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Cultural Personality of the week: Anna-Mari Nousiainen

Photo of artists Anna-Mari Nousiainen

Our Cultural Personality of the week is Anna-Mari or Ansku Nousiainen, who describes herself in her Instagram bio as: “Failed film-maker, mediocre artist and soon-to-become bad tattoo artist.” Ansku confirms she is all that but also a lot more. At least, a loyal hype girl, pathetic softie, a bit tough, but deep down a really sensitive soul.

Ansku dreamt of becoming an artist since primary school, but her career in film happened accidentally. After finishing upper secondary school, the doors to the art schools did not open and, in panic, Ansku applied to any further education programme that mentioned the word culture or media. Sitting at the entrance interview for Salpaus Further Education, Ansku was wondering why on earth they were asking strange questions about XLR cables and connections and tried to steer the interview towards comics. Eventually the interviewers asked, “You do know this is an audio-visual media programme?”.

Ansku had thought she had applied to the graphic design programme, so thinking on her feet, quickly replied, “Yes, I LOVE cinema!”

Miraculously, Ansku was accepted and was later able to study film and work in the industry. Throughout her studies, however, Ansku also studied and worked with art and insisted on calling herself an artist.

Today, Ansku makes art across disciplines and her career is currently in transition. Ansku has moved from film more towards festival work, and in her artistic work she has expanded into photography, video and installations as well as 3D and audio works. Stories, not just showing them but also telling them, are at the core of Ansku’s work.

This spring, Ansku is mostly focusing on her role as the artistic director of the Oulu Music Video Festival, which brings all her professional interests together. Ansku has always loved music videos and is a complete “music video freak”. When she realised she, too, could be making music videos, there was no turning back. Ansku started attending the Oulu Music Video Festival (OMVF) first as a video maker and, inspired by the event, she launched a small Musavideorama music video event in Tampere together with Anna Alkiomaa. Recently, OMVF was looking for a new artistic director, Jaakko Mattila, who was leaving the role, suggested to Ansku that she should apply. Ansku has been working as the artistic director of OMVF since 2019.

You have just moved to Oulu from Helsinki. Tell us more! How did you come to that decision? How does it feel now, to live in Oulu?

Many people have asked me “Why would anyone move from Helsinki to Oulu?”. I could write an essay or a short story about it, but I think I’ll just settle for a short “Why not?”. Helsinki was cold and I was longing for something else. I have managed to travel to Oulu once a month for an entire autumn and winter, for one week at a time, so I thought Oulu could could just as well be my home and I could travel from here. I was nervous about the move mainly because my friends mostly live in the south, but people did support my decision! I have always travelled a lot all over Finland, so this was not as radical a choice as it may sound. My mum agreed with my decision and said “It’s great that things are happening elsewhere as well, not just in Helsinki!” My home has always been critical of Helsinki-centredness and I guess that has rubbed off on me.

My relationship with Oulu was purely the result of the music video festival – first as a visitor, then getting more involved with the event and now finally as the artistic director. I have no family here, and before the festival, I didn’t know anyone in Oulu. Through the festival, I had quickly built a very close circle of people and relationships that are important to me. I called it my music video family, and I started spending more and more time here outside my work as well. Summer 2021 was probably the turning point when my thoughts came together. Elektorni, festivals and events, perfect rollerblading routes and bright summer nights completely charmed me. Oulu was flirting with me like nobody or no other place has ever done before!

I must say that the campaign to get me to Oulu was persistent but subtle (these people are professionals after all!) and eventually very successful. So here I am! As my friend Vilma said: “There must be something very special about Oulu for you of all people to move here!”

What are you up to these days? How do you spend your spare time?

I’m great! I moved here about a month ago, so I’ve mainly been tidying up my place, nest building (and building my doll’s house) and hanging around vintage markets (Oulu has the best vintage markets, I have found the best pyjamas, mesh tops, china and homeware here). The first two weeks I spent just unpacking and decorating my place, and the pastel colour scheme is almost ready. It’s time to move my focus to day-to-day life, and at this time of the year this includes writing grant applications.

