BEHIND THE SUPREMARKET
The limits to Growth report by the Club
of Rome was published in 1972. In 1988, the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
was founded by the UN, and NASA researcher
James Hansen testified before the US Congress that the
climate is rapidly warming because of human actions. In
1991, the environmental crisis and its prevention became
central in the platforms of all major Finnish parties.
In 1973 there were three hypermarkets in Finland. The
expansion of the Prisma chain began in 1988, and in 2014
there are 64 Prismas in the country. Their average commercial
floor area is 10,000 square meters, and the largest
Prisma shopping centers are 46,500 square meters, with
a height usually of 10 meters. There are over 400 new
S-Markets, the average size of which is estimated to be
1,000 square meters and their height 5 meters. There are
118 ABC service stations, which on average are 500 square
meters in area and 4 meters in height. All these spaces
belong to the same chain. The total area of the rest of
Finland’s shopping centers is 1.76 million square meters.
When including all of the spaces built to cater for
retail after 1988, the growth of the entire area can be
estimated to be approximately six million square meters
and thirty million cubic meters. Over the past twenty-
five years, for an average town of 30,000 inhabitants,
approximately 32,000 square meters and 180,000 cubic
meters of hypermarket space has been built. On top of
these figures one can add the area required for parking
and other traffic arrangements. Since 1988 humankind
has consumed half of all of the oil ever used.
Nowadays human existence takes place mainly in
huge halls, in various office, shopping, restaurant, gym,
wellness, and entertainment modules which are separated
from each other by set-like constructions. In these
new living environments it is not possible to voice political
or social opinions; it is not suitable to spend time
in such spaces if you do not buy or consume something.
There is no art in these halls, and architecture has not
been taken advantage of in their designs. There are no
windows to look out of: if there happens to be a glass
wall, it has been taped shut with lurid advertisements.
The markets resemble—both inside and out—those
Asian manufacturing plants whence their goods come.
What on earth has happened to us?
NATURE, A FRAGMENT
Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Manifesto (1915) begins with
these words: “under Suprematism I understand the supremacy
of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist
the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in
themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling,
as such, quite apart from the environment in which it
is called forth.”1 In 1921 Malevich wrote to his comrade
Osip Brink: “the earth’s surface is not organized. It is covered
with seas, mountains. Some nature exists. I want to
create instead of that nature, a Suprematist nature, build
pursuant to laws of Suprematism.”2
In the 2010s, such extremely avant-gardist madness
has become everyday mainstream thinking. We do not
need art in hypermarkets, because they are in themselves
manifestations of suprematist art. Our society, economic
system, and industrial production are being planned in
the spirit of suprematism with no interest in the qualities
and limitations of the natural system which maintains
it. Life and its goals have become mere abstractions.
Ninety per cent of Finnish forests have been harnessed to serve the
wood processing industry. Out of the iceless land area of the globe, 75% is
molded by the human hand. Through global warming, all of the world’s
ecosystems are exposed to the influence of humankind. You can set the
Google Earth view to a height of about a hundred kilometers and let the image
move slowly across the surface of the earth. From Helsinki to SodankylaÅN,
from Tallinn to Istanbul, from Moscow to the Crimean Peninsula, from
Copenhagen to Madrid, from Beijing to Mumbai, from New York to Colorado,
you see thousands of kilometers, entire continents, a rectangular manmade
construction made up of fields, road networks, houses, and clearings,
which is only rarely interrupted by a few forests and mountain ranges.
Outside the walls of shopping centers, discount stores, factories, and
homes there is no forest or nature: only more discount stores, parking lots,
and motorways. Nature and culture are outmoded concepts for describing
the scenery around us, and the way it develops.
What do good suprematists do when the concrete reality around them
turns suprematist? They will not notice it. Suprematists are not interested
in the environment, not even in the suprematist environment. They will
keep looking for ways to express the purely artistic visions inside their heads.
When the suprematist project is almost complete, nature is an idealistic
abstraction, instead of boringly concrete. This situation again arouses the interest
of the suprematist. Thus begins the last phase of suprematism: the idealisation,
abstraction, and finally the destruction of the concept of nature.
A family is putting on a performance in the furniture exhibition at IKEA.
The customers have come to see furniture, accessories, and interior design
ideas. They do not notice the play—and even if they do, they do not understand
what is going on.
IKEA is supposed to be a new self-directed and participatory theatre with
expensive tickets. Instead of watching other people and their stories on
stage, or on the small or big screen, people turn their own lives into a performance.
It is possible to script a play of one’s life by using a few basic
modules, to choose one’s role out of those that best fit, and to find props
from the IKEA halls. One can go on with the play as long as it is amusing,
and afterwards the script, roles, and settings can be refreshed.
A home is a picture of a home. Outside the home there is a picture of
nature. Real nature, climate, and the ancient forests of Karelia are appurtenances
waiting for action. The ancient forest turns into boards of chipboard
and glulam, and further into consumer culture. We play house for guests,
the majority of whom are imaginary. When will this end, and how can we
imagine this to end?
We can trace the problem to its roots. The Western ideological and idealistic
worldview has been created in artists’ studios, both in the revolutionary
Russia and postwar United States. Artists had a considerable role in the
construction of modern (and postmodern) society and also in the assuming
of a consumer culture. What is the role of the artist in the stopping of the
Building the modern and postmodern society took huge effort. We are
facing perhaps even greater changes in the future. To survive, we need to
counter suprematism: we need a love supreme. A great outside other is
coming into our warehouses, dreams, lives. It is coming: are you ready? <<
1. Malevich, Kasimir. The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism.
Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2003.
2. Lodder, Cristina. “Man, Space and the Zero of Form: Kazimir Malevich’s
Suprematism and the Natural World.” In Meanings of Abstract Art: Between
Nature and Theory, edited by Paul Crowther and Isabel Wünsche, 47–63.
New York: Routledge, 2012.