This Spring Gallery Elverket is pleased to host One Day I Will No Longer Exist (1918), an exhibition by Katriina Rosavaara commenting on the Finnish Civil War of 1918. Rosavaara’s installation ponders the silence and forgetfulness surrounding the war and its aftermath. The work will incorporate hand-made items preserved by inmates of a POW camp in Tammisaari as well excerpts from the journal of Edith Sjösten, a nurse at the camp. Placed within the context of a contemporary installation, these historic artefacts invite visitors to reflect on their own relationship with the events of 1918 as they navigate the route plotted by the artist. The exhibition thus offers a commentary on how contemporary art can open up new perspectives on history and change our ingrained conceptions of past occurrences.
The artist has stated: “The artefacts in the installation are items of memorabilia that the prisoners and the nurse wanted to preserve as keepsakes for their personal archives. They wanted to remember, and they also wanted others to remember what happened at the Tammisaari POW camp in 1918. Preserving these objects was their personal choice, an act of free will. In this way, they were able to exercise a morsel of the power that was stripped from them at the camp.” The audience is invited to process the amnesia and trauma of the Civil War by confronting objects that exist for the very purpose of helping us to remember.
Rosavaara describes the exhibition as a meditation on “remembering, reminding, and the impossibility of remembrance, amnesia, power and violence. When the human mind confronts something overwhelming, something intolerable, it responds by suppressing it – it vanishes from memory, but still lingers in the mind. The forgotten trauma lives on, and is sometimes transferred to others, without either party actively registering this.” Another reason why the prisoners may have wanted to hang on to breadcrumbs in the midst of their misery was the hope of a better tomorrow: a small piece of bread was a symbol imbued with hope.
Rosavaara’s approach is not that of a scholar or historian, and hence she is entitled to take artistic liberties in her interpretation of the POW archives. “I was unable to find any journals or notes written by the guards at the camp. Perhaps I didn’t search in the right places, or then such records simply do not exist. I visited the National Archives and read the diary of the vicar at the camp. It was virtually empty. The first mentions of the people who died in the camp begin months after the first entries.” The suffering and misery is described more fully by the nurse at the camp, Edith Sjösten.
Rosavaara feels that Tammisaari chose to be silent after 1918: “People acted like nothing had happened. The POW camp was like its own state within the town; the townspeople claimed to have no idea what was going on in there. Time wore on, and day by day there were fewer and fewer people who witnessed the suffering, and yet more and more people who were never told about it. A friend of mine who grew up in Tammisaari said that she knew nothing about camp or what went on within its walls until it came up at university. It was never spoken of. It is as if it never existed, as if none of it ever happened.” The whole idea of the exhibition is to offer a place for us to process the trauma of loss and the willful disremembering of history by urging us to encounter POW keepsakes on a personal, empathic level. The gallery offers a neutral space for reliving the past through a personal lens rather than the warped perspective of official history, thus fostering communal healing.
Katriina Rosavaara (b. 1975), MA Fine Art, is an artist and writer who has studied at Aalto University and the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts. Working across a variety of media, she has made short films, staged performances, participated in group projects, and written children’s books. She spent two years conducting artistic research in preparation for the exhibition at Galleria Elverket.
Tuesday-Friday 1-5 pm | Saturday-Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
(Photo: The Finnish Labour Museum Werstas)