Because the cabin fever hasn’t completely pushed us out of the studios yet (that will occur tomorrow, most likely), I was given, once again, an opportunity to pick the brain of an artist who works alongside me over coffee.
Conceptual photographer (and experimenter in media of all sorts) Susan E. Evans has spent a total of four months over the past year here at Arteles, and I just had to ask — what about Finland has kept bringing her back? And you know what, her response was not at all what I anticipated.
I started photography when I was eight years old. My father is an ornithologist and photographer, so my first official job was paper-safe-watcher — to make sure no light was hitting the paper in the darkroom. There was something so magical about putting a sheet of paper into a clear solution that looks like water and all of a sudden this picture showing up. So I always wanted to be a part of that.
Now, a lot of my photography work is highly conceptual and not at all aesthetic. I keep trying to put aesthetic back into it, but it keeps feeling forced and overwrought.
Recently, I opened my adoption file, but it gave me no useful information about where I am from. So, out of curiosity, I submitted my DNA to the Human Genome Project, which tracked me to Finland. So that’s why Finland.
Never having a “people”, it felt poignant to come here and experience what it felt like to belong somewhere. And if we ignore the nature vs. nurture debate, there are certain character traits that make sense when I am here.
For example, I do not open up easily to other people and when I do, I am very direct and blunt. I can be forthcoming, but I don’t prefer talking about myself and would rather talk about the other person in a conversation, which are all common Finnish traits.
Similarly, many of the foundational affinities in Finnish culture come easily for me, such as a passion for nature and wildlife or an appreciation for the cleansing power of the sauna.
When I came to Arteles this summer, I became incredibly emotional because I am from here, and that concept was odd and wonderful and terrifying and weird, all at the same time. Arteles enabled the connection to Finland, so in a way Arteles is my surrogate family and one of the few places where I can feel safe and comfortable.
Although Susan has lived in the USA for most of her life, she has proven that identity is malleable and is exploring the facets of what it means to be “Finnish” through her work.
If identity is malleable, how should we respond when artists are categorized by their nationality or ethnicity? Does it become a moot point, or do we all carry distinct nuggets within ourselves that can be attributed to our “people”?