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Sanna Saastamoinen-Barrois’ photography installation in Vallisaari celebrates 100-year-old Finland´s slash-and-burn culture


Sanna Saastamoinen-Barrois:
Photography Installation
Vallisaari Island, 24 May ‒ 30 September 2017

Sanna Saastamoinen-Barrois' photography installation, currently on display in front of Alexander's battery on Vallisaari Island, presents the slash-and-burn process and its impact on nature. In the installation, which communicates with the beautiful natural features of Vallisaari Island, Saastamoinen-Barrois studies the slash-and-burn process phases, cycles of nature, and her own roots.

The Swidden Rotation installation consists of a series of photographs that was shot in the Telkkämäki Nature Reserve in Kaavi. Twenty large images printed on canvas have been hung, in a rather impressive manner, on cable wires in front of Alexander's battery. The installation communicates both with nature and with the varying weather conditions, providing visitors with a unique experience.

Photo: Sanna Saastamoinen-Barrois

Swidden Rotation is a very personal work for Saastamoinen-Barrois. Before shooting the installation, the artist had just returned to Finland after spending many years in Paris. Her time abroad prompted her to reflect upon her own roots and homeland, which initiated her interest in photographing the cycles of Finnish nature.

"After spending my first winter in Finland in 17 years, I shot the slash-and-burn process in spring in Iisalmi where I had spent my childhood. The winter had been like a womb to me; the darkness and the silence had brought me into their soft embrace and insulated me from the world. The contrast with the life in the metropolis was huge. I missed home a lot during my last years in Paris, in part because of my children. I wanted them to form emotional bonds with other places as well, and not just with the asphalt world of a metropolis. I wanted them to understand berry and mushroom picking and how to live in harmony with nature. I wanted them to experience how it feels to see light after the long winter.

Shooting the Swidden Rotation installation had a strong impact on me after the dark winter season. The snowdrifts had only melted a couple of days earlier. The light had returned, huge volumes of it. And the birds and the leaves. Next to the slash-and-burn field, I saw a signpost by a spring. The spring water babbled so beautifully," says Sanna Saastamoinen-Barrois, reflecting on the shooting process.

Slash and burn is part of the history of Finland's forests and agriculture. In Finland, its roots extend to the prehistoric era. Slash and burn also led to the spreading of settlements to North Savo from the 15th century onwards. Swiddens in coniferous forests, in particular, were a precondition for the development of new settlements in Savo. When people in other parts of Finland started to cultivate fields, slash and burn remained an important form of agriculture in Karelia and Savo until the end of the 19th century. It was only given up when forests became more valuable, in financial terms, and the forest industry started to develop. The last swiddens were burned in Savo in the 1940s.

Photo: Sanna Saastamoinen-Barrois

"This series of photographs recreates the slash-and-burn activities that were common centuries ago. The surrounding forest, the burning ground, and the thick smoke from smouldering fires provide both a concrete and poetic framework for this backbreaking work. Visitors are also on their own journeys through the installation, which is set in the heart of Finland's history and in the unique, protected landscape of Vallisaari Island," says Exhibition Curator Marjatta Levanto.

Swidden Rotation is part of the official Finland 100 programme.

More information

  • Sanna Saastamoinen-Barrois, born in Iisalmi in 1975, is a multitalented creator who works as a visual artist, photographer, and fashion designer. She has held several exhibitions both in Finland and abroad. Currently, she spends her time in Helsinki, Nuuksio, and Paris. Saastamoinen-Barrois is working on the Female and Nature exhibition, which will open at the OFR Gallery in Paris in September 2017.
  • The photography installation is on show in the yard at Alexander's battery on Vallisaari Island. There is no entrance fee to the exhibition.
  • Hourly transport to Vallisaari Island (