with 'i then realised ...' (neon), 2011
I am writing this with only 10 more days left on an island in Helsinki, Finland.
On October 30th 2010 I arrived by ferry to an island called Suomenlinna, whose name I still have trouble pronouncing even though I have been living on the island for the past 80 days.
Suomenlinna is an old sea fortress off the coast of Helsinki. In 1991 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of Finland’s most popular tourist attractions with about 700,000 tourists visiting every year. In summer the island can get 10,000 visitors per day. Intense! I am here in winter and there have been fewer tourists, though we did get quite a few Russians coming to the island recently during their New Year holidays.
There are about 900 people that live permanently on the island and they are mainly artists and artisans. The place is an artistic utopia of sorts. Apparently everyone in Helsinki wants to live on the island and when a residence becomes available there is an application process where a committee decides who gets to live on the island. I asked people who live on Suomenlinna what they like about the island and they said it was the ‘atmosphere’. When probed a little further what this ‘atmosphere’ was they said it has a ‘village- like’ quality to it and yet it is only a short ferry ride (15 minutes) to the centre of Helsinki.
When I first arrived on the island one of the other artists in residence told me that there is a tunnel that connects the mainland and the island. And that one night some guy who had missed the last ferry back to the island found the entrance to the tunnel and rode his bicycle through the tunnel to the island.
Every winter when it is cold the sea between the mainland and the island freezes. And once upon a time people walked and drove their cars from Helsinki to the island on this frozen sea.
The work for Dis-covery was conceived and made during my 3-month island residency between November 2010 and the end of January 2011.
Sanja Pahoki’s project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.