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Street view: Finnish artist tours Europe with Syria-themed installation

A work of installation art by artist Anssi Pulkkinen will be toured from city to city this summer. The material for the piece was transported specially from war-torn Syria.

Anssi Pulkkinen työstää syyrialaista rauniota belgialaismuseon pihalla.
Anssi Pulkkinen at work. Image: Petri Raivio / Yle

Sculptor Anssi Pulkkinen is starting a European tour featuring his latest work: Street View (Reassembled), an installation composed of a 20-tonne chunk of concrete that used to be the wall of a four-person family's home in northern Syria.

Pulkkinen acquired the blasted ruins via a local mediator working for the family in question, who were forced to flee their home village. He then had the concrete debris shipped by sea to Antwerp in Belgium via Turkey in a 40-foot container.

The dilapidated concrete wall was unpacked and installed in the back yard of the Verbeke Foundation's gallery, some 20 kilometres from the harbour.

The pieces of the ruins will be welded together at the metallic parts of the concrete, hoisted onto a used semitrailer and exhibited around Europe.

"The shape of the trailer is tricky, we have to make some layout decisions based on the logistics," Pulkkinen says. "We want to have the installation reproduced as accurately as possible."

Nelihenkisen perheen koti oli tuhoutunut täysin pommituksessa pohjois-Syyriassa.
A piece of Syria, in Belgium. Image: Suomen Benelux-instituutti

The artist himself never visited the village where his art materials are from, but chose the pile of rubbish based on a photograph provided. The chunks of concrete also came with doors, carpets, a boiler, the remains of a television and other miscellaneous material. The contacts necessary were sniffed out by the Finnish-Syrian Friendship Society.

Two years in the making, Pulkkinen's project Street View (Reassembled) is now ready to roll, with costs rising to five times the original budget, to some 50,000 euros. The installation will be on display at the Habitare housing fair in September.

Bringing a tangible piece of the Syrian conflict into Europe, where so many displaced families have fled, is a political act, but the artist himself denies that he is making a direct statement on immigration.

"Of course it is also political, but we don't want to throw around blame or be on anyone's side specifically. We are on humanity's side," Pulkkinen says.

Pulkkinen then makes the tried and true comparison to Finland's own era of displacement, misery and war – the civil war of the early 20th century.

Pulkkinen says that some locals in Syria assumed that the transport operation was for smuggling ancient relics, which is not unusual.

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