Photo: Sara Grotenfelt

A mountain will never be the same twice

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It’s 8am. Maya, Eeva, Iina, Pietari, Kirsi and I are sitting with hunched backs, our eyes red from lack of sleep, in the restaurant of Rovaniemi railway station. A group of male-assumed friends are drinking beer at the next table. Some tourists seem lost. We have travelled here with a night train from Helsinki, twelve hours. Now we are speculating on what our forthcoming bus ride will be like. Eight hours, through the heart of Lapland, all the way to the furthest point of the thumb of Finland, very close to the borders of both Sweden and Norway. We are about to enter Sápmi, the region in northern Fennoscandia traditionally inhabited by Sámi people.

Our trip to Kilpisjärvi 6.-11.10.2019 is part of a new educational collaboration and network, Nordic Choreographic Project (NCP). We will meet some students from KHIO, Oslo, and experience lectures and presentations by artists and scholars working with topics such as Sámi rights, ecology, plant studies and landscape: Annette Arlander, Nayla Naoufal, Ranghild Freng Dale, Katarina Skår Lisa and Ramona Salo. According to the course description:

“ The course will focus on our understanding of nature and ecology in the vast landscape and environment in Kilpisjärvi. We will draw on various haptic movement and body practices, and explore possible strategies and methods, such as the formal procedures and protocols used in scientific research, as potential tools and processes for developing art projects. We are interested in what these procedures and protocols can provide and enable, as well as critically examine the embedded preconceptions or ‘pre-choreographies’ that they incorporate. In this way, the course will also aim to highlight and question basic binary relationships that often tend to shape the ways we perceive our surroundings, whether in subject vs. object, culture vs. nature, consciousness vs. unconsciousness, art vs. science, the virtual vs. the corporeal etc..“

We climb into the bus and are relieved. It’s a comfortable one, with lots of space and glowing blue gates to plug our USB- chargers into. During the ride I recognize in my self the typical ‘city girl traveling to wilderness’- phenomenon. Appreciation for the ‘nature’, the awe in front of the ‘untouched’ landscape, amazement of the reindeer nonchalantly trotting along the road. 

The surroundings change as we move along. Vegetation lessens, trees grow shorter, the bright autumn colors gradually give space for grayness and eventually snow. The bus gets smaller and smaller as the landscape rises. 

I try to consider this journey as grand scale choreography. A very corporeal feeling, of how geographically huge my country is, arises. Wait, my country? Rather the area that at some point in history was named Suomi, Finland. Or the area at some point named Sápmi that reaches over four countries and defines itself through culture rather than national borders.The area that slowly started to rise some 10 000 years ago from under the ice. Pietari enlightens me about the etymology of the word suomi which might have it’s roots in the word suo, swamp. According to some sources suomi could have originally had the form suomaa, swamp land. Another theory is that suomi stems from a word that simply means land. Sápmi is likely to have the same origin.

Our first encounter with a fjeld is Levi, the skiing center. It’s absurdly quiet, off season. The naked hills are empty, the cottages are empty, Burger King is empty. Our bus stops maybe five times around the skiing center. Nobody gets off, nobody gets on. 

I start to pay attention to the silence of the surroundings and it makes me hear stuff. Listening, I will later learn, will be an important topic of the week. Listening to the water of the Kilpisjärvi-lake, listening to glitchy Skype calls, listening to voices suffocated by snow. We will even meet an American sound artist, Richard Lerman, who will give us a spontaneous lecture on his work. For now, though, I’m just listening to the engine of the bus, Kirsi typing on her laptop and Ismo Alanko on my head phones. 

We stop in Muonio for dinner. Nothing is open except a Swiss Alpine bakery. We have coffee and pie. We move on.

There are stones everywhere, small and big. Transported by the ice, left where they are. They make me think of geographer Doreen Massey’s writings on migrant rocks. She writes about how we tend to define places through the landscape, how big geographical constructions, such as mountains, seem stable and eternal. But in fact they move, constantly, slowly. A place, according to Massey, is a spatio-temporal event. A mountain will never be the same twice. 

The road gets narrower and curvier the further north we go. I feel nauseous. Pietari is giving a talk on co-operative tools. I try to keep my eyes on the road. 

Suddenly there are fjelds on both sides of the road, covered with snow. The bus driver informs us that we are getting close. We want to stop to take pictures of reindeer. It’s not allowed to stop, he says. We move on. In front of our eyes rises Sána, a sacred fjeld for Sámi people, which in 2017, honoring Finland’s 100th birthday, was artificially lit with the colors of the Finnish flag. Our destination is at it’s root. 

We arrive at Kilpisjärvi biological station just right for dinner. It seems like Sána is watching over us, measuring our every move. It’s almost as if it’s breathing in our direction, letting us know that it was there before us. But then again, that’s just me projecting human features on a mountain.

Six days later we’re on the bus again. I take a last look at Sána, it’s top hidden by clouds. Up there we were a few days ago, writing our names in the guest book kept in a mail box at the highest point. I doubt that we were actually invited. I plug my charger into the blue USB-gate, turn my attention to the course feedback form and start typing. 

Sara Grotenfelt

 

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