I was hoping that after unpacking all my stuff I would be just organising my china, lying in bed and drinking endless cups of coffee in the morning. And that’s precisely what I’ve done all February! I’ve found it difficult to read for the past couple of years, but since I moved, I’ve found myself with a book in my hand every day!

This month’s book and other spring-time tips:

Syyskirja by Johanna Venho

Travelling Light by Tove Jansson

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

 

And so as not to sound more intellectual than I am, I have also been obsessing about the reality TV show Too Hot To Handle. To the point that I’ve found out which of the couples are still together… I never used to watch reality TV but then I came across Fboy Island on HBO and I was hooked!

I am also trying to rest more this spring, before the summer’s hectic festival season begins.

 

What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?

Climate change as a term is quite dramatic and of course we associate it with the state of our environment and it makes us worry about the future. I have long been a huge fan of domestic travel and I think that surprisingly few people in Finland have travelled widely in their own country. I really want to encourage everyone to embrace the idea of cultural climate change, and if there was anything positive about the coronavirus pandemic, I would hope it is people discovering domestic travel. For example, the Bättre Folk festival draws wide audiences from outside Oulu, which only goes to show that distance is not an issue. After all, people travel abroad to go to festivals.

As a term alone, climate change is shocking in a negative sense while cultural climate change to me means openness, kindness, collaboration and lack of prejudice.

What is it like to work in Northern Finland? How do you find Oulu at this present time?

I think Oulu is a perfect size to work (and to live!). You can make things happen and people seem very open to cooperation and new experiences.

I am constantly positively surprised how I don’t have to spend all day commuting and dealing with some complicated issue, as was the case in Helsinki. I love it that getting about without a car is so easy and quick. The city centre is very compact and I absolutely love that about Oulu! As a festival organiser (and visitor!) this is a real positive – people can easily attend several events in one day and with effective marketing, the pre and post-festival parties can also be squeezed in the same night!

Oulu is like a big park, in a good way. The woods and water are never far away. I am impressed by how many accessible, non-commercial spaces there are in the city centre where people can meet up and spend time.

For most of my career I have worked in Northern Finland during the pandemic, which of course has had an effect on what working in the cultural and festival sector has been like for me. I would like to see more cooperation between event organisers in events marketing (we should have our own Oulu Hypend!). I think there are a lot more young party- and festival-goers that we are not yet reaching. It is also interesting how easy it is to travel from here to Sweden and Norway overland! It will be exciting to see how the connections between the neighbouring countries are utilised in the Capital of Culture project.

What will Oulu look and feel like in 2026? How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland?

It feels a bit wild to think that far ahead at the moment! I hope that Oulu presents itself as the lovely green city that it is, where the sun is shining and people are busy going to events. I hope to see an even livelier and more accessible, diverse and open-minded urban culture.

I would like to be shocked about how many of my friends have never been to Oulu, but then again, before the music video festival, neither had I. But that shows we should never underestimate the power of culture! I believe that the Capital of Culture title will encourage us to build new networks, venture into unknown territories and organise even more and more diverse events.

I also think that the impact will be seen in Oulu residents learning to appreciate their city and the region more, and in that the appeal of Oulu will be noticed further afield that in Northern Finland alone.

 

Children’s Peace Machines run on plastic waste and resolve conflicts

Drawings of Peace Machine prototypes

The Oulu2026 Project Team is inviting primary school pupils to create ideas and work on the Peace Machine of the future. We paid a visit to the year 4 pupils of Teuvo Pakkala school to see and learn more about the prototypes of the machines they have developed to resolve conflicts, promote peace and understand diversity.

Timo Honkela (1962–2020) was a Finnish AI researcher whose life’s work forms the basis for the Peace Machine, a concept for promoting world peace and understanding between people. The Peace Machine is operated on AI, machine vision and new technology applications with the aim of clarifying misunderstandings and reducing conflicts and the role of strong emotional reactions in decision-making. The Peace Machine learns and develops in interaction with its users, making the human contributors co-creators of the machine.

