Photo Kalle Hamm.
Photo Taru Elfving.
Photo Taru Elfving.

Kalle Hamm


Artist Kalle Hamm returned to Seili with Taru Elfving to revisit the plants he has been working with and documenting previously in the spring and summer months. Many were already dormant, while the last remaining crowberries held on, waiting to drop and spread their seeds.

Together with Jari Hänninen and Jasmin Inkinen from the Archipelago Research Institute, we also visited the nearby tiny island called Saunasaari, where Douglas firs (native to North America) were planted as an experiment some decades ago. The evergreen trees appeared as if forgotten, huddled closely together on a patch of land in between rocky shores. At some point in the past this may have been a swamp, which was then drained and turned into a field to grow potatoes, for example. Unlike fir trees endemic to these isles, the Douglas firs curiously had no recognisable scent at all.

While exploring the shores of Saunasaari and wondering about the origins of its name (“sauna island”), we got to witness the ghostly sight of one of the huge cruise ships that seem to circulate aimlessly in the archipelago since the beginning of the pandemic.

Read more:
Kalle Hamm and Band of Weeds in Seili
Lecture: Spectres in Change: Art and Science Research of the Archipelago Sea
Spectres of Landings II
Kalle Hamm and Saara Ekström in Seili

Collecting plankton samples with Jasmin Inkinen. Photo Arja Renell.
Photo Taru Elfving.
Photo Taru Elfving.
Photo Taru Elfving.

Exercises in Sensing


How to listen to the inaudible? How to be attentive and attune to the unheard – to listen to silences, or to hear the silenced?

All we heard at first was the hum of the air vents from the restaurant kitchen and the drone buzzing like a cyborg insect above us. Then came the waves sent crashing onto the shore by a boat speeding in a distance, the polyphony of different trees responding to the breeze in their own rhythms, and the spectral sight of the carnivalesque lights of cruise ships passing in silence behind the islands on the horizon.

On this field trip to Seili, inspired by the artists Tuike and Simo Alitalo, we took time to listen to the micro soundscapes of the small pockets of diverse ecosystems that today compose the island that once used to be many islets: the rocks of an ancient sea bottom now covered in a thick blanket of moss, the miniature swamps appearing as if by magic in the middle of the woods, the shelters formed by the outstretched limbs of linden trees in the nut grove.

The sounds were accompanied by scents of, amongst others, myriad herbs – some wild, some feral in and around old gardens, fields and meadows. Lotta Petronella shared some of her ongoing research on the island for her new work Herbarium of Thoughts. We got to savour Saara Hannula’s performance Matara as a rehearsal for the public event on Friday with the New Performance Turku Festival. Arja Renell, revisiting her previous collaboration with CAA and a number of archipelago restaurants in 2011, got us also thinking about the taste of the changing ecosystems on the island meadows.

A spectacular sunset reminded us of the fires blazing on numerous remote shores, while the algae bladderwrack seaweed offered a glimmer of hope as a keystone species of the marine ecosystem thriving again after its decline in the Archipelago Sea. How to sense the reverberations and resonances between a place and the planetary – or, between an island and the archipelago – in their varying scales and tempos?

Warmest thanks to Jasmin Inkinen and Ilppo Vuorinen of the Archipelago Research Institute for guiding us on the island, once again. Thank you to all the above-mentioned participants as well as CAA’s assistant curator Saskia Suominen for taking part in the collective multisensory observations and meandering conversations – and last but not least, for all the heartfelt laughs.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, all the planned international residencies and retreats by CAA had to be cancelled this year. Fortunately, a number of artists based in Finland have been able to continue their work on the island in residencies this summer. The retreat this autumn has been replaced by a number of field trips to Seili with small groups of artists and researchers as part of the Spectres in Change project funded by Kone Foundation.

Biodiversity Unit, Turku University.
Biodiversity Unit, Turku University. Photos Taru Elfving.

Michy Marxuach & Fernando Lloveras


What might be the role of botanical gardens, with their controlled climates, for the species survival? And what may we salvage from local knowledges and herbologies for the future that is already unfolding in the present? What kind of methodologies of situated and embedded observation in our field work, and modes of repair as well as prepare, are needed today? How can our transhemispheric dialogue provide support structures for locally grounded work in all its planetary reverberations?

These questions were raised during an intense few days of dialogues with Michy Marxuach and Fernando Lloveras, visiting the Nordic region for the first time from Puerto Rico. Following an evening of discussions and a fleeting appearance of snow in Stockholm, Michy and Fernando continued with CAA on a slow eleven-hour cruise through the unusually warm and grey winter landscape of the interlaced archipelagos between Stockholm, Åland Islands and Turku. The day-long journey gave insight into the region’s particular geography, which has connected the histories of the peoples, cultures and ecosystems across the Baltic Sea for millennia. The archipelagos continue to be shaped by the ongoing glacial rebound of land rising approximately half a centimetre per year.

