Strange Weather | Blog
posted by Johanna Salmela on 19 December 2019

The text is composed by the Strange Weather group: Marja Helander, Ingvill Fossheim, Maija Fox, Andrew Gryf Paterson, Špela Petrič, Kati Roover and Niko Wearden.

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What you might call / a non-coordinated looking event / is one full of experience / while in a still image of a moving one / reindeer whirl around / into some organised form.. / I fall onto my knees / And hands search through the rhizomes / My nose closer to the ground / than it has been for a while / or for ever / I nibble and nobble off berries / Crowberries—Vuoren Variksenmarja—super food / for non-humans and Homo Sapians alike / They last the winter long / unbroken when the frost finally melts / GoPro video never knows..

By Andrew Gryf Paterson: Already in my mind / on air at Lásságámmi.. (Part of the stanzas)

A video work Áfruvvá – Seamermaid and Other Stories by Strange Weather -group, with Adriana Knouf and Johanna Salmela

Strange Weather: On Looking and Sensing in Ways Other Than Looking
Niko Wearden


Our watching is never without a kind of ethical problem.
          –Play On: Collaboration and Process – Certain Fragments: Texts and Writings on Performance – Tim Etchells

I am in Kilpisjärvi, on the Finnish side of Sápmi with a group of artists and scientists, participating in the Finnish Bioarts Society’s Field_Notes residency as part of the Strange Weather group, lead by Marja Helander. It is a joy to work with Strange Weather group members Ingvill Fossheim, Maija Fox, Kati Roover, Špela Petrič and Andrew Patterson, and so much valuable input is also contributed by Leena and Oula A.Valkeapää, who live and herd reindeer in this region, and Second Order group members, especially Adriana Knouf and Sophie Dulau.


I think about looking. As a group we discuss the frames through which we look, for example, framings of anthropology, artistic research or ‘arts and sciences’. We discuss how particular modes of looking are privileged over others and talk about how to value experiential, artistic and scientific knowledges equally, allowing space for critique but without expecting one to only function where the other cannot eg. art is not only existing here to fill in the gaps of what is ‘not possible’ for science. I am inspired by my colleague Špela Petrič to think about the politics of looking through a microscope; how has this instrument been utilised within oppressive structures historically, how does it continue to be used to perpetuate systems of oppression?

Adriana Knouf and Špela Petrič in Kilpisjärvi lBiological Station laboratory

We discuss the colonial gazes, or ‘colonial modes of looking’, that we bring to this traditional Sámi land. There are 40 artists and scientists here, looking; looking to ‘find something out’. We talk about the politics of extraction and consider the violent histories and ongoing systematic oppression of indigenous people many of us and our ancestors are responsible for and continue to benefit from. What are the political implications of doing/ taking/ ‘looking through’ artistic and scientific research lenses specifically in this place? I am concerned that we only find something that is useful to us and then carry it back to our homes in the south with no further dialogue with the land from which we take – the possibility that our practice might employ such colonial methodologies should be discussed, whether what we look at is algae from the water, microbial life living in the air or an observation of indigenous life here in Sápmi. When we look at this land, when we study this land, we look at, we study, indigenous land – even if we do not look directly at indigenous people. Through working with my Strange Weather group, I also learn that it is important to remember that we are looking at a cultural landscape; not an empty or deserted landscape, although to our eyes it may look to be so. This is a working landscape even if those who work here don’t leave many marks. We should not assume we have access to it simply because it ‘looks’ empty to our eyes.

An old, ancient reindeer corral in the mountains

We are having many discussions in our group about how to look, how not to objectify or fetishize Sámi lives and experience. We’re talking about the importance of understanding the multiplicity of Sámi life, not looking at, and expecting one indigenous person to speak for all, or to have all the answers to our questions of ‘Strange Weather’.

We talk about performance, and how a situation might be framed where one person becomes ‘like a performer’ and others ‘like an audience’, and how to avoid this, or break it down – or at least make those terms explicit, to make sure everyone is consenting to them. We’re talking a lot about looking, about how to look, about the ethics of looking.

