DARKROOM
Marjo Levlin: Dividual Individual II
17 Nov 2017 – 7 Jan 2018

Marjo Levlin’s two-channel video work Dividual Individual II (2017) is an installation on the theme of racial biology. It examines the scientific studies and propaganda activities undertaken by the Florin Commission (today Föreningen Folkhälsan) in Swedish-speaking areas in Finland between 1913 and 1916. The purpose of the commission was to improve the health and racial hygiene of the Finland-Swedish population. Studies were conducted in the Maalahti village on the west coast of Finland, where the bodies, craniums, facial features and even mental characteristics of nearly the entire adult population were measured. In all likelihood, Levlin’s relatives were also among the subjects.
 
The cause behind the studies on racial biology was the Finland-Swedish elite’s concern over the growing birth rate among Finnish-speaking commoners and the wish to reinforce their own status in the politically volatile conditions in Finland. The skull measurements were based on a cranial index developed by Swedish anatomist Anders Retzius, which divided people into long-headed and short-headed races. Germanic long-headedness was considered a sign of mental ability and superiority, whereas short-headed Finns and Sami were seen as being predisposed to criminality and general moral degeneration.

With a poignancy we have come to expect of her work, Levlin employs footage that mostly consists of ethnographic photos from Finnish and Swedish archives. Alongside these the work also includes butterflies as a reference to Finland’s first professor of genetics, Harry Federley, a world-renowned zoologist and lepidopterist who was also a eugenicist and secretary of the Florin Commission. In the video, the headhunting by eugenicists and the systematic collection of racial portraits is likened to an attempt, not unlike that of butterfly collectors, to define and control nature. Events dating back a hundred years also have a bearing on current issues. Throughout the ages, people subjected to study, classification and definition have existed in a socially weaker position than those conducting such classifications.

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 exhibition is generously supported by Kone Foundation, Centre for the Promotion of Visual Art (Visek), Svenska litteratursällskapet, Arts Promotion Centre Finland and Kuvasto/Erik Enroth Memorial Prize.

www.marjolevlin.fi

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