On arrival to Turku, intimate transhemispheric connections between the distant regions – the Caribbean and the Baltic Sea – through waterways and bodies of water were mapped out at the Archipelago Research Institute. Changing weather patterns due to climate change become tangible in the observations of air and ocean currents across the Atlantic. Diverse, locally specific phenomena and transformations in the ecosystems are integrally entwined through these planetary flows. Even microplastics discovered in the plankton and the food chain of the Arctic Sea may have their origins in the Caribbean as much as in the Baltic Sea.

While accelerating numbers of the world’s different species of flora and fauna are facing extinction, it is estimated that eighty per cent of them are not yet known to science. At the Biodiversity Unit of Turku University, we got to witness a collection of dozens of tropical parasitic wasp species, waiting to be identified. We also visited old technologies of observation that are becoming obsolete today, and learnt how it is increasingly difficult to study the night skies here due to the ever more persistent cloud cover. Yet the one thing that does not change is the length of daylight, determined by the latitude of the specific ecosystems, as the subarctic field research focused on the adaptation of plant species reminds us. Some modes of observation, embedded in the local ecosystems, appear everything but outdated. Grounded research, with long-term commitment, seems rather acutely urgent.

Thank you, once again, Ilppo Vuorinen and Jari Hänninen of Archipelago Research Institute, Ilari Sääksjärvi at Biodiversity Unit, and Pasi Nurmi at Tuorla Science Centre for sharing your research with us at Turku University. Thank you, FRAUD (Audrey Samson and Francisco Gallardo), Saara Ekström and IC-98 (Visa Suonpää and Patrik Sönderlund) for joining our conversations, and Lotta Petronella and Sami Tallberg for hosting and nurturing us on the island of Ruissalo.

The ongoing collaboration and transhemispheric exchange with Michy Marxuach (La Esquina) and Fernando Lloveras (Para la Naturaleza, Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico) has been made possible by the initiative of Luis Berrios-Negron. Thank you Jonatan Habib Engqvist and CRIS / NFK Nordic Art Association for co-hosting this visit with CAA, supported by Nordic Culture Point and Nordic Culture Fund.

Read more:
Transhemispheric Fieldnotes

Saara Ekström and Jasmin Inkinen carrying out meadow research.
Summer night research.
Archeologist Mia Lempiäinen-Avci. Photos Taru Elfving.

Kalle Hamm & Saara Ekström


CAA followed a group of biologists and archaeologists to Seili in order to witness first-hand what plant and animal traces may be found in the excavations of the project Elämän Saari by Turku University. The human history on the island, of at least five hundred years, appeared less than a metre deep in the soil. Further laboratory tests and microscopic investigations will reveal for example which insects lived and died in the compost heaps of the old hospital and the surrounding households. Thank you Mia Lempiäinen and Mia Rönkä for sharing your insights!

Artists Kalle Hamm and Saara Ekström joined Taru Elfving in the conversations with the scientists on the island. They were also drawn to Seili to record the buzz of the island meadows in all their vibrant mid-summer glory.

Ekström filmed butterflies and other insects on island meadows in Seili for her new work premiering at the Screen City Biennial in Stavanger, October 2019. Her work captures in airy, flickering projections these little creatures living fast forwarded lives in terms of human time scale. The habitats they thrive in are particular ecosystems that farm cattle have been an integral part of for centuries. They are now actively restored by conservation efforts that have reintroduced summer grazing, no longer part of intensified agricultural practices today. The meadows are ancient living natureculture entanglements.

Hamm focused on listening to plants such as field cow-wheat (Melampyrum arvense), which flourishes in Finland only on these isles today due to the conservation of the meadows. Hamm’s work with Band of Weeds centres its attention on the interiority of plant life, which is usually recognised only as a support structure for other life forms. In practice this means tuning to the sound of the plant’s fluid interconnections with the earth. With the help of microvolt sensors, the movement of liquids carrying minerals from the soil through the plant can be turned into a sound audible to the human ear. Can we hear the difference, in the voice of this single plant species, as its ecosystem mutates?

Read more about Kalle Hamm:
Spectres of Landings II

Read more about Saara Ekström:
Earth Rights-exhibition

Photos Taru Elfving

Transhemispheric Fieldnotes

Puerto Rico

CAA joined a research field trip to Puerto Rico on the invitation of Luis Berríos-Negrón and hosted by Michy Marxuach, Fernando Lloveras, La Esquina Residency and Para La Naturaleza, in June 2019. Fieldnotes by Taru Elfving:

The field trip felt simultaneously brief and profound, as it formed a promising foundation for navigating the currents past and present that flow between the futures of the Caribbean and the Baltic. At the time of the visit, there were an increasing number of reports on how the temperature difference between the Arctic and the Atlantic waters is changing due to the warming of the Arctic accelerating, and consequently, how the streams connecting the continents in the Northern Hemisphere are weakening. Weather has turned weird, winds appear out of sync, rain no longer knows other than extreme tempos.

As the climate breaks down, local phenomena cannot be meaningfully comprehended without an accompanying planetary perspective on the complex interdependent transformations. Meanwhile the global scale makes no sense without an acute awareness of what may seem at times like minute shifts in highly specific niches of ecosystems. Following our local guides along the various waterways on the island of Puerto Rico, uncanny resonances could be felt with the remote shores of the Baltic Sea and its thousands of tiny isles. Cautiously following an underground river in the labyrinthine cave system woven through the limestone Karso region reminded vividly of how geological time lays the ground for other temporalities – of fresh water, endemic flora and fauna, yet also resource extraction and industrial development.

