So why is a Scandinavian artist interested in capital punishment? The answer is still unclear to me, it was not put forward in the performance nor in any texts that I could find. I’m not sure why I find this so interesting and why I so long for a clear answer. Capital punishment still exists to this day, why can’t that be reason enough for me?
The stories in the performance Executed Stories by Juha Valkeapää where mostly from the USA, France, Britain and some from China and the Middle East. From Scandinavia there were three stories: Breivik’s massacre in Norway in 2011 and the last executions in Finland and Iceland – oh shit yeah! My homeland also carried out death sentences! I soon found out that the last execution on the Faroe Islands was in 1846, a woman, and in 1930 the death penalty was no longer an option. Hmm…
Every story in the performance had a face. Juha stitched pictures of victims and executioners on a wall, as he told their stories, and about midway he held out a picture of a child. A very young child. A boy. I thought this boy probably killed his younger brother because he cried so much at night, but didn’t mean to do it, he just wanted to sleep. Or maybe he was the youngest serial killer ever! Oh my God, but what if this little boy was state executed? And innocent!
None of my movie-like ideas were even close: this was Juha at age 5. The picture was taken in 1972, the year Finland’s capital punishment was abolished entirely. The artist explained how he remembers this period vividly, because he was terrified of death as a child. But in ’72, he and his fellow citizens knew that at least they wouldn’t be killed by their government, their homeland.
Is this fear legit? The whole meaning behind the death penalty is justice for the people who have been done terribly wrong. To keep dangerous criminals out of the streets so regular and peaceful citizens can go about their day. An eye for an eye, it’s justice. Hey, I’m probably expressing the opinion of a person who is FOR the death penalty and trusts the system. Nice, I don’t have anything to be afraid of. And if I was AGAINST the death penalty, I would probably be angry, sad even. But fear… when would I feel fear? Where in the world am I as a normal person afraid of capital punishment? China maybe, where one human being is not treated as an individual, where your voice is not heard? In the Middle East, where I as a woman would be punished for adultery? The fear in knowing that your life can be taken from you. Legally!
Hanging in Iran.
Now, I need to stress that the performance began with Juha presenting it as a lecture and we were free to go get a glass of water, go to the restroom or stretch our legs if we needed. We had been asked to write on a piece of paper what we would want our last meal to be, and a “winner” was chosen.
Then story after story was told. Without emotions. Maybe because that is how executions work in real life. You can’t bring your feelings into it, otherwise you couldn’t do your job.
But I wonder, when are you a murderer and when are you just doing you job? When are you a propagandist and when are you just doing you job? When are you a teacher and when are you just doing you job?
Is it that simple? It might be, I mean if we take a look at for example family businesses or a dominating profession within a family: farming, fishing, shoe makers, artists, doctors, executioners…
Keep it in the family.
The fascination with the craft of killing has in some cases become a family business. Imagine passing executional knowledge to your child, the best methods of killing. What must it be like, having that power. What would it feel it the person sitting next to me was an executioner. To be honest, I would be really fascinated by the strange knowledge this person was had and the science behind the methods.
I am reminded of a documentary I once saw called ‘How to kill a human being?’ by Michael Portillo. He set out to find the least painful execution methods still used in America – hanging, the electric chair and lethal injections. It turned out that non of these methods where without pain, but not because science hadn’t figured out the optimal most human killing method. It’s because some consider that people on death row do not deserve a painless death.
Theodore Robert Bundy. Executed in 1989.
My thoughts have gone far and beyond in this subject.
I have grown hungry after all these execution stories.
The last meal was presented, the “winner” was Jesper from Denmark and he got sushi – I kinda wanted to win, I craved a cheese burger at the end of the show.