Postcards from Suomenlinna

As an exchange NoVA from Konstfack I decided to take the course Contemporary Art and its Social Context. The course gives an introduction to and explores understandings of contemporary art and its different roles and relations in society. A big part of the course consists of a project in collaboration with an institution, this semester with IHME Festival of Contemporary Art.

IHME Festival is an annual event where one artist or artist collective is invited to create an artwork inspired by Helsinki. The festival board encourages participatory or social artworks. This has been done either by an artist collaborating with a small group of people, doing interventions in the city or making an artwork that is formed and recreated by the visitors.

As a class we were asked to respond to this archive of previous projects. This could be done in various ways, we could delve deep into the archive looking for what we think is missing and in that case form our project around the lack of something, such as promotion, audience reactions etcetera. Or we could choose to make an artwork ourselves, which poses questions and open up for new questions and interests, which is what our group decided to do.

We collectively identified four themes that we saw in the archive: audience, public space/place, artist and national/international/local/global. My group formed under the last theme. We had many disparate ideas about the subject, but as time was running out we decided to work with ourselves, and our nationalities. We were a Swede, Finn and a Russian. Not only does it sound like the arrangement for a funny story, we were also representatives for decades of war, oppression and conflict. Starting in this we found a common denominator: Suomenlinna, a small island outside Helsinki where a fortress was built by the Swedes in 18th century, later invaded by the Russian army and now being one of Finland’s cultural heritage sites. We therefore had some sort of relation to Suomenlinna by simply happening to be born in a particular country. This relation activated questions regarding ourselves and ourselves as ’Swede,’ ’Russian,’ ’Finn’. What does it really mean? Does it matter?

We decided to visit the island using a ’global tool’ : Google Streetview. We set out to find ’our’ Suomenlinna and make postcards of it. Could we find our sense of home in this site of national heritage?

What then followed was a translation, an exchange of meaning, not really finding our own personal sense of home but rather interpreting that to the general image of our home countries, an interpellation of ourselves with ourselves as Russian, Swede, Finn.

The project resulted in three postcards titled Suomenlinna, Sweden, Suomenlinna, Russia and Suomenlinna, Finland. We also made a short video for the presentation at IHME festival where we shared our personal stories about national identity and the process of finding ourselves as Suomenlinna.


Anton Krohn (SE)

I visited Suomenlinna through my macbook, dropped the little yellow guy to the blue lines of google street view. I was searching for a personal postcard of Suomenlinna, ‘my’ Suomenlinna as a swede. My hometown (Karlskrona) is a world heritage, the entire city is constructed and built around the same time as Suomenlinna. ‘Walking’ around the island there were moments when I began to feel homesick, I guess it’s the vibe of cultural heritage, a preservation of 18th century that I recognise and grew up in. These images are not swedish for me, more like home, history, ‘european’ (if there is such a thing).

I found the little red cabin with white corners and decided that that would be the best representation when relating to myself-as-swedish, although I don’t have a strong relation to a red cabin. It is as distant and close to my sense of self as is ‘swedishness’.


Lari Rantalainen (FI)

Although I have lived in Helsinki region for the larger part of my life, my first visit to suomenlinna was only a couple years ago. I went with a friend from New Zealand, who was new in Finland and keen on exploring. We were both tourists. I felt detached from the long history of the place, as well as the small onnistu that inhabits this weird little island. In more than one ways I`m a stereotypical Finnish guy: prone to depression and quiet most of the time (until I had a few Karhu of course). On the other hand, I live in a metropolis, amongst people from all nationalities. I think and speak in English half the time. I live online and I google. So I don`t really care about my national identity and I don`t care who wins hockey (although the celebrations can get pretty epic!) I don`t even mind when I get mistaken for a Swede when I`m travelling abroad.


Valeria Nekhaeva (RU)

This postcard is my alternative souvenir from Suomenlinna, an attempt to better understand my national identity. Traveling to the island with Google Street View gave me the distance that I thought was necessary. If I had gone to the island, I could have been inspired by the scenery, by the atmosphere. I was looking for an image that would portray my home country best and, unfortunately, it is a cannon. The new cold war that started a few years ago makes it uneasy to be Russian abroad.

The project was a bit chaotic, and the time restraints demanding. But in the end we were satisfied with the outcome, talking about how we could not have imagined this happening two weeks before.

Photo: Mira Kallio-Tavin

Anton Krohn has a hard time defining himself and prefers ’multidisciplinary’ as some kind of floating identity. Some of what he engages in and make is art, both visual and haptic, philosophy, especially new materialism and rhizomatic thought. He was born in Sweden and holds a Bachelor of Visual Production and Media Technology from Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden. He is currently studying Nordic Visual studies and Art Education at Konstfack.

Postcards from Suomenlinna

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