Harakka Helsinki

On the Artists’ Island

The exhibition Artists’ Island on Harakka Island (10.8.-26.9.2021) is for us an unusually large (31 artists) and professionally prepared (curator Veikko Halmetoja) summer exhibition that spreads out in various locations on the island, and this time also in the main building. More information about the exhibition can be found in the press release, available in English, further down on the main page in Finnish, here.

Poster for the exhibition, image by Osmo Kivimäki

My two contributions are both placed in the main building, and both are made on the island during the summer 2020. The video Dear Spruce – Kuusi Hyvä (41 min.) consists of seven letters to the only spruce on the island, and is shown as a compilation on a small TV-monitor in the library, with the letters read as voice-over narrations, in Finnish. I planned to use headphones to make listening a more concentrated experience, but did not manage to make the connection work. Because of the pandemic the use of headphones was not wise, so I abandoned the idea. Now my voice, not too loud, though, ills the whole library. The english translations of the letters are available in a folder and the video letters are available with English subtitles online, here.

Dear Spruce – Kuusi Hyvä 1-7 (2020) in Harakka Library
Dear Spruce – Kuusi Hyvä 1-7 (2020) in Harakka Library

The other work on display is July with Pine (16 min), which is shown as part of a screening compilation made by Kari Yli-Annala in the auditorium. Originally I imagined this work as a nonstop loop somewhere and the letters, as part of the screening compilation. The letters together are too long, however, and even this video is almost too long for a compilation, despite being the brief version of the work. The full version is 50 min 46 sec, although I doubt that I will ever show that version publicly, the brief version with 30 second clips feels long enough. The sea view opening from the darkened auditorium, as it were, works rather well, though. Some kind of documentation of the process, including notes (in Finnish) written after each recorded session, is available online, here.

July with a Pine (2020) in Harakka auditorium
July with a Pine (2020) in Harakka auditorium

The exhibition spreads into the ammunition cellars and the old telegraph and contains many kinds of work – already the screening compilation is rather multifaceted – and the walls of the main building are covered with paintings, installations and all kinds of images. My contributions are actually rather conventional in this context.The surfaces are cleaned of useless rubbish to let the works shine and the house feels like a magic fantasy world – I almost wish it would always be like this…

Harakka Trees

The Occupied Branch

Sitting on the lowest branch of the birch on the hill on Harakka Island is not as easy as I expected. In May I spent two weeks gallery sitting for my exhibition The Tree Calendar in the Telegraph Gallery and waited until the very last day to go and record an image of the branch – without me sitting on it though. Why? Because the site was occupied by a goose couple who was nesting next to it. With a common eider that would have been no problem, they sit calmly even when you come fairly near them. But the goose guys are really aggressive, protecting the hen sitting on the eggs, or at least pretending to do so, by attacking everybody who tries to come near. I waited and hoped that the chicks would hatch out and start moving, but no. Today, on the last day of the exhibition, and the next to last day of the month, I decided I would have to accept the situation and record an image of the branch and the geese:

The Lowest branch in May…
…with the current occupants.

Even that simple endeavour produced quite a lot of drama, because there was an egg in the seagull’s nest next to the small oak where I was to place the camera tripod. I had an umbrella to cover my head and after a while the seagulls calmed down a little bit. And thus there was no actual battle, only threats, nor any casualties, luckily.

The seagull’s next with one egg…

This time of year the birds have taken over the island, and the siege will continue until midsummer, approximately. The geese are worst before the chicks hatch; when they can move the whole family is often slowly giving way to humans if you give them the time to do so. The seagulls, on the other hand are more relaxed when they sit in the nest, and trust that people won’t step on them. When the chicks are out, they are almost impossible to notice on the ground and the parents protect them with ear-piercing shrieks as soon as you come anywhere near. And these are the nests near the houses and the path to the pier. On the rocks there are other birds, but those I do not need to disturb now. – The series of monthly images can be viewed on the RC, here.

Harakka Trees

April on the lowest branch

Year of the Ox – On the Lowest Branch (April)

On the last day of April, almost May Eve, actually, I finally made it to Harakka Island – after nearly a full month in Hailuoto, another island, a very big island in the north. All the material that I made there is gathered on one page, here. I left the residency one day earlier in order to be able to record the calendar image within the correct time frame, and to avoid arriving in the middle of the party – although there might not be so much of a party in the city this year – the parties are all in peoples’ homes. There was one couple planning to celebrate with a fire on the shore on Harakka, and they politely invited me to join, and I politely declined and returned to the mainland as soon as I had recorded my small performance.

The island had assumed its spring appearance; it is completely overtaken by birds. I noticed with horror that there was a nesting seagull sitting on her eggs right where I would place my camera tripod, and expected some high drama. When I approached slowly the couple did not make any noise, however, but slowly walked away, as if directing my attention elsewhere. And due to the fact that I stayed a bit further away, they waited patiently, only emitting slightly worried sounds occasionally, while I was sitting on the birch branch, posing for the camera.

The framing of the image was not exactly the same anyway, because I decided to switch to a new tripod. I bougt myself a new one ages ago, but kept using my old one because it was much smaller and lighter, easier to carry around. One leg was damaged in Hailuoto, and the temporary repair that saved the day there, would not provide a permanent solution, so better to switch now, I thought. And my angels were helping me again, with the help of the wind, adjusting the framing by dropping the camera a little lower right in the beginning – thank you for that.

the offspring in the nest and the parents …
Harakka Trees

On the lowest branch again

Year of the Ox – On the Lowest Branch (March)

After several weeks of thaw season, with the ice melting and only a narrow bridge left to walk across to the island on – which I did not have the courage to try, unlike some of my braver colleagues – the sea was now open. There is still plenty of ice on this side of the jetty, which will make for large ice floes blocking the passage at some point, but for now there was no problem. A group of us got a ride across with the caretaker. The idea is to get at least some of the rowing boats to sea today, despite the rainy weather. My main interest to get to the island, however, was to be able to make my image with the birch within the month of March, as planned.

While waiting for the ice to melt I have considered various alternatives to a monthly calendar, like “The Four Seasons”, or better still, “The Seven Seasons”, or something similar. That might become a relevant option, if I have trouble getting to the island for other reasons, such as my coming visit to Hailuoto Island in the north in April, or my stay at the Eckerö Post House in July. That remains to be seen. For now I am done with March.

It was nice meeting the birch after six weeks; I began this calendar on fifteenth of February, in bright sunlight and lots of snow. Today there is a soft drizzle, wind from the south and most of the snow is gone, at least around the birch. A manmade birds’ nest is lying on the ground next to the tree; it was probably covered by snow last month. And finding exactly the same position for the camera tripod was not so easy, because I had no other mark than the branch of the small oak tree, but I guess I managed reasonably well.

My main occupation during this month has been visiting the sea-buckthorn on the mainland, on the shore further towards the west, and only three visits remain – the month is ending. Returning to Harakka Island after a break, whether due to bad weather or travels elsewhere or some other reason, always reminds me of how excellent a space it is for working and getting things done, at least compared to working at home as I have done during these pandemic times.

I do miss Örö Island, too, although spending a week there, as I did in the beginning of January and in the end of February, is something else compared to working here in a house full of colleagues and with more than twenty years of memories and materials surrounding me. Instead of returning to Örö in March – I planned a series of monthly visits but did not receive the funding I hoped for, so that plan might have to be adjusted – I am going to spend a month on another island, on Hailuoto in the north. More of that at the end of the week…