Children’s prototypes highlighted ecology

The year 4 pupils of Teuvo Pakkala school participated in the development of the prototypes with their teacher Maria Viitasaari. The pupils were given a free hand to design the machine: how it would operate, what it is powered by and how it could promote peace between people. Over a few weeks, eight different prototypes were created.

According to Viitasaari, the most surprising aspect in the children’s work were the prominence of ecology and the importance of recycling. Many of the Peace Machines ran on waste, solar power or recycled plastic. The prototypes took on many shapes and forms: The Peace Machine could be an industrial facility, a robot, the globe, a forest or an application whose main tasks were to prevent wars, help disadvantaged people, resolve conflicts and help people calm down.

Swipe the prototype gallery:

 

“The Peace Machine spreads the message of peace around the world by resolving conflicts and helping the poor. The Peace Machine flies to wherever it hears there are conflicts. The Peace Machine is charged during the night and during the day it runs on energy it derives from positive words people say. The Peace Machine can sing and generate energy from waste.” says Pieta Kuha, a year 4 pupil.

The Peace Machine designed by Elias Heikkinen runs on a separate Peace application, and the machine can be dispatched to different locations to help people. “The Peace Machine is powered by plastic and flower petals. The Peace Machine can hear you and give you advice so that you can avoid accidents and other bad things,” the user manual informs us.

Adelma Leskelä’s Peace Machine is the size of a human being, and it can’t be destroyed by evil acts. “You can say bad things to my Peace Machine. And even if you have done something wrong, it can help you.”

“The Peace Machine is required whenever we need to avoid serious fights. If the Peace Machine detects a minor argument, it flashes a yellow light. If the fight turn serious and dangerous, it flashes a red light and sounds an alarm, like a fire engine. If the people arguing don’t listen, the Peace Machine will go to each person in turn and give them ideas on to how to stop the fight,” Selma Linnanmäki writes.

The children’s work is based on the STEAM philosophy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), in which conflict resolution is approached from the perspectives of science, art and technology. Between 2021 and 2026, the Oulu2026 Project Team will invite more schools and nurseries to participate in the Peace Machine project. The children’s designs will be presented to Ekho Collective, which is in charge of the artistic direction of the Peace Machine project.

“The idea behind the project is to encourage pupils to improve their empathy and communication skills and to accept diversity. We have sent the Peace Machine cooperation request to all municipalities and cities within the Oulu 2026 region as a pilot scheme, and the goal is eventually to share the project wtih other European capitals of culture and schools. The more users the Peace Machine has, the more effective it will be,” says Piia Rantala-Korhonen, CEO of Oulu2026 Project Team.

The primary school pupils in the Oulu region and the neighbouring municipalities can participate in the Peace Machine project by contacting Heli Metsäpelto, Head of Community, Oulu2026 Project Team.

The Peace Machine work unveiled in 2026

The Peace Machine is the main work of art for Oulu2026, and it will combine art and technology into an aesthetic experience. The interactive nature of the work is based on the use of AI, machine learning and machine vision. Designed by Ekho Collective, the Peace Machine will have a modular structure and it can be used virtually at different locations at the same time.

The work will be unveiled in 2026 in Oulu and in the Slovakian capital of culture. In 2027, the Peace Machine will continue touring in the capitals of culture in Portugal and Latvia.

Open Call for Artist Portfolios to create a mural in Oulu, Finland

Oulu2026 and Upeart invite professional artists to participate in an open call for visual artists worldwide. We are seeking international artists to realize a mural in Rajakylä, Oulu, in August 2022. The global Open Call is accepting portfolios from individual artists or teams until 9th May 2022.

The artist invited to create the artwork will receive a fee of 12 000 €. The fee includes travel to Oulu and fee for the sketch. Upeart will provide and cover expenses for all needed production during the visit to Oulu and creation of the artwork for the artist. (Lift, paints and other equipment, housing in Oulu etc.)