I trouble over extracting rock to look for fossils and wonder what purpose this action serves. I try to settle my discomfort through laughter – there is a lot of laughter in the Strange Weather group. I feel grateful for that. I feel that, as someone with no scientific or geological training, I don’t know what I am looking for when I look at these rocks. Maybe I am looking for something that you don’t need scientific or geological training to look for – but, even then, I still have no idea what I am looking for. And also, with all looking there always has to be a point at which we do not know what we are looking at/ for and why; from there we can begin learning, questioning. But right now, this action feels so performative. From the outside my pulling rocks out of the mountain and examining them makes me look like a geologist, someone who does know what they’re looking for, but I’m totally performing. There was joy in those moments I found some trace of ancient life. I am excited by the possibility of thinking through deep time, and the incomprehensible oldness of this rock. But I disturbed all this moss, and all the little creatures that live inside it. I know they are there because I ‘looked’ at them under a microscope in the lab. They were probably dying when I looked at them. What is it to disturb these tiny creatures, these complex ecosystems that exist inside the moss growing amongst ancient rock? What are the politics of examining microbial life in a laboratory? We talk about this in our group – I am so enriched and grateful for this conversation although we come to no conclusions.

Whilst these conversations are happening my brain is also whirring with concern of how I am being looked at here. Sometimes I am demanding to be seen as a trans person and sometimes I give in and rest into the discomfort of being misunderstood as a ‘girl’. Both take a lot of energy but sometimes the latter is easier. I feel I have to put my body in the way of the only other trans person on the residency because she doesn’t have the same privilege to hide her transness as I do. I worry about how she is looked at. I worry that it’s patronising of me to be concerned – she’s an adult who can make her own choices about how to feel safe here. I worry that how my body is looked at might affect the way her body is looked at. Cis people don’t have to worry about these things. I am grateful for those moments of lightness when I feel seen and understood. I am glad I am not the only trans person here. We laugh together about all this trouble and swim in the lake naked together. When I first came out as trans I don’t think I imagined I’d be swimming in a lake above the arctic circle with another trans person. I am so moved by this moment.

I think about how the water has held us together during this time. The water of the lake in Kilpisjärvi, the arctic sea, the Áfruvvá (a seabeing from Sámi mythology), the river we crossed together, some of us barefoot with Oula A. Valkepää passing each of us long sticks to steady ourselves, as well as all of the life that these bodies of water support. Oula told me that the streams are full of stories – I think of all the knowledges in the water, and how the water connects us to the sky. I dream of my watery body being moved by the moon, like the tide. I swim in the arctic sea. In the underwater footage we shot by Lásságámmi (the home of Nils Aslak-Valkepää – now an artist residency space) my body floats obscured by the ocean, genderless and creature-like. I am a creature of the water, connected here to all other watery life, which is all life.

Our group facilitate a space for not talking. We situate ourselves in the landscape around the lake, with everyone who has come here. I realise that this is the longest I have not either been myself speaking, or otherwise listening to a human voice - mostly talking about looking - since I came here. I realise how much I learn by listening to non-human sounds. The sound of the wind on the lake reminds me of how reindeer know the wind, how their knowledge is in sensing other than looking. I listen to the weather and it moves through my body. I realise that there is more to be learned in sensing other than looking, than there is through only looking.

As Strange Weather, we produce a small film of the joyful, hilarious, challenging and meaningful time that we spent working here together, and I am so glad for this opportunity to pull some threads of thought together through visuals and audio. The entanglements of knowledges and experiences and places and situations, for me, are given form in this work. At the end of the film, our list of thank yous includes everyone we could think of who supported us, including a list of the nicknames of the microbes we met under the microscope. We are so happy for their nicknames, and glad not to use scientific language which has so often been used for forcing humans and non-humans into oppressive categories. Our playful engagement with naming based on our own subjective experience feels soft and good. So thank you, to all those who we thank in the film, because through you, also, writing this text now is possible.

