Dividual Individual is a five-channel video installation in which artist Marjo Levlin deals with the race-biological research that the Florinska Kommissionen did in the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland in the early 20th century. Levlin focuses on her own home region, Malax, in Ostrobothnia, where close to all residents in the area where objects of these studies, probably also her family. The work is a documentary essay that looks into the darkness and highlights the fears that existed in the Finnish-Swedish upper class community.
The first task of the Florin Commission (Current Folkhälsan transl. Public Health) was to conduct a scientific study of the mental and physical health of the Swedish-speaking population. The aim was to investigate how pure the Swedish breed was in relation to the Finnish, so the program included a scientific racial survey in the form of anthropological measurements in Swedish speaking parishes; Tenala in western Nyland, Malax in Ostrobothnia and Porvoo in eastern Nyland. Swede Anders Retzius had developed a scientific racial biology tool, a skull index for detecting differences between people. The long skull indicated analytical thinking and intelligence, the short skull the opposite negative.
The purpose of the study was to demonstrate that the eastern Swedish tribe in Finland’s Swedish speaking countryside fell into the group of the Germanic long skull breed, which Retzius considered to be superior and spiritually capable. It was also thought that the results of this research could be the basis for taking strategic, hygienic measures.
The work is a collage of images and consists of a large amount of imagery from Swedish and Finnish archives. With a suggestive narrative Levlin pulls the audience deep into a Finland Swedish brotherhood that wants to strengthen their own political position while the country is in turbulence. A central character in the work is Harry Federley who served as secretary of the Florin Commission. Federley was an internationally recognized zoologist and butterfly scientist but also a great supporter of eugenics. Federley became the first professor of genetics in Finland.
In his pictures, Levlin interlaces eugenics and Federley’s butterfly collections. As spread on a work table, faces and butterflies pass by five projection surfaces. They are both materials for a classification work, where the schooled eye is looking for different trends and abnormalities. The work also relates to our time by the fact that this kind of work laid the foundation for the discrimination of minorities and people falling beyond what is defined as normality today.
Marjo Levlin (b. 1966) is an Austrian-born Finnish artist who lives and works in Helsinki. In her art, she addresses both personal and universal themes by combining historical and topical issues. Originally a painter, Levlin today uses installation and short film as her primary mediums, often constructing installations from found and collected materials.
The work is supported by: Kone, Svenska litteratursällskapet, Taike and Visek
image: SLS’s archive, SLS 896, J.P. Mouritzen