Penal Labor. Exhibition and performance by SashaPasha

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Konepajan Bruno, Aleksis Kivenkatu 19a, Helsinki
07.09.2018 - 19:00



exhibition and performance
September 7-9
Aleksis Kiven katu 19A - Between  Bruno and Amer Sport
September 7
19.00 - opening of the project
19.30 - durational performance production

September 8 and 9
exhibition is open from 14.00 to 20.00
performance time: 16.00 to 20.00


Family story and collective memories related to the position of the Ingrian Finnish population during the WWII is central to the new project by Sasha Pasha. Consisting of a performance, home videos, archival documents and found objects, the project revolves around the 'penal' ('pencil case' in Russian) of Pasha’s grandfather that became a symbolic object for the family reminding about the deportation of Ingrian Finnish population both by the Soviet authorities and the Nazis and hard labour of GULAG prisoners in the camps during and long after the war, which mainly dealt with tree cutting and woodworking.

"My grandfather's pencil case is almost a sacred object of our family memory became the starting point for this project. My grandfather had got that pencil case as a present from his father while they lived in Finland during the second world war. I was just playing with it as a toy when I was a child, but with years passed it became something like a symbolic representation of my grandfather's life story. 

The story starts in Kuttusi village near Leningrad where many Ingrians including the family of my grandpa used to live. During the war, they were taken from there by Nazis forces and sent to the Nazis labour camp in Estonia, the  Kooga camp. But fortunately for my family, the Finnish government agreed with the Nazis to take all the Ingrians from Klooga. In 1943, they all were shipped to Finland. In Finland, my grandpa family arrived in the small village near the Lohja. That was the place where my grandfather got a gift from his father. The household where they used to live and work still exists.

 Pencil cases is translated into Russian as "penal" (пенал). In English, the word  "penal" is connected with punishment, penal labour and immensely hard work, that was one of the main operating principle both Nazi and Soviet concentration camps. This dark wordplay is central for the title of our project.

After the war, the family of my grandpa were forced to come back to the Soviet Union. Upon their return,  they were not allowed to live near Leningrad anymore as they were considered as politically undesirable persons and were sent to the Vacha village in the northern part of Karelia, to a lumber camp. Despite that fact that the White sea Baltic sea canal had been built 15 years earlier, my family had to live in the same barracks as GULAG inmates before them and do the same work:  cutting the forest. 

Work with wood in lumber camps was always one of the most typical labour for GULAG inmates. It was mainly the penal labour, which was  usually the hardest of all other types of work that the inmates had to do. 

For the USSR, wood was a material for exporting and a fast fuel for the industrialization of the young country. However, open information about the use of penal labour in the woodworking industry soon became a problem for young USSR. The Western countries didn’t want to buy products of penal labour. The ad hoc commission was sent to the Soviet Union. The commission was deceived. The community of the Western countries had believed the Soviet lies or at least pretended so. The products of Soviet penal labour were widely spread outside the USSR.  After the war, wood played a big role in the Soviet-Finnish relationships. Wooden products including houses was a part of Finnish reparations. And later trade in wood products industry played a big role in the postwar economy of Finland.

During the performance, we produce dozens of pencil cases. For us, the performance is an attempt to distinguish the difference between collective and personal memories, to show the attitude of personal memory to official history. Every mass-produced object has a personal story when it finds its owner. Is it possible to turn it backwards and reproduce collective memory and history from the intimate and personal starting point?  Or an attempt to multiply the personal experience through the physical repetition of the authentic and unique object is doomed to failure?"

Pavel Rotts



Free entrance, no registration needed
The opening will be continued at the terrace bar Konepajan Bruno

SASHAPASHA - Pavel Rotts and Alexandra Rotts - is an artist duo from St. Petersburg currently based in Helsinki.