I don’t want to offer any conclusions, because I feel as a group we didn’t come to any. But we asked a lot of important questions and I at least have a sense that we learned a lot from each other. And although this text might seem full of trouble and not much resolve, moving through this, or to quote Donna Haraway (because this is a Bioarts residency afterall!) ‘staying with’, this trouble, with these humans and non-humans, in this place has taught me so much, and I am so grateful for that. I am glad that I can share some of these questions with more minds through this blog. It is important that we keep questioning our practices, especially our practices of looking. And perhaps, we should also spend more time on our practices of sensing, of sensing in ways other than looking.

Already in my mind / on air at Lásságámmi.. (Stanzas written 19.9. & 21.10.2019)
Andrew Gryf Paterson

My mouth is burning / The Amazon is burning / is out of stock / and not delivering Nils-Aslek Valkeapää in translation / With this name this story starts again / twenty one years later / with rye bread chips, goat cheese spread, and home-made chilli sauce. / Those green thai javelins defrosted, arrows blended / one for all and all for one / the wind speed is building up.. / Not just above but belows..

I start to write finally up Saana’s dance steps up / #TheHeavens / past the blank page / way past midnight / over ad-hoc, unplan, hybrid and open / disciplinary fields, under heli-kites / but beyondthe reach of Naali (arctic fox).. / Leaving behind a second generation of pillow cases / reindeer pelts / and our various diverse dream centres of Europe / Joost joo / I am already in my mind / on air at Lásságámmi / If I apply, or so it goes..

At one point Erich Berger steps out of his organiser role / Answering requests / grounding us in preparation / to hunt for fossil nuggets of info / the wind and #StrangeWeathers / in other times hard fast / Second orders / We are all folks for a moment / telling, no listening, no telling. / Fluidities that existed over hundreds of millions of years / I take a break on my own in Ravintola Kilpis / perched overlooking and calm / with french-fries and Moscow housing-block-sized distractions / Instead of rocks or stone samples / my word flows..

All these words however / didn’t limit my material accumulations / affected by gravity / they pile up under my bed, on the desk, in fabric wraps. / I charmed with the idea of conductive ink / where the painting of purple berry skin spots / or metallic lines, / plastic-wrapped wires with crocodile clips / flip with unfulfilled potential. / Some still do imagine stones filled up with personhood, / worlds of lived moments not caught, but to be caught up with / not just on SD flash cards, / but witnesses to all the stupidly fast things humans do. / We redial the ‘scope, and everything vibrates / even gneiss moves..

There is the danger of colonial conversations / where human is a stone, rather than a person. / I smash granite chunk pencils / in a copper wind sock, beating / with hammer, the hammer warping / weaves but particulating exactly smooth / potato starch at one point flowed / online and between new friends. / Foraged cable ties hold everything up / underneath the top of YLE’s base-station, / is a perfect place for cups of tea, / soaking electo-magnetic frequencies in air. / Enabling bad news / of radioactivity in air / soaked ions, and reindeer skins / We are all compromised, / needing to live / with all we stand to lose..

As it is now / The flames lick over each other in the Kohta / In the shadows of Helsinki University Kilpisjärvi Biological Station / the wind is in everyone's words of French, English, German.. / Taking—hopefully also giving—field notes. / Northern Saami, Finnish, Norwegian swirl around nearby / but not inside elsewhere elsewhere outside not but / nearby air / especially this oxygen is sucked in / and each being slips out / with the rest, and their energy / intact, considered, balanced / or in deeds, replenished..

