Relaxation for Men

darja-1Darya Apahonchich is one of the artists exhibited at the 2019 Festival of Political Photography at the Finnish Museum of Photography. Photo by Liisa Takala. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Relaxation for Men
Darya Apahonchich wanted to make prostitution visible so she photographed men
Jussi Lehmusvesi
Helsingin Sanomat
March 13, 2019

A good three years ago, Petersburg teacher Darya Apahonchich was walking to work when she noticed letters painted on the sidewalk.

ОТДЫХ

Freely translated, the word means “relaxation, rest.” Apahonchich knew it was one of the most common phrases in Russia for advertising prostitution.

Apahonchich was intrigued. On previous walks to work, she had noticed that ads for brothels had spread everywhere, including walls, light poles, and transformer boxes, and now they seemed to have flooded the streets, too. There was also something irritating about the word отдых.

Relaxation.

Or the slightly longer version:

Relaxation for men.

Apahonchich had an idea. She was also a professional artist and had worked in several groups that produced political art. She asked male acquaintances to think about how they really relaxed. Then she took the men to the sex ads and asked them to assume the poses they had chosen for relaxing.

The photographs were produced in the middle of sidewalks as passersby watched.

“I wasn’t trying to take smooth, finished art photos but snapshots,” she said. “People’s reactions were supportive or, more often, indifferent. Petersburg is a big city, after all, and people are not easily surprised.”

After the photoshoot, she posted the photos on social media and waited for a reaction.

Things kicked off after a while.

Apahonchich’s photos attracted attention on social media. The photographer was asked for interviews by more traditional media.

She was more delighted by offers from complete strangers, men who wanted to be involved in the project.

“They said they wanted to relax and asked whether they could help me,” Apahonich says.

Despite what you might imagine, there was nothing suggestive about the men’s requests. They genuinely wanted to be involved in doing something good.

The photographer accepted the offers and new photos were produced.

“It started out just as a fun thing but gradually turned into something more serious,” she says.

darja-2Two young men relaxing. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

The success of Apahonchich’s photos could be explained by their skewed perspective. We have seen plenty of pictures of people victimized by prostitution at exhibitions but the gaze in her photos is focused on men.

This also has its own meaning for her.

“When people talk about prostitution, they usually talk about women, but I hope to make something invisible visible in the images I produce,” Apahonchich says.

It is a reasonable aspiration in the sense that men are active in the sex trade as middlemen, customers and, sometimes, vendors, too.

“Of course, men see my pictures differently. Some see them only as humorous. In the best case, I make the men looking at the photos reflect on their own position on the matter.”

The artist also has a personal reason for approaching the subject seriously.

Apahonchich walks around the Finnish Museum of Photography at the Cable Factory looking at the works of her colleagues in the Festival of Political Photography, which presents the work of twenty artists from around the world in a show entitled Potentiality.

In Apahonchich’s own images, men relax alongside “Relaxation for men” ads. One reads the newspaper, another plays on the train tracks, a third does yoga, and a fourth plays the balalaika.

A fifth man fishes.

According to the artist, the men who wanted into the project hardly represent the majority opinion regarding prostitution.

“Russia is still a conservative country and we have a different notion of women’s rights than in Scandinavia. It is common for men not to see any problem with prostitution. Many of them think it’s quite acceptable if, say, they have problems with their marriages.”

It is illegal in Russia to advertise sex services but, according to Apahonchich, Russian cities are in no hurry to get rid of the ads. She argues that the economic interests of the powers that be are often linked to human trafficking.

“It’s about money,” she says. “In Russia, the media have written about the links between corruption and prostitution. The police, for example, visit brothels regularly. They even have their own term for their visits. They are called ‘Saturday specials.'”

Her drastic claim is supported by a longitudinal interview study in which researchers mapped the experiences of sex workers with police in Petersburg and Orenburg. The study found that over a third of the sex workers had been abused by police.

The study was done in 2014, but researchers have obtained similar outcomes in more recent studies.

Estimates of the total number of people involved in sex work in Russia are as high as three million.

“I don’t approve of the word ‘sex worker,'” says Apahonchich. “In my opinion, it is not work but exploitation. I am talking about women who are involved in prostitution. Of course, there are differences in how people view the matter. If someone wants to call themselves a sex worker, I accept their choice, of course, but I don’t think of it that way.”

She also finds it misleading to talk about “sex.”

“Many girls go into prostitution at the age of thirteen or even younger. I think it is a question of rape culture more than of sex.”

darja-3Man and pillow. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Apahonchich has a personal reason for regarding prostitution negatively. She earns her daily bready by teaching Russian to women who have come from Syria and Afghanistan, for example. She is painfully aware her students are at high risk of being marginalized and forced into prostitution.

“Since they come to Russia as refugees and immigrants, they are on really shaky ground. They are often undocumented and cannot defend themselves,” Apahonchich says, looking anxious.

