Design & Layout
AHO & AHO PUBLISHING, FINLAND
For the novel “Sossumuija” I used old paper collage technique. Between ripped tree skin wings, warm glue holds together tales of dark and gloomy satire cycles. Shining perspectives from a social worker sight. Through the darkest of times, the most illuminant of creations could birth. Can hard work save the world? Does love gives us wings to hold through the hangover reality flight? Distant memories from Finland awoke in me last summer, while reading Nina Rapo’s script in the park. I remembered my first rock festival backstage mooning with the stars, first sailing boat trip through 500 thunders and my first own coocoo nest on the shortest street in Helsinki. Impregnated with symbolic scenes from the ordinary daily life of administrative worker, the book narrative slides as a rusty knife blade on the edges of human existence. How far have we separated reality based on monetary measurement and media scam?
In October 2021 I visited Helsinki to pick up copy of the book and touch base with dear friends, that have rarely chance to see these days. After I left FB stream, seems harder for me to stay connected. Would this book bring me back more contact with Finland and possible book design jobs? I thought everyone will be chilled in there and the global paranoia had passed over. I was pleased to find out that the publisher Aho & Aho had decided to print locally, instead of cheaper third world countries as most other publisher would. I support this local way of acting and dream of the day, when books would be printed entirely using hemp or poop paper. This short visit back to my old hometown, ignited mixed feelings that I wish to share. It started with an elderly lady running away from me in the shop, because I wore no mask (that was not mandatory). I begun realizing that this proud and fierce Finnish land had turned into massive psychosis. I don’t know when I would be able to visit the country any time soon, because I don’t own a medical digital passport, neither I can afford their purposely made super expensive and hard to obtain tests. As much as I disagree to give away my private data, collected by the industry as Finland allows today anyone to check my private information regarding the vaccination. This clearly allows future employers to decide on the basis of vaccination, if a person is suited for hiring. Everything made under the pretext of goodness is actually harming greatly all of us, or at least what I thought “us” stands for. But I don’t complain in here. I still had the privilege’s to travel, the money to accommodate and the good health to do all. I am employed and self employed and this pandemic opened new understanding horizons. Never been more content about life actually. As from the hardest of moments, I have raised stronger and more clear of my values and dreams to follow.
I never thought that one day I would walk into my home country and be divided upon my arrival through a separate entrance. One entrance was for owners of the digital passport and the second one for the rest of us. There many policeman stood by, surely making me feel like I am criminal or something unwelcomed. The pandemic showed the extreme vulnerability of human consciousness. It was not so much about the pandemic, but about what things became apparent from it. It turned out that people treat each other with total distrust. It turned out that from their hectic attempt to surround themselves and protect themselves from everything possible, all sorts of insane measures were taken against each other. They have forgotten that we are one humanity and there is no way this pandemic can be stopped by border restrictions, by national affiliation, by red, green or pink codes. These are whims, madness, rudeness of man to his neighbor. We realize that we are in one home. Together people need to develop medicine, to find ways how to overcome disease and fight locally, but this fight should not resemble genocide. It became apparent that people are ready to cut, isolate and put people into prison. And most of all that the rules and regulations differ depending on your status. Rich people did not have the same restrictions and they did not have to loose their jobs, just as after the first two week lockdown in India, many died simply of hunger. Hundred of thousands died simply from the measurements imposed on them. And as a result, no pandemic was prevented. It erupted with the same force and these measures did not work out.
As a teenage girl I arrived from East Europe to West Europe by bus. As a holder of Schengen Passport, I was let to sit in the bus, while all other passengers, who had not such Passports, would be forced to exit the bus, being thoroughly examined on every crossing check point across Europe. From early age I learned that certain passports will give you different privileges. Certainly being a white female, already did put me in a specific group of aliens. But passport is not the only thing that divides us socially. We all know that there are many other factors that separate us into different levels of the human hierarchy. Growing up under Soviet rules, gave me overview of the Totalitarian regime, teaching me that people are not equal. While the regime tried to manufacture the ideology of all being equal. It was obvious that some people simply had more credits than others and if they were related to the “big mafia”, while expressing devotion to the “party”, they were spared to live and “thrive”. Being an artist who was different, was never an easy choice in life. But who said life should be easy? This is a very short story about the social system, about my dear home Finland, Europe, languages, paper money and strangers. This is the story of the odds on how I became a Graphic Designer.