About Strange Weather
Marja Helander

Strange Weather group ́s one mission was to observe the traces of present changes in weather in the Kilpisjärvi subarctic area, also as concerns Sámi reindeer-herding practices and traditional way of life. Climate change is warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the world. People living in the Arctic and subarctic areas have already started to enlist the climate change adaptation strategies, like Canada Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC).They have started to develop floodplain maps on a smaller scale in order to identify flood risks to local infrastructure, for instance. utm_source=climate&utm_medium=url

I collected some infomation beforehand for our group, for example one video interview of an older local reindeer herder, Antti-Oula Juuso. In the interview, he referred to the freezing of the ground layer of snow, forming an ice layer between the soil and the rest of the snow blanket.
Reindeer herders are talking about “maajää”, basal ice. In winter, reindeer dig lichen and vegetation from the ground through the snow to survive, but this ice layer makes it impossible for them to access the lichen and plants. During the present abnormally warm winters, the temperatures can go rapidly from minus Celsius degrees to plus Celsius degrees and back, in a relatively short time. The icy layers inside the snow are formed during this melting/raining and refreezing process.This process can also cause the grazing grounds to become moldy later in the spring and summer.

From article Basal ice formation in snow cover in Northern Finland between 1948 and 2016” by Sirpa Rasmus, 2018:

"Rain-on-snow (ROS) events and/or snowmelt (thaw) can result in formation of ice crusts on the snow surface, in the mid-layers or at the interface between soil/ground vegetation and snow (Bokhorst et al 2011, Semenchuk et al 2013,Wilson et al 2013). Freezing of the bottom layer of the snow cover is known as formation of basal ice (sometimes referred to as ground ice, terrestrial ice or ice- locked pastures; see e.g. Mysterud 2016)."

“According to the reindeer herders’ descriptions, basal ice formation was most often related to thaw or ROS events and subsequent freezing of the snow cover as well as a snow cover forming on unfrozen soil. Other processes mentioned include a snow cover forming on unfrozen soil, generally mild and wet early winters or widely varying temperature conditions.With the warming climate, these processes may intensify in the future, as winter conditions, particularly the beginning and end of the cold season, have been observed and are expected to change more than summers. (Jylhä et al 2008, Hansen et al 2011, Liston and Hiemstra 2011, Ruosteenoja et al 2016)."

According to reindeer herders, winters with basal ice are experienced more often than before (the article is in english):

More about ROS event:

The discussions on climate change and its traces in the area of Kilpisjärvi shifted to a different direction as a result of our special, interesting and exciting day in the mountains with a local Sámi reindeer herder and artist Oula A.Valkeapää, and with artist Leena Valkeapää.We, or at least I, was quite eager to get some answers, but actually we didn ́t exactly get the answers we expected. On the contrary, I encountered my own expectations and even stereotypies that I had about (indigenous) reindeer herders having some easy answers to the symptoms and marks in nature dealing with climate change. Or even the willingness of individuals to become spokesmen for these complex changes.The questions connected with global warming are complicated and segmented, and it is hard to get a general view of these questions anyway, which I also came to realize. So after all, we encountered the questions of ethics in research, and we had conversations about such essential issues in our group.That was very important.

In their research Luonnon monimuotoisuus ja saamelaiset (2011), researchers Elina Helander-Renvall and Inkeri Markkula articulate that indigenous people are at present calling for the development of ethical codes of conduct concerning the traditional knowledge. The Society of Ethnobiology, which has been in a longterm dialogue with indigenous people, has developed The Code of Ethics, which provide guidelines for respectful research.The codes deal with questions of how to respect indigenous cultures and how indigenous people need to be equal participants in research and how to distribute the information and benefits of the research: how to give something back to the indigenous communities. SY12_2011_Luonnon_monimuotoisuus_ja_saamelaiset.pdf;sequence=1

While reflecting on why it was difficult for Oula to answer our questions, I studied the words of the most renowned Sámi artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Áillohaš (1943–2001). He stated that people who live in the midst of nature – as the Sámi people do – have great difficulties to fully understand the pollution of the nature surroundings, and they don ́t even have any natural knowledge of how to protect themselves against pollution. Nils-Aslak Valkeapää continued that the environmental problems generated by modern society are too complicated to understand through traditional ecological knowledge. Old ecological knowledge is too local in this sense: it is limited to the nearby areas and deals with concrete practices in the surrounding nature.
(No Beginning, No End:The Sami Speak Up. Ed. Elina Helander and Kaarina Kailo 1999)(see also Viidon Sieiddit, 2018; Introduction by Jarno Valkonen).