She is clearly concerned about her students.

She has not shown her photographs in class.

“I try to keep politics to a minimum,” she says. “A large number of my students are from quite conservative regions and I don’t want to scare them. Also, some of the students’ husbands have a negative attitude to their going to school, so in this sense, too, caution is important.”

“So, I concentrate on teaching the language and I answer their questions.”

There is one subject, however, that Apahonchich plans to raise in class.

She wants to teach the women how to talk to the police.

darja-4A man relaxes by meditating. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Relaxation for men. Although sex advertising has been moving to the Internet in Russia, the letters on the cobblestones still entice men into becoming customers.

Apahonchich’s own attitude to the advertisements has changed as she has photographed them.

“In the past, I would complain about them and think about all the young women they concealed. But after shooting them I saw them as locations and advertisements.  I would think that one was in a good spot for marketing or this one had really different colors, that I had no photos with yellow lettering in them. Or this image was in a good place for setting up and shooting.”

Another thing has changed. The photographer now knows what to say to men who fiercely defend prostitution.

“I ask them whether they would be willing to do the same job themselves or let their children do it. Since they don’t want it for their own children, why would they wish it on others?”

darja-5.JPGThe ads encouraging relaxation are also in English. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Apahonchich recounts how one of the men in the photos heard a child ask his parents what the ad meant as the model sat waiting on the pavement.

It was no easy task for the parents to explain what the words meant.

Nor was it easy to tell the child why a price had been placed under a woman’s name.

Translated by Living in FIN

 

Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, “School Encourages the Imagination”

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Koulu tukee mielikuvitusta,
meidät kävelytetään museoon.
Maalauksissa naiset kampaavat alasti ja selkä kyyryssä
keltaisessa huoneessa. Teema on toistuva.
Pellot lämpiävät lanteilla, auringonkukat
kiertyvät henkensä kaupalla kohti sineä, himon silmää.
Taivaalla kultaiset, raskaat kehykset.

Simpukkasuu kääntyy ja kuiskii pienin hengenvedoin:
Kuolenko mä kun mä en saa unta?
Jossain käynnistetään sirkkeli
ja ajattelen terää joka viiltää nopeasti ja syvään.
Joku sanoo hys ja simpukkasuu lopettaa:
Ei mulla muuta moi.

Menemme museon myymälään ja alan etsiaä julistetta seinälle.
Simpukkasuun sormet ovat hikiset sipulinvarret
ja hänen kaulansa ulottuu joka hetki ylemmäs,
puut, metsät enää vain kukkakeppejä, niin korkealle hän venyy.
Ajattelen terää joka viiltäisi niin nopeasti ja syvään,
että kaikki muu tuntuisi sillä hetkellä yhdentekevältä.
Enkä minä julistetta täältä löydä, myöhemmin vasta,
vuosien päästä kun se on valmis.

•••••

School encourages the imagination.
They walk us over to the museum.
In paintings, naked women comb their hair, backs hunched,
in a yellow room. The subject is recurrent.
Hips warm the fields, the sunflowers
turn their breath in spades towards the blue, the eye of lust.
The heavens are chockablock with heavy golden frames.

The clamshell turns and whispers, slightly gasping,
“Do I die when I cannot sleep?”
Sometimes a circular saw kicks in,
and I think of a blade that slashes quickly and deeply.
Someone says “Hush!” and the clamshell wraps it up,
“I haven’t got anything else. Cheers.”

We go to the museum store, and I look for a wall poster.
The clamshell’s fingers are sweaty onion stalks,
and her neck extends higher each instant.
The trees and forests are mere beanstalks, she stretches so high.
I think of a blade that slashes so quickly and deeply
everyone else would feel indifferent at that moment.
Nor do I find a poster there. Only later,
after years when it was ready.

—Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, Sakset kädessä ei saa juosta (WSOY, 2004), p. 45. Translation and photo by Living in FIN. Dedicated, belatedly, to Alexander Skidan on his birthday.

Hannu Salakka, “It Cools Slowly”

imatra-destroyed sculpture

Viilenee hitaasti,
miedot tuoksut kohoavat aaltoina.
Valvoa myöhään, herätä varhain,
olla jouten koko pitkän päivän.
Mutta jokin huolestuttaa.
Ehkä kadonnut taito päästä irti asioista,
jotka eivät tapahdu täällä.

* * * * * * * * * *

It cools slowly,
the mild smells rising like waves.
Staying up late, waking up early,
being idle the livelong day.
But something is unsettling.
Perhaps the lost art of getting loose of things
that did not happen here.

—Hannu Salakka, Kesä kesältä syvemmin (Otava, 1977), p. 36. Translation and photo by Living in FIN.

