Archive for May, 2013

Valokuva taiteeksi. Photography into Art. Hannula & Hinkka -kokoelma / Collection

30 May 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Valokuva.taiteeksiValokuva taiteeksi. Photography into Art. Hannula & Hinkka -kokoelma / Collection
Toimituskunta [Edited by] Erja Hannula, Jorma Hinkka, Sofia Lahti, Tuomo-Juhani Vuorenmaa
English translation: Jüri Kokkonen
Helsinki: Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto ARTS Books (Musta Taide 4/2012; publication series of The Finnish Museum of Photography 44.) 209 p., ill.
ISBN 958-952-292-000-3
€33.90, hardback

It has been typical of Finland that it lacks collections of international photography, private or public. In the politically turbulent 1970s interest in photography began to grow. The Hippolyte Gallery, run by artist Ismo Kajander, exhibited international photography by Diane Arbus, Eugène Atget and Édouard Boubat, among others. The graphic designer Jorma Hinkka (also Art Director of Books from Finland, 1998–2006) began making posters for Hippolyte ‘out of pure enthusiasm’, and designing books by Finnish photographers, among them Pentti Sammallahti, Ismo Hölttö, Jorma Puranen and Merja Salo. As a result of spending so much time with ‘the black art’ (as it was called by a Finnish pioneer of photography, I.K. Inha, in 1908), Hinkka and his art director spouse Erja Hannula began to collect samples of it. After 30 years, in 2012, they donated more than two hundred photographs by almost a hundred artists to The Finnish Museum of Photography. The social status of the black art has risen considerably since the 1970s, as has professionalism in the field. This book presents excellent reproductions of the collection of photos, taken within a century and a half; the variety of styles and subjects chosen surprise with its richness.

Becoming Finland

23 May 2013 | Reviews

Imaginary heroes: the title page of En resa i Finland

Imaginary heroes: the title page of En resa i Finland. Illustration by C.E. Sjöstrand (1828–1906)

Zacharias Topelius
En resa i Finland
[A journey in Finland (1873)]
Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 2013. 173 p., ill.
Utgivare [Editor]: Katarina Pihlflyckt
ISBN 978-951-583-260-3
€38, hardback
(Stockholm: Atlantis förlag, 2013. ISBN 978-91-7353-616-5)

The birth of Finland as a country came as a surprise to those who lived there.

It was created by Napoleon and Alexander I, becoming a reality following Russia’s victory over Sweden in the so called Finnish War. In 1809 Alexander exalted Finland as ‘a nation among nations’, however the new nation still needed to feel like a nation. The Russian rulers supported gentle and non-political nationalism in Finland, in the hope that it would mentally distance the country from Sweden. In this tranquillity, the sense of community they had envisioned grew in Finland.

For this, there were three key factors, all of which stemmed from the 1830s. Elias Lönnrot published the Kalevala, the national epic, proving that Finnish mythology and culture did indeed exist. The poet J.L. Runeberg (who would later become known as the national poet) gave Finland an appearance that was an ideology. He depicted a poor, pious and simple people, a harsh and beautiful wilderness, and with his poems he described the Finnish War, that Finland had lost, as a heroic battle of the people, fought for Finnish values. More…

Art online

23 May 2013 | In the news

Guide to the art in the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Helene Schjerfbeck’s The convalescent (1888) on the cover of the guidebook of the Ateneum Art Museum

Attention lovers of Finnish art: the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki has joined the international Google Art Project (begun in 2011), with 260 participating art institutes and more than 40,000 works of art as high-resolution images.

The website also includes information on the paintings. Among the 55 images from Ateneum on show now are many of the great works of the golden period of Finnish art (1880–1910), including Hugo Simberg’s darkly cute The Garden of Death, Albert Edelfelt’s heartbreakingly beautiful Conveying a Child’s Coffin, Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s classic portrayal of grief, Lemminkäinen’s mother, and – a personal favourite here at the Books from Finland office – Magnus von Wright’s evocative Annankatu Street on a Cold Winter’s Morning.

The Ateneum has few foreign works of art; in the Google Art collection now there are one Rodin, a Modigliani, a van Gogh and two Gauguins.

Eveliina Talvitie: Keitäs tyttö kahvia. Naisia politiikan portailla [Put the kettle on, girl. Women on the ladder of politics]

23 May 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

talvitieKeitäs tyttö kahvia. Naisia politiikan portailla
[Put the kettle on, girl. Women on the ladder of politics]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2013. 332 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-0-39485-4
€29, hardback

In 1906 Finnish women were the first in Europe to obtain the right to vote, and Finland, like the other Nordic countries, is viewed as a model of equality. Journalist and author Eveliina Talvitie examines the role of women in politics. She has interviewed seventeen Finnish female politicians, more than half of whom have served as cabinet ministers. Among them are former President Tarja Halonen and Elisabeth Rehn, who has long worked on international assignments – between her and the youngest politician in the book there is a 52-year age gap. The interviewees describe the different aspects of the progress of their careers, their successes and setbacks. At the end of each chapter the author considers the challenges faced by female politicians from a particular point of view, backing up her conclusions with supplementary interviews. Not all of the politicians in the book have been handicapped because of their gender, but the work clearly demonstrates that, even in a relatively egalitarian country, female politicians are still treated differently from men, and their career paths can often be more difficult than those of their male colleagues.
Translated by David McDuff