On our trips to nature, our group was confronted with similar problems: the traces of climate change were quite hard to observe in the Kilpisjärvi area in such a short time.This was also verified by Oula A. Valkeapää when we spent a day with him.The place we visited with Oula was an ancient reindeer round-up site (“gárdi”, “kaarre”) made of stones. More than a thousand reindeer were often rounded up there at a time in older days. It was a beautiful and special place, a cultural Sámi landscape, not part of desert as a stranger would easily assume. This remainded me of what Sofia Jannok, a Sámi musician, stated after seeing a sign saying “Welcome to the last wilderness of Europe” in Kiruna Airport. Jannok said:“There is no wilderness - - Who do you think named these mountains, in several languages? People were living with the land and gave places names in Sámi and Meänkieli (Tornedalian) before others came to colonise the land. ”

A stone fence at the old reindeer corral in the mountains of Kilpisjärvi

This also gave rise to the question on whose land we really are in Kilpisjärvi and at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station.We are in Sápmi, in the Sámi Homeland. In that sense it would be reasonable if Sámi people and Sápmi were also mentioned on the website of the Biological Station.

In the mountains we saw also some areas with destroyed mountain birches (Betulapubescens var. pumila): there were only the dead tree trunks left, without any leaves.The leaves have been eaten by the larvae of certain moths during their outbreak density.

“In just seven years, as much as one-third of the mountain-birch forest in the North Calotte region was severely defoliated by two moth species.From 2002 to 2009 roughly 10 000 km2 of the mountain-birch belt across North Norway, North Sweden and North Finland was severely damaged by moth outbreaks.” (Moth invasions cause widespread damage in the sub-arctic birch forest: Bård Amundsen/Else Lie, The Research Council of Norway, 2014. Article in

The moths overwinter in the form of eggs. In early summer, the larvae hatch and feed off the leaves of mountain birches in northern parts of Scandinavia. In earlier days the autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata) has been the only ones causing these damages to mountain birches in the in the cold inland regions of Fennoscandia, whereas the winter moth (Operophtera brumata) has been more common in Norwegian coast, especially in Lofoten andTromsø area, because it is warmer there.The winter moth is slightly more temperature-limited than autumnal moth, whose eggs are killed by temperatures below -36 C.
But now that the winters are getting warmer in Fennoscandia, the winter moth has been moving towards north (Finnmark area in Norway), and also towards inland areas in North of Sweden, Norway and Finland such as the Utsjoki area, where the outbreak was first recorded in the 2000's. The autumnal moth has its outbreaks in 9-11 years cycle, however the winter moth it is a bit more irregular. In some areas in Finnmark (for example in Varangerbotn) the tree damages have been phenomenal. First the autumnal moth larvae eating the leaves for 2-3 years and straight after that the winter moth larvae for 1-2 years, along with the additional danger caused by reindeer eating the new growing sprouts of mountain birches in some regions. This means it is very uncertain if the birch forests in these areas will ever grow back again.

Furthermore, according to the article mentioned above, “During the last 15 years a third moth species, the rare umber moth (Agriopis aurantiaria), has invaded the coastal regions of North Norway and established itself as a serious pest in the coastal birch forest. During the major outbreak of the 2000s, researchers know that all three moth species attacked the mountain-birch forest.”

Due to climate change a long trend towards warming winters is predicted in the Northern Hemisphere. This suggests that the larvae outbreaks may become even more frequent, already there are clear indications that the system is changing and that larvae also having a big impact on ground vegetation; the fauna of these areas, too.

