The role of art and nature

Anna-Mari Laulumaa

When we combine art and science, we presumably collide with the challenging questions about the concept of knowledge and language. Research is often called a creative process, but at the end of the day, it will be written in words. Any scientific thesis is written in words, and in the world of research, there are strict matters of form that should be followed when reporting. The Doctoral Thesis cannot be danced, at least not fully.

In the scientific process, the art can play many roles. It can be the object of research, when we study e.g. paintings from behind centuries or millenniums. Research on art seems to be as old as art itself. During the last few years, the role of art as a mere object of research has changed. The art has wanted to rise or it has been raised at the same level with research. At the frontiers, there is quite a tumult. Naturally, the issue has its problems. Is art or science going to lose its characteristics?

Will the result of combining art and science be something that is neither art, neither science anymore?

In art, we have also other kinds of knowing and expressing than just carefully outlined words. The body language, speechless messages, place and stage, and the meanings they imply. The reactions in the body of the spectator and the one who experiences. The unconscious layers of the mind. Chaotic, dreamlike sensations and thoughts, sentiments and experiences, all mixing together. There is not necessarily a one whole word in the flow of memories, emotions and ideas. Voices, smells or a melody can be bursting.

The role of art in the processes combining science and art is often subordinate to science. The scientific results can be ”colored” or ”popularized” by the means of art. The art has been seen as subordinate to science. Sometimes art is some kind of a small additional part in a greater scientific project. This tendency enters often into the project budgets: the share of art is small. During the centuries, the relationship between art and science has been varying. During the last couple of decades, they have come closer to each other and possibly warmed up a little.

On the path towards Hitonhauta. Photo: Agata Anttonen.

In “Pyhä paikka”, or “Holy place” project, our genuine intention was to look for balance or at least equality between art and science. The performance that will be constructed in August 2020 has as important role as the research. The performance must work as an independent piece of art, because it is a part of the program of Jyväskylän Kesä -summer festival. As an independent piece of art, it has to fulfil the criteria of good art in the same way as the research articles must fulfil the quality criteria of a scientific study.

The role of the performance is also to produce knowledge in many ways. The question is: what kinds of knowledge? The creative process itself is already a compilation of experience originating from various different sources and processing knowledge in a way that often is quite subconscious. The performers, who will join our group following their own routes, process their relationship to the nature as they prepare and act in the performance, and each member of the audience receives the performance in their own way.

One particular characteristic of a site-specific performance is its linkage to the surrounding community and society. The performance is not made under cover of the theatre building, but ”right there”. As a result, several fundamental demands upon setting the place follow. The first is to respect the history and culture of the existing site and related communities. This would come easier to mind if you were planning a performance at Macchu Picchu, but the same principle works fine for all site-specific performances. The artist is – hopefully – not riding to exploit the place with a colonial attitude, leaving behind an eternally destroyed culture or community. Secondly, in a site-specific performance the meaning of the place itself is greater than in a show built in a black box.

The place is dictating its conditions and the site is not just a passive scene, but also a living part of the performance. It is a character.

I remember sometimes saying about the Hitonhauta performance that nature is very powerfully present in this performance, by its difficult terrain and also the weather. Now we cannot choose the weather, and the terrain is what it is. This winter, the nature brought in one new, unwritten main character. The corona virus came to tell the story of the relationship between a human being and the nature in a way we could never have told it by ourselves.

I am writing this text in April 2020, and at this moment I hope that we can realize the performance in a small-scale in August. Corona became a part of our performance, yet I hope it will not play solo, and we people can nevertheless take part in it.

Nature inspires the art performance that will be conducted at Hitonhauta in August 2020. Photo: Agata Anttonen.

The broken duckboards of Hitonhauta

Anna-Mari Laulumaa

In August 2019, Kaisa asked me if I was interested in participating in an art & science project. We had just finished a site-specific performance in Patarei prison, Tallinn, Estonia, and the idea felt refreshing after the rough themes we had dealt with there. Oh, site-specific performance about the human–nature relationship… Wouldn’t it be wonderful? Back to the nature! After the performances adapted to the stony prison buildings I could see myself lying on the moss and wandering in the nature looking for the right place for each scene.

