The nordic region encompasses mainly Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. So why are these countries grouped into a single category, why are they grouped into the same “nordic” pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and what do they generally have in common? The nordic region has a very unique environment: long, dark, cold winters sometimes brightened by the aurora borealis, surrounding seas, a midnight sun in the summer, tons of evergreens, etc. This unique environment has helped shape the culture. Nature, sustainability, innovation, design, technology, children’s rights, and gender equality seem to be some key values that currently exist within the region. With the history of the Venice Biennale the word “nordic” can be a bit complicated: In 1962 the nordic pavilion was constructed; Finland, Norway and Sweden agreed to share the pavilion, so that works from all three countries were represented. Just two years ago in 2011, these countries decided to rotate representation at the biennale so that Sweden was represented in 2011, Finland is the featured country this year (2013), and Norway will be in 2015. If this isn’t confusing enough, the nordic countries have their own pavilions as well, separate from the shared nordic pavilion.
Finland is the featured Nordic country at this year’s Venice Biennale (both at the Nordic and Finnish Aalto pavilions). Despite its unique ecosystem, placed importance on the environment and placed importance on social integration and acceptance (such as with gender), there still seem to be some major issues related to these topics in Finland. Forestry, technology and metal are Finland’s most important revenue sources that seem to be contributing to these problems. For instance, although progress has been made with forest conservation, there are about 700 species that are endangered due to forestry. Finland is also referred to as a “stainless steel superpower” and the process is contributing to a pollution problem. Finland is currently in the process of reducing emissions along the Baltic Sea.
“Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.” Al Gore, 2006
It seems as though Finland is a prominent country that is recognizing and increasing their actions to change the pace of, or reverse, these environmental issues. If worldwide catastrophes are to be avoided, a unified action between humans around the globe needs to take place. Natural events and the exploitation (and overuse in some cases) of our resources on earth are causing significant climate changes and other problems. In regards to social integration, most nordic countries have actually encountered difficulties in integrating immigrants into the labor market and society. It may be surprising to find that Finland, a country that seems to pride itself on children’s rights and gender equality, has many citizens feel it’s acceptable to deny someone a job or treat them with some sort of mistrust (and even hostility) simply because they are not finnish or from the nordic region. Some feel as though immigrants are attracted to Finland’s generous welfare package and high living standards, and the immigration rates are rising. The number of foreigners has risen six fold since 1990 and are one of the highest in the world. It seems as though citizens are trying to “preserve” their environment, socially and ecologically. According to polls, they are trying to avoid asylum “ghettos”. Interestingly, Finland and the rest of the nordic region recognize the importance of environmental care, are working together on such issues and actually advocate globalization of environmental care. Yet, it may seem as though Finland is far from being an international representation when there is such ethnic exclusivity. This can be related to the exclusivity at the Venice Biennale by naming a pavilion just for these “nordic” countries and artists to share. It has been debated: can politics tackle the environmental issues in relation to globalization? In past centuries, it has largely been about competition and even violence between polities for territory and resources. Because there is unevenness in political influence and power from different regions, this leads to conflict and national (vs. global) interests. Some responsibility may lay in the hands of our contemporary artists. “Artists notoriously do not rely on government. Their artistic activity becomes a way of withstanding their daily crisis, and also a means of dreaming. The bottom line is that passion motivates them to create, and passion has two meanings. It means to suffer and it means enthusiasm.”(-Lye Yoka) “Environmental” art can relate to “political” in relation to debate between critics. The debate is whether immersion in any kind of activism diminishes the aesthetic value, or if too much emphasis on aesthetics blunts the real world effectiveness of a work.
