COMMON PEOPLE SONGS
Common people songs is the second part of Joel Karppanen’s trilogy depicting restructuring, social landscape and ordinary people. Deriving its name from working class poet Kössi Kaatra’s (1882-1928) book of the same name, the series is an exploration of Finnish labour movement and the myth of socialist Kemi.
Kemi, the most left-wing town in Finland, provides a fresh perspective on the country’s political past and present. For more than 130 years, the socialist
legacy resulting from its flourishing forest and paper industries has shaped lives in the town of two factories and a mine, although migration to bigger cities, a high median age and an unprecedentedly vast scheme to privatize public health care seem to be gradually undermining it. On the other hand, plans to build a new bioproduct mill gives hope to 20,000 distinctly work-oriented inhabitants of the small northern town where leftism is largely institutionalized and undisguised as there seems to be a labour association for every interest, ranging from chess to sailing. To what extent is this a facade, a reminder of times when the relation between labour and capital was strong? Things are done and repeated for the sake of tradition. Social communality and a shared identity forged over time in a common ideology seem to outweigh political activism.
On 18 August 1949, known as ’Blood Thursday’, a conflict between police and strikers in Kemi resulted in the death of two demonstrators, Felix Pietilä and Anni Kontiokangas. The next incident of political violence in Finland claiming a life took place 67 years later: in 2016, Jimi Karttunen died from injuries he sustained after being assaulted by a neo-Nazi outside Helsinki Central Station. Although more than 70 years has passed since ’Blood Thursday’, many of the labour rights issues that led to the Kemiyhtiö workers strike remain topical as well does the rise of fascism in all over Europe.
The exhibition consists of series of documentary photographs shot over a course of three years (2017-2019), Polaroid and text-based diptychs and a short film.