Lauri Ainala is a Finnish video and sound artist, and a musician. Known for his role as a key member of the bands Paavoharju and Harmaa Getto, he has also been releasing new video works, boosted by a two-year working grant awarded to him by the Kone Foundation. His videos are created using pieced together documentary footage, mixed with music and narration. We discuss time, memories, Savonlinna, and degraded shacks of horror.
Savonlinna of Dreams
You can’t escape Savonlinna in Lauri Ainala’s videos, even though the city is not present in a way that would be recognisable to someone only familiar with the major landmarks. That’s not what Savonlinna means to Ainala anyway. “There’s another side to the city. The sterile view presented as a type of commercial doesn’t tell much about actual life here,” Ainala says.
The film Unien Savonlinna is built from clips of documentary footage from 2005–2010, depicting life in self-sufficient environments around Savonlinna, either in self-made shacks or within already abandoned buildings.
Ainala wanted to create a document of the time spent. But the film is not chronological or scripted. “I can’t make things if I have to do something very specific! There is an everyday feel, and the melancholy of time passing and of visiting places only accessible through memory.” A large part of the footage is filmed by Ainala, though some he collected from other people, piecing together everything he could get. But he is more interested in the material telling its own story, instead of creating something linear that adheres to a specific timeline.
“The works are built through sound and image, elements that work together instead of some narrative created from my memory. The result is something new that’s been dictated by the elements of the material. But both narratives are true – the one in our memory, and the one in those videos.”
The dream-like quality of the scenes created from memories and the sense of lost moments and time is a common theme in Ainala’s work. The video work Orpokotijuhlat Saarella (2016) is based on Ainala’s experiences of the Saari church, where members of the Christian revivalist movement known as ‘uukuniemeläisyys’ held their gatherings. Ainala has also released an EP with the same name, and the music is present in the video.
As Ainala has memories of time spent there as a child, and his family has a history of attending the gatherings, he returned to Saari to record sound for the EP. “In a way it’s document of the place, Saari,” Ainala says “but more of a psychological place.”
The video is a kind of offshoot of the extensive Orpokotijuhlat Saarella EP. Ainala has long worked with sound, and only started to create videos when his friends showed him some basic stuff on an editing programme. “On a practical level, creating a visual work and a sound piece are surprisingly similar processes for me, because the computer programs work with the same logic,” says Ainala. “Making sound pieces to me is more about free association however, compared to video works. Maybe that’s their biggest difference.”
But back to Savonlinna. Ainala’s latest video work, the film The Savonlinna Worshippers, was released last year. Filmed and edited between 2012–2019, it follows more of a dream logic than Savonlinna of Dreams. “Worshipping is the ultimate demonstration of love,” Ainala announces. “It’s not enough that you are in the heart of Savonlinna, if you don’t fulfil that love. The Savonlinna Worshippers are committed to only worshipping Savonlinna.”
The city has undoubtedly changed in the recent years, and new buildings have sprung up and changed the cityscape. “Sterile environments can be interesting depending on the perspective you take,” Ainala concedes “but here in Savonlinna I feel like the new buildings just aren’t that. Old, familiar buildings are dismantled and in their place, these kind of non-places are constructed. Maybe this adherence to sterility is based on the idea that life can be controlled, or it calms the human mind, not having to remember anything. In desolate places and self-made shacks however, you cannot entertain these illusions.”
Ainala has undertaken a multitude of construction projects in Savonlinna, with varying degrees of success. Though his self-sufficient living arrangements have generally worked well, other construction projects have been met with more resistance. The so-called ‘sauna shack’, built by Ainala and his friends and featured in the video Le Droit Humain, met an early fate.
The sauna shack, built last fall and also more formally known as ‘The Malt Temple’ (Mallastemppeli), was found by unsuspecting joggers who had come across it while jogging in the forest. “They got the idea that it was some kind of satanic temple, informing the city that this degraded shack of horror had appeared, tainting all that is good and holy,” Ainala says. “We attempted to publicly talk about the sauna, and how it’s free for anyone to use. But the cranks of the city council had decided on their ruling, and no negotiations took place. We took down the shack during one November eve, and burnt its pieces in a barrel.”
In Ainala’s works, there is also the recurring theme of creating your own spaces, your own dwellings. In the videos, you catch glimpses of other animal species just living their lives. We are all confined to our environments, and survive how we best see fit. “Making do with very limited resources is strongly linked to creating in these environments. You need to think of how something more can be made of the individual elements. It’s a nice process – inventive and free work,” Ainala muses.
There’s more to self-sufficiency and these self-made environments, which can exist almost separate from the pace of the rest of the world. “When a place is ‘finished’ they are somehow these timeless planes of existence,” Ainala says. “Especially the room we made in a cave was such that it seemed like time lost its meaning. When you turned off the electric light, it was dark, independent of the time of day. Savonlinna should remain unchanged.”