’s blog, cities now contribute to 70% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Many Nordic cities have now taken upon themselves the task of becoming forerunners in sustainability, in particular in reducing their climate impact. As Demos Helsinki is effectively combining in-depth foresight analysis with co-creation methodology and co-operation in various projects, their projects may have a significant impact on the society in the long run.

I finally visited Ernesto Neto’s fabulous exhibition in Kiasma yesterday, coinciding with Choi Jeong Hwa’s exhibition’s opening party. Whereas Neto, in his work, attempts to offer a moment of tranquillity in the middle of everyday life, and is fascinated by the culture of his homeland Brazil’s indigenous tribes, Choi Jeong Hwa’s work takes the viewer into a colourful plastic jungle, while calling our attention to our materialist lifestyle and the overabundance of goods surrounding us.

I can’t think of a better way to make people face sustainability issues in an art museum than these two exhibitions combined. Ernesto Neto’s works are creating a space for a meditative experience, independent of any material concerns, while Choi Jeong Hwa points out and makes us face our consumerism in a playful way.

Art certainly wields the power of making us reconsider our lifestyle.

A few years back, the Juxtapoz magazine featured a series of photographs by Gregg Segal. In a series entitled “7 Days of Garbage”, people are being portrayed in the middle of seven days’ worth of their thrash. “Obviously, the series is guiding people toward a confrontation with the excess that’s part of their lives”, says Segal. “I’m hoping they recognize a lot of the garbage they produce is unnecessary”, he states.

Much like the current exhibitions in Kiasma, Segal’s photographs certainly put our consumerist habits in perspective in a striking manner.

I enjoyed the current exhibitions in Kiasma, and I really wish contemporary art museums would run this kind of shows more often.

Watch Ernesto Neto’s interview on the Jibóia / Boa exhibition of Kiasma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnXmGkoqEEM&feature=youtu.be

See Gregg Segal’s photographs of the series “7 Days of Garbage”: http://www.boredpanda.com/7-days-of-garbage-trash-pollution-photography-gregg-segal/

About Travel and the Notions of Place

“Place is security, space is freedom”, states Yi-Fu Tuan, the author of “Space and Place – The Perspective of Experience”. He goes on to explain that “what begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better”, and that places are, essentially, “centers of value”. According to Tuan, places “attract or repel in finely shaded degrees”, and “to attend to them even momentarily is to acknowledge their reality and value.” This is evident when visiting another country, or moving into a new city.

The next issue of FNG Research (http://research.fng.fi) will deal with art and politics, and it will be available online next week. Coming back to the statements of Tuan, I think places are certainly endowed with value.

Having myself travelled in many places and also in some conflict areas in the past, and thinking about the current overall political situation and the ongoing crisis in the Middle-East, for example, it seems to me that many people would benefit visiting other countries and cities more often. This helps in putting certain things in a perspective.

In a series of black-and-white photographs in the recent “Demonstrating Minds” exhibition in Kiasma, a Finnish artist, Jari Silomäki, is visiting various sites of atrocities. Tiananmen and Auschwitz are featured in these images, along with many other such locations. The mere images of these places evoke such a powerful sense of the reality of the events that occurred in the past, that they are almost too hard to view.

Tuan states that a “—place may lack the weight of reality because we know it only from the outside—through the eyes as tourists, and from reading about it in a guidebook”., I think it is precisely visiting another country and meeting the people there that significantly affects the way we perceive the world and various political conflicts.

I think this kind of experiences are extremely beneficial, as they make us acknowledge the value and conditions of other places besides our native countries and hometowns.

That being said, and because I enjoy travelling, I have quite recently come to think about relocating again. I could continue working at home on the FNG projects on the side, while I look for new, more challenging opportunities.

Berlin is one of my absolute favourite destinations in Europe. It has been a while since my last visit, so this week I decided that it’s time to book flights there.

Being well-known as a city of many creative digital agencies and tech start-ups, Berlin also has a thriving art and museum scene. I am currently seriously considering starting job-hunting on location – unless of course I happen to get another job here in Helsinki in the meanwhile. In addition to English, I speak some German, not completely fluently, but well enough to cope with everyday situations at the workplace.

It’s quite an effort to temporarily move into another city in another country for a job – but I think it might be well worth all the trouble…!

On the other hand, having just moved back into my old place in the Kallio area of Helsinki, and in order to be able to continue with my studies at the University of Helsinki, staying here in my hometown for now makes a lot of sense too. I have yet to make any final decisions, but I’m certainly looking forward to perhaps starting in a new job this summer, be it in here Finland, in Germany, or elsewhere.