Anssi Pulkkinen: Mobile ruins mirror homelessness
  • Anssi blogikuva2017
16 February 2017

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.

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Anssi Pulkkinen

 Anssi Pulkkinen is currently working towards a doctorate in Visual Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts at the University of the Arts Helsinki, and is finalising his studies in Film Directing at Aalto University. Pulkkinen’s works have previously been presented at spaces such as the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum and the Mänttä Art Festival. He has created numerous public works and has received recognition at international art competitions. In the spring of 2015, Pulkkinen worked as an artist in residence at the WIELS Contemporary Art Centre as part of the Visual Arts programme of the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux. Pulkkinen was appointed as chairman of the Finnish Sculptors’ Association (Suomen Kuvaveistäjäliitto) in May 2016. His work Street View (Reassembled) will be presented in 2017 in Finland and the Benelux region in collaboration with the project’s partner organisations.

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