Metsä² Performance: Forest for the Trees

Stepping through the door of Alexanderinkatu number 13 is a little like stepping into the wardrobe and coming out in Narnia. The bustle of the busy shopping street seems a world away as the door closes behind and you emerge into the space. Here mobile phone butterflies glide through cardboard trees and computer mice scurry about amid the undergrowth. This is a forest, yet it’s nothing like any forest you have ever seen before; this is Metsä². The brainchild of artists Henna Tanskanen and Hannah Gullichsen, Metsä² is constructed entirely from unwanted materials and waste collected and donated from the surrounding commercial area. I caught up with Hannah and Henna on a busy day at the space, where we talked creating new species, anarchy and holey socks…

Where did the idea for the performance come from?

Henna: We have been friends for many, many years, and we've always wanted to work together. Then one day we were at Hannah’s storage house and we saw these old wooden skis, and we thought about how nice it'd be to use them if they weren't so old. Then we imagined a performance...and how much we'd like to ski in a room full of styrofoam. 

Hannah: But then the idea developed…it became more about nature and the forest just sort of grew out of that.

Henna: But we already had two major concepts to begin with: the idea of being active and the idea of using packing material and transforming it into something else, such as styrofoam snow. I think both of these ideas are here in this space in its current form. This is a place that makes you interact with it. But the project has not evolved by itself; students from the Helsinki Upper Secondary school of Visual Arts, friends, fellow artists and the general public have been, and continue to be a vital part of Metsä².

Hannah: We’ve been working with so-called local waste, so the people working in the stores around us have been personally giving us things to use.

Henna: They were really happy to offer us all kinds of things after we’ve introduced ourselves. Just this morning actually, I came to open the doors and there was this package from the electrician, full of little stuff and we didn't even have our donation sign up. 

Hannah: We also had help from friends and the public in constructing the forest and especially in organizing the activities. The Helsinki upper Secondary school of Visual Arts was building with us three times a week, so an entire course was built around this. They worked very intensely with us and have come up with many of the ideas you can see around you, for instance some of the mushrooms like the chanterelles, and the blueberries.

Henna: We don’t have authorship in any way. 

Hannah: We haven’t curated anything, we have put out an open call. We have said to people that if you have an event or something you want to perform in this forest, you are free to do so, so people have just booked times.

Right now we’re sitting on a couple of comfy sofas at the entrance to the space, feet up, and coffees in hand. The conversation breaks off sporadically as one or both of the artists get up to welcome newcomers into the forest, encourage them to take off their shoes, explore and immerse themselves in the space, using their own ideas to create something new, take something they like or just lose themselves in the experience.

Henna: I think it’s the location and the people who come in that are so important…a lot of them are confused at first; they see the window or the sign or something and they’re like, what is this? Where am I? And we'd reply: "you’re in the forest, welcome!" It’s a good way to come in and start a conversation.

Hannah: Just today, I spent almost 4 hours talking to this guy who came in from the street and we talked about everything from the cosmos to the smallest of things at the same time. He’s also been very much part of the performance today, because his presence of course transformed the space. Most of the work happens here (in the seating area at the front), it’s in the interactions between us, or between people.

Henna: But also the people who walk in the forest are very much a part of this performance.

Hannah: Yeah, they’re what animates the space.

One or both of the artists have made a point to be always present at Metsä². The warm and intimate atmosphere that brings to the space is something you don’t see a lot of in the art world, where work tends to be viewed from a safe distance and the artists remain a mysterious other, rarely seen and most certainly not spoken to. For Henna and Hannah though, that is not how they roll; the forest is buzzing today with passers-by, friends old and new and students who helped with the initial construction. There's Sonja, one of the students has joined us on the sofas to chat and helps out with welcoming people, and further back between the coat hanger branches I can just make out a group, busy constructing new weird and wonderful creatures to make the forest their home.

Hannah: It’s been a big week for creating new species, I’ve had so many people come out from the forest to show me something they’ve made, it’s wonderful. Also many of the people who have started to work with us on this project, they have also stayed and kept coming back to take care of whatever it is shared by us all. It’s also interesting to see the different ways each person who enters the space reacts to it, and what they take away from their time here…

Henna: Yes, we’ve had people come in who are almost angry, they enter and demand to know what we are and what our statement is. But so many people have had a hand in it that there’s no way to say whether this is exactly what we wanted to say or didn’t want to say…there are many statements.

Hannah: But then we’ve had lots of lovely responses too, for instance today someone wrote in the guest book something like "thank you for introducing anarchy in a different way".

Henna: A softer way, and that’s really something we’re aiming for with this project - to create an environment, or community that is warm and inviting, but that challenges and maybe alters the ways you normally behave.

Hannah: Yeah, because this environment, it creates a situation where you might have to take off your shoes and reveal your socks with holes in them, but that allows you to show a whole other, more intimate side of your personality, or at least we hope so.

And so what will happen to the forest and the space when all this is over?

Hannah: Well we have this event which is called ‘Clear Cut’, so we’re going to have a clear cutting down of the forest. That event is basically built around the fact that there are materials here that artists and teachers, especially those in public schools, want to use as their teaching materials. So that’s the event where we’re going to invite people to come and collect things, whatever they want to use. Then the rest of the stuff will either go where it was going anyway, to recycling or the trash or we will try to find new interesting uses for it.

‘Clear Cut’ will take place on the 29th of October and go on for a 2 or 3 days; but until then, if you’ve ever wanted to try forest yoga, create a new species of plant or animal, have a picnic in the woods in your holey socks or just chat about the cosmos, Henna, Hannah and Metsä² can be found at Alexanderinkatu 13 Tuesday to Sunday between around 10-18:00. For more information on events and times see https://metsatoiseen.wordpress.com/tietoja/.

The photo courtesy of the artists.