Allenheads’ Midsummer celebrations see different cultures and traditions come together. Finnish artist Henna Asikainen leads the participants on a trip to the countryside to cast metal tokens and enjoy delicious vegetarian food while discussing their future in a tumultuous, ever-changing world.
Casting metal omens has traditionally been linked to New Year’s Eve in Finland. How did you come up with the idea of combining it with Midsummer’s celebrations?
Although it’s a familiar tradition to many Finns, in this project it has mainly been a source for inspiration. I’m bringing something old into a new, communal context. It is known that in several cultures metal has historically been used to predict the future. During this event we aim to familiarise ourselves with different cultures and discuss our shared future with the help of these metal ‘omens’. I wanted to arrange this event at the same time with Refugee Week and it happened to be during Midsummer this year, what a lucky coincidence! Both Midsummer’s traditions and metal omens are essentially linked to fire. In many cultures fire has a key role and it’s believed to have a cleansing effect.
The tradition is very old. How are you planning to interpret the molten metal?
I compare it to Rorschach’s inkblot tests; both techniques say more about the predictor than the object itself. In my childhood we used to ‘read’ the shadows cast on the walls by our pieces of metal in dim candlelight. Light and shadows are very symbolic. Shadows are often seen as negative although they’re always connected to light. This is something that often comes up in the stories of refugees and immigrants: there must always be a tiny flicker of hope. The wish for a better tomorrow is strong.
The event will be attended by storytellers who encourage and help people to share their stories and thoughts about the future. After Saturday the metal omens will be collected and catalogued. I hope their story will continue one way or the other.
Who is the event for?
Omens is a low-threshold event and suitable for everybody. The aim is to help the participants predict their future from their own point of view. No one is given ready answers. This is an entertaining, magical activity that can be taken as seriously as each participant desires. I’m hoping for good weather so that we get to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Allenheads. Northumberland is rather conservative and this event offers an opportunity for people from different backgrounds and cultures to meet and chat.
What kind of discussion are you hoping to encourage with this event?
I wish to enable intercultural communication and encounters, and encourage hospitality towards others. We all have our own fears and dark thoughts about the future but we also share a whole world. The aim is to give space to everyone and respect each others’ experiences. I hope this helps people to come up with more constructive solutions for a shared future than building walls.
Hopefully the metals will continue their journey in an exhibition some day. We’ll give a voice to the people by recording their stories.
After the event, what would you like to leave the participants with?
Happy minds and an experience of self-expression in a safe, accepting environment. Possibly with new friends, even. For the refugees and immigrants taking part in Omens, this offers a unique opportunity to see another side to Newcastle. They often lack the means to travel so our coach trip will help them to get to know their new surroundings and develop a sense of belonging.
This project has received funding from Arts Council and the Finnish Institute in London.
Text: Essi Miettunen Photo: Henna Asikainen