(exhibition & performance with) Helsinki Biennial 2023

Materia Medica of Islands is a durational, site-sensitive work. It holds within it an apothecary, a lamenting choir, nightly recordings of moths and a commemorative tribute to Ilma Lindgren who secured the freedom to roam and forage in Finland. This transdisciplinary artwork of healing, song, and ingestion interacts with the diverse inhabitants of Vallisaari Island. Through live events and performances the work invokes an oracle, a cosmology of the island. 

Materia Medica of Islands is Lotta Petronella's multidisciplinary creation. Laments choral work composed together with Lau NauMemorial party for Ilma Lindgren with Sami Tallberg. The work was curated by Joasia Krysa for HAM/Helsinki Biennial. 

Working Group
Lamenting Choir: Alma Rajala, Anna Jussilainen, Gabriela Ariana, Heta Pyhäjärvi, Kristina Vahvaselkä, Laura Naukkarinen, Lotta Petronella, Textile and costume design: Maedhbh McMahon, Lampshades: Limelight Lampshade, SuperCollider sound programming: Atte Häkkine, Sound recordings: Laura Naukkarinen, Atte Häkkinen, Heta-Maria Pyhäjärvi, Juulia Haverinen, Assistant writer & researcher on moths tarot: Selina Oakes, Moth specialist & butterfly enthusiast Lassi Jalonen (Lepidopterological Society of Finland, Metalwork: Peltin Oy

Materia Medica of Islands is a sanctuary amongst the eerie military structures of Vallisaari island. Voices of a ‘lamenting choir’ waft above wooden shelves lined with countless vials – ‘Mugwort for dreaming’ and ‘St Johnswort for melancholy, picked under a July full moon’. On a side wall are hung dozens of frenzied embroideries of moths –  species that have been studied on the island as indicators of climate change. - Wallpaper
The Helsinki Biennial is an international visual arts event that brings high-level contemporary art to Vallisaari and other parts of Helsinki. The biennial was organized for the second time from June 11 to September 17, 2023. Helsinki Biennial 2023 consisted of exhibitions, a discursive and performative program, presentations of video works, publications and an online program. Images © HAM/Helsinki Biennial/Sonja Hyytiäinen and Pauliina Runola

(performance) Helsinki Biennial2023

Laments is a series of choral performances, experienced in front of the apothecary – a part of Materia Medica of Islands. Lamenting together is a practice of collective healing, a tradition of mourning held and performed by women. The Laments were composed together with Lau Nau and the choir.

In the garden, under a waning moon, a choir gathers to lament
rattles of eagle ferns and pebbles naming sorrows, embodying pain
To grief is to (re)member

Lamenting Choir: Alma Rajala, Anna Jussilainen, Gabriela Ariana, Heta Pyhäjärvi, Kristina Vahvaselkä, Laura Naukkarinen, Lotta Petronella. Textile and costume design: Maedhbh McMahon. Images by Pauliina Runola and Juho Liukkonen

(film & live score) Helsinki Biennial 2023
A person's life in the universe is as long as a butterfly's life on an island. A moth only lives for a short time - from a few days to a couple of months.

PSYCHE is a 16mm live-accompanied film performance. A short film about moths, an island, and a border state. The short film was shot July 2023 in Vallisaari. In the piece, the choir summons the souls of moths, taking you to another world. In the hypnotic meeting of the night and the island, Manaus is a deep prayer, an exorcism and a dirge for the loss of nature. 

Writer/Director: Lotta Petronella
Producer: Ilona Tolmunen/MADE
Cinematographer: Annika Miettinen
Editor: James Coker
Sound design & recording: Heta-Maaria Pyhäjärvi
Music: Lotta Petronella, Heta-Maria Pyhäjärvi

Color correction: Hannu Käki
Funders: AVEK, TAIKE

The work was performed with a livescore as part of Polyphonic Entanglements curated by Giovanna Esposito Yussif / MIF 2nd of September 2023 at the Culture Center Caisa. 

