In 70’s, when I was a child and a teenager, there was a strong ethos of environmental awareness in art education, which clearly affected the environmental attitudes of my classmates and me. This ethos, well visible in the art education study books of those days – and consequently, in the school art of those days – concerned protection of the nature from pollution, but also appreciation and protection of the rural traditional built environment and the architecturally significant town buildings that were considered Finnish national heritage.
I remember a trip to the Finnish and Norwegian Lapland with my family in a pale blue Volkswagen, the very first second-hand car my father bought after receiving his driving licence. During the long drives from one camping site to another we, the three children, could only entertain ourselves by singing songs, quarreling with each-other, looking out of the window, counting cows and reindeer, and upon seeing a lake we sang “it’s a land of tens and tens of streams” (se on kymmenen, kymmenen virran maa).
I don’t actually remember much about the places we visited up north, but I do remember vividly that my brother and I were so appalled and disappointed to see the amount of litter on the lappish roadsides, that we started shouting “filth, filth!” whenever it caught our eyes. It must have been far too often for our father, who eventually drove to the roadside and threatened to leave us there if he heard the word “filth” one more time. Understandably, our critical attitude annoyed him; after all, we were on our long awaited Lapland holiday. But, looking back, I consider it a consequence of the environmental education that had already left its mark in us by then.
I am inclined to think that the legacy of the critical education in 70’s was at least partly responsible for the engagement in environmental issues and even in the environmental art in certain generations. At the same time I wonder if it might explain the confused feelings and conceptions about street art of many Finns of my generation. Could it be that that the rise of environmentalism in the Finnish society, and particularly in art education, enhanced aesthetical, social and environmental awareness of certain generations, and made them wary of phenomena that, at the surface, seemed environmentally unsound? At least it must have had a strong impact on me – it took a trip all the way to Chile for me to see graffiti as something more than just vandalism.
But today many Finnish art teachers, not to mention pre practice art teachers, have taken a positive stand on the graffiti phenomenon as a means of artistic expression in the young. At first, against the background of long-term pervasive control and general opposition against street art phenomena combined with strong environmental protectionist ethos in the theory and contents of Finnish art education, this seemed radical. But then I remembered that already my own art teacher had us design wall paintings in the ends of imaginary concrete houses, while at the same time provoking us against pollution and contamination, tuning our conscience of natural as well as built environment.
The idea of improving the looks of suburban neighbourhoods with house-high murals may seem to contradict the pursuit to protect built environment. But it doesn’t really, because of the double standard thinking of those days: the concrete blocks of flats rising on the 60’s and 70’s were widely considered the ugliest houses ever made, thus in need of a face lift. I found some archived excerpts of national TV broadcasts from 60’s and 70’s, which verify that there were opinion leaders who were all but happy about the quickly rising concrete housing or who were against urbanisation altogether (see 1965, 1970, and 1975).
Having personally experienced sharing 30 square meters with my parents and two siblings in a 3-storey post war town house apartment until I was 12, and then the joy of moving into a brand-new 114 square meter home in a concrete block of flats, I can well relate to how necessary that building project was. Not that I didn’t feel at home in Vallila, where I had lived with my family since I was four, started school, and established important friendships – in fact I hated moving away from my best friend and my childhood places of adventures and games. But for us, as for a multitude of other low-income families who had migrated from the countryside to the capital area in pursuit of work and happiness, there weren’t really better options to build a decent life.
Still, I cannot remember myself or my classmates – most of whom lived in similar concrete houses as I in the vicinity of our new concrete element school – feeling ashamed or strange when our art teacher asked us to design a wall painting in the end of a concrete element apartment block (a product of perspective drawing exercise – see my blog post Museo del Cielo Abierto en San Miguel) to improve the ugly and uninspiring suburban environment. This must have been because we had already internalised and agreed with the adage that children should not have to live in this kind of environment, these stone deserts. And I must admit that although from aerial perspective – and for the architects and construction engineers viewing their miniature model towns from above – they might look like neat arrays of little cubes and oblong blocks on a Lego board, it’s hard to imagine anybody finding them aesthetically pleasing from street level.
I can no longer find my own drawing, made sometime in the mid 70’s, but, remembering that I had seen similar drawings somewhere, I visited the History of Art Education Archives in my university and soon found an example among the school art works collected there.
I also found some other interesting student works from 1976 and 1978 depicting changing environment and Finnish landscape, outcomes of drawing competitions with respective topics organized by the Finnish National Board of Education (Muuttuva ympäristö, Suomalainen maisema). Most of the images in this article are from the archive, and I think it’s safe to presume that the impact of the 70’s environmental ethos, enhanced by mass media broadcasts such as the environmental scandals featured in the 70’s TV-news, are showing in these images.
Coming back to the issue of graffiti: I recently found a very interesting masters degree work on the Internet (see Solidaarisuusmuseo Salvador Allenden taidekokoelma Santiago de Chilessä). It was about the works that Finnish artists had donated to the international art collection of the Solidarity Museum Salvador Allende in Santiago de Chile. The museum was founded during president Salvador Allende’s short term of office, which ended in the military coop in 1973, and was not installed in Chile again until after the end of Pinochet regime (1973-1989). Some of the donated works had apparently been painted by Finnish and Chilean artist together as “brigade paintings”, i.e. painted collectively in the political muralism style of Brigada Ramona Parra (BRP).
Since BRP murals form a part of Chilean street art history and continue to be a part of Chilean graffiti world, I suggest that the first graffiti influence came to Finland already mid seventies, but carrying the meanings of South American revolutionary collective art instead of North American youth culture, hip hop and vandalism.
Perhaps even something like this could partially explain why art teachers, like my teacher, for instance, were inspired into designing wall painting assignments already on 70’s?
Some interesting links:
Excerpt from YLE TV-program “One room humans” (Ihmisyksiöitä) 1965. Reino Paasilinna criticising “suburbs” (Reino Paasilinna arvostelee lähiöitä) in 1965: http://yle.fi/elavaarkisto/artikkelit/kun_suomi_muutti_lahioon_42297.html#media=42305
Excerpt from YLE TV-program “Let’s urbanise whole Finland – a report about urbanisation” (Urbanisoidaan koko Suomi – raportti urbanisoitumisesta) 1970: http://yle.fi/elavaarkisto/artikkelit/kun_suomi_muutti_lahioon_42297.html#media=42307
Excerpt from YLE TV-program “The asphalt yard” (Asfalttipiha) 29.01.1976.. Osmo Soininvaara criticizes “the stone desert” of Kallio, a traditional working class district in Helsinki, 1976. http://yle.fi/elavaarkisto/artikkelit/kun_suomi_muutti_lahioon_42297.html#media=42310
The rise of environmentalism on 60’s (Ympäristönsuojelu nousee 60-luvulla) http://yle.fi/elavaarkisto/haku/#/toimituksen%20koostama/Ympäristönsuojelu%20nousee%201960-luvulla
Tanner, Liisa Flora Elina Voionmaa (2010): Solidaarisuusmuseo Salvador Allenden suomalainen taidekokoelma Santiago de Chilessä (The Finnish art collection of the Solidarity Museum Salvador Allende in Santiago de Chile) http://www.doria.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/63667/solidaar.pdf?sequence=1