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JT                  Jonna Tapanainen

HT                 Hanna Tuulikki


JT: Kansainvälinen nykytaidetapahtuma Helsinki Biennaali järjestetään tänä kesänä Helsingin Vallisaaressa. Tässä podcast-sarjassa keskustellaan tapahtuman merkityksestä sekä siitä, millaisia taide-elämyksiä on luvassa. Minä olen toimittaja Jonna Tapanainen.

Helsinki Biennaaliin on kutsuttu 40 taiteilijaa ja taiteilijaryhmää. Yksi heistä on Hanna Tuulikki, brittiläis-suomalainen taiteilija, säveltäjä ja esiintyjä. Glasgow’ssa, Skotlannissa asuva Hanna Tuulikki tekee monitaiteellisia teoksia, joissa hän yhdistää performanssitaidetta, elokuvaa, audiovisuaalisia installaatioita, tanssia, laulua ja piirustusta. Hanna Tuulikin videoinstallaatio biennaalissa on nimeltään Metsänpeiton alla, ja se käsittelee suomalaisen kansanperinteen innoittamana ihmisen kadonnutta luontosuhdetta ja sen aiheuttamaa traumaa. Työ käsittelee myös identiteettiä, Hanna Tuulikin katkennutta suhdetta omaan suomalaisuuteensa, joten aloitin kysymällä hänen juuristaan.


HT: So, my mother is Finnish, and my father is, English. I grew up, in Brighton, in the South of England, and then, I went to art school in Glasgow, to the Glasgow School of Art, and so Scotland is my adopted home.

JT: Yes.

HT: And my mom is from, Iisalmi, in Savo.

JT: Okay [delighted].

HT: I’ve been coming to Finland, regularly, since I was, small. I used to be completely bilingual as a child but, then, when my grandmother died, I slowly, stopped speaking Finnish so much, and it’s there somewhere, täytyy harjotella.

JT: Yeah. So, as you’ve worked in different fields as an artist and a composer and a performer, I’m curious to know what kind of thoughts and inspirations did it, awaken in you when you visited Vallisaari for the first time? How did the place in itself feel and did it inspire your work, in itself or, was it already brewing in your mind somewhere before, the visit?

HT: Maybe a combination of both. I was very interested in Vallisaari, its history and its layers of history, having once been an ex-military island, but then also, going before that, people living there, and now how it’s been, returned to this idea, of a natural state. It made me think about how, it’s very easy to forget, that, a wild landscape is actually often managed landscape, and has a strong human history. So on Vallisaari, there were once cows grazing in there, trees there, there were wars fought, so I was- my reflections after visiting Vallisaari, what to do with, the kind of complex entanglements of ideals of ecology, and nationhood, and then also, my own identity as well. It made me reflect on my, complex relationship with Finland too, and my kind of, idealised ideas of Finland.

JT: So, all of these are on displays in this work, “Under the forest cover”. Could you please tell us, what do we encounter when we, get to see you work?

HT: So I started to, think about, or explore, the Finnish folkloric concept, ‘metsänpeitto’. So being caught, in ‘metsänpeitto’, in forest cover, which is this, strange enchanted, forest, landscape, where, places become, disconnected or unfamiliar. You hear strange sounds and, everything is sort of topsy-turvy or moves in reverse. And, traditionally the concept was used, to describe when, people, or cows, went missing in the forest. But I started to, think about it as a, contemporary metaphor, for, the emotional trauma, that comes with ecological awareness. So these strange sort of, disconnects that we experience when we try to, comprehend something as huge as climate change or, mass extinction. But then also, thinking about it in a quite of more, micro way. So what might being caught in ‘metsänpeitto’, mean, in relation to, kind of local understandings of ecology. I started thinking about ideas of monoculture. When we think of Finland, we think of Finland as a, wild forest landscape, but the reality is that, most Finnish forest is, monoculture plantations..

JT: Indeed.

HT: ..that supposedly will help to mitigate climate change but, if they, continue to harvest substantially then the kind of, carbon sink, will affect global carbon emissions, and then also how a Finnish national identity is often, discussed in relation, to nature specifically kind of forest culture. Forests are sort of, etched into, people’s consciousness mine included, as a half Finnish person, as a kind of a magical spiritual places. So there’s this strange disconnects between what we have, imprinted into kind of, cultural understanding, and the reality of the, kind of monoculture ecologies. And then also my own weird monoculture inside myself so, this sense that, I’ve become, kind of detached, I’m lost in ‘metsäpeitto’ of my own identity in relation to, my Finnish identity. And then also this kind of, illusion of, nationhood itself. This sense that Finnish identity is constructed, by the 19th century, cultural elite, who in their push, for independence they look to, folklore, specifically forest folklore, in the borderlands, and kind of, constructed this idea of Finland. Which, is also a kind of monoculture. (–) [0:06:23.5] the thoughts that I was, thinking about, during my research and, so, in my process first of all, I went to visit what used to be my, family’s farm in, Pohjois-Savo, in the North of Iisalmi. It’s no longer a farm. The family couldn’t keep up with the industrialisation of farming, and now the, farmhouse is, almost derelict. And the fields are rented out to, farmers nearby. And surrounding, the farm, are forest plantations. So I went, in the end of August, beginning of September, 2019, and every dawn, I sang, vocal improvisations based on traditional, cow calling songs. The farm used to be a, dairy farm, and I animated the echo, from the forest plantation. Thinking a lot about this idea of the Finnish saying ‘the forest will answer in the way that you call out to it’.

