Photo: Anssi Pulkkinen
The Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux commissioned sculptor Anssi Pulkkinen to create a new work that deals with homelessness as part of Mobile Home 2017, a joint project of the Finnish cultural and scientific institutes based in Paris, Berlin and London. The concept of Pulkkinen’s work Street View (Reassembled) takes the ruins of homes destroyed in the Syrian war that are behind the news images and brings them into our reality. The work provokes questions about issues including war, the loss of home, public and private space, reality and its representation.
What led you, under the umbrella theme of homelessness, to focus specifically on physical homelessness and homes that have been destroyed by the Syrian war?
The relationship between experiences and the surrounding space has long been one of my fascinations. For example, what interests me in film is how a character’s experiences can be represented and interpreted through the use of external space. The space is not only a backdrop but also a mirror. Especially such a dramatic sight as a ravaged home always, with a fragment of logic, refers to something beyond itself and inevitably leads one’s thoughts to something that is difficult to understand or deal with off-hand. A home destroyed by war is an extreme example of the feeling of being scattered and the aimless wandering that is caused by homelessness, whether it is physical or psychological in nature.
What does the home mean to Finnish citizens in 2017, the centenary of Finland’s independence?
Lately, the idea of home has been brought to the fore by the discussions in Finland around refugees, the lack of solidarity and xenophobia. Fear of others seems to threaten our sense of security, which is intimately connected to the home. I spent a lot of time browsing through the Finnish army’s photo archive of images dating from World War II when they were made available four years ago on the internet for anyone to use. Besides pictures from the front, they included a large number of pictures of bombed, burning and collapsed buildings all around Finland. The newsfeed from Syria now shows similar scenes. It is good to remember the important moments in the history of Finland’s independence in relation to the humanitarian crises of today. The home cannot be a fortress that turns in on itself or a protective wall.
Is the work an attempt to comment on world politics or the current humanitarian crisis in Syria?
The joint Suomi Finland100 project of the Finnish cultural and scientific institutes is Mobile Home 2017. In the context of everyday life, a mobile home usually refers to a caravan or other mobile home solutions. A carefree and nomadic lifestyle free from the material is, in my view, a reversal of the western middle-class dream – a reversal specifically from society’s emphasis on consumption and materialism. It is perhaps slightly paradoxical that true nomadism is seldom optional. In Syria, as well as in countless other regions of the world that are plagued by crisis and poverty, people are forced to leave their homes because they are out of options. A building in ruin is always in dialogue with the surrounding space and the landscape.
Does the work take a stance on the free movement of people, or the restriction thereof?
As a sort of caravan of ruins, the work plays with the notion that you could just take your Syrian home with you on a drive to the urban tourist destinations of Northern Europe. In Europe there has been resistance to letting people from Syria into Europe. Although they are currently trying to restrict people’s movement, going as far as building physical fences and walls at the borders of Europe, there is a constant flow of legal and illegal goods to and from the warzone. Even a privileged European sculptor can transport a container of construction waste from Syria to Europe.
How does the meaning of the ruins shift when they are removed from a warzone in the Middle East and placed in the context of contemporary art in Europe?
In recent years, IS has largely funded its operations by selling historical Syrian artefacts to wealthy foreign collectors. Of course, the exploitation of ancient monuments has its own centuries old tradition in Europe. The ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra were already an object of desire to collectors in the 1700s, at a time when art and cultural studies in Europe were characterised by a certain fever for ruins. At that time, the garden of every even slightly fashion conscious owner of a stately home in Great Britain was decorated with some kind of ruins or reconstructions thereof. Now, at the time of the Syrian conflict, ravaged ordinary houses are not considered valuable cultural heritage at all, unlike the thousand year-old ruins. It makes it fascinating to consider what is valuable and important enough to preserve and ship from one corner of the world to another.
The ruins of a building provide an exciting angle in thinking about the relationship between architecture and the visual arts, the border area between these two forms that does not quite fall into one field or the other. The ruined object occupies an in-between space where it still has some kind of function – but not a use – or a consumer good. The ruins act as a medium for reflection, which explains people’s continued interest in them. In particular, ruins lead us to experience different temporalities, which is especially current as we think of the approaching ecological crisis or the breakdown of capitalism. In the ruins, our own personal temporality becomes intermingled with that of humankind, with history, nature and even our geological time. When you stretch the perspective of temporality enough, you notice that we all live in the ruins of the future. I find this thought fascinating.
Blog post of January 2019: In 2018, the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s programme focused on Transition. In 2019, our theme is RE/definitions.
For some years now, I have tried to live my life with this principle in mind: because everything around us is constantly in transition, almost anything can become a reality. By this I mean our fears as well as opportunities, both the positive and negative ways of thinking about the future of our world. Personally, I would like to believe that we are capable of moving towards a better tomorrow, even if reality as filtered through our daily newsfeed often seems to contradict this.
Blog post of December 2018: How did you wake up this morning? Maybe to an alarm on your cell phone? What was your first thought? For many of us it’s “Can I sleep for another half hour?”. And, what was your last thought of the evening? Maybe you thought about whether you could watch just one more episode on your streaming service or whether it was really time for you to go to sleep. In fact, it is likely that these were the first and last risk management decisions of your day. Each of one us makes hundreds of risk management decisions whether we are at home, in our free time, or at work. Do you know the kinds of risks you are taking while navigating the digital world in our everyday life?
Blog post of June 2018: What if the future of music came from the Far North? There is no doubt that Nordic and Finnish musicians play an important role in the international music scene. Every category has a Nordic touch : vocal and instrumental music, metal, traditional and contemporary music, and jazz. Unlike here in the South, there are no fixed boundaries between musical languages in the North. Every musical genre finds its place between tradition and modernity, fusing into a fertile synergy without losing its own character. This is one of the cultural strengths of the Nordic countries.
Blog post of May 2018: For several years, this small international festival has been experimenting with new curatorial practices in a fierce and open way. The festival distinguishes itself by introducing co-curating, by politicising curatorship, and by rethinking the international. Baltic Circle hereby positions itself as a forerunner and is an ideal ground to visit with students who are themselves operating in the field of “expanding curation”. Three students, their tutor (Lara Staal, independent curator and publicist) and artistic director of DAS Theatre Barbara Van Lindt visited the festival and proposed some moments of exchange. In January we invited artistic director of the Festival Satu Herrala to visit us, and engage in a conversation where we reflected upon our visit (and already anticipated a next visit, in the autumn of 2018…)
Blog post of April 2018: Less than two months ago I moved from Tokyo to Brussels, straight into the heart of Europe and the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s great programming for 2018! We have our excellent previous Director Aleksi Malmberg to thank for carrying out the preparations for the start of the year, as well as our amazing team, with whom I now have the privilege of adding new initiatives and ideas to the programme.
Blog post of February 2018: “Okay, so there’s nothing here on the Sami people”, I noticed at the end of an introductory tour of the House of European History. I was visiting the relatively new House of European History at the beginning of February as part of a group of twenty odd individuals involved in the Remembering 1918 programme. Each one of us had the task that day of leading our own public tours of the House of European History. After the introductory tour, we were given a few hours to prepare to offer our own views on the museum’s exhibition which deals with European history.