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Ars Natura: Lea Turto

  • Posted by karl burkart on December 21, 2009 in Art
  • The Finns are a thoroughly modern people. They are world-famous for their uber-modern design aesthetic and are wont to include any historical references of any sort in their architecture or design. And while the country revels in its modern history, it is next to impossible to find any information on the ancient roots of the Finnish people. In contrast to Norway and Sweden, Finland is not particularly proud of its Viking roots, and references to the pagan pre-Christian world are almost nonexistent in Finnish history textbooks.

    But there is no doubt that the people of Finland have a profound reverence for nature and an almost mystical relationship to trees. I learned this on an outing in the Finnish forest last week from our guide Pekka, a man who appeared to be half-elf and commanded an encyclopedic knowledge of his forest terrain.

    Upon our return I discovered a very interesting Finnish artist named Lea Turto who works in felt, a craft refined to its highest form in Finland. But her applications of the traditional craft is quite unusual.

    She applies bright red felt to tree stumps, wrapping them into bizarre forms that viewed from different angles take on numerous animistic shapes – frogs, lizards, monsters, and people. They also, quite obviously, make reference to the carnal act of cutting trees.

    The Finn’s have some cognitive dissonance issues around logging. Though they love trees, much of the nation’s wealth stems from the paper and timber industries. In fact Nokia was originally a pulp and paper company… telephony was a “side business” created to make use of the company’s cash surplus.

    But Turto’s felted tree trunks are not trying to make any sort of social comment. They are her attempt to connect to the ancestry of her people and their mystical connection with nature.

    Why red? Well one of the reason the Finns are so bashful about their pagan roots is that the practice of blood sacrifice was quite common well into the 19th century. The artist explains the history of the outdoor temples where these sacrifices took place:

    "Hiisi is a Finnish word, originally meaning a sacred grove. Hiisi was thought of as a temple. People gathered there to celebrate with food and to sacrifice to the forest gods. Hiisi was also a gateway to the past and a connection with the dead. It was an intermediate space between two worlds, and the Tree of Life was often situated in this grove. When Christianity arrived, the secret groves were destroyed, and the word Hiisi was changed to mean… hell."

    Turto’s series of “forest spirits” serves as an exploration and maybe a reconciliation with the Finns’ primal, unspoken connection to nature and a lost history waiting patiently to be rediscovered.

    by Karl Burkart


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