Panu Rajala: Hirmuinen humoristi. Veikko Huovisen satiirit ja savotat [The awesome humorist. The satires and logging sites of Veikko Huovinen]

16 May 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

rajala.huovinenHirmuinen humoristi. Veikko Huovisen satiirit ja savotat
[The awesome humorist. The satires and logging sites of Veikko Huovinen]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2012. 310 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-38952-2
€38, hardback

Author Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009) became widely popular with the publication of his novel Havukka-ahon ajattelija (‘The backwoods philosopher’, 1952). Huovinen, who trained as a forest ranger, spent his life mainly in north-eastern Finland and did not like publicity; the author and theatre scholar Panu Rajala deals with Huovinen’s biography relatively briefly, focusing on a thematic analysis of Huovinen’s extensive and thematically rich output of novels and short stories. He places the the books in the context of Finnish literature, and also examines their film and television adaptations. Huovinen was an intellectually conservative, a highly original humorist; among his books are satirical biographies of Hitler and Stalin. His prose fiction, set in the natural wilds of the North, has not always won the appreciation of pro-modernist critics. Huovinen’s lively and original language is not easy to translate – for example, his only work published in English is a beautiful documentary novel Puukansan tarina (‘Tale of the forest folk’), which received a Finlandia Prize nomination in 1984.
Translated by David McDuff

Consume culture, live longer!

16 May 2013 | This 'n' that

hyyppaA culture freak (and you don’t have to be a vulture) will live longer than a couch potato.

This sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Watching TV is a passive pursuit, attending choir rehearsals or line dancing class isn’t – and human beings are designed to be active.

But it is also a scientific fact. Neurologist and writer MD Markku T. Hyyppä has been researching the effects of cultural pursuits on health for decades. In his new book Kulttuuri pidentää ikää (‘Culture prolongs your life’) he sets out to prove the power of culture using scientific evidence from many countries.

Cultural capital is a concept that defines the ‘usefulness of culture’. Hyyppä disagrees with the famous sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who defines cultural capital as a means for the upper classes to increase their personal status and power. According to Hyyppä, cultural capital is immaterial, originates from cultural pursuits and the consumption of culture, and brings benefits to all who take part.

Learning the basics of culture in one’s education is vital: Finland has done well in the international PISA exams, but it’s not just because the children are bright. Learning how to educate is important: unlike in many other countries, the arts play a significant role in teacher training in Finland. And arts subjects are important in education: art has a positive effect on emotions and cognition, on emotional life as well as reason. Study arts subjects, and it will be easier to learn maths!

It’s a fact is that those who are socially active in clubs, associations and cultural pursuits in general, live longer than those who are not. Economic status is not a decisive factor here. The efficacy of cultural pursuits and cultural capital on prolonging an individual’s life appears to be based on networking. i.e. social capital. Social capital increases the chances of staying alive – almost as much as non-smoking and much more than the estimated extra time of exercise or losing weight. An individual’s cultural pursuits allow him at least a couple of years more in old age.

Hyyppä also examines and comments on the cultural policies of Finnish political parties. After the Perussuomalaiset – True Finns – party presented its manifesto in 2011, stating that contemporary art should not receive any public funding, as only art that ‘strengthens the national identity’ should be funded, other political parties began hastily to revise and update their dusty arts programmes. As it has been proved in international and Finnish medical research that culture definitely has a positive impact on developing society as a whole, political parties cannot afford to ignore dealing with the subject.

In conclusion, Hyyppä states that Finland would certainly benefit from the cultural added value that manifests itself in well-being, health and a longer life spans. When people live longer healthy, the national economy gains massively.

It’s not just opera, ballet and favouring the paintings of the Düsseldorf school that bring you cultural capital and prolong your existence; rock concerts or pottery classes are fine, too. But, notes Hyyppä, being active in politics in your free time, going to church and participating in spectator sports don’t seem to have a similar positive effect, so might it be better not to concentrate on those alone?

Markku T. Hyyppä
Kulttuuri pidentää ikää
(‘Culture prolongs your life’)
Helsinki: Duodecim, 2013. 132 p.
ISBN 978-951-656-479-4

Findians, Finglish, Finntowns

16 May 2013 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Workers, miners, loggers, idealists, communists, utopians: early last century numerous Finns left for North America to find their fortune, settling down in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario. Some 800,000 of their descendants now live around the continent, but the old Finntowns have disappeared, and Finglish is fading away – that amusing language cocktail: äpylipai, apple pie.
The 375th anniversary of the arrival of the first Finnish and Swedish settlers, in Delaware, was celebrated on 11 May. Photographer Vesa Oja has met hundreds of American Finns over eight years; the photos and stories are from his new book, Finglish. Finns in North America

Drinking with the workmen: The Työmies Bar. Superior, Wisconsin, USA (2007)

Drinking with the workmen: The Työmies Bar. Superior, Wisconsin, USA (2007)

The Työmies Bar is located in the former printing house of the Finnish leftist newspaper, Työmies (‘The workman’). The owners, however, don’t know what this Finnish word means, or how to pronounce it.

