Taina Kinnunen

Taina Kinnunen is Acting Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oulu, Finland. She is specialized, in particular, in theoretical and empirical issues concerning the relationship between body, gender and culture. Kinnunen has also discussed phenomenology and body modification as shared projects of the art and science. Since 2009, she is going to lead an anthropological research project on ubiquitous technology. Besides, she is preparing a scientific-artistic-theological project scrutinizing the relationship between human touch and sound. This article has been co-written with Ilmari Leppihalme.

The Position of Art in the Survival Society

"Absolutely, it does not make any difference whether a person travelling in a plane across an ocean is a manager of a factory producing destroying chemicals or a participant in an international nature preservation congress." (Pentti Linkola)


A Finn cannot ponder upon the relationship of climate change and culture without taking into account the Finnish fisherman Pentti Linkola, (age 66). Linkola is the best-known critical thinker of environmental and cultural issues in Finland whose unvarnished writings have been feared, appreciated and criticized for forty decades now. Linkola has studied biology and he has an impressive, detailed knowledge on birds. Anyway, his nature observation, as well as his philosophy and societal activity, is expansive. His main literary works can be characterized as contemporary diagnoses aimed to tell the cruel truth of irrevocably proceeding devastation of nature and what human beings should do to detain it. That is what makes him an exceptional thinker among numerous other biologists or geographers. In his works, Linkola constructs a holistic model of a society which would have a chance to survive or, at least, to delay the final catastrophe.

Linkola’s maxim to enable the ecological lifestyle is simple: machines out. The global ecocide can be avoided by returning to archaic way of life which is based on small-scale hunting, fishing, gathering and agriculture. Infrastructure of the society based on current energy, traffic and economy systems should be resolved and birth rate, construction and consumption should be reduced. The western way of life, in particular, demands a rude correction because the rate of climate change together with extinction of species exceeds former predictions.  

Art is of crucial importance in Linkola’s ideal society. For him, art and science represent sublime values which should fulfil one’s time freed from bodily work. Instead of the “riffraff” consisting of businessmen, artists and scientists should self-evidently be included in the state delegation visits. According to Linkola, newspapers should publish poems instead of stock exchange news. Still, already in the 1960’s, Linkola blamed “culture radicals”, artists and scientists, for being busy with secondary issues, such as grants, censorship and details of international politics. Already then, as today, the most important issues concerned the relationship between human beings and nature, Linkola writes. Nevertheless, in his writings, he does not insist on commitment to politically ”green” art but advocates the ”depth” of art. Decreasing natural resources lead to increasing costs of artistic work when materials and working place maintenance get more expensive. This reduces the amount of art produced which, Linkola believes, inevitably means a higher quality of art. In his utopia, every piece of art is an article of value and every art experience is uniquely important.

Regarding his own family background, Linkola admits to represent the ”old educated class” which emphasizes the intrinsic value of art instead of admiring vulgar aims, such as making money or overt consumption. Linkola has been accused of being an elitist or even fascist who only defends interests of his own social class. Indeed, democracy is a swearword for Linkola because he believes it to be the most disastrous ideology in the world history. He admires the efficiency of dictatorships to reach their set goals. However, it is misunderstood to call him a fascist in the traditional meaning of the word. As the position of art must be seen as a part of the survival society in Linkola’s utopia, his thoughts of the harmfulness of democracy must be situated in the holistic critique of self-destructive society.   
So far, the threat of climate change and other environmental catastrophes have not reduced artistic works; the total volume of artistic production is actually wider than ever before. Instead, the problematic relationship between human beings and nature has become an important theme in environmental arts, in particular. In recent years, numerous international and national art and photograph exhibitions and installations around the climate change theme have been arranged in Finland. These art works often comment scientific research results and parts of plants, animals and other natural elements are utilized in the works. This praxis is related to ecological principle in the working process and aims to teach the viewer to look at natural elements in a new way. The artistic scrutinization of the human-environment relationship is also supported at an institutional level by establishing a professorship of environmental arts at the new Aalto ”top” university.

Linkola’s vision inevitably raises questions of art and its function and the definition of arthood in the future. In western discussions, it has long been argued that art from aboriginal societies is closely linked with religious, governmental and everyday practices. Furthermore, the anonymous handicraft nature of these art forms, is often used by art historians to separate it from western art, which is primarily based on the cult of individuality. In recent years, art anthropologists have criticized this dichotomy for maintaining colonialist arrogance and claimed that arts of aboriginal societies should be evaluated by the same criteria and theories as western arts. That is to say, the pieces of art should be seen as aesthetic creations of single artists.

