Marja Lahelma

Esoteria-hankePost-doctoral Researcher, Art History, University of Helsinki

I am an art historian specialising in Nordic art and the Symbolist movement that emerged around the year 1900. My main areas of interest are the meeting points between science, art, and religion, questions of the self and subjectivity, and the ideological dimensions of myths and stories. I have conducted research on artists such as Pekka Halonen, Edvard Munch, Beda Stjernschantz, Ellen Thesleff, and August Strindberg. I received my PhD from the University of Helsinki in 2014 with a thesis on the dynamics of the self and art in Nordic fin-de-siècle art. Since then I have been positioned as a Post-doctoral Researcher at the University of Helsinki and as a Visiting Researcher at the University of Edinburgh from 2015 to 2017, including a six-month period as a Visiting Research Fellow at IASH.

In addition to academic research, I have worked in the museum field and organised conferences and other events in collaboration with museums and art galleries. I have also held lectures at various universities and art institutions and taught courses in art history. I have published widely on subjects relating to my research and I also enjoy producing texts intended for a broader audience. I have written two biographies for the series Artists of the Ateneum produced by the Finnish National Gallery. The first one on the Finnish artist Hugo Simberg was published in 2017 and the second one on Akseli Gallen-Kallela (Axel Gallén) came out in 2018.

In my recent studies I have focused on Symbolist art theories in the light of late nineteenth-century occultism and other popular esoteric phenomena. I have also charted the ideological implications of the mythologised notion of ‘northernness’ in the context of Nordic art and art historiography. I am fascinated by the creative process and the tensions between materiality and immateriality in visual art. One of my favourite hobbies is life drawing, which gives me the opportunity to reflect on these issues on a more concrete level.

Keywords: symbolism, occultism, art and esotericism, Nordic art, modern art, identities, the self, creativity, artistic process, myths, northernness, occult modernism, Hugo Simberg, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Axel Gallén, Pekka Halonen, Edvard Munch, Beda Stjernschantz, Ellen Thesleff, Augusts Strindberg.

Publications relating to the project:

  • ”August Strindberg’s Art in Modernist and Occult Context” The Occult in Modernist Art, Literature, and Cinema. Tessel M. Bauduin & Henrik Johnsson (eds.) London: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 67-92
  • ”The Symbolist aesthetic and the impact of occult and esoteric ideologies on modern art” Approaching Religion 2018 (1). Tiina Mahlamäki & Maarit Leskelä-Kärki (eds.)
  • ”Indeterminacy and Open-endedness in Symbolist Self-portraiture” The Symbolist Roots of Modern Art, Michelle Facos & Thor Mednick (eds.), Farnham: Ashgate, 2015, p. 59-70
  • Ideal and Disintegration: Dynamics of the Self and Art at the Fin-de-Siècle. PhD thesis, University of Helsinki 2014.

Profile in Finnish >>>


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