Had time between flights at Helsinki to nip into the city from the airport using the new electric train link. The impressive airport station, deep underground, has this fairly large artwork along one wall – where London would have adverts.
Rovaniemi lies near the centre of northern Finland, a city which was basically razed by the Germans during the Lapland War 1944-45. It was reconstructed by the architect Alvar Aalto using a ground plan based on the shape of a reindeer antler. It is fractionally below the Arctic Circle; though it pretends to be inside because nowadays its claim to fame, and economic basis, is as the capital of the highly commercial, year-round ‘Santa Claus land’. Should you so wish you can ‘do’ Father Christmas on a day trip from the UK. It’s probably elitist to say so but we managed to avoid all that. We walked through the visually disappointing town centre:
Rovaniemi town centre
and crossed some parkland, passing this impressive war memorial (1915-1918):
To my archaeologist’s eye it inevitably looks rather as if a large standing stone is exploding out of a megalithic tomb, rather like a chicken out of an egg – and why not that as the idea behind the image? Or is it a space rocket at the moment of lift-off? Or perhaps it is the Future triumphing over the Past? It is visually a most striking monument whatever its symbolism. It is dated 1981; the sculptor is Ensio Seppanen.
It was partly Artikum which had brought us to Rovaniemi. Designed by Birch-Bonderup and Thorup-Waade, it was opened in 1992. It is built longways into the river bank, essentially as a corridor 172 m long. An impressive edifice externally and internally, from inside the view to the River Ounasjoki is stunning:
while looking in the opposite direction from the same spot the geometrical symmetry is in the same spirit as Helsinki airport station (above):
The point of such money-apparently-no-object institutional expenditure is presumably image and reputation but the actual exhibitions do not disappoint either. ‘Artikum is a science centre and museum that lets you experience northern nature, culture, and history up close … we stimulate thought, encourage debate, and provide a deeper understanding of the Arctic’ claims its information leaflet. It also houses the Regional Museum of Lapland, in which I was particularly interested. It was good and, though its content inevitably overlaps with SIIDA, the Saami museum at Inari, it is well worth the visit. I thought its extensive treatment of contemporary life and environment in the Arctic particularly helpful, but here I select just one element from the cultural display:
This is (a copy of) a Mesolithic (c.6400 BC) wooden elk’s head, probably part of a boat’s prow-head; below is a wooden human figure
The one represents an animalistic view of the world in which people at the time had to live by hunting and fishing; the other represents the practice of recognising or creating a sacred something, a seida, for example by carving human faces and sometimes animals on to the stumps of pine trees at propitious places for fishing and hunting. The wooden pillars often had sacred objects placed upon them as offerings (see following post for more on this). The illustration below shows the practice in recent times:
On the long drive north through Lapland to Inari, we pulled in for a coffee at one of the few roadside caffs. No ordinary caff this, as its facade hinted:
The ‘patron’ was Asian and an artist, and the interior was full of Oriental touches, including his own paintings:
Not quite what one expects to come across in the Arctic Circle!