JT: Exactly.

HT: When I got, home, I began to work with these recordings. I started to device, a choreography, that explored the sense of being, lost in forest cover, in a multiple, meanings that I had, been working with, as a metaphor. And, exploring some of these, ideas of how somebody lost in forest cover might feel their way out. How we might feel our way out of, this kind of, trauma, how we might meet this trauma, of, realisation. And, in the, traditional folklore, you might look underneath your legs you might look underneath your arm, you might walk backwards, you might beat the ground. Eventually when restrictions eased slightly, in Glasgow where I live, I filmed, this choreography, eleven times, with different, costume states. So the costume, was made, from blackout fabric, and each time, I performed this piece, to camera, I took, a piece of the costume off. So it began so you could only see my hands, moving around, in the camera. Gradually, more of my, limbs my arms and my legs are revealed, until, I ended up in the final performance, in my underwear. So, one of the ways of finding, your way out of ‘metsänpeitto’ is to take your clothes off and put them back on, inside out. And then, I spent quite a few months, during, the lockdown that followed, editing this. Glitching between these different states. So, exploring kind of repetition and getting stuck in, a kind of, glitched cycle, with the sound that I had recorded. So the resulting film, is a figure, that moves in and out of darkness, suddenly between kind of, a disembodied body, moving into a whole, body, exploring repetitions, of being lost in this space. Also, at the end of this there’s a song, the whole thing is filmed backwards and then played forwards, and this backwards song, that I recorded is exploring this tradition of telling, the sorrows to the trees, and it’s in English, but it’s, a strange-sounding English because it was recorded backwards, and, in it I explore kind of ecological grief. And then, this film and this sound, comes together in this space it’s projected as a, hologram onto glass, which, is embedded in, a plantation of, silver birch tree trunks in one of the underground bunkers, one of these, military, storage bunkers on Vallisaari. It’s a digital choreography, with sound, the sound is based on these cow calling songs. So the sound is calling this figure out of the darkness and then it goes back into darkness.

JT: Yeah. It sounds there’s so many themes and it’s very thought-provoking and I’m, but I also love the fact that you deal with this, grief like you said, this trauma that we have because I don’t, feel like we talk about, that so much when we talk about the climate crisis we talk about, how it might make our living conditions more difficult and the destruction or the, climate refugees or something like that but we don’t talk so much about this- at least here in Finland, about how traumatic it is to witness, how we are losing, our biodiversity or species or our living environment, so this sounds very interesting and it’s a wonderful point of view.

HT: Yeah, it’s very true I think, we’re kind of lost in the woods of a pandemic right now aren’t we and..?

JT: Exactly.

HT: ..I was very aware as I was making the work, especially while I was editing, how much, the work speaks to being caught in the ‘metsänpeitto’ of corona virus. But corona virus itself, is a result of, globalisation and, the encroachment of, humans on more than human habitats and, we’ve all experienced cognitive dissonance during these times, because we have to live, we can’t live in a traumatic state all the time so, when corona virus, broke, and I was, hearing about the numbers of deaths, everyday I was crying. Now, when I hear about the deaths I just feel numb, like I don’t feel, that same sense of, horror, but it’s horrific. And, I think, maybe we’re all experiencing cognitive dissonance, in relation to, ecological catastrophe because, we’re humans and we, need to, survive. But, it’s there in our psyche I think, and pokes its head, when we experience that horror, you know?

JT: Yes, yes. In this podcast series I interviewed earlier, the Sami artists, Outi Pieski and her daughter, Katja and Birit Haarla and, Outi Pieski, works with Sami handcraft and her daughters are dancers.

HT: I love the work.

JT: Yes, and they said that they could feel the connection to Earth, especially when they are in their home in Samiland in the Northern Finland. They could feel the connection to Earth in their body and also, they try to establish that connection in their dance so I was wondering because you use, dance and movement and gestures and then you, use these vocals that can, in your other works they can imitate, nature, so I was thinking are you trying to, kind of connect us back to our somehow, I don’t know, wild side to our nature, because we have this disconnection with, mind and body and nature and human beings and?

HT: Yeah I’m really interested in, embodied, vernacular folkloric traditions and, what we can learn from traditional culture, about our connections with the more than human, and how we are, part of that continuum. In a lot of my work I explore, mimesis, so, imitation or emulation of, more than humans, of birds of various critters of, water, of weather, of complex multispecies assemblages, how these assemblages can be imitated in the voice or with movement and gesture. I’m interested in, mimesis as a practice, of becoming with, so how I can become with, a cuckoo, how I can become with, a river. And to, foster empathy, with, more than human. In this works it’s- although it’s about this, trauma or, grief, of these disconnections, there’s also points of connection, felt connection so, when I was recording these vocal improvisations, at the forest plantation, it was dawn, it was dark, and I started singing, and the forest started singing. There was a pygmy owl, peeping in the forest and, slowly, as the, birds started waking up, it felt like there was, a kind of interspecies musical conversation happening. So, it felt magical. And so we were having a little bit of a jam, there was a kind of, a musical interaction, and even feeling, the movement of the trees in the wind, while I’m pausing and kind of, feeling that energy. It was very magical, those moments recording on that farm. It was, yeah, a special memory.