The Gravity of the Eye

Just about four years ago I visited the Finnish Defense Forces’ image archive in Helsinki, wanting to contemplate and reflect on archive material from the Second World War. In particular, I was interested in military ceremonies and their potential as images. The objective of my visit to the archive was to explore the distance that military parades instigate between civilians, soldiers and officers. As an observational method, I chose to leaf through a large number of photographs, letting the sequence of military expression flicker past.

The article is published in Microhistories, eds Magnus Bärtås and Andrej Slavik, (Stockholm: Konstfack Collection, 2016)
It may not be published or utilized without the writers written consent.

In place of an ego that displays its real or presumed identity like an immutable brand, I found myself faced with a mobile, plural ego, the point of intersection of different and sometimes contradictory senses of belonging. What am I talking about, an exception or the rule?

Carlo Ginzburg

We don’t obtain knowledge by standing outside the world, we know because we are of the world.

Karen Barad

Just about four years ago I visited the Finnish Defense Forces’ image archive in Helsinki, wanting to contemplate and reflect on archive material from the Second World War. In particular, I was interested in military ceremonies and their potential as images. The objective of my visit to the archive was to explore the distance that military parades instigate between civilians, soldiers and officers. As an observational method, I chose to leaf through a large number of photographs, letting the sequence of military expression flicker past. In one worn brown envelope, I found a photograph taken on June 2nd, 1943 in Hangö, a city far out on the coast of southwestern Finland. Besides the categorization “marchpast”, there was no additional information about the military survey before me. In spite of this, the photograph and the rapture it conveyed spoke to me. Within a fraction of a second or in a microsecond, I had dissolved into the depiction, becoming not only subordinate, but also subservient. The distance between observer and actor which I intended to outline shrunk, leaving me instead feeling remote within myself, as though seen through inverted binoculars. Carlo Ginzburg writes about finding himself with a plural ego as the point of intersection of different and contradictory feelings of belonging. I confronted that plural ego as I was appealed to but also repulsed by the parade. To recall the moment in which I became someone other to myself, and to maintain contact with that ambiguous instant, I will attempt to establish a link between microhistory and time in the following text.

My investigations showed that the photograph most probably depicts the German gebirgsjäger band; as the band is mentioned in a letter that the Untersturmführer Unto Parvilahti (Boman) wrote to the Rector of the University of Helsinki Rolf Nevanlinna when the parade was being planned. Arms are raised in the heil hitler, and gazes are lifted up towards the superiors, who stand on a podium along the street.i Though the officers are out of sight in the photo, they are critical for its countenance. Trees obscure the civilian audience; they are the concealed outsiders at a military procession, although it is the audience who publicizes and delineates the parade with its very presence. As part of the writing process, I traveled to Hangö to retake the photograph from June 1943. The parade was held on Appelgrensvägen, a street that runs northeast from Bulevarden to Sandövägen and later becomes Highway 25. South of Appelgrensvägen is the sea, the mouth of the Gulf of Finland; to the north is a park, and adjacent to it is the sand-covered sports field where the military forces were surveyed upon return. I revisited the site of the photograph to generate a temporal stretch and write myself into it. The experimentation I conduct can be entitled an operational understanding of microhistories; incidents that take place and are incited in specific locations at specified times. My question is whether an incident such as this one can trigger or alter a chain of events.

I have put the photograph of the march-past on display and exhibited it as part of an artistic practice. Presenting the photograph beyond its historical context has been a matter of importance for me as my objective is to avoid the possibility that the act of display itself promotes the photograph or validates its subject matter in its a bygone era, thus failing to link the past to the present moment. To make the photo relevant to the present-day and inject it into the personal sphere, I repurpose it in a fictional frame tale entitled The Don Quixote Complex. In brief, the frame narrative is about justice gone awry, and I deploy the narrative as if it was factual and had actually taken place. Miguel Cervantes’ novel from the 1600s is celebrated as a foundational work for modern literature, but rarely is the question of how the hidalgo Alonso Quijano became The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha raised. What appeals to me about the novel are not so much the inane impulses, but rather that Alonso Quijano demands more. In other words, an indisputable reality is not enough for him. As I enlarge the frame story with two additional characters it is entitled Lena Séraphin, Andrea Meinin Buck & the Don Quixote Complex. The work thematizes fictionality and diverse identity, such as doppelgängers. In folkloristics, doppelgängers appear as (physical) copies resulting from reduplication or the splitting of the ego. Alter-ego and doppelgänger differ in that the latter refers to a reciprocal relationship, whilst the alter-ego often corresponds to the repressed. The character Andrea Meinin Bück is my doppelgänger, and as the work progresses, I am assimilated into the role of the fictional artist Lena Séraphin.

