An Interview with Antti Laitinen by Harriet von Froreich

I.
It is a curious thing: If you think about the word “interview“, there is no talk or words in it, just view. If I understood it correctly, it derives from the French word “entrevue“, meaning “having seen each other“ or, translated more literally, “view in between“.

II.
While I take the steps up Vartiovuorenmäki in Turku, looking for a man who is working on or with a tree in the chilly but golden autumn weather, there are some questions in my mind. I want to know if Antti likes to talk about his work at all. I am also going to ask how he has chosen this specific tree and place (which I, walking up and down the hill, still cannot find). Furthermore, I mean to ask if he works specifically and intentionally only with Finland’s natural landscapes: big trees, dark green woods, light birchs, clear and cool air, silvery calm lakes. I recall several other works he has devised over the past years that I have seen on his website (www.anttilaitinen.com). Very often, they seem to be dealing with the forces of elements, with organic material and human interventions, with working on or with or against nature – and there is always some light, dark humour to them. I also plan to ask what role being alone plays in his works, as well as craft tradition, and a certain notion of male identity. I carry these questions in my bag, besides a bottle of water and some woolen socks.

III.
When I finally find Antti’s tree on the big meadow, we say hello. I propose to not fix one hour for the interview, but find several moments during the week when I come to visit, each day at the same time for a few hours, mirroring the processual character of his piece. I spend Wednesday’s two hours sitting in the grass, observing Antti and his assistant Uku talking and planning and cutting and starting to build the armour for the tree, wrapping thin steel plates around the trunk. I wonder if the screws they use harm the tree. In this case, however, Antti’s work does not seem to be marked by loneliness. I put on my woolen socks and cross out the question.

IV.
The next day, Thursday, I go to have a closer look at the armour. Antti sees me trying to get a glimpse between the steel sheets, to see if the screws touch the tree’s bark. He climbs down and takes two very small leftover pieces of the sheet, connecting them to show me that the screws only go through the metal. No harming of the tree in this sense. I put on my woolen socks and cross out the question.

V.
On Friday, Antti tells me and his assistant about his experiences in other countries. There seem to be great national differences in terms of tree protection policies. While in Great Britain, he was only permitted to cut down a very small and already sick tree, in Finland cutting down a fully grown tree seems to be a matter of course – even if the armour needs to be removed a few weeks after the festival. In Austria, however, an old lady approached him, yelling not just a few German words, but including one which he grasped clearly: “IDIOT“. So he does, after all, not only work with Finnish nature. I have put on my woolen socks right in the beginning, it is colder today. But I still cross out the question.

VI.
On Saturday I watch Antti hanging up high in the air. I ask him (even shouting a bit up to his height) if he has read the article on his project in the Turku newspaper. The journalist also referred to a strong image of traditional Finnish masculinity. Antti has read it and tells me that he does indeed utilize this image – “but one should not take it too seriously.“ I feel a bit relieved.
I mention the public discussion on Sunday, the last day of the festival. Antti nodds, and then adds: “I guess the people will talk more than me anyways. I don’t like to analyse. People would then not see anything else in it than what I said before.“
I cross out the question.

VII.
The next day, at the public talk, we eat cinnamon buns and drink coffee. I don’t have many questions left. I ask one: “Do you feel you work with nature or against it?“, “Well“, says Antti and takes a cup of coffee, “the tree does not need an armour.“
I do have another question, a silly, but burning one. I ask it in the very last minute, one woman has already put her coat on.
“Are humans just too small and weird?“
There is a small laugh in the audience, and then a pause.
“I don’t know“, says Antti.

 

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Harriet von Froreich

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