Sculpture, preserved specimen, wood, mixed media
1100 x 250 x 400 cm

During the Summer 2011 the work sailed from harbour to harbour, from the city of Turku to the surrounding archipelago.

Commissioned by Turku 2011 European Capital of Culture, Contemporary Art Archipelago

Northbound 4
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Northbound 2

Click image to enlarge.


Many species of animals are facing the disappearance of their natural habitat. On one hand, they face the expansion of land developed for human use. In response, some populations try to survive in the liminal space between the last vestiges of the wild and agricultural and urban areas. These animals try to adapt to these new situations, living from the man-made piles of trash and lurking in the hiding places of suburbia, but others are so specialized for their natural biotope that they cannot live in an industrialized, mono-cultured world. Some use their cuteness as a tool to beg for food or otherwise find new ways to co-exist with humans, but those creatures who do not serve human’s use or lack the attractiveness to become a symbol of status or national pride have no place to go.

On the other hand, global warming creates its own challenges for fauna. As equatorial areas turn into desert, many species move north. This struggle between industrialized farming and expanding urbanism versus shrinking biotopes creates a situation for many species similar to that of human refugees.

Borrowing from colorful and often decorative look of African and Middle Eastern freighters, "Northbound" is a refugee ship for animals. It is loaded with specimens inside and even on top of the boat. However, the ship arrived too late. The passengers with their special needs became exhausted and died. What is left is their preserved physical beauty that will slowly decay, just as the human generation's memories of sharing the environment with these creatures will fade.

As part of the Art Archipelago exhibition, "Northbound" cruised from port to port in the Finnish archipelago around Turku during the summer of 2011, when Turku was the European Capital of Culture.

Adrift, Northbound

Small boat loaded with wooden cargo boxes, adorned with flags and stamps telling of their travels around the world. When it paused at yet another harbor, its curious gang of passengers – or perhaps its crew – could be glimpsed through the windows: the sparse interior of the boat was occupied by animals, from tiny birds and butterflies to a shabby wolf and other beasts. One poor rabbit had braved the weather out on the deck, already for some time it seemed.

During the summer of 2011 one could unexpectedly come across this troop of travellers as it pulled in a number of harbours in Turku Archipelago, along the South-West coast of Finland in the Baltic Sea. The boat called Northbound was a new work commissioned for a temporary exhibition of site-specific art works, Contemporary Art Archipelago (CAA), as part of Turku 2011 European Capital of Culture. Tea Mäkipää responded to the challenge posed by the unique yet highly volatile environment of thousands of islands with a mobile artwork, set out to follow the currents of the Archipelago Sea. As if afloat, it appeared at the mercy of the complex flows affecting not only this particular Northern ecosystem, but the globe at large.

In geopolitical and socio-economic terms, global power balance has been recently turning from the axis of East-West to that of North-South. Deeply entangled with the forces at play here, the environment is now manifesting increasingly this turn and its effects. North is associated today with the intensifying rush for oil and other natural resources, melting ice and newly opened sea fare routes. Meanwhile alien species together with various diseases are reported to be wandering across the borders, expanding their territories further North. Our world is tilting northbound, more or less – towards more temperate climate and less populated lands, more resources and less erosion. This does not merely concern humans and their migration. Rather, everything is on the move. Northbound, all bound to the same forces and fortunes.

Mäkipää’s work could be described as a lifeboat for animals or an idiosyncratic miniature natural history museum at the age of this mobility. It is an updated version of Noah’s Arc that saves yet simultaneously destines the animals into a museum existence – as relics or specimens – to be displayed, studied, preserved. They stand as representatives of what has, may, or will be lost. The work makes thus tangible the many contradictions intrinsic in the human relation to nature and its conservation: even in the most sincere efforts the animals seem to be invited into the world built for, around and by humans. This preservation logic stands in a stark contrast to the fear-ridden tone associated with the news on the migration of species, which threaten the balance and predictability of the ecosystem as we know it. Is the difference here that of the invited versus the uninvited guests, the order of the host versus that of the unruly trespasser?

The lone petrified figures populating the boat – isolated in their fate even while in grouped displays – act also as a bleak reminder of the irreversible and fast escalating loss of numerous species. It is too late for them to journey northbound, even if these particular species are not yet dodos of our time. The taxidermy animals in all their ephemeral materiality, often in somewhat grotesque postures, affirm the inaccessibility of their worlds via the dominant structures of knowledge and representation.

The fore and the rear of the boat rise high adorned in sunrises and sunsets, near-acid colour natural world and its wonders. Like the museum-like existence, this hippy-happy celebration of joyful coexistence reminiscent of new age aesthetic appears like a stage set – imaginaries without future, or surfaces without substance. This is eventually not unlike the environment the boat was sailing through: the stunningly picturesque, wild and rugged, apparently unspoilt archipelago at a closer look reveals deeply troubled waters, hidden military histories and technologies, local communities and biodiversity in decline, as well as global economy traversing and stirring daily the narrow passages.

Mäkipää’s Northbound could be seen as not simply a warning of a possible future to come or a somber stranger visiting this paradise. It is an acute call – not to aim on board the last arc heading even further North, but rather to pause and anchor ourselves anew here and now.

Taru Elfving
Helsinki, May 2014