I remember upon my arrival to Finland, landing in the middle of snowy forest town up north, not far from the Arctic Circle. My aunt Ulla-Maija and her family became my new wing home for years to come. I received my first mobile Nokia phone, weighting probably a good half kilogram. Mobile phones were created initially to connect people, when they were in remote places like this. But they already had other use too, so I can open me a bank account because I had phone. Without that bank account, I could not become part of the famous Finnish social system. I carried few very old Finnish Markka bills, that mom had saved from her last visit and few bills my dad gave. The money value had already inflated, so these cash could not get me far. After I became part of the Finnish social system, I was able to begin my first daily job as helper in the local kindergarten. Meanwhile I had applied to study at the Theater Institute of Savolinna, because my dream at the time was to become a special effects make-up artist. I wanted to create aliens and monsters and live in a rolling cabin. After two days exam and sleeping at carrying relative Päivi’s home, I returned back to Oulu, where I begun my practice as make-up assistant. At the Oulu Theater backstage, the old make-up artist lady told me, that she wouldn’t show me anything, so I don’t steal her job. I was use to learning from watching, knowing that the Finnish film industry is small and there was big competition for the work spots. My days at the theater were fantastic, so much laughs and lovely people I met on the way. I did not speak any Finnish, so mostly I had to learn by intuitive understanding and watching. During this time I was able to be part time student, creating at the local Liminka art school. Art had no limits what comes to language and we could express freely in there, while listening to music.
The news from Savonlinna Theater Institute arrived, that I was one of the best at the two day exams. This made me very happy. But because I spoke only English, they could not except me to study in there. My dear aunt Ulla-Maija was furious with them on the phone, for excepting my application and eventually rejecting it under such a pretext. It was not fair in her words. In the mean time I also applied for a graphic design studies at the Lybeckerin Institute of Raahe, not far away from my Liminka home. I was excepted for late summer exams and glad to give it a try. This time the exams were not translated to English, even they promised to. I improvised as usual, while some students helped me translating the tasks during the exam. I managed the first day ok. Very kind red head lady Minna, in whos kitchen I slept overnight, gave me a helpful tip about the secondary day exam. I would know this time at least if I was expected to paint in color or black & white. After successfully passing the exams, I became first Finnish-foreign student at the school, who had to learn the language while studying. Every night when other students went home to their families, I was at the local library or took the bus to the nearest big town to grab on some books on topics we studied. I would study in English what we were thought in Finnish at class. Often books will be missing, so had to be ordered or I would simply not understand the technical stuff in language which was not my mother tongue. I wrote in the evenings many letters to friends and family back home. Far out in the dark Finnish woodland, in the city of metal workers and sailors, the Sun was something that one had to generate from inside.
The winters were eternal and my aunt house was not far, but everything so terribly expensive made it hard for me to travel by bus. First time I experienced -38°C on the shore, walking 2km to the nearest food store. The supermarket was bright, wide hangar, filled with endless shelfs of food I have never seen before. I was baking my own bread, while taking some butter and cheese from the school lunch cafeteria. Usually cooked potato soup for the week, grateful to stay warm during the long dark days in my tiny student room. I was very glad to have received student loan and be able to pay for my Graphic Design studies. To have warm roof over my head felt like a blessing to the eastern girl. Weekends I worked as bar cleaner and weekdays as naked model for the art class. Sometimes my cousins gave me a lift to my aunt’s house, where I ate as much from her delicious warm lasagna and blueberry pies until my belly imploded. I had more than many people had, I thought while looking up at the far shining stars.