A few years ago, citing “numerous” complaints from the “general public,” the Imatra municipal parks and maintenance department summarily loaded the lovely brutalist modernist sculpture in the middle of the picture, above, onto a flatbed truck, took it to the local rolled steel plant, and melted it down in the plant’s blast furnace.

It was left to the Imatra municipal culture department, which had not been warned by the parks and maintenace department it was planning to commit this act of iconoclasm, to telephone the sculptor, who is quite famous in Finland and alive and well in Helsinki, to explain what had been done to his artwork by the yahoos in Karelia. It was reported that he took the strange news quite well, all things considered. LIF

Krimifest (11-12 August 2017, Imatra)

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KRIMIFEST
11–12 August 2017

In the second weekend of August, Krimi will celebrate the houses’ last summer as a festival touchstone with an extravagant garden party. Let’s do it one more time, sisters and brothers!

The festivities officially kick off at 6 p.m. on Friday, August 11, with the opening of a show by painter Santtu Määttänen. The audience will be entertained after the opening by musical mastermind Joose Keskitalo.

On Saturday, partygoers can arrive at Krimi early in the day and spend quality relaxation time with the whole family if they like. The music again blasts off at nightfall, supplied by Joutseno-based power duo Suominen & Härkönen, multimedia Guggenheim Projektz, and Australian-born Kitto, a great singer-songwriter who now hails from Sweden.

In addition to music, on Friday and Saturday, Krimi will have a really special program featuring performances, caricature drawing, and a holographic piece by the Power Builders art group. Partygoers are also free to express themselves and bring games, musical instruments, etc.  The party will be conceived and celebrated together.

A detailed schedule for the weekend will be available shortly, and other changes to the program are also possible. While admission to the event is officially free, we hope that participants support our work by donating money as they see fit.

General Info

The party is organized by the Krimi Art Center in cooperation with the Krimi Houses, located at Koulukatu 1A in Imatra. Except for Friday’s art show opening, the entire program will take place outside. With an eye to the fickle weather, it would be worth your while to bring warm, waterproof clothes just in case. You should also bring something or other for sitting on in the yard. In addition, the sauna will be warmed up on Saturday. Bring your own towel along if you want to have a bath.

There are plenty of shops and other services nearby. The nearest campground is around three hundred meters away, in Varpasaari Fishing Park. People traveling long distances may also ask to stay the night at Krimi.

If you have specific questions, you can contact us by email at taidekeskuskrimi@gmail.com.

Krimi Art Center
Koulukatu 1A
55100 Imatra
www.taidekeskuskrimi.com

Translated by Living in FIN

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* * * * *

The Krimi Art Center, a home and haven for Imatra’s current art students and recent art school grads, celebrates its last summer in existence with a festival on August 11 and 12, 2017.

Why has the city decided to demolish the two modest wooden buildings that make up Krimi?

I’ve already forgotten the “official” reason the houses have to go (the dreaded “toxic fungus” that lumbers round this fair land like the plague during the Middle Ages? austerity for students at the hands of the current bourgeois government?), but I have no doubt they are at odds with the city’s current development plan, which involves

    • demolishing as much built heritage as possible, even officially listed built heritage;
    • holding as many loud, vulgar public mega events as possible, such as the recent “concerts in the park” that ripped up huge swathes of the parkland situated cheek by jowl with the complex housing the city’s library, concert hall, museums, and city hall, while sonically terrorizing the mostly elderly residents of the nearby Mansikkala neighborhood for several nights in a row, and the latest iteration of the Imatra International Road Racing Championship, an event that should have been left buried in the 1960s, when it crashed and burned, but has been unwisely dusted off by the local powers that be and made an annual fixture just as worldwide climate warming kicks into high gear, as if sending huge clouds of smoke into the atmosphere is now cooler than it was back in the swinging sixties;
    • building as many big box stores for the now-mostly nonexistent “flood” of Russian shopping tourists and building most of the stores in the same neighborhood, Mansikkala, thereby making life nearly intolerable for residents of the city’s most populous district, most of whom are old-age pensioners who built the place and, when they were still working, actually made real things in the city’s once-mighty factories;
    • building something useless or expensive or both in the so-called Imatra Free Time Center (Imatran Vaipaa-Aika Keskus), which was once a wooded paradise on earth, featuring a pine tree-shaded swimming beach so pretty and picturesque it made you want to cry. Nowadays, however, the Imatra Free Time Center is chockablock with vacation cottages, a revamped beach in which most of those shade trees have been axed, a biathlon center (soon to be useless in a warmed-up climate hardly capable of producing large quantities of snow), a new Finnish baseball stadium, an indoor sports field, sheltered by an inflatable dome, a new camping ground (moved there to make room for the vacation cottages), and a new fish restaurant, erected right on the shoreline of Lake Saimaa. Hilariously, the fish restaurant was blueprinted and built by the city and its allies in the construction sector even though it had no one lined up to lease and operate it after plans for it were mooted and officially approved and, now, at least a year after it has been built down to the last doorknob, the mythical fish restaurateur is still waiting in the shadows, too bashful to emerge and take over the eatery custom built for him or her. Construction of the fish restaurant (which, were I a bad, lawless person, I would suggest the soon-to-be-homeless art students and young artists from Krimi should squat, because it’s not serving any other purpose at the moment) necessitated the clear-cutting of so many trees and the pouring of so much asphalt that it changed beyond all recognition the particular tract of now-vanished shady forest on the shores of Lake Saimaa where it was plopped down to no apparent purpose. Basically, it turned that part of the Imatra Free Time Area into a “human-friendly” desert of the kind that puts Russian shopping tourists at ease, or so the local Finnish developers imagined. It never occurs to the local Finnish developers and city planners they could be wrong about anything, least of all about Russians, about whom they pretend to know everything, but about whom they know almost nothing, which would be ironic if were not so funny and sad at the same time;
    • attacking and annihilating nearly defenseless cultural and artistic endeavors like the Krimi Houses, the now-defunct Taiderastit one-day art crawls, the International Semiotics Institute and its renowned summer seminars, and other things that had made the town attractive to a different crowd of tourist, as well as to local residents who don’t celebrate soul-, eardrum-, and earth–destroying noise and smoke as “culture.” Needless to say, none of these events cost the city or the federal government much money at all, but they were easy targets for hard-minded city councilors, MPs, and deputy ministers wanting to produce results when it came to the most sacred thing in Finnish governance: “savings” (säästöjä)
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Ukonlinna Beach, Imatra, South Karelia, 31 July 2012. Photo by Living in FIN