Rajakylä was the winning location with over 1,400 votes. Each voter was able to share a story or a memory from the area. These are made available for the artists to seek inspiration.

Background for The Open Call 

The city of Oulu, together with 32 municipalities from Northern Finland, has been selected as the European Capital of Culture in 2026. The aim of Oulu2026 is to bring culture, well-being and vitality to the Northern region of Finland. Through Cultural Climate Change the Northern region will also bring art and culture to the forefront in city planning. Oulu2026 region will become a vital cultural driven area that is known for its soulfulness, benefiting its residents from a lively city with a diverse range of cultural offerings, that attract visitors and new residents.

The open call searches for an artist to realize a unique mural. Residents of Oulu have an opportunity to participate, as they will choose the locations for the murals in an annual vote. Each year an artwork will be created into the residential area with the most votes.

Open Call criteria and application here (apply before 9th May)

For more information 

UPEART
press@upeart.com
Tel +358 50 468 6521

Climate Clock is ticking – Stories of resilience and adaptation

The clock is ticking, the snow is melting. Time is limited if we want to keep our planet from overheating. In 2026 we want to highlight these issues in a public art commission embracing local environmental concerns within a European context.

Climate Clock is one of Oulu2026 Flagship productions. It will explore how climate change is affecting Sub-Arctic life, its effects on the weather, nature and culture. The project will create six permanent artworks across the region and the city of Oulu, forming a new cultural heritage route for Oulu.

Climate Clock is curated by Alice Sharp from Invisible Dust (UK). Alice has worked with artists and scientists since 2009 and is an international advisor and presenter on arts and climate change, including talks at Davos 2020 and the UN Development Programme 2019.

Read more: Oulu2026 Cultural Personality: Alice Sharp

Over the coming years international artists commissioned for Climate Clock will collaborate with scientists to explore local stories. For example, the effects on daily life and people’s wellbeing during the shorter snow season. Less snow reduces ambient winter light as the snow acts as a reflector under the trees. A reduction in the amount of seasonal snow and ice is seen as a cultural loss.

Like most Finns, people in the Oulu2026 region are very connected to nature. In the context of the project, artists will look at the effect on local plant and animal life, including microbiology, using sensors and scientific research methods.

Arts and Science tell our story

Technology is interwoven throughout, as is Oulu’s history, each informing the artists on their creative journey. Through the involvement of several European artists a Europe-wide climate change perspective will be ensured.

Community involvement is at the heart of the project and Climate Clock includes a community-based umbrella project taking place in the years leading up to 2026, and culminating in the first community-created artwork across the region.

Climate Clock will also enable high level art/science collaboration and professional development through a capacity building project. Artists new to this cross-sectoral field will have an opportunity to learn and engage in professional development through online workshops with leading international practitioners in the field of art and science, culminating in an exhibition.

Climate Clock’s artists will seek to be optimistic and potentially also humorous, engaging in and building on inspiring local and European stories of adaptation and resilience – creating artworks to embody the Oulu region’s growing climate awareness and action.


Oulu2026 cultural programme is all about Cultural Climate Change. Our story will come to life through three themes: Wild City tells how a harsh, unforgiving Northern wilderness grows into a city with a unique wildness of creative spirit, focused on encouraging and supporting the dreams of young people. Cool Contrasts celebrates, challenges and connects the contrasts that are such a strong feature of Northern life. The differences and divisions – both here and in Europe – between the connected and the disconnected, between light and darkness and between technology and art. Finally, there are tales of the Brave Hinterland, telling stories of life at the edge and on the edge, of climate change and of an area yet to be fully discovered by Europe. 

Climate Clock is the Flagship production of Brave Hinterland. Learn more from our BidBook

”Oulu is a cool and energetic cultural city that deserved to win in the European Capital of Culture competition” Cay Sevón, Member of the Board of the Oulu Cultural Foundation

Kuva Cay Sevónista

Cay Sevón is a Doctor of Social Sciences. She was responsible for Turku’s Capital of Culture year as the CEO of Turku 2011 Foundation. Sevón has also worked the Account Manager in the City of Turku, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Finance as Director General and Consultant for the Cultural Industry. In 2010, Sevón was chosen as the Sociologist of the Year.

