In March 1899, a fireball flew over Helsinki, and for a while it was thought that the end of the world had come. The meteorite hit the ice in Bjurböle Bay in Porvoo. The newspapers wrote that the meteorite was a message sent from civilised West, portending liberation of the country from Russian rule. The interpretation was based on the ancient Swedish word for beaver, bjur (bobr in Russian). Speculation was fuelled by the name of the site of impact, Bjurböle (Bobrikovo in Russian), and it was inferred that the nearby villa of the Russian Governor-General Bobrikov must have been the intended target of the meteorite.
Once the meteorite was lifted from the bottom of the sea, a plaster copy was made of it, which was presented at the crucial appearance in the country’s history, the 1900 Paris World’s Fair. The copy was placed on display in the heart of the Finnish Pavilion, surrounded by achievements of Finnish art, industry, education and science. The idea was to convince the rest of the world that Finland was indeed one of the civilised nations of the West. As a geographic landmark achievement, the exhibition showcased the first Atlas of Finland, produced by the Finnish Geographical Society, along with publications presenting the results of race science released by the same society. Other prized achievements included contributions by the foremost artists and architects of the day, such as paintings by Akseli Gallen-Kallela and the Liekki rya rug designed by him.
Although the Finnish Pavilion created the illusion of being an impressive stone building, it was in fact largely pieced together from canvas and plaster. In his account of the fair, the contemporaneous Egyptian philologist Ahmad Zaki Pasha interrogated the theme of authenticity by contrasting the techniques and ornamentation of Finnish textile tradition with those of the Middle East. Fake Star explores this relationship between the authentic and the copy in the context of fictive national belonging. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a tufted rug made by Al-Nawas and Henriksson that borrows visually from Gallen-Kallela’s work. Also included in the show are the original plaster copy of the Bjurböle meteorite and a rare surviving display case from the Finnish Pavilion in the Paris World’s Fair, both on loan.
Acknowledgements: Arts Promotion Centre Finland/Uusimaa Arts, Art School Maa, Council Museum of Central Finland, Finnish Museum of Natural History / geological collections, Ministry of Education and Culture, Selina Väliheikki and Tiina Saivo/Aalto University.
Artist-curator Ahmed Al-Nawas (b. 1980) and visual artist Minna Henriksson (b. 1976) have collaborated since 2015. In their work they examine history critically, politicising it through art. Their works are based on archival research and often include a strong element of craftwork.