OULA SALOKANNEL & ANNU WILENIUS

 

HELSINKI PAVILION


 

 

 

 

”The holy birch tree is an essential mythical part of the Finnish mindscape. Unlike many symbols the birch is also essentailly a practical part of everyday life in Finland: as furniture, as an axe-handle, as paper, as a drink, as utensils, as shoes, as rings, as wall-paper, as flooring, as sugar, as firewood, and as an important part of the wood industry as plywood, cellulose and sawn timber. The birch still speaks to us. It is still used by industry, designers and craftsmen. Its psychological importance to the Finns is demonstrated by the fact that in 1988 it become our national tree.”
- Forestry Association Metsäpohjanmaa

To come to Ulaanbaatar we travelled by train from Pori to Helsinki to Moscow to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. All through our 7000 kilometer way we noticed the impact the birch has as a commercial decoration element. It was there when we went buying new trekking shoes at a sports retailer in Helsinki, and it was there as we were window-shopping at Moscow’s lavish GUM Department store. Arriving in Mongolia, it greeted us at the latte bars, and it was decorating the halls of the Inner Mongolian National Museum in Hohhot, when we went holidaying there. Noticing this made us reflect on the birch in a new light. For us it had always been the ultimately Finnish thing, but on reflection, of course it is also the ultimately Russian thing. Reflecting still a bit further into hazy memories we could remember having seen old Mongolian films on TV with just as romantic meetings of lovers in the midst of Mongolian birch woods as ever in the best of Finnish film productions.

 

 

 

 

 

What we conjured up for the Bare house -exhibition at the Zanabazar Museum in Ulaanbaatar was a “pavilion” that brought together a selection of intense, even psychedelic, film scenes of love and war from Finland through Russia to Mongolia. Besides the meeting and mingling of lovers and bullets the work brought together also an assembly of architectonic elements, oscillating in their relation to birch. The plywood construction from China was crowned with a birch wood Mongolian yurt window-frame (i.e. a crown). The yard around was inspired by a folding screen, deriving its style from Japonistic Artek-design from Finland, and vernacular architecture and signage culture of contemporary Ulaanbaatar.

In the Pavilion the versatile birch tree, as
a national symbol and representation, is already internationally mixed – fundamentally shared. The work – which refers to display contexts of the World Fairs and the Venice Biennial – brings the ’pictures of the times’ by differing national cultures to juxtaposition. Both the filmic and architectonic assemblies merge, generating new interpretations of ideas and ideals – or rather of their varying representations that cultural imageries are made of. In a way the Pavilion is an attempt to suggest the notion of time as a body of interlinking imageries. As these imageries are set to find their parallels Finland and Mongolia interlace as if they existed in
a ’simultaneous time’ in the ’northern latitudes’ that are governed by this white tree.

 

 

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