In keeping with the times
At the end of May 2021, Laura Hirvi's tenure as director of the Finnish Institute will come to an end: her work in Berlin spanned from 2015, the year of global migration movements, through "100 Years of Finland" in 2017 to today, the second spring of the pandemic. What is Laura Hirvi's conclusion after this eventful and moving time?
For more than six years I’ve had the privilege of working as the director of the Finnish Institute. During this time I learned a great deal and had incredibly wonderful experiences, from atmospheric concerts and breathtaking circus performances to impressive art exhibitions, readings and conferences with world-class academics. Through our work, I have also been able to meet many great and committed people who, as individuals or through their work in institutions, are striving for an open and reflective society.
Together with our partners, we have carried out programmes that were in keeping with the times. In 2016, for example, we dealt with the topic of migration, and in 2019 we looked at the relationship between humans and nature. In addition to current content, it was also important for us to develop new formats for our work. For example, we now have an Open Call for academics, which enables us to realise joint projects across national borders. The Visiting Art/ist programme has also become established and offers artists an opportunity to present their work to a broad audience, but also to experts and figures in the art scene.
Not only are some of our formats new, but also – since autumn 2018 – our location. The same applies to the work of the Finnish Institute as well as to society and current events in general: the most reliable constant is change. The best way to deal with it is to never tire of discussing and learning with and from each other. An open mindset helps immensely.
In this process of exchange, the many different actors with whom we work were and are particularly important for us at the Institute and also for me as director: the creatives in culture and science, the public, the partner institutions and other important networks, such as the cultural and scientific institutes of Finland, of which there are 17 in total worldwide, and EUNIC Berlin, the community of European cultural institutes in Berlin. Only together can we be particularly strong and address global issues!
The Finnish Institute is responsible for the exchange between Finland and German-speaking Europe in its fields of activity. At the same time, it’s becoming apparent that it often makes sense for a cultural institute to leave borders – even language borders – behind; this is what happened, for example, in the context of Mobile Home 2017, one of our programmes on the occasion of the independence anniversary “100 Years of Finland”. In addition to Berlin, the theme of “home” was also examined from different angles in Brussels, Paris and London. The design exhibition Wild at Heart with new Finnish design even went on a world tour: it moved from the Vienna Design Week via Budapest and Stockholm to Helsinki and even Tokyo, despite the pandemic. And the art exhibition A I S T I T / coming to our senses, which begins in Berlin at the end of May, has a universal approach with the theme of sensory perception, as do the associated programmes in and around Paris, London, Helsinki and Ghent. So often our work is not just about bilateral exchange, but about shaping and promoting a global dialogue in a sustainable way.
As this is a farewell from my side, it’s important to say a loud and sincere thank you at this point – thanks for the great time! And as so often in the past, when one stage of life passes into the next, I must end by quoting Hermann Hesse with a stanza from his poem “Stufen” (Steps) in Das Glasperlenspiel:
“Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.”
Translation: Ramona Tyler
A shorter version of this article was published in German in Rengas – Zeitschrift der finnischen Gemeinden in Deutschland.