The more you know

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 abroad?

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.

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