By Mika Hannula
The wide variety and unquestionable quality of Finnish artists appearing and performing
during this May and June in Great Britain gives people an opportunity and also a reason to
reflect on certain major elements and tendencies that come under the label of Finnishness.
What is it, what could it be and how is it represented?
The three groups of artists in question perfectly crystallise the issue. The dance
choreographer Kenneth Kvarnström, the visual artists Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen
and the unique Men's choir Mieskuoro Huutajat stress the very essential fact that there is
no such thing as Finnishness or an essence of Finnishness that could be discovered and
labelled as X, Y and Z.
The whole notion of Finnishness comes in my view comes down to the basic fact that the
content of any concept is pluralistc, and trying to show the kind of values are that are
used to shape, make and redefine the concepts is a highly political issue. The point is
that it is not only about understanding or tolerating the fact that the content of
Finnishness is pluralistic. The plurality of expressions and views of Finnishness have to
be appreciated and respected.
This means that what can be labelled as Finnishness is and has to be an open question. The
content is characterised by coincidence, uncertainty and a richness of being. It should be
noted that these are the traits that define our post- or late-modern times. In other
words, under the just barely sketchable umbrella of Finnishness it rains, it shines, there
is a strong wind blowing off the ocean and you hear screams but also you sense the soft
touches of lovers meeting just before parting again.
Another highly important point that the Finnish visitors in May and June underline is the
questions: why are these artists chosen, and why would they be interesting to anyone
I would be happy to claim that this increased awareness of the quality of people's work is
a clear trend, not only in Finland, but also in a wider context in the Nordic countries.
Artists in almost any cultural field are no longer just watching the waves, they are
certainly also making them. These artists, who tend to be rather young, are clearly
international, and they are given opportunities in the main cultural centres of the world.
They are also often listened to with apprehension.
This change of attitude - whether it sounds funny or not - is connected to the idea of
postmodernism. The relationship between centres and peripheries is complex, and
reciprocal. This means in short that in order for anything to be interesting anywhere,
especially in overcrowded centres with their enormous output, the cultural products have
to have something original in them. They need to have and represent something very
particular and unique to them, which then has to be connected to something very general
that is open and also opens up for anyone who gives it a chance. And the result? Well, the
results are clearly visible in the works of Kvarnström, Grönlund and Nisunen and the
Men's choir Mieskuoro Huutajat.
Now there is a thought or two to mull over, not only in Great Britain, but also in
Finland. And, oh yes, just in case someone is interested, the one who figures out who
originally wrote down the above idea of reciprocal dialogue, gets, when they want, a real
or imaginary Finnish bear hug from me.
The writer is a Ph.D. student in Political Science, and a contributing editor of the
Nordic Art Review Siksi.