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ITE A Kalevala Mindscape is an exhibition presenting interpretations of Finland's Kalevala epic of folk poetry by contemporary folk artists. These artists draw upon vernacular and everyday resources of culture for their themes, style, and forms of expression. Akseli Gallen-Kallela was also interested in folk culture and the Kalevala epic was a life-long passion for him. ITE A Kalevala Mindscape focuses on the ways in which themes from the Kalevala find expression in contemporary folk art. The exhibition is curated by Tuula Karjalainen PhD, and it has been produced in association with the Finnish Union of Rural Education and Culture and the Kalevala Society. It is also one of the events marking the 175th anniversary year of the Kalevala.
Birch-bark shoes and shamanism
The exhibits include world's largest, and smallest, birch-bark shoes, embroidered representations of Aino, a female character of the Kalevala, a bear made of tractor tyres, and images of a Kalevala shaman journeying to the netherworld. The studio room at Tarvaspää is dominated by an installation by Timo Peltonen presenting a Stone Age hunter. Markku Susimäki's language of form resembles ancient rock paintings thus referring to prehistoric imagery, which contemporary research often associates with shamanistic rites. His ornamental patterns throbbing with primitive movement draw the viewer's gaze along a ship's sail to the heights of the round exhibition room. Johannes Setälä, who lives as a shaman, reads the Kalevala as depictions of metamorphoses. His paintings and drawings lead viewers to mindscapes and themes from the epic. Erkki Pirtola, also known as the "Lönnrot of ITE art" (after Elias Lönnrot who originally collected the poems of the Kalevala in the 1830s), has travelled around Finland to produce a video piece presenting ITE artworks that are large entities which otherwise could not have been featured in the present exhibition. These works include Veikko Rönkkönen's 6,000-square-metre Statue Park in Parikkala and Tapio Autio's setting for his works at Lappajärvi, which include sculptures in concrete and a "church" made of stones bearing rock paintings, where Christianity and the ancient gods of the Finns merge.
In Finland, contemporary folk art is also known as ITE art, an abbreviation of the Finnish Itse Tehty Elämä (Do-It-Yourself Life), pointing to the work of self-taught artists as opposed to professionally trained ones. Even a few decades ago, it was still common for people in the countryside to make most of their tools and implements by hand and to rely on their own problem-solving skills when repairing machinery and buildings. This skilfulness and creativity in relation to the everyday environment are characteristics of ITE art. The themes of this art stem from the artists' own experiences, and its materials can be anything that is offered by the immediate setting. Today's contemporary folk artists, however, do not make utility objects but works of art, for display value has replaced considerations of utility in this genre. The production of works forms a description of an individual's worldview, personal values, and conception of art.
A Kalevala Mindscape
The Kalevala epic not only described but also helped construct Finnishness and national identity, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th century. The worldviews and values of the contemporary folk artists of the exhibition have a strong presence in their output. ITE art and the Kalevala also have in common their manner of emergence, both having been collected from among the common people as jewels of vernacular creativity selected by the cultural elite. The folk culture in the background of ITE art steers conceptions and ways of understanding the surrounding world. Finnish nature, familiar animals of the forest and the hero Väinämöinen of the Kalevala are also themes of folk art. The Kalevala, however, has not been a particularly common starting point in this respect. The connection of ITE art with the Kalevala emerges, in fact, more through its mood than in other ways. The Kalevala can be understood as a mindscape providing the setting and inspiration of the works.
The artists of the exhibition: Kalle Ahola, Martti Hömppi, Voitto Isosaari, Ullakaisa Kaarlela, Alpo Koivumäki, Hanna Korkeakoski, Urpo Koskela, Veikko Kuhno, Eero Leinonen, Reijo Lindfors, Väinö Oja, Asser Pajarinen, Erkki Pekkarinen, Timo Peltonen, Erkki Pirtola, Eero Räisänen, Veikko Räsänen, Mauri Rönni, Johannes Setälä, Pentti Sipola, Markku Susimäki, Jussi Tukiainen and Teuvo Tuukki.
The exhibition catalogue is edited by Minna Haveri who defended her doctoral dissertation on contemporary folk art in the spring of 2010 and Executive Director Ulla Piela, of the Kalevala Society.
Gallen-Kallela Museum homepage