ART ON THE EDGE
BY DUNCAN WELLER
ON the occasion of Canada’s 150 anniversary of Confederation and the 100th year of Finland’s independence from Russia, Ahti Tolvanen, a well-known member of our Finnish community, a former resident and currently a part-time resident of Thunder Bay, took an opportunity while visiting this summer to link these two grand events as part of an effort to further celebrate each other’s culture.
His efforts in this endeavour began a few weeks ago when he invited a number of performers and others to join him in a video presentation at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. The video was of a play in the works called, Life as We Knew It, written by Ahti and based on a novel by local author Heather Stowell. Those invited were treated to performances by Rodney Brown, Liisa Lahtinen and Joanne Smith.
Ahti Tolvanen is an art enthusiast, sustainable investment advisor, a former administrator and lecturer at Helsinki University and lecturer at Nankai University in China. He is working to be a playwright, occasional actor and continues to be a deep thinker who also travels widely in his exploits. He is one of the most progressively senior gentleman you are likely to meet.
On two separate occasions I’ve seen Tolvanen in action in Helsinki last year where Finnish politicians and activists conversed in a video conference with politicians, professors and others in Thunder Bay taking on issues related to the hot topic of immigration with a specific interest in race relations in both Finland and locally. Of specific concern were the incredible number of Iraqi and Syrian refugees causing a heroic outpouring of aid and assistance with a good deal of division in Europe.
On another occasion I accompanied Tolvanen to a large conference in Helsinki where multiple discussions of world affairs took place. Observing a discussion regarding mining practices of Finnish companies in South America I was disheartened to learn that Canadian mining companies were notorious worldwide for their inhumane practices regarding indigenous peoples and the destruction of the environment surrounding them. Sadly as much as Canada and Finland have our cultures in common to celebrate we also have our crimes to acknowledge.
Tolvanen’s personable manner is one of grace and gives him the ability to bring people together for social and environmental causes, often sandwiching art and politics. The play, Life As We Knew It, for instance, is a production by Superior Anti-Theatre.
This company produced two plays, one by Heather Stowell and the other by Roy Blomstrom for a Finnish audience and later an audience in England. The group received recognition for their efforts at an international artist’s panel at the UN Climate Summit last November where a panel discussion, with visuals, was broadcast live globally. Currently Life As We Knew It is being tweaked for a North American audience.
International in scope, the play is about scientists battling the corporate wealthy when a discovery is made in indigenous territory that could extend human life exponentially. This seemingly wonderful benefit has drawbacks, especially for the environment, but also for the indigenous people who live where the discovery is made. The protagonists have to battle with the moral implications and impact on others while trying to deal with their own lives once they are thrown into turmoil. If that isn’t enough they have to battle with the greedy corporate raiders who can’t wait to make a profit from the discovery.
Superior Anti-Theatre has been performing environmentally themed plays since 2011 in such cities as Hamilton, Winnipeg, London (England), Brighton, Helsinki and Thunder Bay.
The production company’s focus is on how the climate and environmental crises has an impact on ordinary people, while pointing out how we can’t rely on politicians and the mainstream media to change the way we live. Artists, they believe, need to play a part in changing the conversation.
And in the spirit of global sharing, Tolvanen and the theatre group are working to exchange ideas to better bring Finnish voices to Canada and Canadian voices to Finland. So, this winter, you may want to keep a lookout for Tolvanen when he descends on Thunder Bay again. You can find more information about Superior Anti-Theatre on their Facebook Page.
Duncan Weller is an award winning author and illustrator of children’s books. You can find him hocking his picture books, art and other books Saturday mornings at the Country Market and at his gallery and studio at 118 Cumberland St. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.