This is how the city of Imatra, South Karelia, Finland, imagines and actually implements its own future: by getting rid of lots of things and people that, in real and cultural terms, are defenseless, good value for the money, and anything but in-your-face aggressive and environmentally destructive, whether we are talking about trees and beautiful shorelines or mild-mannered art students running an art gallery in their own digs or foreign semioticians. The city replaces them with what is good in the very short term for the demolition, construction, and lowbrow tourism and shopping sectors.

And you thought Finland was different. How wrong you were. LIF

Easy Finnish, Lesson 3: Taking a Selfie

Finnish really is one of the world’s easiest languages.

I was reminded of this again earlier today while taking in Snapshots, a fine show of recent paintings by young local artist Arto Kettunen, in the Käytävägalleria (“Corridor Gallery”) at Imatra’s cultural center, Kulttuuritalo Virta (“Stream House of Culture,” so called because it is situated alongside the once-raging Vuoksi River, dammed up on both ends during its now-short course in Finland—the rest of its length was lost to the Soviet Union during the Winter War (Talvisota) and Continuation War (Jatkosota)—to generate electricity).

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Arto Kettunen, Sara ottaa selfien, 2016. Oil, 37 cm x 27 cm.

Sara ottaa selfien means, unsurprisingly, “Sara takes a selfie,” by analogy with the common expression ottaa valokuva, “(to) take a picture.”

Mr. Kettunen’s show runs until October 29. Be there or be square.

arto_kettunen

Another linguistic point of interest is that the show is entitled Maalauksia arjesta in Finnish—not “Snapshots” per se, but “Paintings from [or, about] Everyday Life.”

Arki is the nominative case of the word, which means, alternately, “weekday” or the ordinary, mundane days in life, the everyday. Given its mundaneness, you hear the word constantly in daily life—for example, in advertisements for daily specials at grocery stores.

The non-Finnish part of me (which is all of me, since I’m not Finnish) would like to wax poetic about the supreme importance of everyday life to Finns and Finnish culture (as opposed, say, to ruling the world), and how that makes Finland such a lovely, safe place to live most of the time, but I lack the words, even in English, to describe its complex simplicity.

 

 

Heifer!

I was just reading in yesterday’s edition of Etelä-Saimaa newspaper about a show of cows (lehmiä) and hiehoja at the Kouvola Regional Vocational College’s Natural Resources Center in the town of Anjala. Since I didn’t know what the word hieho meant, I googled it. This was the first entry that came up.

Wöyh! “Hieho” (2012)

Hieho on kultaa
hieho on hopeaa
hieho on pronssia
hieho on nopea
Nivelet maistuu voissa ne paistuu
nivelet maistuu voissa ne paistuu
Hieho!
Hieho!
Jne.

The heifer is gold
the heifer is silver
the heifer is bronze
the heifer is fast
Joints taste like they are fried in butter
Joints taste like they are fried in butter
Heifer!
Heifer
Etc.

South Karelians should have no trouble identifying where Wöyh! filmed this fabulous video.

And I will never forget what hieho means ever again.

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Translation by Living in FIN. Photo courtesy of Whippet & Siperiankissa