We are on a trip to Varanger Fjord in northern Norway, driving the meandering road along the fjord, looking for a particular kind of beach. Something colourful stands out, ‘let”s stop.’ We walk to the beach, leaning to one side due to the wind. Ocean currents have thrown giant pieces of debris ashore. Thick plastic ropes, stainless steel kitchen counters, roller skates, plastic bottles and dried algae are all tangled together from who knows where, the whole beach is full. Amazed at the sight – ‘look at that!’ We collect a carful of Arctic debris, as Notes on the State of the World, and drive south until we meet the sea again. We hadn’t looked that close before. We continued to take “Notes” at home, with familiar children and young people, and started photographing.
Kati Rapia and Ilona Valkonen, in collaboration with the children and young people featured in the photographs, take Notes on the State of the World as a series of images on the manifestation of global consumer culture, as well as its witnesses. In the black-and-white portraits, young people appear in headdresses and accessories made from flotsam collected off the seashore–namely rubbish and plants. The trash used, alongside the portraits, glows in life-size colour images. They are documents, samples, and literal notes on the combinations of living nature and waste that the generation in the portraits has inherited from their predecessors.
The young people have collected the materials for their headpieces themselves and participated in their performative construction–simultaneously tidying up the shores of the Baltic Sea–in the spirit of Vieno Motors (*). The resulting “junk crowns” embody the power humans exercise over their environment and the allowance taken by previous generations to destroy it—although our existence is utterly dependent on other organisms in the world. The awkward, but at the same time, lofty support necessary to hold the plant and garbage artefacts brings to the images an aura of long exposure time recognisable from early portraits, reminiscent of historical photographic material. As a result, we end up looking at the pictures of rubbish and the children in the present time as some kind of fictional ethnologist from a distant future.
The Baltic Sea, perhaps the most polluted sea in the world, is connected to the Arctic Ocean, and through it to all the other seas and shores worldwide. The rubbish of the world’s seas is here, especially here, in our particularly shallow waters. Kati Rapia and Ilona Valkonen will continue to make Notes with local youth on all Baltic Sea shores and will present them in exhibitions in coastal towns along the Finnish peninsula.
(*) Vieno Motors could be described as an alternating improv band, in which, instead of music, the styles of various visual artists are given the limelight. Vieno Motors usually organises anarcho-floristic performances in which artists combine flowers, plants, and other found materials in front of an audience. In performances and installations, various artists earnestly connect plants with people and objects, bringing forth observations of both the present and new futuristic proposals. In addition to the art field, Vieno Motors also works with street fashion and urban farming processes.
Kati Rapia is a visual artist known for her comics, collages, and photographs, which she has presented in exhibitions, books and events. Rapia was awarded the State Prize for Comic Art in 2018, following the publication of the book Pyrstötähti ja maailmanlopun meininki. In Vieno Motors, she is a long-standing, trusted performer and has also documented the events from the beginning, flexibly switching from role to role. www.katirapia.com
Ilona Valkonen is a visual artist who, in addition to painting, has created and produced Vieno Motors performances since 2014. She has acted not only as the primary engine of Vieno Motors but also is one of the performing artists. As a method of extension in the pandemic era, Valkonen remotely directed Vieno Motors: Delayed Harvest to Kristiansand, in Norway with local artists, and participated in a three-day performance from her living-room with a laptop as her cyborg body. www.ilonavalkonen.com
Kati Rapia’s work has been supported by Arts Promotion Center Finland. Ilona Valkonen’s work has been supported by Svenska Kulturfonden.
Vieno Motors / Rapia&Valkonen
Notes on The State of The World
Open: Tue-Fri 12-17, Sat-Sun 12-16
photo: Vieno Motors/Rapia&Valkonen, Helka wearing Note 2, 2021
installation photos: Milla Talassalo