Reasons to be cheerful

An introduction to finnfemfel by Mika Hannula

Reasons To Be Cheerful

The Practice of the Everyday of finnfemfel

“When I woke up, the dinosaur was still there.”
The very one-liner story by the Guatemalan writer Augusto Monterroso that for Italo Calvino was the ultimate example, the one that could not be matched in precision and beauty.
(Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, 1988, 51)

The everyday, the everyday, the everyday. Oh my oh my oh my. Experiences, expectations, anticipations and frustrations.

It is what it is – never ever as a readymade what, but how it is actualized and articulated, made and shaped, maintained and measured. It is about the distance and difference between everyday as madness, everyday as sadness or as in the case of the artist’s collective finnfemfel, it is everyday as surprises, mighty mighty fine and beautiful surprises.

It is a trajectory of works done as a collective, very often realized in collaboration with others, and always conducted with a fine eye and ear to the context, both the contemporary and larger field of culture. And, what’s even more important, always with an amazing finesse and elegance addressed and attached to the small big gestures that the everyday, the everyday is accumulated and accentuated with and by.

Thus, what follows will be an exercise is three parts, three interwoven parts that each takes up, confronts a specific work, a particular project by the finnfemfel.

Are you ready – rock steady. Here, here we go: one two, one two three …

Rhythm – Rhyme – Repetition

Karaoke Beuys 1998

This is where it starts, this is where it begins for Albert, Marcus and Oskar. This is the first project realized by the collective that at that time was four men strong (fourth original member Simo Brotherus). The Karaoke Beuys set-up has proven to be somewhat typical for the finnfemfel actions. It was an invitation for the meeting of self-organized art collectives, the first of its kind that took place in 1998 at München, leading up to an exhibition Lothringer 13 Halle.

For this event, the finnfemfel collective produces a piece of contemporary art that deserves this fancy moniker: if it did not yet exist, someone would have to invent it. Why? Well, they connected the dots, made use (or perhaps it is better to be labelled as the act of reappropriation) of the almost universally known one-liner, the famous declaration “Everyone is an artist” (Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler) by Joseph Beuys by linking it with the act of karaoke.

Now, instead of screaming what, we ought to shout wow, because the move is as brilliant as it is inevitable. It brings together the modern motto of a creative human being with the modern technology of a speeded-up social interaction and role-play. In other words, it combines highbrow with the not so highbrow, if not rather low expectations of a level of a brow (read: cultural distinction). Remarkably, it fits into the context of aspiring artists much better and much more effectively than perhaps could have been foreseen. This is the wish of all participants, still struggling to get recognized, and this is the symbol of the act we all want to part of: instead of being the wallflower, the one solitary figure always at the kitchen in every party, you are the very centre of the party … even if for only for the duration of that one song, or as in this case, that one-liner. 

Just picture this, a version of interpretative social imaginary: the queue for the karaoke machine, running so hot its impossible to touch, with the anticipation of the participants that they finally can bring together art philosophy and party politics, work and pleasure, sweat and formidable treasure. To recall the promise of the karaoke: for those couple of extra important minutes, you can be the hero, the hero and the centre of all attention.

And while doing this, this so called picturing of the waiting line of the up and coming artists, full of anxiety and élan, intent and impression, let us turn our focus on the material that is seen, that is watched while repeating the promised words of “everyone is an artist”. This is where and when the plot thickens, and where the beauty of the work, of this piece gathers its final momentum. 

Thankfully, the images in the karaoke video are not framed on the man himself, because hand on heart, that would have been a bit too cruel and creepy. Instead of the German master, we are watching, we are gazing at the real thing. We are following the scenes and scenery of the everyday life at the provincial town in west coast of Finland where the finnfemfel are working from. This is then mental and physical flora and fauna, this is ice skating outside on a lake, this is youth culture at its most provocative point (driving around a square with their tractors), and this is celebration of the tradition of the light festival and choosing of a beauty queen for that fine fine fine occasion. 

In short, this video is both description and definition of the everyday. The day that is shared, and cared for – those moments that are so close to a cliché that it certainly hurts but it also helps. This is the rhyme, the rhyme that connects the weary Thursday to wunderbar Mondays, not to forget teasing Tuesdays – and it leads to the rhythm, the rhythm of the next work.

Rhythm – Rhyme – Repetition

Nordic Walking 2003 – 2014

The case of Nordic Walking project, a performative intervention into the fabrics of the everyday has become the most long-lasting and perhaps also most well travelled work of the collective. Reasons for this are not that difficult to figure out. As with the case of the karaoke act, finnfemfel again address, they take up and do something else, something unexpected with a everyday practice that is currently emerging, perhaps even fashionable. 

This time they leave aside that specific time of still smoke filled bars and cafes and they move to the outside, to the fresh and healthy outdoor activities. This is where – like the work itself states – a Nordic phenomena is materialized in the acts of walking, done so every often (who whispered: so Nordic, oh so Nordic) as a collective form and format. 

