Artists take over Baltic Sea discussion

  • 2011-01-06
  • By Ella Karapetyan

DRIFTING: Capsula and the Finnish Bioart Society are behind efforts to get people thinking of other forms of transport around the Baltic Sea, rather than planes, cars and other modern conveniences.

TALLINN - The Baltic Sea is one of the most fascinating areas in the world, along with its rich history. The Baltic Sea area has always been of great importance to the people living around it, providing a natural bond as well as route for navigation. Fisheries remain a valuable part of people’s livelihood today and the Baltic Sea area is also a recreational resource of growing value.
Because of the very specific hydrographical, chemical and physical conditions of the Sea area, and its geological history, it possesses quite unusual fauna and flora. Marine and freshwater organisms live side by side, and there is a number of living relicts.

The exchange of water in the Baltic Sea is very slow, and if harmful substances are introduced, they will remain there for a very long time. As the fauna and flora of the Baltic Sea area are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, there should be no discharges of harmful substances, especially oil and noxious liquid substances, into this vulnerable sea. However, the Baltic Sea is often said to be the world’s most polluted sea.

The health of this body of water has been seriously damaged since the 1960s due to excessive pollution from the countries in its catchment area. The pollution, such as untreated human waste, toxic materials, and metal, has resulted in the Sea’s stratification. This process of stratification has left certain layers of the Baltic mostly freshwater, while rendering other layers saltwater. The Baltic Sea, when it is stable, is a mix of freshwater from the rivers of Europe, and saltwater from the North Sea which flows in through the straits around Denmark. According to experts, the source of much of the pollution was, and still is, from the countries of the former Soviet Union and East Bloc. This pollution, in turn, harms a variety of other industries, including fishing and tourism.

Because of unrestricted and (environmentally) unregulated industry, factory waste was disposed directly into the Baltic Sea or into rivers which fed the Baltic. Experts claim that another reason why the Baltic has reached this critical situation is agricultural run-off, all from Western European countries.

These chemicals run off the farmland and into the water supply, eventually ending up in the Baltic Sea. With the fall of the communist states of Central and Eastern Europe the issue is now to move towards a collective plan to clean up the Baltic. Many positive steps are being taken by the countries which either border the Sea, or are in its catchment area.
The most significant of these steps is the Baltic Sea Joint Comprehensive Environment Action Program, which was agreed on and approved by the Diplomatic Conference of Ministers of the Environment in Helsinki, Finland in April 1992.
The countries directly effected are the nine which line the Baltic coast: Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Poland, Germany, and Denmark. The catchment area includes Norway, Belarus, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and the Slovak Republic.

Experts say that the Baltic Sea’s rich biodiversity is threatened by environmental pollution that could cause irreversible damage to a sea that is an important source of economic and recreation for more than 80 million people who live along its coast and within its catchment area. The sea is very important to the tourism and fishing industries of the Baltic countries. Species of fish, such as herring, sprat, and cod, are affected by pollution from urban areas, industries, and agriculture (fertilizers). The goal of the Baltic nations is to reduce the amount of pollution which reaches the Baltic Sea in order to preserve the precious fishing and tourism trade in each country.

Steps to clean up the Baltic have been made possible with the end of the East-West divide. The 14 countries of the catchment area are now on schedule to carry out a comprehensive program to improve the environment in and around the Baltic Sea.
Juuka Jormola, a scientist from the Finnish Environment Institute, says “Pollution of the Baltic Sea is caused by nutrients, too many nutrients in the water, like nitrogen and phosphorus. And some of these algae are poisonous and dangerous for children who want to swim.”

Currently, there are 65 projects approved under the Baltic Sea Region Program 2007-2013.
Tallinn and Turku, European Capitals of Culture 2011, have organized a joint project for Estonian and Finnish artists who have taken part in an interdisciplinary expedition on the Baltic Sea.

The Curated Expedition to the Baltic Sea project competition is intended for finding new and unpublished ideas which consist largely of an expedition on the Baltic Sea. The organizers of the project say that artists who live in Finland or Estonia, irrespective of their nationality, could take part in the competition. Finnish and Estonian artists living abroad could also participate in the joint project. The participants have been given a chance to dive into the deepest corners of the Baltic Sea, look at the Sea through a seagull’s eyes, or at any other level between these two.