The criticism is justified, but environmental disasters may also mean that we start to question the Western individualistic notions of art and artists. Are we facing a fundamental change in our individualistically oriented notion of the artist? We shall briefly present two artistic strategies from the Finnish art scene, both in its own way rising to the challenge set by the ethics of the survival society, by its “ecological imperative".
Osmo Rauhala (born 1957) is one of Finland’s best-known contemporary artists. Reflecting his relationship with the environment is a life-long project for Rauhala. In his work, praxis and theory the urban and agrarian way of life are intricately linked. In addition to painting, video art, and environmental art projects, he also writes critical essays on culture and practices organic farming. He sees himself as a neo-nomad who puts up his summer camp in the family farm in Finland and finds winter shelter in Soho in New York.
Rauhala's writings and works of art show a concern about the limitations of modern scientific and technological knowledge. According to Rauhala, it is not enough to perceive the world scientifically, but we should also take advantage of information that we receive genetically, and through our senses and intuition. Art provides an intuitive tentacle to this ancient knowledge. A recurring image in Rauhala's art, like an eidetic after-image, is the deer figure, which for Rauhala is one of the keys to our genetic knowledge base. Rauhala refers to the important symbolic function of deer in the shamanistic culture, in which it was believed that deer use their antlers to communicate with the dead and with gods, thus conveying important information. The belief was based on the shape of the antlers, which resemble the roots and branches of the mythical world tree, acting as a link between the sky and the earth. That is why shamans disguised themselves as deer when they travelled in trance to the world beyond. Rauhala believes that such mystical basic figures, recurring and recognizable in the diversity of nature, provide a basic code for communication with nature. According to him, “it is crucial for human - nature interaction that our language and the concepts we have created have the ability to perceive the system, on which we depend."
Kari Sallamaa, PhD, (born 1942) has worked as a professor of literature at the University of Oulu and has published two collections of poetry, Flyygelin kanteen kirjoitettu loitsu (“A Spell Written on the Lid of a Grand Piano”, 1990) and Mustan hirven talo (“Black Moose’s House”, 2001), in which he describes not only Finno-Ugric peoples losing their cultures, but also the possibility of an ethnic renaissance. The bear and deer related poems present natural myths as images of ethnic salvation, which is a characteristic feature of Uralic art. What is significant in the poems is also how individuality and the story teller give way and symbolically dies for the collective good of the family, the tribe and the community, taking the shape of the story of a shaman’s trip.
In his second collection of poetry, Sallamaa’s originally intuitive interest in the Finno-Ugric and Uralic peoples turns into a programme of ethno-futurism (ethnos = people, futurus = future) and links itself with the international network of the movement. The "Ethno-futuristic Manifesto" included in the collection outlines the key principles of the movement, such as the myths about the common beginning, the original-home theory, and the language-family tree. Ethno-futurism is an artistic survival theory, the target of which is the survival and development of the languages and cultures of small nations. In a broader sense, the message of ethno-futurism is also ecological and articulates a critique of civilization, which links it with the aesthetics of survival society.
Rauhala and Sallamaa are pioneers of mythopolitics, which is likely to gain ground in the survival society and which sets the mythical and natural worldview against the technological and economic rationalism of the dominant Western culture. In art, mythopolitics represent an alternative to individualism, the cult of genius, and the canons of genre. Rauhala’s mythical animal characters are like totems which the community uses to create tribal identity. Also Sallamaa's etnofuturism is a sort of postmodern neotribalism, where all kinds of "totems", images or representations are used to establish a sense of tribe. In ethno-futuristic art, repetition of genesis is a rite, in which the myth is repeated with variations, thus allowing a return to "the eternal origin" - and at the same time to the chance of a new beginning. One recurrent motif in Rauhala's art is a spiral, which can be found, for example, in DNA helix thus symbolizing the flow of genetic information from past to present. Without doubt, the mythopolitics of both artists is nostalgic but, simultaneously, they are future oriented.


This article is also published in the RETHINK exhibition catalogue which can be purchased at one of the four museums or at the Alexandra Institute. For mail order, please contact Lene Mortensen, bGVuZS5oLm1vcnRlbnNlbkBhbGV4YW5kcmEuZGs=.