The Don Quixote Complex is an outspoken rebus. The work is tangible, like the conspicuous and therefore concealed letter in Edgar Allen Poe’s renowned short story The Purloined Letter. In The Don Quixote Complex, I am me, and I am also a someone. The discussion of the plural and diverse self can be connected to the terms sameness and selfhood. The philosopher Paul Ricoeur allows confrontation of the two in conjunction with the problem of permanence in time. Ricoeur asks the question ”Is there a form of permanence in time which can be connected to the question ”who?” inasmuch as it is irreducible to any question of ”what?” Is there a form of permanence in time that is a reply to the question ”Who am I?” ii In my practice, I rely on the question of the self – not to seek permanence, but rather to expand and experiment with the ego’s mutable forms. By positioning the photograph of the National Socialist marching band in the work Lena Séraphin, Andrea Meinin Buck & the Don Quixote Complex, I place a historical document in an artistic dictum. This referral is the direct result of my visit to the archive and the painful point of intersection where the ego and the self meet without mutual assimilation. As far as time is concerned, the intersection lasts but a microsecond of Lena Séraphin’s life and still lays the foundation for an artistic practice. The formative points of intersection in The Don Quixote Complex are the moment at which the original photograph was taken on June 2nd, 1943, and the moment it was retaken in Hangö on October 17th, 2015. The parade marks a turning point in the Finnish-German brotherhood of arms. I repeat and amend: On June 1st, 1943, some 800 Finnish Waffen-SS volunteers returned from the so-called Eastern Front. Afterward, a parade was organized in Hangö. The Finnish soldiers arriving were on leave and unaware that they would not return to the Eastern Front, but instead be assimilated into the Finnish army. Representative of this shift in military and foreign politics is the fact that the Finnish army’s commander-in-chief C.G.E. Mannerheim did not participate in the parade, although Führer Adolf Hitler had personally congratulated him on his 75th birthday and appointment to Marshal of Finland the previous year.iii The political scientist and historical researcher Markku Jokisipilä maintains that whilst few in Finland were ideologically attracted to National Socialism, “sizeable groups of citizens hoped that German forces would be successful at least on the Eastern Front.” Jokisipilä also writes that “the Germany visible in Finland was completely different from what prisoners in concentration camps and inhabitants of the western parts of Soviet Union had to look in the eyes.”iv Jokisipilä uses the Finnish expression ”katsoa silmästä silmään”, or “to look from one eye to another”, to refer to something entirely different from what was witnessed in Finland. Perhaps parades and football matches expressed National Socialism in Finland, but the question is what people knew, of what they were aware, what they did and what they didn’t do – and what role does that play today?

Carlo Ginzburg writes about the plural ego as a point where different and sometimes contradictory feelings of belonging intersect. When I juxtapose the ambivalent experience in the archive with Ginzburg’s statement, I arrive at something uncomfortable, perhaps even something resembling a crisis. Ginzburg asks: ”What am I talking about, an exception or the rule?” His point of departure is the plural ego with regard to the poles of exception and norm, which opens for me a vast space and potential to form more, as Don Quixote might put it. To navigate the space presented by Ginzburg’s question, I turn to the feminist theorist Karen Barad and her description of the world as an open process.