“We have invited Estonian and Finnish artists and other citizens to marvel about and explore the sea that links us, the natural phenomena connected with it, and your own relationship with the changing sea,” says one of the organizers of the joint project.
“The ‘Expedition to the Baltic Sea’ is a cross-disciplinary art project to observe and experience the natural phenomena of the Baltic Sea. The Capital of Culture year is a unique opportunity for both cities to present their own culture, history and future, but also the cooperation that has lasted for centuries in the Baltic Sea region. The projects were organized by Capsula and the Finnish Bioart Society; the project began in autumn 2009 with an open call to Finnish and Estonian artists and creators to present proposals for new works that should include an expedition to the Baltic. Five projects were commissioned by a committee of art and science professionals.”

According to the organizers of the expedition, the project wants to turn people’s attention to other possible modes of transport, instead of fast planes, trains and cars. Kayaks, hot air balloons, sailboats, marine expedition ships or rowboats are just some examples of the possible transportation which can be used on artistic expeditions on the sea.
“Vessels which move slowly are environmentally friendly and allow for experiencing and observing the surrounding nature as closely as possible should be used for traveling on the Sea. The project itself is a bright example of a good long term cooperation between Estonia and Finland.”

According to the project’s management, the projects have to have links with science, but the interpretation of the results and observation should be artistic. According to the management, the taskforce of the Curated Expedition also aims to help artists in finding project partners in the scientific world. A Finnish taskforce, which consists of scientists of various fields, have offered their help during various stages of the process. Some of the selected projects have already been realized in 2010.
Most of the stages of the project that started in 2010 and have been realized were performances or workshops. The keywords include standpoint, environmental friendliness, sociality and participation.

The organizers claim that the pieces of art use artistic means to turn people’s attention to the environmental state of the Baltic Sea and increase the awareness of people living around the sea of the fact that they are responsible for its future.
“The applications that have been applied mentioned the geographical area for realizing the project. It was recommended to realize the projects between the southern coast of Finland and the coast of Estonia. Any projects which were planned to take place elsewhere than the Gulf of Finland, Archipelago Sea and Aland Sea have also been taken into account because of the good reason for the choice of the location, e.g. as some of them have had some special trait or natural phenomena,” says one of the organizers of the project.

Moreover, 7,000 euros have been allocated for each project. Authors will continue preparation for the exhibition of their work within the Capital of Culture program of Turku in spring 2011.
The expeditions are intended for highlighting wonderful events in nature. Could the phenomena in the surrounding nature be of interest to people living in the world of action films and computer games? Do positive and spectacular experiences with natural phenomena help preserve and respect nature, more than continuous pollution tests or environment-related obligations and regulations? Is it possible to use art for making people interested in getting to know nature and protecting it? These are the questions that the project aims to answer.

Curated Expeditions to the Baltic Sea are financed by the Turku 2011 Foundation. The project is part of the Turku 2011 and Tallinn 2011 Capital of Culture program. The art projects selected in the competition have been realized in 2010, which will be presented within the Capital of Culture 2011 program of Turku and Tallinn as well.
Curated Expeditions is dedicated to observing and experiencing fascinating earthly phenomena through artistic investigation.
The joint project of Tallinn and Turku, European Capitals of Culture 2011, is a continuation of the first interdisciplinary expedition of Capsula from Finland of the full solar eclipse zone in Siberia in summer 2008. The expedition base was in the Novosibirsk Zoo.

“This open call for art/science projects has given a unique chance to Finnish and Estonian artists to study and marvel at the Baltic Sea, during cross-disciplinary expeditions by sea-travel. The project is a collaboration between Capsula and the Finnish Bioart Society. We received 70 proposals, from which 5 were from Estonian and 65 from Finnish artists/groups of artists,” says the project manager.

During the project some of the Finnish and Estonian artists, with the help of the crew, managed to build two experimental boats with the idea to sail the Finnish coastal area to reach Estonia by sea. They managed to build a 3.7 meter-long boat as well as an 8.5 meter-long vessel made out of recycled materials, mostly donated by different supporters in Tampere, Finland and Turku, Estonia.