KIITOS ILMA: A commemoration to Ilma Lindgren
(performance) Helsinki Biennial 2023

KIITOS ILMA is a commemoration to Ilma Lindgren, a working class woman who fought for her right to pick lingonberries. Her struggle secured ’jokaisenoikeudet’ everyone’s right to roam free and forage (1914-1920). She was the first person to win a court case against the landowners. Berry pickers were mainly women and children who had no legal rights. Ilma was able to take the landowners to court because she was a widow.

The event was a collaboration with forager and chef Sami Tallberg who created a whipped tribute to Ilma. The parade with the Laments choir and an open call choir was conducted by Lau Nau. The banners were created by textile artist Meadhbh McMahon and Ilma was performed by Cecile Orblin and Gerard Mannix Flynn.

A talk with Eija Lehmuskallio/LuontoPortti in conversation with Sami Tallberg was moderated by Josh Allen and live trnslated by Simo Vassinen and took place a day before the commemoration party. Writer Anu Huttunen also gave a lecture on the life, struggle and resistance of Ilma. Kiitos Ilma was written/directed and composed by Lotta Petronella.

The performance, parade and seminar was presented at Polyphonic Entanglements a two day event curated by Giovanna Esposito Yussif/MIF at Caisa Kultturikeskus and Hakaniemi Market Place Helsinki Biennial 2023, Vallisaari.Images by Juho Liukkonen 

PEELING AN ONION with Gabriela Ariana
(performance) New Performance Festival 2023

Peeling an Onion is a collective and intimate space of dreaming, sharing and lamenting. Onions help us to cry, to release, to pray. Onions have been used for thousands of years as food, medicine & protection. The etymology of the word is one & unity referring to the layers of an onion as part of something bigger. Peeling an Onion is a gathering of singing and gestures that are all connected to onions and collective ways of grieving. Grief as a form of resistance and nourishment. The gatherers are invited to join around the table to peel, sing and share.

New Performance Turku Biennale is a unique performance art biennale that presents current trends in art to local and international audiences. Activities include residencies and large-scale collaborations with local communities and actors. The goal of the New Performance Turku Biennale is to take the principles of social, ecological and economic sustainability of operations even further. The focus of the activity is inviting high-profile artists to Turku and building a connection between artists, local and international communities and diverse audiences. Images by Jussi Virkkumaa/New Performance Turku.

(installation) New Performance Festival 2022–2023

The Apothecary is an ongoing investigation and installation of medicine: essences, scents and plant pigments made on and with the island. The Apothecary is part of Själö Poeisis herbarium, a collection of texts and interventions, a choir, lecture performances, plant cards and botanical sessions. 

Pigment archive and tarot herbarium by Cecilia Westerberg, scent notes by Anna Kaurhu-Cormier, Botanical lessons by Jasmin Inkinen.

Essences are subtle, vibrational medicine. They are one of our oldest forms of healing, they have been used and made for thousands of years. An essence can be made with any living being or environment. The essence of the plant, flower or place is imprinted in the water under the sun, moonlight, wind, rain, snow creating a kind of liquid consciousness of the invisible, space and time.

How do you know what you know? Exercises in Attentiveness events were organised collaboratively by CAA Contemporary Art Archipelago and New Performance Turku. The programme and the art works were produced as part of CAA’s project Spectres in Change and were supported by Kone Foundation and the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland. Images by Jussi Virkkumaa/New Performance Turku.

(performance) New Performance Festival 2022

Lament to Pine Trees is a polyphonic, collective gesture of mourning towards the girdled pine trees in the south forest of Seili performed by a small choir. 