The world is an open process of mattering through which mattering itself acquires meaning and form through the realization of different agential possibilities. Temporality and spatiality emerge in this processual historicity. Relations of exteriority, connectivity, and exclusion are reconfigured. […] the primary ontological units are not ”things” but phenomena––dynamic topological reconfigurings / entanglements / relationalities / (re)articulations of the world.v

What happens when I move rearward, back into history and reconstitute myself in a double role of spectator at and photographer of the march past in Hangö can be likened to what Barad calls reconfiguration, a reconnection that complicates historiography, making it an act in progress. Reconfiguration doubles me, as a plural and mobile ego. It manifests a prismatic view and kaleidoscopic angles, but above all, it pries itself free from congealed and inaccessible historiography. Seeing as the primary components not things but phenomena, they are without predetermined objectives, but instead lead forward and advance as subversive repetitions. Ginzburg’s rhetorical question is an invitation to consider how the subject can be delineated and articulated using what he calls ‘at times contradictory senses of belonging’. The character Andrea Meinin Bück is my doppelgänger, and I therefore also become a doppelgänger in the work, thus reviving the somewhat uncomfortable or confusing thought that the self is not fixed. The researcher Sebastian Dieguez writes about neurocognitive mechanisms with the capacity to develop what he calls a phantom companion:

[t]he motif of the double arises from the action of specific neurocognitive mechanisms involved with bodily awareness, spatial cognition, multisensory integration, and self-other discrimination. All these capacities of the human mind, indeed, seem to converge to provide our species with a phantom companion onto which our beliefs, desires, emotions, and needs can be safely projected and which can serve as a sophisticated simulation device for planning, anticipating, comparing, and

Dieguez revises experiences of dissociation or alienation to a faculty, deemphasizing the doppelgänger as a diagnosis of autoscopy (or the perception of oneself outside of one’s own body). Instead, he believes that imagination is a constitutive flux: ”[w]e suggest that the double is not necessarily a pathological and thoroughly abnormal experience, but quite a natural emanation of our normal cognitive architecture and sense of bodily self.”vii In my artistic practice, the phantom companion links me to the work inversely; the more concrete and defined Andrea Meinin Bück becomes, the more I am fictionalized into a role in the piece. The artist Andrea Meinin Bück even has her very own message. She believes that one single phenomenon can possess disparate qualities that are not manifested in unison, but irregularly, in phases and on separate stages. Thus put, it is no longer possible for one eye to look into another eye by penetrating a depth; from now on, one eye sees what the other regards.

Lena Séraphin

Introductory quotations

Carlo Ginzburg. The Bond of Shame, in Passionen. Objekte – Schauplätze – Denkstile, eds C. Caduff, A.-K. Reulecke, U. Vedder (Munich 2010), pp. 19-26.

Karen Barad. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2007), p. 185.

i In a letter from 29th April 1943. Mauno Jokipii, Panttipataljoona Suomalaisen SS-pataljoonan historia (Helsinki: Weilin + Göös, 1968), p. 701. Rolf Nevanlinnas father Otto Neovius was a Fennoman and changed the family’s surname to its more Finnish version in 1906. (accessed on 26.10. 2015).

ii Paul Ricoeur. Oneself as Another, translated by Kathleen Blamey (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press), p. 118.

iii (accessed on 12.10 2015).

iv Markku Jokisipilä. Aseveljiä vai liittolaisia Suomi, Hitlerin Saksan liittosopimusvaatimukset ja Rytin-Ribbentropin sopimus (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2004), p. 29.

v Barad, op cit, p.141.

vi Sebastian Dieguez. ”Doubles Everywhere: Literary Contributions to the Study of the Bodily Self” in Literary Medicine: Brain Disease and Doctors in Novels, Theatre, and Film, eds Sebastian Dieguez and Julien Bogousslavsky, Front Neurol Neurosci, vol 31 (Basel: Karger, 2013), p. 78.

vii Dieguez, op cit, p. 91.

Further images are available at

Finnish Defence Force’s online archive at, search term 19430601

Many thanks to director Laura Lotta Andersson, Hangö Museum.

June 2, 1943

Hangö (Appelgrensvägen), Finland

Finnish Defence Forces Image Archive

October 18, 2015

Hangö (Appelgrensvägen), Finland

Photograph Lena Séraphin

read more research texts