With the on-going work Nordic Walking we are able to put the finger to the core of the activity of finnfemfel. This is to make use of another fine one-liner, this time not a homage to this or that hero of the art world, or any other world, for that matter, but to another well used and often also, of course, abused statement that goes like this: the aim is to laugh with one another, not at the other. To repeat: it is to bring together, not to separate, and to do this with acts and actions that create a sweet smile to our lips, our faces, our collections of collective being-in-the-world.

At the same occasion, with the benefit of the hindsight, Nordic Walking allows us to revisit a time and a day when this new form of communal activity was invented and spread around, well, the world (as we know it – which is, well, not much … but it did take them to Umeå, Budapest and Belgrade, just to name a few of the sites). To highlight the very happening of this particular invention might sound strange and unnecessary, but it is not so because this invention of a sort of a sport does require a sort of a respect.

Why? Because it brings people together to do what they could perhaps do anyhow (and never get around to it), but it makes them to do the everyday (the act of walking) with a peculiar way and purpose. What, whaaaaat? They walk in groups and they walk with sticks. Not any brutal or ridiculous wooden sticks but sticks that are made for this outdoor activity. For sure, and for real, they remind us of the stick that is used in downhill skiing or in the other type of skiing (you know, the ones where you are forced, as a kid, to wear long underwear …) but they are not those. These sticks are specially designed and developed to bring out the maximum result from the almost minimum effort. 

You walk, and you move your hands up and frontally, and while doing what you normally would do without paying that much of an attention to your moving, now you move with a solid gold purpose and dedication. 

Nordic Walking as a leisure activity hit the streets with volume and wonders in the early 2000’s. This is where and when especially in the city spaces of Finland all of a sudden you could see people, sometimes alone, but mostly in small groups, to exercise along the rhythm of the stick walking. It was definitely one step beyond. An act of civil courage because if you were not the ones doing the doing, you were the ones laughing at, or sorry, oh sorry, laughing with the ones doing it.

The reason was the unintended consequence of the collective act of walking with sticks in both hands in city space: it looked, it even felt so brilliantly silly. It was ultimately the worlds most uncoolest cool thing to do.

Funny and funky enough, this phenomena that is still with and around us, but somewhat less present and popular, the artists of the finnfemfel took up with dedication the position of the ambassadors of the activity. Not with dollar signs in their focused eyes, but with the motto of the care and the share of the common people. They wanted to spread the news and the healthy acts of Nordic Walking. 

And for this, my dear spectators of the everyday misses and measures, they do deserve a medal. Not just any kind of a medal won for doing whatever that is deemed to be meaningful enough for a medal, but an intergalactic medal for mental and physical health. Just think about it, will you. Is there another similar case that so effectively and at the same time so effortlessly combines laughter with and the actual act of release of tension, and the act of inviting and luring folks that normally would not do any physical activity to come and walk together – you know, people who look like your long lost aunt or uncle, those billions and billions of retired folks that reclaim and gain another spring to their steps?

If the answer is yes, then please be a good human being and contact the artists of the finnfemfel, personally or collectively, and let them know about this new invention. They might, or in fact, they would be glad to do something very special with it.

Rhythm – Rhyme – Repetition

Wait, we’ll meet again 2012

in collaboration with Simo Brotherus, Ingold Airlines and Robert Back. 

We have had, we have dealt with, so far, so good, with rhymes and rhythms of the acts by finnfemfel. What is left, not as grandee finale, but as the missing link into the trio of potential acts, is the third one that is called repetition. 

Here, as ever, we have to be very careful not to mix the metaphors or the possible context. We stay, we remain in the light, in the touch, in the feel of the everyday – the common, the ordinary, the not specific, the boring etc. We focus on acts of endless repetition. 

This time we are brought to, you know, just for a reminder, from bars and café’s, still dangerously cloudy with unhealthy smoke, and from outdoors, hot cheeks and weird smiles, so very healthy, into the domain of both transport and transition – if not, just for the sake of harmony, to add the third element, transformation. It brings us to the safety and security controls at the sites of travel; that is, airports. Except, with finnfemfel, the acts that are acted are a repetition of the acts at the airport controls, but the site is not an airport, thankfully, and playfully, it is an art exhibition. 

But hold on, what is going on – and where is my beloved calender? Because if and when we underline that this act of imitation of life took place in the year of 2012, how does this relate then years later, in the year of 2022? All of sudden we aware how the collective, these artist’s and their friends, they were no longer busy as bees just re-activating something that was in and about in the air, in the water we drink, the thoughts we think, this time, god dam kilogram, they were the enlightened visionaries, they were so way ahead of their time.

Just think about it, will you? Cruel as it, we do comprehend how the current times are so strange, how the times of the last months have felt like decades, and how this limbo has done a spectacular dent into our expectations and anticipations. In short, during the times of the covid pandemic, what we had taken for granted, was no longer accessible, available. There was no longer waiting for the lines of the security control, we were no longer filled with the anxiety of perhaps missing the plane, no longer facing the bloody hassle of taking out and putting back in all the gadgets that you think you absolutely need but that you obviously do not. But you do remember, it is printed in your body memory, the times and the sites – feeling lost and lonely, somewhat unsecure and unsure at the hands of the security, being in-between something and something not yet, don’t you. 

