Ola Ståhl / PS Malmö (2015)

Platform / Vaasa City Library
Vaasa, Finland, 2015

Ola Ståhl’s project “Eftersläckning” consists of an artist book of thirty-nine volumes accompanied by a series of short pieces of writing. Taking as its point of departure, the Finnish Civil War and, in particular, the so-called White Terror and the detention camps run by White Guards across Finland during and after the Civil War, the thirty-nine volumes seek to address issues around historiography and commemoration. Each page in the volumes represent one victim of the White Terror; that is, one person executed or murdered by white guards, or one person dead from starvation or disease in the detention camps.

The origins of the project dates back to a residency period Ståhl spent at Helsinki International Artist Program, located, partly, in the former army barracks at Suomenlinna in the Helsinki archipelago. At HIAP / Suomenlinna, the buildings used as living quarters and studios for visiting artists are adjacent to one of the main tourist attractions in Finland – the most picturesque part of the island group with bars, cafés, restaurants, small harbours and other attractions. However, the surrounding barracks also formed part of the White Terror system of detention camps in which approximately 8,000 members and suspected sympathizers of the Red Guards were interned. Apart from Marja Kanervo’s beautiful memorial plaque, subtly and poetically located near the harbour of the main island, there is little at Suomenlinna, part of which is still run by the Finish military, to commemorate this particular part of its history; a phenomenon which is, arguably, often the case in popular accounts of this historical period, celebratory in tone of the events as constitutive of the modern Finish state.

The volumes that together compound Eftersläckning are bound in such way that they cannot be opened without being destroyed. You can see the bulk of pages in each book, sense their volume, their presence as a physical mass, but being glued at both margins, they would have to be destroyed as objects were they to be opened as conventional books. They are, in a sense, reduced to their material components: paper and glue. They remain a set of books, but they are also, and at the same time, something other than that; an abstract, material mass, a set of objects with a commemorative function, something akin to a monument of sorts. As such commemorative objects, however, they do not seek to unravel hidden histories – these are already well-documented and debated – but instead raise questions around commemoration in general, the act of engendering dominant historical narratives while erasing others from public discourse, potentially narrowing down the possibilities for serious conversations around complex socio-political and cultural histories and the ways in which they shape our sense of ourselves and our position and agency in the world.

The texts accompanying the bound volumes, footnotes of sorts, are printed on semi-transparent tracing paper and take the form of journal entries compiled by Ståhl during a residency period at Platform in Vaasa. The notes move between and weave together citations from newspaper articles, media reportage, philosophy, history and critical literature, fiction and poetry, personal reflections and biographical events, providing a context for the work and placing the atrocities of the time within the general context of the detention camp, the state of exception and the historical foundation of the modern, capitalist state and its contemporary developments.

Footnotes to a Monument (Platform, Vaasa, 2015)