Highlights from the 2021 Young Arctic Artists Exhibition Series

Project Spotlight: Twelve young artists from neighbouring countries present works on family, history, heritage, language and new ways of seeing society. 

Collaboration circumpolaire Création Activisme
In a darkened room, three people watch a video work projected on the fall wall. The projection area is mostly white with mountains in blue and green across the horizon line.

The Young Arctic Artists exhibition series promotes emerging artists in the circumpolar Arctic. Exhibitions are produced by the Artists’ Association of Lapland, in Finland. The 2021 edition, Kamppailu/Fight, was co-curated by the Finnish-Kven curatorial team: Savu Korteniemi (FI), Panu Johansson (FI), Katriina Pedersen (NO/Kven) and Åsne Kummeneje Mellem (NO/Kven).

The aim of this exhibition series is to map out the scene of young contemporary art in the selected Northern geographic area, advance its visibility and to create new networking possibilities for emerging artists and curators.

Artists featured in the 2021 edition included: Alina Belyagina (RUS) & Amie Jammeh (SWE/GM), Johannes Heikkilä (FIN), Åsne Kummeneje Mellem (NO/Kven), Olga Krüssenberg (SWE), Henna Mattila (FIN), Annika Sellik (NO/Iisakumaa), M. Seppola Simonsen (NO/Kven), Maiya Syrstad Jerijervi (NO/Kven), Karin Keisu (SWE/Meänmaa) and Josse Thuresson (SWE), Ida Isak Westerberg (SWE/Meänmaa).

In a darkened room, three people watch a video work projected on the fall wall. The projection area is mostly white with mountains in blue and green across the horizon line.
Olga Krüssenberg, Långsamt rör jag mig i din riktning (2018-2021). PHOTO: SANTERI HAPPONEN.

Olga Krüssenberg (SWE)

The film Slowly I Move in Your Direction is a family chronicle of three generations. It is based on a secret that was recently revealed in the family and that has reshaped our understanding of who my grandmother was as a person. Through my grandmother’s story, which is told through the memories of her children, the film reflects on the consequences of mental illness, on not being able to have a choice of one’s own and what this does to a person. It is about what a human life means, and about the memories that remain when that human is no longer around to speak.

Most families carry their secrets—in mine, the secrets concern a child given away for adoption. The film is my way of zooming in on an individual’s destiny to speak about a collective experience. With the film I also present a book that contains excerpts from my grandmother’s journals, as well as my own poems. It is a way of re-documenting a human life that includes more than medical records could ever do.

I have been occupied with this project for three years. I began by conducting interviews and used them to later shape the storyline. Since it was frequently mentioned that my grandmother longed to return to her hometown in northern Ostrobothnia, I chose to film there. Throughout the process I have continuously written a diary, from which I developed my text work.

Maiya Syrstad Jerijervi (NO / Kven)

The Young Arctic Artists exhibition in 2021 included a collaboration with the Rovaniemi Art Museum located in the city centre, in the Korundi House of Culture. The painting by invited artist Maiya Syrstad Jerijervi, was installed as public art on the wall of the Korundi House. Maiya painted famous Kven Leonhard Seppälä who had emigrated to Alaska during the gold rush in 1900s and had become a dogsled driver. Seppälä is well-known for the so-called Serum Run of 1925 and his role in saving a village from diphtheria made his life a legend. Maiya described her painting as an honour to Seppälä: “The way he fought his way as a pioneer makes us believe that we can do it as well. The way he worked hard for what he believed in makes the Kven heritage more visible. Therefore, my picture is made in black and white, in addition to the colors of the Kven flag. Because Seppälä no longer lives among us, his head and body are also transformed into a skeleton, while his figure and way of life live on.”

A flatscreen television is installed on a stand of white branches in a gallery space. On the television, a black-and-whiite image of a person walking plays. A bench with two sets of headphones laid on it is placed in front of the screen.
Karin Keisu & Josse Thuresson, Det här språket är inte övergivet än / Tätä kieltä ei ole vielä hylätty / This language is not abandoned yet (2021).

In the video work Det här språket är inte övergivet än / Tätä kieltä ei ole vielä hylätty / This language is not abandoned yet, viewers meet Sune, who introduces the frosty shell in Korpilombolo, which was one of the many working houses in Tornedalen that between 1903 and 1954. It was a key element in the Swedification of Norrbotten, but in the film it becomes a meeting place for conversations about identity and loss, and a site for inserting Meänkieli language where it once was forbidden. Three young Tornedalians build on their shared experience of being robbed of a language and the longing for reclaiming it.

Det här språket är inte övergivet än / Tätä kieltä ei ole vielä hylätty / This language is not abandoned yet is part of an ongoing series of works investigating normality and nationalism in relation to the oppression of minority languages in Sweden. Two narratives unfold parallel to each other—one centering the assimilation processes in Tornedalen, and the other following how Deaf and hard-of-hearing people had to speak and read lips during the ban of sign language between 1880 and 1981 in Sweden. The project researches events that have made an impact on the two languages, and highlights narratives striving for a multi-lingual future.

Johannes Heikkilä, Here, where a dead tree does not provide shade (left) and At first it was white (right) (both 2020).

Johannes Heikkilä

Heikkilä’s artistic practice deals with constructions as concrete structures, but also as a kind of reflection of society’s inner worlds. The works are abstract-figurative interpretations of existence, dimensions of construction and destruction. The form of the work reflects an existential-conceptual standard of living that brings out social criticism. At first it was white tunes into the points and forms that construct the human mind, while Here, where a dead tree does not provide shade reflects the shadow side of organized society. The themes of the works bounce between environments and influences.

Video of the exhibition, opening reception and documentation of Alina Belyagina & Amie Jammeh’s performance, IMAGE WE COMBAT WITH is available below:

Credit: All videos were originally published as part of the Young Arctic Artists exhibition Kamppailu/Fight, 2021. VIDEO: SANTERI HAPPONEN. COURTESY ARTISTS ASSOCIATION OF LAPLAND, FINLAND.

Note: This event was organized prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This story is part of the Finland Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.