These moths exist also in the forests of the southern parts of Scandinavia, but they don't cause any large-scale damages there. One assumption is that because the ecosystems are much more complicated in the south, there is no place for this kind of dominance of one or two species, with the outbreak cycles. In the long term, if the global warming continues as today and the worst case scenarios will become reality, the subarctic areas will turn to resemble more of the forest areas of southern Scandinavia as we know now. Which of course could make the future northern ecosystems more complex and thus resistant to these moths. But unquestionably it will be a new "north" then.

More information about these moths, for example outbreak maps: 
5778408_Climate_change_and_outbreaks_of_the_geometrids_Operophtera_brumata_and_Epirri ta_autumnata_in_subarctic_birch_forest

Also “Sámi reindeer herders’ perspective on herbivory of subarctic mountain birch forests by geometrid moths and reindeer: a case study from northernmost Finland” by Terhi Vuojala-Magga and Minna T Turunen, 2015:

During our day with Oula, we also collected various plants, lichen, algae and slime molds. Špela Petrič, an artist and scientist of our group, showed us the next day how to prepare samples and observe them through microscope.That was really fascinating! We looked at the samples, sighing ”It ́s full of life”! Personally, I was intrigued by the idea that there was another world full of living creatures, a microcosmos we couldn ́t see with the naked eye. But it was there. In my mind, I connected it to the old Sámi holistic and animistic view of life.According to it,humans were just a part of the ecosystems, equal with other living things, and everything in nature was seen as a living thing with spirit: animals, rocks, plants, trees, rivers, etc. In that sense, I feel that science and traditional ecological knowledge are not so far from each other.

Through microscope

For example, in Sweden in the Abisko area The Abisko Scientific Research Station co-operates with the local reindeer herders. In their research on snow conditions, long term observations and the measures of reindeer herders and researchers have been consistent with each other. Traditional and local knowledge have aroused a great deal of interest among researchers also because many environmental problems aren ́t going to be solved only through scientific methods. Furthermore, environmental problems and their solutions are often impossible to separate from the issues of equality and social justice. (Luonnon monimuotoisuus ja saamelaiset: Helander-Renvall, Markkula) SY12_2011_Luonnon_monimuotoisuus_ja_saamelaiset.pdf;sequence=1
At the end of the week, our group visited Norway in Skibotn, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, near the Lásságámmi Residency (the former home of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää). Our group has been interested in the cycles between the earth and the sky.The water cycle from the Arctic Ocean to the mountains in Kilpisjärvi and back was a loose reason to do something connected with the Arctic Ocean.The warming of the Arctic Ocean is predicted to bring more rain and snowfalls to the mountains and turn winters warmer; this, of course, will have an impact on livelihoods in the Kilpisjärvi area.

Thus, we agreed to make a small video about the old Sámi story on Áfruvvá, a sea mermaid. It is a common myth in both the Scandinavian and the Sámi tradition. Later, we combined this footage with that of our day in the mountains with Oula Valkeapää, crossing the rivers, but seeing through the microcosmos. For me, it is a beautiful holistic view of how to understand life and the world. The day on the shore of the Arctic Ocean was sunny, and it also beared a warm, caring attitude, which I am grateful of. Even if our journey as a mankind in this universe would end one day, I can ́t regard it sad.That was my thought when we searched fossiles on the side of the Saana Fell the next day. We were in an area which was originally formed 500 million years ago. At the time, there were little worms leaving us some traces of their “tunnels” on the stones. Who knows what the life forms will be like in future?

About the warming oceans:

Climate change now irreversible due to warming oceans, UN body warns: oceans-un-body-warns/? WT.mc_id=tmg_share_fb&fbclid=IwAR353GxE5fMJchMrQDCsspbDa2CzCiDVqg8KX5fTXLLVxqb H5xvy-WOv2AQ

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Field_Notes – The Heavens is part of the Feral Labs Network, which is co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. It is further co-funded by Kone Foundation, the Ministry of Education and Culture Finland and Arts Promotion Centre Finland.