2017, single channel HD video, sound, 15 minutes
Manifestations allows an intimate view into the Arctic landscape, where the fates of humans and the reindeer are deeply entangled. Everyday messages and observations convey glimpses of engaged modes of knowledge in a changing life world.
Taru Elfving: To start with, what do manifestations refer to here?
Oula A. Valkeapää: Manifestations refer to forms of life. Manifestation is a perception of life and as such a being in itself. Manifestations are born out of observations, in those points of friction, where a human is part of the landscape yet also apart from it. As the narrator in the work, I also see myself as a manifestation of my environment.
Leena Valkeapää: The work invites viewers to visit Oula’s world with him and to follow what this environment manifests to him. At the heart of it there’s life with the reindeer. The reindeer survive in demanding conditions and allow humans to live in this same landscape. This world becomes apparent in the work through everyday lived encounters. The lives of humans and animals appear entangled yet distinct. Similarly, the landscape affects the human and vice versa. The reindeer convey particular kinds of perceptions. There is a lot of situation-specific knowledge in the work. Take, for example, the waiting for the sun. During the summer, when it gets hot in the sun, the reindeer form a compact and tame herd. It is possible to approach the animals and lasso the calves. Anticipation for the sun means living in and recognising the right moment.
TE: The interwoven co-existence of human and the reindeer implies also communication beyond the sphere of human language and signification. Meanwhile the work emphasises poetics without words. What is the role of the human as a mediator here? Or the significance of the medium, the mundane sms text and picture messages that characteristically capture and condense a moment?
LV: Oula is a mediator here, relaying his experience and the manifestations as observations detached from the whole. Intensity of temporality gives the work its particular tone and poetics. When the sun disappears behind the clouds, the moment is gone. The work is based on our dialogue, as I have received these messages from Oula. Messaging requires a desire to stay in touch, proximity as well as distance. Usually I receive these messages when I am at home and he is out in the hills.
TE: Could you expand on this dialogical artistic and research methodology?
LV: My artistic work became research-led when I came to live within the reindeer herding Sami life world. First of all, I wondered how Oula perceived the landscape as cramped, while I only saw boundless open space. I discovered novel phenomena in the everyday, such as how the turning of the wind can severely impact the plans. At times the wind supports the reindeer, at other times it makes their survival challenging. Trying to understand the cultural relationship with the reindeer, the poems by Sami artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää guided me. I began to also pose questions to Oula and sometimes I got responses as text messages after a long while. I noticed the messages contain same foundational elements of life that are found in his uncle’s poems, emerging directly from his observations. These answers formed the base of my doctoral thesis, and some are also included in this work.
TE: The work consists of archive material—personal text messages—and documentation of an environment and a way of life. Yet it differs significantly from documentary as well as anthropological narration. How would you describe this approach in your artistic practice to its environment and subject matter?
LV: The messages arise from a mode of life that is deeply engaged with nature. This engaged life gives also the possibility to be captured and amazed by the environment. That is what sustains the creative process—likewise the constant testing, reflecting the artistic thinking back to the practice and the life world. The work does not therefore follow an anthropological approach, where someone else positions the camera, poses questions and explains the events. Here, Oula has decided on the content of the messages and the images. Viewers do not, however, see him but rather encounter his views and thoughts. They get to stand alongside and share some of his particular human experience.
TE: How do you see the future from this specific Northern perspective?
LV & OV: The work is an image of our time in the ceaseless flow of change. Technology is making ever more tangible the destructiveness of our mode of life. We are aware of the complicated global interrelations of environmental concerns. Personal connection with the reindeer carries with it a long cultural continuum. Only one generation ago, life with the reindeer was sustainable. We can still recognise this ecological way of existence, but now we are living through numerous extremely complex transitions simultaneously. Our work is a record of an experience, which the next generation may not get to have but may perhaps sense in some way, for example in the wind and the sun.
The parallel existence of local tradition and global contemporaneity opens up two distinct views. We acknowledge the past that no longer is, while sensing signals of the yet unknown future. It may be that our work has emerged out of a need to wonder at human existence and the myriad ways in which we belong to the universe. Questions arise about co-existence with diverse visible and invisible phenomena, with different beings such as rocks, trees and the reindeer.
Directed by Lena Valkeapää
Text messages and mobile phone photos by Oula A. Valkeapää
Narrated by Oula A. Valkeapää
Editing: Teemu Lehmusruusu
Translation: Tommi Kakko
Thanks to: Mari Ljokkoi, Helena Vaara
With the support of: Finnish Bioart Society, Helsinki; Kone Foundation, Helsinki