The urgent necessity to protect waterways, the arteries of ecosystems, emerged as a reoccurring narrative for me during the trip. In the midst of the urban sprawl of the capital San Juan, a historical aqueduct is the sole place where it is still possible to access the river that is the life line of the city. Most seem utterly unaware today of these hidden natural infrastructures, the foundations of everyday existence. Privatisation and pollution alike may only be possible in these shadows of public acknowledgement, out of sight. This calls for sustained efforts to map and to make visible that which may still be conserved, as well as all those toxic leaks spreading and sedimenting due to rogue mining and manufacturing processes in the Nordic as much as the Caribbean region.

Like in so many places around the globe, it is only now transpiring that clean fresh water may not be taken for granted. Hurricanes, which have been since times immemorial the reoccurring powerful regenerators of Puerto Rican ecosystems, are now intensifying unpredictable: a year’s worth of rain in twelve hours, followed by up to five metres of water covering an old sugar plantation for three days. In the Nordic region, the winter snow fall is fluctuating dramatically from year to year, while this spring brought the second consequent year of drought in many places. How can the radically decreased biodiversity of the Finnish forests turned into timber plantations adapt fast enough? How much may have the ancient mangrove forests, if still intact along the shoreline, lessened the impact of the latest hurricanes?

The hurricane damage is still visible in the Puerto Rican woods, where the ghosts of dead tree tops haunt the landscape. Lush shades of green are speeding upwards now, and the birds and insects have returned. Trying to imagine the eerie silence following the hurricane, I think of the sonic desert of vast clear-cut forests, where these days even the tree roots are unearthed together with all the ground covering plants, such as wild blueberries. This is called responsible forest management. Evergreens such as pines are planted to replace the now decimated ecosystems with monoculture rows of homogeneous aged woods here in the North. In Puerto Rico, however, nearly all the forest is already secondary, following the extensive plantations of the colonial times powered by slave labour.

One of the infamous old sugar plantations is now home to a tree nursery, where baby palm trees and other species endemic to the island are grown, soon to be planted amidst the 750 000 trees as part of an ambitious reforestation project. The history of the site is a stark reminder of the violence of slavery. Exploitation of natural resources and humans alike, across the world, formed the very foundation for the wealth accumulated from the colonies that Europe and the US continue to thrive on. In Puerto Rico, the natural and colonial histories are tangibly interlaced in the present. This draws into sharp focus the integral connections between environmental and social justice – not only here, but everywhere.

Islands are sites of intensified encounters and ceaseless flux, perhaps more than many landlocked places. This archipelagic interdependency goes hand in hand with highly specialised and precarious local ecosystems. Yet there is no return to some imagined original state of purity and balance, as Puerto Rico attests to with its history of ongoing transformations. Flows between islands and continents, of enslaved people, conquerors, and trade, of ocean currents and the winds, changing seasons and patterns of migration. The waves have brought with them both purposefully introduced foreign species of flora and fauna, and those that have unintentionally hitched a ride. Some invade and cause extinctions, some merely survive, while others are wiped out by this hurricane or the next one. Entangled fates across micro and macro scales.

Addressing the question that haunted my visit – of how to “go visiting”, politely and with care – is the next step in the development of what will hopefully become a slowly unfolding and long-term transhemispheric dialogue. The field research was yet further proof of the irreducible value of local expertise across a range of disciplines and vernacular fields of knowledge. Faced with the incapacity to read signs in an unfamiliar ecosystem, or to even recognise a sign there in the first place, it is necessary to humbly acknowledge the limitations of one’s own tools of navigation and understanding. Yet thought may indeed only happen in and as the event of encounter, rather than that of recognition.

How to nurture these transformative encounters and the potential of thinking with and across differences, and around shared concerns? How to take time to shift our practices accordingly, so as not to reproduce colonial modes of exploitation or presumed access to places and to knowledges? How not to fall back to reductive polarisations, idealisations or assimilations in desperate search for hope in the dark? How to be attentive to the spectres haunting every place as well as the shadows one’s own methodologies cast, while also insisting on the right to opacity when needed? How to not be carried away by the surging wave of emergency, when slow and small steps also matter in the face of the dawning complexity of it all?

The visit was part of the development phase of Transhemispheric Residency Program for artists and researchers focused on climate crisis and related environmental urgencies. It was funded by Nordic Culture Point and Nordic Cultural Foundation.

Photo Joshua Portway / Autogena Projects.
Zoological Museum, Turku University. Photo Taru Elfving.

Autogena Projects

Helsinki / Turku / Utö

Autogena Projects (Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway) returned for an intense one-week research trip in November 2018. They met scientists in Helsinki and Turku before venturing out to Utö, the furthest inhabited island from the mainland, in the region surrounded by the open sea beyond the reach of any urban light pollution.

Read more:
Spectres in Change -Pilot retreat