The first cell of the performance is usually created in a second. I chose Hitonhauta in Valkola, Laukaa, for the site before I even myself knew why it is so suitable for this project. The choice has been right, but not an easy one. Hitonhauta is an optimal place to study the Finnish nature relationship. It is an impressive gorge near the city of Jyväskylä and easy to reach by car. But the easiness ends there. When you try to crawl to the gorge, you find that it is not very accessible, some curses enter your mind and the name of the place, “Devil’s grave”, starts to make perfect sense.

Hitonhauta is not an easily accessible site. One needs to climb over tree trunks and rocks while descending to the steep gorge. Photo: Kaisa Raatikainen.

Nature is not just a mother’s warm lap, but a harsh and hard, even demanding being.

Hitonhauta is a strong name – Devil’s Grave – and it has actually been a grave, at least for the moose that were hunted by driving them down there at the ancient times. The word ”hitto” or actually the word ”hiisi” means a holy place in the Mari culture. The Maris are a small language group living in Russia, linguistically related to Finnish language. But when the Christian church came to Finland, the former word related to holy places, “hiisi”, was changed to mean something bad. The old belief systems were transformed by changing the meanings of the words and places. The history is present at Hitonhauta also in many other ways. During the time of so-called Big Hatred, when Russia was attacking Finland in the 18th century, the gorge was a hiding place for the local people. And when you look at the kettle holes of Hitonhauta’s surroundings, you know that those rocks have been there at the same place for 11,000 years, since the last Ice Age.

Hitonhauta belongs to a nature conservation area, partly owned by a private person and partly by the state. The former is governed by the ELY Centre for Central Finland, and the latter by Parks & Wildlife Finland within the Metsähallitus organization. The gorge itself is protected, as are the plants growing there. The regulations forbid using the site as a venue of any events. Therefore, Hitonhauta is not a national park nor a target for trekking, but literally a protected area. Anyhow, it is such an interesting and magical place that it attracts a growing number of visitors.

To protect the plants, Hitonhauta would need duckboards on which the visitors could walk. And the duckboards need to be maintained and repaired.

Yet, Parks & Wildlife Finland and the regional ELY Centre have no funds for managing all conservation areas and the infrastructure within them. The state’s resources are mostly spent on national parks. When we planned our project, we were thinking that we could build the duckboards, and the wooden structures could be left at Hitonhauta as a sign of our gratitude for getting the permission to conduct our project there. But this was found to be impossible. When there’s no money earmarked for repairing the duckboards in the future, it may happen that the government has to pay the possible damages caused by the broken duckboards.

The conservation decision is only a starting point of a process. An area can be protected, but there is not necessarily enough funds earmarked for building and maintaining the protective infrastructure such as walking routes. The conservation decision excludes the utilization of the area for forestry, but the public right of access, “right to roam” or “everyman’s right”, as it is often called in the Nordic countries, can only be restricted by a very special protective decision. Even then, we would not have the economic resources to fence off the area, but the results of the attempt to close a certain site depended on the good will of the citizens – the everymen.

Hitonhauta illuminates the strained field of nature conservation in a way that I could never have imagined beforehand.

Thus, Hitonhauta has turned out to be an excellent place also from the research perspective. The landowners, local people, tourists, businesses, and conservationists may have extremely contradictory visions about the utilization of the site and its surroundings. Similar tensions can be sensed in the conversations related to other conservation sites, for example at the Pallastunturi, where an economic pressure to build on the fjell is debated. Or the plans to build a mine in Hannukainen, near Ylläs. Situations and sceneries may change and vary, but tension and contradictions remain invariable. From the point of constructing a performance, the challenging atmosphere feels sometimes overwhelming. If I have learned something so far, it goes like this: whether it concerns nature conservation or anything else, it would be best just to sit down and have a talk with people who look at the subject of discussion differently or from a different point of view. It is very healthy to expose one’s own point of view and its scale to rethinking, and that can be achieved through an open-minded, true discussion among people. In a true discussion, a common language may be found, words that the other one can comprehend.

The Hitonhauta gorge was protected in the mid-1980s. Old signs that mark the border of the conservation area can still be found. Photo: Kaisa Raatikainen.