NOTES ON FINNISH GUN CULTURE
–– Notes on Finnish Gun Culture ––
Notes on Finnish Gun Culture is a photographic study on Finnish gun culture. Finland (population around 5.5 million) has a long tradition of hunting and weapons-bearing, and today Finland has one of the world's highest gun ownership rates (per capita) – Finland ranks among the top ten in the world – with about 1.6 million firearms in private hands, including perhaps some 20 000 to 100 000 illegal weapons. There are more than 2000 shooting ranges around the country (2009).
As a starting point it is necessary to note that firearms and shooting constitute a contradictory world of affairs, that guns are at the same time frightening, useful and fascinating. Along this line, on the one hand, It is easy to speak for weapons-bearing. Ability to handle weapons constructs a solid base for national defence practices. Also it should be notified that shooting and hunting are sports that teach people social skills and discipline. And through hunting the game count is controlled.
On the other hand, weapons bearing can been seen as dubious. Guns are fatal and are used to threaten or slay people. As such they constitute a threat to everyday security, both individual and societal. Observed from another angle, weapons possession and handling is tied to questionable identity building, that is, production of aggressive heroic masculinity. Shooting also creates an environmental threat due to the fact that many of the shooting ranges are situated in the ground water districts.
To be in touch with guns provoke senses in other levels as well. To feel the cold metal in one’s hand may excite or appease. On the other hand some people are terrified of shooting and guns.
Following this ambiguous state of affairs, Notes on Finnish Gun Culture photographically discusses and interprets issues in relation to weapons-bearing and shooting. A photographic approach is documentary but not in a traditional observational way, rather, in a reflective post-documentary and critical manner. The intention of the project is to visualize the oddity within this culture and aestheticise the topic by binding it to cognitive, emotional and corporeal issues.
Notes on Finnish Gun Culture is a four-chapter narrative where each chapter is based on different visual approach. Put together, these fragments constitute a collection of notes that express something of a larger whole, an idea not yet seen through individual pictures, an idea that exudes uncanniness.
Chapter I – Touch
This chapter includes pictures of men touching weapons at homes, at the shooting ranges and at the auctions. The touch can even be warm, and therefore a weapon can appear as a fetish or as a prosthesis. A gun can also appear as an extension of manhood, or as naturalized embodiment.
Chapter II – Shooting range
This chapter focuses on places that are on the one hand disconnected and isolated locations in a peripheral nature environment, and on the other hand legitimate grounds for firing guns. Shooting ranges are kind of universes of their own, and their architecture and social structure are uniquely designed.
Chapter III – Imprint
Relatedness between shooting and photographing is intriguing – fundamentally both produce imprints or vestiges. These pictures are plain white photographs mounted on aluminium and then shot by shooters at the shooting ranges. This chapter introduces wounds and smell of gunpowder into the series. It also deals with issues around indexicality in photography, paralleling the photographic trace with the wound caused by the bullet.
Chapter IV – News portrait (school shooters)
Everyday minor news stories create an impression of what is normal. When one fishes out all the gun and shooting related news stories from the everyday news stream, gun culture starts appearing as distressing, even tragicomic. Portraits are constructed from shooting-related news clippings from newspapers and internet news sites. Each picture consists of 1050 news headlines, each clipping acts like an individual picture, altogether these images create a portrait of a person.
Notes on Finnish Gun Culture is the third and final artistic part of Pälviranta’s Doctor’s degree research project at the Aalto university, School of Art and Design, completed in 2012. The first one was Battered (gallery Uusitalo, Helsinki 11/2007) and the second Playing Belfast (Contemporary art museum Kiasma, Helsinki 5/2009). The project has received support from the Arts Council of Finland, the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Alfred Kordelin Foundation.