Mari Keski-Korsu retraced the steps of Finnish immigrants to America to explore the historical context of contemporary migration, investigating and documenting experiences and perceptions of the Finnish diaspora.
Her previous work on Finnish cultural identity includes mikroPaliskunta 2006: “expedition through Finland from Northernmost Nuorgam to Southernmost Hanko studying the contemporary image of Finland. Who is Finnish? What are the symbols of Finland? How has the image of Finland changed? Does it really exist? The expedition travelled by a biodiesel car packed with five artists and protagonist of the project; a stuffed reindeer searching for new members to its herd. A series of art expeditions made in a sustainable way.”
Stories of immigration for today
Greener Grass is a video installation, documentary and net art piece themed with Finnish immigration to North America. The work mirrors contemporary exile and immigration through the personal experiences of immigrants and their offspring. Can we learn from history to answer the challenges of contemporary immigration?
Read Travel Diary of transatlantic crossing, retracing the steps of my immigrant ancestors.
My family is from the part of Finland (Northern Ostrobothnia) from where many left to North America in hope for better life. Immigration was very common in the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, about 300 000 Finnish people emigrated.
People went to work in mines, established farms, some were ashamed about their immigrant background and some kept the “old culture” alive. I travel by cargo ship to United States and follow the footsteps of my ancestors. My ancestors were looking for good life. They were environmental refugees (hunger due to small crops, lack of farming land) and political refugees (Russia wanted to Russianise Finland).
What has happened to them and their offspring? What do their offspring think about immigration?
There has been a lot of discussion about immigration in Finland lately and some people are fiercely against it, even racist. Of course, this is the case in many countries. Racist opinions get stronger during economic depression. Just during this summer 2010, all the main political party leaders agreed that immigration to Finland will be the key discussion topic in the coming parliamentary election. I would like to simply show that people have left away from Finland to other countries. When I put this project to one sentence, I think it is a description of chasing dreams and what happens to the dreams when they are touched by the reality – over generations in people’s identities.
Naturally, I want to tell these stories from very human and grass root level through people’s personal experiences. I believe knowing history is a key to understand future in some level.
PROJECT OUTCOME – People, Emotions and Locations
I travelled by a freighter from Liverpool (UK) to Chester (PA, US) following the Finnish immigration routes of the past. In the US, I interview people with Finnish descent about their family history, immigration background’s affect on their own identity and what they think about the contemporary immigration. The end result of the project is a video installation combining the sea travel, interviews and important places of the interviewees. There is also a linear video documentary and website containing all the materials collected from the travel.
I must admit, I was a bit shocked about people, colours, cars, noise, lights and everything after so many peaceful days at sea.
I have reached about 80 people in US. They identify to Finnish ethnic group in different ways. There are for example an immigration lawyer who has some Finnish relatives, second generation immigrant engineer working for Pentagon and many others. Naturally I can’t interview them all, but I try to do as many interviews as possible.
The interview questions/themes are for example:
What do you know about the family history? Especially from point of view of immigration?
Do you remember what you family (for example grandparents) thought about Finland?
What do you think about how your family integrated to US?
Does immigration play a role in your own identity?
What is your general point of view towards today’s immigration?
I composed a three channel video work with three simultaneous video parts:
1.) describing Transatlantic sea travel (follow the historical Nordic immigration route)
2.) interviews with the people (mainly immigrants offspring)
3.) interviewed people portrayed in locations they consider significant in their lives.
The art work can be exhibited in gallery and museum spaces, but it can be also installed in public indoor spaces. The website includes own travel diary and also include materials that are not present in the video piece (i.e. video Skype interviews of people I can’t meet in person). I’m also hoping to get permission from the interviewed people to ad their stories to the website in written format. In addition, I will create a linear documentary piece of the materials later on. This can be used for example by Institute of Migration (Turku, Finland) and shown in festivals.
The actual journey is realised in October – November 2010. The art work is ready in spring 2011.
April 25th, 2012 by Mari Keski-Korsu
Greener Grass documentary has been screened and exhibited in some places already:
Forum Box, Helsinki, Finland, 2012
3rd Off and Free International Film Festival, Seoul, South-Korea, 2011
Helsinki Short Film Festival, Helsinki, Finland, 2011
FinnFest 2011, San Diego, US, 2011
Taidehalli/Kunsthalle, Helsinki, Finland, 2011
Greener Grass is represented by AV-Arkki – The Distribution Centre for Finnish Media Art.