“The forces of nature that man has brought under a measure of his control have again become alien: they now approach us menacingly by avenues opened up by science and technology. Without an ecological consciousness, we have little hope for change. Clearly, the artist’s sensibility has entered a new phase in which its prime goal is to provide a format for the remerging ecological consciousness. The artist now has the opportunity to contribute to the creative shaping of the earth’s surface on a grand scale. Nature has become an artistic challenge once again. Artists, instead of representing nature’s appearances, have explored ways to present nature’s processes in their phenomenological aspects.”(-Gyorgy Kepes, 1972, designer and theorist)
Speaking of modern art, we are able to make a direct connection to nature through the Land Art of the 1960’s and 70’s. In the 80’s and 90’s artists seemed to focus more on populist, spectacle and market orientations. However, toward the century’s end, the was a return to nature and newly, planetary matters. Focus on these issues is continuing to grow in the art world. So, it may be that nature as a theme is not totally “avant-garde”, but the methods in which the artists focus on this theme is quite new, especially in regards to the nordic region’s works at the 2013 Venice Biennale. The works can be compared and contrasted to previous modern works related to the environment or “native” regions.
Finnish Aalto Pavilion Placemark:
The Finnish pavilion (first constructed in 1956) explores a connection to the nature around it, set in the middle of the Giardini at the Venice Biennale. Ironically, in 2011 a big tree actually fell over the Finnish pavilion exhibition. The works inside were damaged and the pavilion had to be rebuilt. Both exhibitions from Finland this year (at the Nordic and Finnish pavilion) are under the same title called “Falling Trees”.his tree falling incident, the unique ecosystem of the nordic region and the nordic environmental issues and attempted improvements are examples of the various sources of inspiration for nature as a theme for Finland this year at the biennale. Antti Laitinen has been working with nature for quite some time and he is the featured artist of the year at the Finnish Aalto Pavilion. His art is characterized by the physical testing of limits and our relationship to nature. He has spent days on end in the forest without clothes, food or drink, and has sailed over the Gulf of Finland on a boat made of bark in his previous works. His works at the biennale this year include: “Forest Square”, “Tree Reconstruction”,”It’s My Island” and “Nails and Wood”. “Forest Square” is a connection to his new and older works. It’s a piece made out of 100 square meters of forest from Finland. He cut down the trees, tore out the roots and removed an area of soil. He rearranged all found materials into a composition and photographed it. This photograph was hung on the wall inside the Finnish Aalto Pavilion. In “Tree Reconstruction” Antti transported trees from Finland, chopped them into different pieces and “rebuilt” them with nails to stand outside of the Finnish Aalto pavilion at this year’s biennale, bringing a piece of Finland to Venice. In “It’s My Island” Antii builds his own island in the Baltic Sea by dragging two hundred sand bags into the water over a period of three months, using nothing but a spade, sand and sacks while facing the harsh conditions of the ocean. The only comment on his personal artistic website for this piece is, “I built an island for myself.” Antii’s comments show a focus on the personal journey and personal connection to nature throughout his projects. In an interview at the Venice Biennale, Antti expresses that he doesn’t know why he has been drawn to nature in many of his works. This “draw” might be a sort of subconscious awareness of his environment and native land as inspiration in his artwork. This connection can definitely be made to works from the nordic pavilion this year. In relation to past works, it can be argued that Antii’s works are reminiscent of Joseph Beuys “7000 Oaks” and Andy Goldsworthy’s “Reconstructed Icicles”. German artist Beuys contributed to the German Green Party in 1982 by leading and planting a number of trees in Kassel. This connection to nature became more of a group effort and social reconstruction for the oak as a symbol, in contrast to Antii’s person journey. However, both of these works have a native or local focus. In 1995 English artist Goldsworthy wanted to “touch the earth lightly” and encourage the use of natural materials. In “Reconstructed Icicles” he spent a night in below freezing temperatures connecting icicles to each other to form a serpentine figure that glowed in the sunrise. His personal connection to nature and the physical testing of limits resembles Antii Laitinen’s artistic mindset.
