Shamanism and Humanity's disconnection from Nature - a preview of "Kaiku" by Milla Koivisto

Often with the nature of the blog as it is I usually only get to see the end result, not the beginning or middle of the process. So, when Brighton resident and Finnish artist Milla Koivisto got in touch with me and told me about her project, I thought it would be interesting to follow the project from start to finish.

Milla Koivisto’s new project entitled 'Kaiku' is the start of a project, with the intention of  featuring in an exhibition entitled Suomi 100 (Finland 100) celebrating 100 years of Finnish independence in 2017. The second part of her series of short films, illustrations and other pieces are being predicated by her new book under the same name.

The fictional narrative of the Kaiku book is located on a small island on the Baltic Sea. It follows a Shaman who also acts as the narrator in the book, his protégé Aino and her ‘echo’ Kaiku. The book is divided in to four parts, one for each of the four seasons, and follow these characters in the year that follows. The writing and storyline is beautifully haunting, with the echo striving to create a voice comprised of sounds heard in nature that she stores in jars to create her voice. This stunning evocative imagery is something that instantly attracted me to her book.

In Koivisto’s own words: “The project highlights the interconnection between the natural world and us as humans. The book acts as the 'skeleton' for the whole project, with the whole project will consisting of the book and a series of music short films.”

Up until this point Milla has received no funding for the project and has written and created the book very much off her own back and in between working at a coffee shop in the Lanes. This drive to complete and create her piece is one very often told by artists around Brighton, but considering that English is her second language, the choice of medium is very surprising and exciting. Having been written for a full year the choice to release the book now is to stop her tinkering with the book as much as a choice of timing.

Koivisto trained in Fine Art at the University of Bournemouth, but now based in Brighton, I found her character and observations of her peers and surrounding extremely humorous and important in equal measure. Professing to her “love of geeks” she spoke eloquently on humanity’s increasing ­­distance between us and nature and her undying love of David Attenborough. Over 50% of the world’s population now lives in urbanised areas and her book is her own attempt to instil an awareness and to reclaim this lost connection.

Her book is influenced by the Sámi people, Europe’s only indigenous population who live in Lapland. Here, Shamanism is encouraged, and has become part of Finn heritage and culture, influencing both the North where the Sámi are, and the South where the book is actually based. Although Christianity is the prevalent religion in Finland, Shamanism is still considered hugely influential and is entrenched in pre-Christian ideals of Finland.

In the book music plays a huge part, and will become integral to her project going forward. Music is played with nature to encourage a feeling of belonging and uses environmental sounds to create a harmony of nature itself. This image excites me and challenges the western perception that music must be a perfect silence with music over the top, rather than using the crashing sea and surroundings as cymbals as it’s own soundtrack. Koivisto said, “Out in nature nothing is ever still, even in winter. The music was my way of communicating this movement.”

Koivisto has many ideas for the rest of her project, and is actively searching for collaborators. The book is due to come out in November 2015 with the project evolving from there. As it is the beginning of an idea it is very fluid, and is likely to change, but with plans for several short films including musical performances, it is a project which transcends the traditional "visual art" medium. So, if you are a music producer, film maker, artist, costume designer or animator and interested in collaborating she has said to contact her on milla.anna.inkeri@gmail.com.

Milla has also agreed to blog her own experiences throughout the project on Art In Brighton, so I look forward to bringing you her own viewpoint as the process goes on. Thank you Milla.

Here is a brief excerpt from the book:

  'Kaiku went to the kitchen cupboard. Behind the pots and pans her fingers found a key. With great care she opened the door, the action made her shiver with excitement. The heavy door opened slowly. The room bathed in sunlight. The air was hot and stifling, here the windows were always kept closed. Wooden driftwood shelves filled the walls and an almost nervous energy lingered in the air. On the shelves sat an army of glass jars. Kaiku closed the door behind her. The glass jars felt warm, and light reflected from the surface of the glass on to the walls. As she rotated the jar the spots of light on the wall danced. Perhaps because Kaiku could not speak or make a sound of her own she had developed a fascination for all sounds. They seemed to fill an empty void and comfort her. She had heard the sea in her different moods. Kaiku had heard the gentle ripple, which formed when the sea caressed the closest rocks on the shore and penetrated between every small crevice. The rocks further out, which formed small reefs, were in a constant turmoil with the sea. Sometimes the waves around them looked like the splashes of a big fish tearing up its pray underneath the water. At times the surges appeared as an underwater organ lifting up small amounts of sharp water spikes. Sometimes the waves appeared as a broad shouldered swimmer gobbling the water as he dove. They all formed a different sound. The sea had offered her a number of voices to collect. When Kaiku could not sleep she would go to the forest and listen to the owls. They would fly very close and she would look at their big round eyes, which gave away nothing. Kaiku had developed an efficient process to store and collect. Her method, which was perfected with time, consisted of sitting still, patiently waiting and listening. Then with one efficient movement she would open the mouth of a pouch and trap the sound in. Then she would bring the sounds to the lighthouse. The various sounds lived with her in harmony, side by side in her library, separated from each other by thin glass walls. She had collected them all, the sound of a fire eating dry wood, morning dew falling onto a leaf, two rocks smashing against each other, a bell someone had left to the mercy of the wind and countless others. Kaiku was intrigued by the minuscule and the massive. From the natural soundscape surrounding her she could evaluate the islands condition. A healthy forest by nature was noisy, constantly communicating with the spectrum of life that lived in it.'