Finnskogen – directly translated as The Forest of the Finns – is a large, contiguous forest belt along the Norwegian-Swedish border in Hedmark/Värmland, where farming families from Finland settled in the early 1600s. The immigrants – called Forest Finns – came mostly from the Savolax region, close to the Russian border at that time.
The Forest Finns were slash-and- burn farmers. This ancient agricultural method yielded plentiful crops, but required large forested areas as the soil was quickly exhausted. In fact, it was a scarcity of natural resources in their native Finland that forced the first wave of migration over the border. Fuelled by failing crops and war, the Forest Finns needed new land to cultivate.
Many of the migrants went southwest and tried their luck in the wilderness. In the following decades, they spread across the forest areas of Scandinavia in search for land with the best, and highest density spruce. The journey was from time to time an essential part of their existence, as mobility was necessary to continue their slash-and- burn farming.
The Forest Finn-culture as it was four centuries ago no longer exists. Yet, more and more people feel a connection to it. Today, the Forest Finns are recognized as one of the national minorities in both Norway and Sweden. There are no statistics on their numbers. In fact, the only official criterion of belonging to this minority is that, regardless of your ethnic origin, you simply feel that you are a Forest Finn.
The Forest Finns’ understanding of nature was rooted in an eastern shamanistic tradition, and they are often associated with magic and mystery. Rituals, spells and symbols were used as a practical tool in daily life; that could heal and protect, or safeguard against evil. This photographic project draws on these beliefs while investigating what it means to be a Forest Finn today, some 400 years and twelve generations later, in a time when the 17th century way of life is long gone, and their language is no longer spoken.
Who? Terje Abusdal
Docking May 7 - 30
Working on Slash & Burn
About The Forest Finns
Artist, writer, curator, editor and lecturer
“I first encountered Terje Abusdal’s remarkable photographic investigation of the ‘Forest Finns’ whilst teaching a year-long ISSP Masterclass in Latvia, in 2015-16. As Abusdal explains it, the Forest Finns were a group of shamanistic slash-and-burn farmers that emigrated from the wilderness of Finland to those of Norway and Sweden more than four-hundred years ago. Today, they are officially and legally recognized as an ethnic minority by the Norwegian government, yet are unique in that ‘they are entirely assimilated, there are no statistics on their numbers, and the only official criteria of belonging to the Forest Finns is that you feel you are one of them, regardless of your ethnic origin.’ In this sense, despite one’s familial, cultural, religious, geographic or genetic background, anyone – and everyone – could claim membership to this minority, as long as one senses a connection to it.
In an age when migration and immigration is increasingly met with calls for resistance based on staunch nationalism and national identity, and when growing cultural diversity is met with calls for rapid assimilation, it is fascinating to consider how fluid (and often fictional) notions of identity, heritage and a sense of belonging can truly be. In exploring how this particular culture and ethnicity that all but disappeared several centuries ago is now being (re)defined, resurrected, embraced and legitimized, Abusdal’s project touches upon the how one’s sense of self, one’s past, and one’s place in the world is as much a matter of feeling as it is of fact. With the remarkable insight provided by experts from various fields, I am sure that Docking Station is the perfect platform for Terje’s project to continue to evolve into a complex, poignant and powerful body of work that will ultimately reach a wide audience.”