Antti Stöckell | Art Education

Community-based art education supported by the local community in an environmental conflict

Description of art work included in the thesis for the Master's degree in Art Education

The aim of my thesis was to research the possibilities that artistic activity may hold for aiding a local community in their struggle to preserve their way of living. The building of a dam for the proposed Sierilä power plant in the village of Oikarainen, located along the Kemijoki river, will mean the demolition of the home and cottage properties as well as farming land flanking the river.

The art work consisted of two community art events and an exhibition held in the university's Gallery Kilo. The winter art event entitled "Lumiharrit" was constructed along the ice bridge in Oikarainen in March, 2007 and the fire art performance entitled "Tottotulet" took place in October 2007 on the sand beach near the Oikarainen ferry. Local groups participated in the design and realisation of both events. My exhibition "Vapaana virtaa Kemijoki" took place in Gallery Kilo in the beginning of 2008.

"Lumiharrit" consists of three grayling dorsal fins. Old photographs of the river were also collected and placed between the plates of ice. The grayling, as a fish local to the rapids of the Kemijoki river, symbolises the action taken by the local community to defend their living environment. The grayling, too, would lose its living environment if the power plant were built.

The starting point for designing the fire performance "Tottotulet" was the crest of the city of Rovaniemi, the two-pronged fork which represents the meeting point of the Kemijoki and Ounasjoki rivers. The lightning bolts refer to the power plant and the flames represent warning fire. Warning fires were once used in fire signal systems along rivers to warn of approaching danger. The crest was modified in this way during the event to symbolise the values and goals of the action group.

The exhibition "Vapaana virtaa Kemijoki" featured documentation of the event as well as an wooden installation made of boards and rhizomes, in which I reflect on my own relation to the Kemijoki river.

Environmental and community art-based action, I found, is potentially very well adapted to situations involving conflict. We tried to combine the following three elements in a way that served the local community: Firstly, making the locations where the events take place central to the problem at hand. Secondly, applying working methods which permit different types of participation, and thirdly, enabling the artistic content to be experienced as belonging both to the individual and to the community. These elements together created a dialogical space in which to deal with the problem. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the experience evoked feelings of adventure and empowerment. The nature of our activity was also well communicated in the publicity surrounding the project.