Am I making myself clear here, huh? This is the creative and generous act that we all have so much missed, even if there is, in fact, nothing to be missed. But well, not to put too fine point to it, security controls at the airport has to be one of the symbols of the normal life that is somewhat long gone (at leas, well, for while) even if it is still easily comprehended, and feared. 

Thus, we must recognise and cherish how finnfemfel was so much ahead of their time. There and then, at the exhibition opening in 2012, the deadpan act of repeating the acts of control in a different site and situation was something fine and interesting. Jumping ahead a decade, it would have certainly be a world wide hit, an amazing success that would have made them at least billionaires, you know, so much money they would have never the time to count it. For sure, they would have not travelled that much but clever geezers as they are, they would have made a fantastic online event that could have been repeated with schupatz in Moscow and Manila, Stockholm and Singapore – for all those dedicated sufferers of repetitive acts of phantom schmerz.

You know it, and I know it, and we should also have the courage of admitting it. Home is not where the hat is, it is where the act is – the art of finnfemfel in and through its rhyme, rhythm and repetition.

Believe it or not, the above articulated acts of finnfemfel are organically and elegantly linked to the writings of the Italian grand master of the comic universe Italo Calvino. The straightest reference is the collection of talks that he was able to write but not perform due to sudden illness and passing away that were then luckily published as Six Memos for the New Millennium, resulting in the intense and condensed essays that shape the strategy for survival, the practice of paying attention to the everyday acts and events that so often just pass by, are ignored or just set aside. 

It is in the very core of Calvino’s superb irony, warm-felt and shared irony of laughing with that his last written piece was looking forward while looking backwards. In an important and intelligent way, Calvino connects the dots between past as now, present as now and future as now. We become aware how we are part, always part of the mess, the everyday mess that is both fun and futile, helping and hurting. The point being: whatever and where ever, it is now and never about what, but always about how.

In the Six Memos, out of which he managed to finish five, the titles tell it all – or almost, the art of the almost. The titles are worth repeating: Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and Multiplicity. So far, so self-evident, right? But knowing Calvino, of course, hah, of course not. Because what followed was then deep thoughts and wonderfully creative connotations with the seemingly opposite themes: Heaviness, Slowness, Porousness, Hiddenness and Oneness. Not as contradictions, but as companions, as participants in the give and take, share and shake, push and pull.

It is what is: celebration of the actualization and articulation of the chances and challenges of seeing more than meets the eye, the ability to connect the dots with the expected and the surprising, the known and the unfamiliar aspects of the everyday, the everyday.

And well, there is fancy term for it too. It is called the science of the singular, instead of the science of the universal. And it is, meine Damen und Herren, it certainly is, something that I will always turn to, and cherish with. It is and always will be a reason to be cheerful.

Mika Hannula

Notes – in no order of obvious appearance or importance but always with decisive dedication

1) The title of the essay refers proudly to a song by the same name by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. A song that has everything in it, both visible and semi-hidden pleasures and daily pain. It has that yet another one-liner worth saving, stating: “All I want for my birthday is another birthday …”

2) Augusto Monterroso (1921-2003) is, in fact, not an imaginary figure by Calvino, but a real person, a real writer, who, indeed, comes from a country called Honduras but adapted as his home a country called Guatemala. The reference is to a text that was originally published in 1959, in Barcelona by Anagrama, in a book titled Obras completes y otros cuentos – a collection of Augusto’s texts that are all as brilliant as the one quoted here, if not quite as short.

3) As a writer, it’s perhaps important to notify that I am not an objective and innocent by-standee. I was a double agent – both connected to the collective’s acts and actions as a curator (Nordic Walking, Belgrade and Helsinki) and as a participant in a collaborative effort of another not here mentioned piece called Zuruckbleiben (Berlin). However, I might add, this double act and agency does not diminish one centimetre (or cent, for that matter) the solid scientific fundamental knowledge that this text promotes and delivers.

4) Please please please mister Postman … or PostWoman … all alone in the pouring rain, or in the wuthering sunshine, do not forget me not.

5) In fact, I almost forgot to pay homage to the source of the triple treat, the rhythm, rhyme and repetition section. This refers to the works by the one and only Dr. Seuss, known for the books like The Cat in the Hat, and well, serves a certain logic, for sure, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, originally published in the 50’s and 60’s, in and at which he developed a way to introduce reading and playful acts of vocabulary gymnastic for kids and anyone with an open mind. Those simple but so effective stories, and those amazingly well drawn fantasmatic surreal figures were based on the idea that whatever we do, especially when trying to learn something, it is conducted and constructed within the interwoven acts of, well, by this time, you must have guessed or shame, shame on you, on the acts of rhythm, rhyme and repetition.