Freeworks in Lepaa
Professor Heikki Laitinen and dancer Reijo Kela, who literally soiled their hands during their performance, opened the Aesthetics of Agriculture conference at Häme Polytechnic in Lepaa, held in early August. Laitinen started off by tuning the audience in with a variation of a Finnish folk song, thus keeping the audience at a distance from Kela, who creeped out of the bushes and began raging on the lawn under the influence of agricultural aesthetics, that is, bunches of hay in his hands, lashing puddles with the hay.
In the Finnish cultural environment, Laitinen and Kela are legendary; their performances are semi-spontaneous and take place in most varied circumstances. During the Lepaa performance, Laitinen, the deep throat, beat time to Kela’s sprout dance, bound to the soil, to charm Pellonpekko, the spirit of the field.
The tractor farmer no longer knows Pellonpekko; he was an ancient god of the fields who was there to sow with in the days when fairy tales were true and life was hard poetry. Singing made crops grow. Nowadays this has turned into an EU corn exchange - into hard facts, that is. Reijo Kela seemed to rise from bales of hay; he was like the Lord of the fields, two-pronged and trouserless, and he conjured a few new fairy tales onto the outer edges of the field with batons in his mouth. With naked willow twigs as his whips, Kela teased the audience, brushed the cheeks of the beauties, and punished the Estonian story-straw-birds that had settled on the ground.
Laitinen’s sound art rose from the ethos of folk songs and shattered into an avant-garde roar. At times, it was a loud humoristic laughter, at times a harmonic Lapp chant that circled the space, amplified by echo samplers. The ambience created by sound and movement was touching. Laitinen’s technology-enhanced sound acrobatics dominated Kela’s jesting reel as the clown of the field. The rumble of clay could, however, be heard in the background of all this fooling, it was the old story of life’s hardship. Nostalgia for the lost smell of earth and manure and celebration of humour’s victory over the curse.
Kela finished the act by replacing the batons with a long hay pole that he used in a friendly but decisive manner for herding the restive members of the audience into the conference hall.
Environmental art was exhibited in the unspoilt fields of the Lepaa Polytechnic. Markku Hakuri lifted a climbing figure, or a few, onto every electricity pole along the road to the institute. The striking figures could be seen from far away, and they conveyed the critical contents of the conference. Where were these straw figures in their white overalls climbing? Were they trying to escape from the treacherous agricultural politics; or was this a more sinister global prophecy that a sudden catastrophe that should be anticipated and avoided was on its way?
Within some currant bushes, Janne Inkeroinen built a wooden-framed ship with plastic bag sails. The recycled sails hit the eyes of passers-by in a quite suggestive manner. The idea was to tempt the audience to join on a fantastic journey across the Critical Ocean, to shift not only the rudder but their ways of thinking as well. ‘Always great value’ promised the mantra on one bag. Does ‘great value’ always sail before the wind? The triangle of the front sail was made of bags with colourful logo triangles; the keel was covered in ‘a fresher way’ and the square sail reefed by ‘bonus points’. Contemporary raw poetry is written on plastic bags!
Sails tore in the storm as ecocatastrophic waves beat on the starboard. These sails would never fully belly out in the wind even if the aft sail claimed that ‘every little helps’.
The schooner was, on one hand, a funny work of junk art and, on the other, a saddening allegory of unsustainable development. She was modelled after the trading ships that used to sail the Baltic Sea. Plastic refers to molecular immorality and oil spillage; to how unconcerned our civilisation is about the true ‘bonus points’ - the undisturbed cycle of nature.
Estonian artists Kadri Kangilaski and Toomas Tõnissoo raised their hilarious straw-birds first at the ITE conference of summer 2003 in the Kaustinen Folk Arts Centre, and now at the Lepaa conference. These professional artists successfully apply a humouristic DIY style in their conceptual works; they have walked their straw emus to be photographed on riverbanks, in graveyards as well as in supermarkets. As the chicks fall apart, the photographs fly on, from exhibition to exhibition, spreading the word of warmth and love.
Marco Casagrande hammered his guns into fingers that would never pull the trigger at a living creature again. The metal fingers were the spring of life; they grabbed the Lepaa soil like a thug’s fingers lengthened by the rays of Egyptian Aton, or like biblical Jehovah moulding a man out of the earth. Not the Word, but the Sentence.
Scaffold to heaven
In the wheat fields of Lepaa, Ilkka Halso built up a scaffold covered in green synthetic material. Lately, he has recycled this unnatural combination in natural settings; it was an everyday construction of urban development that turned into an archaic space sign, ready to be stripped of the unnecessary by the evolution that needs it for its own revolution. Within the green cube, there was a temple-like space, and, in the middle, a wheat cube grew in magical light for us to study fervently. The scaffold, an artificial construction when seen from outside, inside became a Shinto temple with a crop shrine. Perhaps we should devote ourselves to science and build temples dedicated to nature instead of factories; or else nature may demolish humankind, dispose of the useless material and build an ecofriendlier version.
Markku Hakuri creates his works of feathers, newspapers, hay poles, whichever way the creative fancy takes him. It is the magic touch of the artist that turns everyday material into antimatter.
One of Haikuri’s works was a line of barbed-wire balls set in flowerpots on the lawn. The fencing material, straightforward in its aggressiveness, was forced like fresh wool into prickly cacti or rusty dead memories. One ball held shotgun bullets to remind us of the serious dangers of crossing the border - the artist has to deceive the guards and escape, pellets whizzing past his ears, from the concentration camp, from the arena of categorisations, from the playing field of ?great value’. The artist’s signature is a hole in barbed wire that opens towards freedom, towards wider fields of vision.
Erkki Pirtola is an artist, journalist and art critic; he lives in Helsinki. He documents the various phenomena in visual art and is particularly interested in marginal art. During the past few years, he has dedicated his time to the documentation of Finnish contemporary folk art. His videos on DIY art have been shown in outsider art events both in Finland and abroad.
Translation by Kirsti Nurmela-Knox
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