Director/writer/score: Lotta Petronella
Texts: Lotta Petronella, Seppo Parkkinen
Assistance: Heta-Maaria Pyhäjärvi
Choir: Alma Rajala, Anna Jussilainen, Gabriela Ariana, Heta Pyhäjärvi, Kristina Vahvaselkä, Laura Naukkarinen, Lotta Petronella
Choir director: LAU NAU
Curator: Taru Elfving/CAA

How do you know what you know? Exercises in Attentiveness events were organised collaboratively by CAA Contemporary Art Archipelago and New Performance Turku. The programme and the presented art works were produced as part of CAA’s project Spectres in Change and were supported by Kone Foundation and the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland. Images by Jussi Virkkumaa/New Performance Turku.

(exhibition) Megacosm Project 8 Gallery, Melbourne 2022

Marked trees are 111 documents of pine trees that have been girdled using a chainsaw creating two deep cuts on the bark of the tree. The technique is intended to kill the trees slowly. Girdeling is a method of sterilising the trees. This is a form of forest managment executed by Metsähallitus on Seili. Knowing the history of the island as a detention centre and a prison for those not seen as fitting societal norms of the times there is an uncanny haunting taking place. The ghost being the institutional structures present on the island rather than the individuals sent there.

Can trees and bodies embody ghostly connections across space and time?

Curated by Cūrā8. ‘Marked trees 001–035 Seili’ 2021. Digital photographs on forex, 14.8 × 10.5cm each. 

READING WITH PLANTS Private reading performance
(performance series) How do you know what you know? Exercises in Attentiveness 2022 Tarot Herbarium in collaboration with Cecilia Westerberg

Seili and its myriad spectres have been guiding the work of CAA together with artists and scientists. The ghosts of environmental transformation, histories of othering, and reproductive labour of care have not called for explanation or exorcism, but rather invited acts of conjuring and conspiring with them. They have demanded a reckoning in the face of the abundant inheritances, so as to recall knowledges and sensibilities that lie hidden in the long shadows cast by traditions considered reasonable.

Reading with Plants feeds into and exists alongside a herbarium, lecture performances, a choir work, an apothecary and botanical sessions. Comprising a set of 26 plant cards loosely based on the cosmology of Tarot, it folds into and out of a larger body of work, Själö Poiesis, which in-turn is a critical study of power structures through plants, especially common plants; the weeds, the vulgaris. – by Selina Oakes

The performance series took place on the island of Ruissalo; it was organised by Contemporary Art Archiepelago in association with New Performance Turku 2022. The programme and the presented art works were produced as part of CAA’s project Spectres in Change and have been supported by Kone Foundation and the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland. Images by Jussi Virkkumaa

SJÄLÖ - The Island of Souls
(screening & live score with Lau Nau) Tampere Film Festival 2021

Tampere Film Festival is an international short film festival that gathers filmmakers, students and film lovers together annually in March. Tampere Film Festival is one of the three largest short film festivals in Europe, alongside Clermont-Ferrand (France) and Oberhausen (Germany). Festival is a recognised festival by International Federation of Film Producers Associations FIAPF and member of Short Film Conference ISFC. 

(performance series) Seili 2021 

You prepare for the night by dressing up in a white woolly gown. It’s a shield, a veil, an invitation to sleep with the island. It’s late in the evening and the sun will set soon. You find a spot by the logged trees. The land has been ravaged and you immediately think of revenge. Stumps of old quacking aspen trees stand still and lifeless. They were sterilised, girdled to make sure they will not grow back. Polish by origin, unwanted because of their roots. You lie down amongst the debris of trees and dead leaves. You press your chin hard against the ground. So hard so it hurts. You close your eyes. The soil is damp. There is a colony of ants moving underground. Clutches of primula veris grow on the edge of the old forest. You sense their presence. Their flowers hanging down like heads bowing in deep prayer. You embody their starlike yellow flowers creating tiny beacons of light directed towards the earth below. The dead are everywhere. A blue moon gazes over the island, humming like a bird. You become a bridge, a river. You become a witness waiting for messages to reach your blood, your water. Your vessel your body. Your sleeping body your recorder, your compass.