The Työmies Society, which published the newspaper of the same name, Työmies, was founded in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1903 as a socialist organ. It moved to Hancock, Michigan the following year. More…

Forest and fell

8 May 2013 | Reviews

From North to South: young Heikki Soriola dressed in Lapp clothes, on his way to represent Utsjoki in Helsinki, in 1912. Photo from Saamelaiset suomalaiset

From North to South: young Heikki Soriola on his way to represent Utsjoki in Helsinki, in 1912. Photo from Saamelaiset suomalaiset

Veli-Pekka Lehtola
Saamelaiset suomalaiset: Kohtaamisia 1896–1953
[Sámi, Finns: encounters 1896–1953]
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2012. 528 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-331-9
€53, hardback
Leena Valkeapää
Luonnossa: Vuoropuhelua Nils-Aslak Valkeapään tuotannon kanssa
[In nature, a dialogue with the works of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää]
Helsinki: Maahenki, 2011. 288 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-5870-54-1
€40, hardback

The study of the Sámi people, like that of other indigenous peoples, has become considerably more diverse and deeper over recent decades. Where non-Sámi scholars, officials and clergymen once examined the Sámi according to the needs and values of the holders of power, contemporary scholarship starts out from dialogue, from an attempt to understand the interactions between different groups. More…

Favourites in April: what Finland read

8 May 2013 | In the news

safkaaIn April number one on the list of best-selling Finnish fiction titles, compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association, was Seppo Jokinen’s crime novel Vihan sukua (‘Akin to hate’, Crime Time). The winner of the 2012 Finlandia Prize for Fiction, Ulla-Lena Lundberg’s Is (‘Ice’), still holds second place.

Pertti Jarla seems to have secured his place on the best-seller list: his latest serial comics book about the inhabitants of the city of Fingerpori (‘Fingerborg’, Arktinen Banaani), Lääkärileikit (‘Playing doctors’) was number three and the album Fingerpori 6 number four.

Paulo Coelho ruled the translated fiction list with his Manuscript Found In Accra. There are more people who find his books fascinating than there are people who don’t.

At the top of the non-fiction list remained, for the third time now, Kaiken käsikirja (‘Handbook of everything’, Ursa) by astronomer and popular writer Esko Valtaoja; as it doesn’t provide the reader with instructions for cooking, perhaps buyers went on to buy number two, Safkaa: parempaa arkiruokaa (‘Grub: better food for weekdays’, Otava) by Alexander and Hanna Gullichsen. Last year’s big social-media hit hails from this book: avocado pasta (chili, lime, basil, garlic, spaghetti, parmesan).

Safka, incidentally, comes from the Russian word zavtrak, breakfast. (The title of the book could also have been Sapuskaa…, the word also means ‘grub’, from the Russian word zakuska, hors d’oeuvres.)

Marjo Niemi: Ihmissyöjän ystävyys [The cannibal’s friendship]

8 May 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

ihmissyojaIhmissyöjän ystävyys
[The cannibal’s friendship]
Helsinki: Teos, 2012. 402 p.
ISBN 978-951-851-359-2
€27.80, hardback

Marjo Niemi’s third novel may be described with the adjective ‘intemperate’. The book’s narrator is a thirty-something woman who is inclined to ranting. A friend’s suicide drives her to depression, which breaks out in endless criticism of her friends’ lifestyles. Her tolerance is tested not only by her hedonistic friends but also by an entire continent: she wallows in endless diatribes about the history of Europe and its injustices. The bubbling text forms a meta-level, a book within a book. Only writing seems meaningful: ‘I am really not going to write about my life, because life is a ridiculous joke compared to literature.’ The Great Novel that is being built by the narrator gradually opens out into a story about a mental hospital psychiatrist and one of his patients who has suffered a loss of memory. The author sees her work as a ‘poetic allegory of Europe ‘, but it is also a study of friendship, guilt, envy, and the difficulty of doing good. Caricature of an almost grotesque kind is skilfully combined with straight talking in this clever contemporary novel. Niemi (born 1978) is a dramaturge by training.
Translated by David McDuff

Picture this

2 May 2013 | Fiction, Prose

MarjorieAccompanied by one or two sentences of the most gnomic kind, architect Mikko Metsähonkala’s illustrations speak volumes. The picture-stories in his book Toisaalta / (P)å andra sidan / In Other Wor(l)ds blend the real and the surreal using fairy tales, references to historical or fictional characters and episodes from everyday life.
(The Finnish composer Lauri Supponen was inspired by Metsähonkala’s ‘humaphone’ – see below –, and his composition The Dordrecht Humaphone was first performed at the Cheltenham Festival, England, in 2012, to favourable reviews.) More…