About the North. On Hanna Kanto’s works

Text written by
Paulina Olszewska

With an artist
Hanna Kanto

First, we see the landscape. White fields and sharp rocks against a background of a totally white sky. The white dominates the painting. It seems as though the composition is empty but then there is a person, a woman, standing to the side with her tripod and looking through a device. She is small, almost tiny, as though she is not the most important element in the landscape. The painting would be a calm and static composition if it were not for the dynamic brushstrokes, which emanate from the figure. What they are? Snow? Perhaps they represent time and the process of erasing impressions and moments from our memory. Or maybe it is nature, dispelling the traces left by humans as though they were never there, as though they never mattered.

The “Binoculars“ painting from 2016 is one of the examples of work of the Finnish artist Hanna Kanto. It is part of a series inspired by the artist’s personal experience. For some years Hanna Kanto has been living and working in northern Finland. That time in the North encouraged the artist to create works in which she observes, captures and describes her experience of everyday life in the region.

binoculars painting hanna kanto north

The North is known for its extreme and unsurmountable contradictions, that force inhabitants to adjust their ways of life to the rhythm of nature and its seasons. That is why nature and the northern landscape play the main role in Hanna Kantos paintings. Nature dominates the composition and shows its protean character. We can also see that in another painting by Kanto: ”At the end of the loop is the magnificent fallen trees“ from 2016. A ship glides through the polar night. The night absorbs the boat, which, bearing tiny people, slowly becomes part of the darkness. The sky, full of stars and simply beautiful, attracts and seduces, but at the same time there is a sense of danger, a strong feeling of anxiety. This impression of being amazed and at the same time scared away exposes the unpredictable and uncontrolled side of nature and the place of humans’ within it.

At the end of the loop is the magnificent fallen trees hanna kanto painting
At the end of the loop is the magnificent fallen tree

Hanna Kanto presents nature as a force which dictates its own rules so that humans can only submit, without much to say. The landscapes in paintings by Hanna Kanto have their own life, while human figures seem to be only accidentally attached. The atmosphere in her works, where humans clash with wild, unpredictable nature, leads us to the tradition of 19th century Romanticism, and the reflection of our role in the world and our frailty. That reminds us that ultimately, we are nothing more than a small part of the constellation of the world.

Nowadays, the position of humans within the system of nature is being rethought given environmental destruction: global warming, pollution and irreversible distortion of the landscape. In this context, works by Hanna Kanto become a comment on the results of human actions, questioning our own awareness in relation to nature.

Rope 2018, 120x130cm, acrylic and oil on canvas hanna kanto painting

Then Hanna Kanto turns to the everyday life in the North, and its people. In her paintings she captures moments and impressions of the everyday lives of the indigenous people: the Sami population, forced through historical and political processes to completely change their way of life while still trying to stay true to their traditions. In her paintings, such as ”Rope“, “Mellows“, “Binoculars II“ the artist reveals the people of the North in a casual context, dressed and behaving in a way that is not so different from people in any other region of Europe. She tries not to preserve the picture we expect when imagining this region but shows reality, with the changes that are taking place there. This clash between modernity and tradition is a typical problem in these contemporary times, where the biggest question is how to be part of the globalized world while maintaining our autonomous individualism and tradition at the same time.

Mellows 2018, 120x130cm, acrylic on canvas hanna kanto painting

One way that is distinct to the people of the North, while also binding them to their traditions are reindeers, still a crucial part of Northern life and farming. Reindeer herding maintains the connection between indigenous people and nature and builds a strong relationship between both. Hanna Kanto presents this connection in her works with all its facets, as an ongoing circle of life: from the beginning to the end, from the breeding of an animal to butchery. The authenticity of this process, and strong bond and interdependence of humans, animals and nature, are fascinating.

binoculars2 hanna kanto painting
Binoculars two

Hanna Kanto extends her stories and impressions of the North and goes beyond the two-dimensional medium of painting into installation. She creates these using found materials: from the slaughter of reindeer, from fields, hills and woods or just simply gathered in random places. From those elements, she creates artistic objects which she then assembles to build a complete artistic habitat within an exhibition space. These all-encompassing artistic works bring us back to North, into nature. The artist guides us to think about how we perceive what surrounds us, as well as what projection of the world we ourselves are creating.

Text by Paulina Olszewska


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