Sleeping with the island is an ongoing recorded performance initiated on the island of Seili 2021. An archive of 35 prints were exhibited at Melbourne’s Project8 Gallery in December 2022. 

SJÄLÖ - The Island of Souls   78 min MADE
(film) 2020

For centuries, a closed institution served as a final destination for socially transgressive women at Själö, an isolated island in the Baltic Sea. The outcast women were kept there in detention to be observed, studied and measured—in much the same way as the scientists now focus on the surrounding nature at the research center the place has been converted to. While a young scientist is collecting samples on the island, the past emerges in the whispers of the unsent letters and empty rooms of the hospital. The space fills up with hidden memories as the invisible archives become alive. Whose stories are remembered and whose are forgotten?

”Immersive, dreamlike” – Cineuropa
”A haunting thriller” – Filmuforia
”A mesmerising documentary” – BIFF Film Festival
”Meditation on memory, power and patriarchy” – Ubiquarian

The film had its World Premiere at CPH:DOX as part of the Nordic Docs Competition 2020; it was awarded a special mention by the jury which stated:

“The Jury has decided to give a Special Mention to a film which is a truly cinematic exploration of a space through the voices of those who inhabited it. This film centers on a place haunted by a history of forcibly committed women in a strong visual language and a wired soundscape. The Special Mention goes to ‘Själö - Island of Souls’ by Lotta Petronella.”

Director: Lotta Petronella
Screenwriter: Lotta Petronella, Seppo Parkkinen
Producers: Ilona Tolmunen, Ulla Simonen, Johanna Tarvainen
Cinematographer: Kerttu Hakkarainen
Editor: Matti Näränen
Sound: Janne Laine
Music: LAU NAU
Production company: MADE

Watch trailer ︎︎

The Nordic:Dox jury consisted of Programmer at Sarajevo Film Festival Elma Tataragić, Marrocan Festival Director at FIDADOC Hicham Falah and Danish director Sun Hee Engelstoft. SJÄLÖ was selected as one of 8 films in development for DokIncubator 2019. Golden Frog Nominee – Feature Documentary Films Competition, Camerimage 2020 
Film stills by Maija Savolainen and Kerttu Hakkarainen

(film) 2019

Land Without God is an intimate portrait of a family coming to terms with decades of institutional abuse and the impact it has had and is still having on their lives. The film examines the legacy of Institutional abuse by the Irish Church and State over the last century. The story follows the writer, Gerard Mannix Flynn, together with generations of his family who for the first time, speak openly together about their childhood traumatic experience of being removed from the family home and being incarcerated in children’s homes and industrial institutions run by religious catholic orders. Here the children worked the land from dawn until dusk, ill-clothed, half-starved day in day out. The regime was merciless. It focuses on the impact that violence had and is still having on them and their class. Why did this happen? How does one exit the trauma buried deep in the bones of generations? Is it possible to walk away free? And will they let you?

Directors Gerard Mannix Flynn, Maedhbh McMahon & Lotta Petronella
Producers Farcry Productions Ltd (Gerard Mannix Flynn/Maedhbh McMahon)
Script Gerard Mannix Flynn
Cinematography Lotta Petronella
Editor Lotta Petronella
Research Maedhbh McMahon
Production Design Farcry Productions
Sound Design Janne Laine

Watch trailer ︎︎


HOME. Somewhere (HEM. Någonstans)   74 min
(film) 2015 

HOME. Somewhere is a poetic feature length documentary film that asks the bold question: Will the human soul ever find a home? At the most remote islands of Finland we encounter men that become our personal guides and lead us through this unknown landscape and on the sea. By allowing us to enter into their private world and rituals we are subjected to think about our own idea of home.

‘Documentaries seldom attempt anything so simple, nor can they hope to achieve so much.’  - John Anderson - Indiewire 
HOME. Somewhere premiered at Docpoint Film Festival in Helsinki in January 2015. It received the critic's choice by film critic John Anderson who chose the film as one of his favourite film from the New Finnish Documentary Series.