One day I went to the local social office to ask for some money help. They payed my dentist visits and gave me money for a bicycle. I bought it from grandma, nice red one with a basket. I also needed badly warm winter coat. My family give me one that belonged to my dad, left back in a storage room. My dear aunt Marjatta organized with her friends big collection of things for my home. Most of my first household stuff was given and bought by these ladies. I received Minolta camera from a relative and begun taking photographs. Could never forget how the camera would stop working in -35°. My first self developed images and pictures from school mates and Finnish family. These are precious captures from my most isolating memories up north. Far from everyone and everything I knew. First time looking at the dark mirror skies to see the reflection of my own darkness. Up there the Milky Way became my church dome at home and music my closest friend. I can relate to these moments today somehow. After over 1,5 year working from home during the pandemic, unable to have normal social life, it feels somehow like this isolation is possible in the big city in mid of Europa as well.
After my first study year, I went to see my father and his family back in Berlin for the holidays. He wanted his winter coat and give me another one, less attractive and without the hoodie. My new style was real hippy… trolling down the night trains. My aunt was furious back in Finland with him. He never wrote me a single letter during this time, but I was glad to have gotten to know his Berlin family and that he send me out to my Finnish relatives. I was happy for everything I had, no matter how did our difficult relation effect my whole life. It made me understand that often in life, stranger could become your current family. After the holidays I was arriving back with train to Raahe, but in the dark winter morning I missed my stop. Some lady on the empty train station became my savior into the freezing night. I would have died if she did not drove me 70 km back to where my train station was. On the way she told me about having 73 nephews and 13 children I recon. She was one of those strange evangelist birds one finds up north. I gave her a piece of the Berlin wall I carried with me for my school mate. That piece symbolizing the end of European division.
Later on my cousin Tapio introduced me to his friend Timo, who took me under his wing. He was working for a publishing house in Helsinki. This became my school practice place. I had hard time to find one, because of my language skills. After my school graduation, I continued working as a designer for the same publishing house. This was my first job in Helsinki. I begun designing books and loved every bit of having my “real professional job”. The first contract I was given, did not included the social money. Year later I was able to negotiate myself a normal legal contract. In a mean time, I would still have to deal with Russian Mafia who owned the illegal housing I was living in. I also had to deal with drunken man treating me poorly, because of my foreigner accent. I grew up in a so called macho country, so I was use to deal with drunken man hitting on me, but this was a new experience. They wanted to insult me for being not fluent on their language. This was their way showing me superiority. I was use to do the dirty jobs, as long as I would learn the things professionally, so one day I could speak semi good language and be semi good designer, but more importantly I could see the goodness in everything shared. I preferred deep emotional feeling to perfectionism. And this made me at peace with life. Everything I had to go through, maybe gave me scars, but made me tougher too. Surely enough I did not go to the language school, so I learned the language mainly from books, music and bars. Mostly, I learned from trial and error, by working my way through all the obstacles with honor for being given the chances.
I will always remember how I came with my few coins in a shoe box and became part of the western social system. After 10 years working, I was able to pay back my student loan that payed my studies. I did not have any credit, but I also did own only some art, found furniture and bunch of salvation army clothes. Most of what I became, I own to my Finnish relatives and people who helped me on the way to make it that far. I owe them forever gratefulness for believing in me and giving me all the warmth and care.
I wanted to share my story that treasures humanity. A memory of the wonderful Finnish social system, that allowed me to study and have normal life in the cold northern west. This short memento was inspired by the human division risen today. Story of the East meeting West. As this is the oldest conflict existing in our planet. How to integrate spirituality into future technology advancement? Where is the boundary and who sets the rules. How to bring people together, while leaving their native identity to thrive? How to use fear for building security without division? How to make one global internet nervous system function, while most people still struggle to have water and food? This is my story of being alien in your own land. A story of foreigner at home, meeting humanity in the darkest of hour, demolishing language barriers, examining social systems that perhaps work more for the enslavement of our land and freedoms, than solving the real problem of wealth inequalities. Maybe I would have never became a graphic designer, if I did not receive all this support. If it was not for my father and his family, I would have never discovered Finland. I wish to believe in the power of society. The grand family is based on exchange of value and care. Together we are stronger. For me people are people and no matter where and in what social ladder they stand, it boils to one thing… how humane can you be in the darkest of hour?