Is Oulu a familiar city to you?

“Oulu is reasonably familiar city to me, I have previously been working with people from Oulu through work and have also spent spare time in the city and city region due to family relationships.”

What image do you have of Oulu?

“Oulu is a large city and quite cool as it is located in the North but nevertheless is a large university and cultural city. Oulu has a lot of energy and young people. Someone could imagine that it would be different at that latitude, and maybe even more peaceful people, but Oulu and its citizens are highly energetic.”

What are your thoughts about joining the board of the Foundation?

“I’m happy about Oulu’s victory and highly interested about the board membership. I followed Oulu’s application process with curiously because I saw that Oulu would give Finland and Europe a lot. The competition was drawn to a close because Oulu made the best and invigorating application.”

What relevance does the Capital Culture title have for the city?

“In my opinion, the title has an extremely big significance and impact. The citizens’ attitude towards the Capital of Culture year is the most important thing and it will have a long-term influence on the future. Many things will start moving forward better and give strength when the citizens themselves feel the city as their own and want to develop it.”

What are you specifically bringing to the Foundation?

“Definitely experience from how it is to lead a Capital of Culture, and how to build a good organisation, administration and necessary connections. When you have been involved in a similar, particularly unusual project as a person in charge, and having gained experience from surprising and big but solvable situations, I have learned a lot. That kind of experience I want to give to Oulu and maybe we can avoid the rocks.”

How do you spend your spare time?

“I have done consulting in the cultural industry and city development for the past years. Additionally, I write and have been involved in administration of many organisations and as the chairperson of Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation, among other things. “

”The unique Capital of Culture title will bring visibility to Oulu, also internationally” Elena Näsänen, Member of the Board of the Oulu Cultural Foundation

Elena Näsänen

Elena Näsänen is a Master of Fine Arts, visual artist and a filmmaker. She acted as the Chairperson of Artist’s Association Finland between 2004 and 2007. She has worked as Production Advisor for the Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture (AVEK) between 2004-2007, in other positions of responsibility such as the Chairperson of MUU ry, and has participated in the operations of international artists associations. At the moment, she is the Chairperson for AV-arkki’s board. Näsänen was granted the state’s five-year Artist Professor grant 2021 that begins in 2022.

Is Oulu a familiar city to you?

”Oulu is somewhat familiar to me as a city and I have visited there. As a child, I spent time during the summer in Hailuoto at our family friends and I have many good memories from those days.”

What image do you have of Oulu?

”I have a very positive image of Oulu. While there, I have enjoyed myself a lot and I think that the citizens of Oulu are easy-going, competent and extremely pleasant people.”

What are your thoughts about joining the board of the Foundation?

”I have not previously been involved in such a large project so I’m very excited about what is to come. The project is unique and I’m widely interested in all of its aspects. It is rewarding to get to have conversations with the board. I’m looking forward to the collaboration with different artistic sectors, and want to take into account both big and small creators.”

What relevance does the European Capital of Culture title have for Oulu and the Oulu2026 region?

”The title is great and will bring Oulu lots of visibility both in Finland and internationally. Hopefully as many international visitors as possible find their way to Oulu, especially during the festival year in 2026. It is interesting to see how the commenced processes continue also after the festival year and how far the Capital of Culture title’s impact carries to.

What are you specifically bringing to the Foundation?  

”I’m an artist myself so I will bring to the foundation the perspective of those creating art. I want to pay attention to that prerequisites for artists’ operations improve. I’m particularly interested about media art which combines multiple artistic methods and making that more visible.”

How do you spend your spare time?

”I do yoga, casually go to dancing lessons and walk around in the forest with my dog. My autumn is a very busy time due to different projects and exhibition preparation, and I’m hoping to be able to do more of the things I mentioned.