Republic of Finland is one of the Nordic countries and a
member of the European Union. Situated in Northern Europe,
it shares land borders with Sweden to the west, Russia to
the east and Norway to the north, while Estonia lies to
its south. Finland is bounded by the Baltic Sea, with the
Gulf of Finland to the south and the Gulf of Bothnia to
the west. The Aland Islands, off the south-western coast,
are an autonomous province of Finland.
Finland was a province and then a grand duchy under Sweden
from the 12th to the 19th centuries, and an autonomous grand
ducky of Russia after 1809. It won its complete independence
in 1917. During World War II, it was able to successfully
defend its freedom and resist invasions by the Soviet Union,
although with some loss of territory. In the subsequent
half century, the Finns made a remarkable transformation
from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial
economy; per capita income is now on par with Western Europe.
As a member of the European Union, Finland was the only
Nordic state to join the euro system at its initiation in
January 1999. Finland is ranked 11th on the 2006 United
Nations Human Development Index. Along with Estonian, Hungarian
and Maltese, Finnish is one of the few official languages
of the European Union that is not of Indo-European origin.
Finland is one of the few countries in the world that is
still geographically growing. Owing to the post-glacial
rebound that has been taking place since the last ice age,
the surface area of the country is growing by about 7 seven
square kilometers a year. The Parliament of Finland is celebrating
its centenary in 2006 and 2007. The 100th anniversary of
the approval of the Parliament Act and Election Act by the
Diet was on June 1, 2006. The anniversary festivities focus
on the parliamentary reform of the early 20th century and
the introduction of equal and universal suffrage and full
political rights for women. So it would seem that Finland
is an “enlightened” country of expansion.
Is this enlightenment the result of the aurora borealis,
the display of colored lights and shimmering forms seen
at night, most frequently during the equinoxes, in regions
of high latitude? The aurora borealis, or northern lights,
can be seen in northern Scandinavia, Canada, and Alaska,
and the aurora australis, or southern lights, are seen on
the borders of Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere. Fast-moving
electrons from the sun are attracted to the earth’s
magnetic poles, where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen
ions in the ionosphere, causing them to give off energy
in the form of light. The aurora most frequently appears
following a major solar flare; the occurrence and intensity
of the aurora is also related to the 11-year sunspot cycle.
Or is it the result of Finnish myths and legends? The Finnish
chief sky god was Jumala, whose name, like that of the Indo-European
sky god, refers to the phenomenon of light. Astonomical
myths exist in the context of a complex Finno-Ugric cosmography,
in which the world is surrounded by a stream and covered
by a canopy centered on a North Star-capped pillar. In some
stories, the end of the world can occur with the collapse
of the pillar. A world tree with celestial bodies in its
branches exists along with a world mountain and a world
navel at the center of the earth.
* * *
Finland numbers 5.2 million
inhabitants and has an average population density of 17
inhabitants per square kilometer. This makes it, after Norway
and Iceland, the most sparsely populated country in Europe.
The biggest and most important cities are greater Helsinki
(above; note light on head of building) metropolitan area
(including the cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa), Tampere,
Turku, and Oulu (see below; note rainbow).
collecting is not always a “walk in the park, but
when Chad Peterson responded to our spring mailing to U.S.
Embassies in foreign countries and on August 10, 2006, he
collected some soil from “Kaivopuisto park in Helsinki’s
diplomatic area, it was easy for him. This park is home
to many festivals and young Finns who enjoy the park’s
many quiet and beautiful corners.” On our end, it
took vmany months, but the soil from Finland is in the coffers,
ready to become part of the final 50’x50’ fresco,
incorporating the soils of all 191 countries in the United
in the Park
In Latin, the word “aurora” means dawn and “borealis”
means northern, and the aurora borealis is a luminous atmospheric
phenomenon appearing as streamers or bands of light sometimes
visible in the night sky in northern or southern regions
of the earth. It is thought to be caused by charged particles
from the sun entering the earth's magnetic field and stimulating
molecules in the atmosphere.
The Northern Lights and the aurora borealis are two names
for the same thing. The term aurora borealis was first used
by Galileo in 1619 to suggest the likeness of the northern
lights to an early dawn in the northern sky, an appearance
it sometimes has to those who live at low or intermediate
latitudes in the northern hemisphere.
the term aurora borealis was introduced, Galileo and others
used it as the name for the Northern Lights. The early history
of auroral terminology is somewhat clouded because, at the
time, Galileo was already under duress from the Roman Inquisition
and was not supposed to be writing on astronomical matters.
Therefore, his writings on the subject were appearing under
the name of his student, Mario Guiducci. Galileo referenced
the aurora as part of his arguments against the established
idea that the earth was the center of the Universe. He wrongly
thought that the aurora is caused by sunlight reflecting
from the high atmosphere.
Galileo's original error has propagated through nearly four
centuries to the present time. Misinformed by geography
books written as late as fifty years ago, a surprising number
of people still labor under the misconception that the aurora
is sunlight glinting off the high atmosphere, off the polar
icecap or off falling snow or ice crystals.
Instead, the aurora is an actual light source created in
the high atmosphere. It is a glow given off by the atoms
and molecules of which the atmosphere is composed. That
glow is caused by the atoms and molecules being struck by
charged particles, mostly electrons and protons, that originated
on the sun. These particles stream out from the sun and
normally are guided by the earth's magnetic field into the
polar regions where they enter the atmosphere and make it
proper name for the aurora of the southern hemisphere is
the aurora australis. Together the aurora australis and
the aurora borealis are known as the aurora polaris. Nowadays
the simple name aurora is mostly used, as is the name Northern
thing that struck this writer was that the northern lights
are one of the few forms of light not sunlight reflected
off rock—the sun, stars, the planets, moon are all
reflected lights. But the aurora borealis is not. It is
a gaseous light, resulting from atoms, molecules, particles
that originate on the sun, then stream out into the earth’s
magnetic field where they enter the atmosphere and make
In artistic endeavors of today, the presence of light is
eagerly sought—painting, writing, sculpture, theater,
movies, computer graphics, for example. This is a somewhat
recent perception in art history. Before the Renaissance,
there was no depth in painting. Looking back, it is clear
that artists did not have the idea of the "space"
in their works. They saw only what was in front of their
eyes. There was no solid feeling of depth, therefore people
did not give emphasis on light and shadow, two essential
elements forming gradation, creating this space. The idea
of three-dimensional space has been gradually evolving for
thousands of years; artists do not have it congenitally.
This awareness is what separates tribal art or children’s
works from those of the masters.
Even soil, the medium in which Gary Simpson is realizing
the Common Ground 191 project, sometimes has light in it,
twinkling mica—or not. It has been interesting to
look at the jars of the actual dirt side by side and observe
the color gradations, the texture differences, and the amount
of light present. Even more important is the enlightened
concept of the soils of the earth coming together in one
place for the first time to celebrate not our differences,
but what human beings have in common.
The soil of Finland is one of the few from countries that
experience the particular form of Jumala’s “enlightenment”,
the sky art of light. With its own unique language, and
growing borders, Finland is its own special place. We appreciate
this collection and thank Millie and Chad for their efforts
on our behalf, however truncated. We celebrate illumination.
The word for peace in Finland is rauha.
The Puolanka Museum