Nordic Pavilion Placemark:
he Nordic Pavilion (located in the Giardini like the Finnish pavilion) is referred to as “The House of the North” and stands on its own as at artwork and example of a sort of disappearing transition between interior and exterior with its large glass windows and trees growing up through the middle of the building. Terike Haapoja, the finnish artist featured at the nordic pavilion this year, brings a research laboratory to the pavilion where art, science and technology interact. She worked with a variety of biologists and ecologists to create her exhibition titled: “Closed Circuit, Open Duration”. It consists of separate works that function as a whole. A few of the works part of the exhibition include: “Community”, this work is made up of five video projections that show the cooling down of animals bodies after death recorded with a heat sensitive camera. The artist literally recorded these animals after death, for example it took a total of 9 hours for all heat to leave to horse’s body and one hour for the bird’s body. She explains her interest in how cold scientific technology can be used for an emotional purpose. As organisms die, they give away energy needed for sustaining other life. We see this happening to others but never ourselves; in a way death is always for someone else. This concept is significant in times of climate change and mass production of animal products because we can see that death is directly related to a capitalist economy. This process is irreversible and can lead to species disappearing. In “Dialogue” we can see a playful approach to communication with trees. As the viewer or visitor to the trees whistles, the trees whistle back. As the viewer whistles or breathes into carbon dioxide sensors attached to the trees, it activates light as the tree is converting the carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis. The whistle the tree makes is signifying this transformation into oxygen. This way, the viewer is able to perceive the interaction. The interaction makes these trees seem alive and vivid, more like us than just viewing them as material objects. “Inhale/ Exhale” is a continuation of these ideas. The glass case contains soil and tree leaves. Carbon dioxide is released from the decomposition inside the glass case, and the levels of carbon dioxide are translated into an inhale or exhale breathing sound. It is a poetic phenomenon relating to her own body, for when she dies she will decompose and reenter the atmosphere and will also support other life forms playing a role in the ecosystem. She wanted there to be irony in the size of the glass case, it is about the same size as a human coffin. “Succession” may appear to be an image of a moon on the dark exhibition wall, but it’s actually a projected recording of the growth of bacteria from the artist’s face over a period of nine days. We may perceive ourselves as autonomous individuals but there are actually billions of other organisms that live in and on our bodies. They can cause diseases but some are essential for our survival. Interaction between us and these organisms is quite mysterious as we have only identified less than one percent of what we call part of “us”. It a work about other species coming in and taking over; the succession of species. Terike’s work is inarguably connected to activism in the realms of the environment and human impact. The human impact “fear” has been present in past artistic works such as those of Patricia Piccinini. More specifically in her work “Still Life with Stem Cells” from 2002, she raises questions and concerns of stem cell research, genetic engineering, cloning, bio electronics, technologically mediated ecological restoration and kin formation. Her sculptures show futuristic mutant like creations that are the results of these kinds of human impact and “progression”. She invites us into the world of the potential and frightening future, whereas Haapoja invites us into a world of interaction with nature in current times. Haapoja uses technology and science in a positive, activist way; for humans to better understand their importance and impact on different species and cycles of life. Both artists understand that studies in science and technology are becoming increasingly significant in the world, and are merging these with artistic creativity and imagination. It’s up to us has humans, each human matters; where is this world going?
Helsinki (the country’s capital) is an important city in relation to the country of Finland and both artists Terike Haapoja and Antii Laitinen.Antii Laitinen was born in Helsinki in 1975. He has a background in photography and multimedia art. He mostly stages performances in nature that he documents or records. There are also themes of endurance, humor and time in his works. He is currently living and working in Finland, but has lived in Berlin, Poland and the UK. He received his MFA at the Academy of Fine Arts in Finland, and has been shown in exhibitions locally and around the globe. His performances have stayed for the most part in the western European region. Terike Haapoja was born in 1974. Her current work has moved away from gallery space and into the realms of activism and interactive media creating immersive installation experiences. She is currently working on her PhD at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki (the capital of Finland). Haapoja’s work has been show extensively in solo and group exhibitions and festivals both nationally and internationally.