On a cloudy morning late last April I returned the keys to my apartment, hopped in a taxi, and started my journey back home to Helsinki. I had spent multiple years abroad and felt uncertain about how much of my Finnishness I had lost along the way. Looking out into the streets of Dublin on my way to the airport, I began to think about what I was bringing with me back to Finland from the land of saints and scholars, the Emerald Isle. I have only recently realized through the arts (especially theatre) what it was: perspective.
I have become fairly acquainted with the Irish theatre scene during the past four years. Spending most of my time in Dublin, I naturally fell behind on the Finnish theatre scene. On some level, I felt (and still do) like a fraud for having spent more time amongst Irish theatre than I have with Finnish. Yet, this has granted me a fresh pair of eyes; I am observing and internalizing current art and media here as a hybrid from both within and outside of my Finnish identity.
Finland and Ireland have fairly similar backgrounds. Both nations share a history of seeking independence and their own national identity under the oppression of a larger nation as well as sharing the context of surviving a devastating famine as smaller, somewhat isolated countries. Both nations are slightly obsessed with being relevant and talked about in international news media. Both nations are on some level hyper-aware of their own image, both past and present. However, the way I see it, the difference between the two comes from the way in which each nation frames its current identity: Ireland to the past, Finland to the future.
No, this is not the Ireland of today – let us show you how we have grown.
Perhaps the most apt word for both nations’ theatre scenes would be rebirth.
Ireland and especially the younger generation no longer identify with the romanticized image of the ideal Irish citizen whose inherent value and worth is tied to how their actions align with the idea of the submissive, amenable, and morally complacent Catholic. Now, through art and theatre, they are fighting back against these presumptive generalizations which are presented in a plethora of combinations around the world to sell (especially tourists) the idea of the small country which is stuck in time, eternally glorifying the past. They are saying: No, this is not the Ireland of today – let us show you how we have grown.
Contemporary Finnish theatre is not as concerned with creating a clear-cut distinction between old and new identities. To me, it appears on multiple levels that Finland and the Finnish art and theatre scene has accepted and embraced its peripheral ‘outcastedness’ as a part of its identity, and instead chooses to emphasize the impacts of this as opposed to changing peoples’ opinions. The emphasis is more in exploring moral and philosophical conundrums, the state of the world, and the prospects of the future through a Finnish perspective (and questioning what this perspective is). Posthumanism is one route which is used to delve into these ideas.
Essentially, Ireland is saying: who are we? Finland is saying: what can we be?
There is much to be gained from both nations’ art and theatre scenes. I truly believe that if Finnish and Irish artists joined forces and began to explore all the ways in which they share commonalities and perspectives of the modern world, both nations would learn a great deal more about themselves in the process. If nothing else, then at least I’m sure they would happily share a round of Guinness or Karhu and compare whose weather is worse.
Pia Malinen is a first year M.A. (FM) student majoring in Theatre Art Research (TaM) at the University of Helsinki and she is currently interning at Theatre Info Finland TINFO. Pia graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 2019 with a B.A. majoring in Theatre Studies, minoring in Film Studies.