tiistai 19. joulukuuta 2017


Kimmo Modig: Untitled  (made in concert with the collective group show (HYPER)EMOTIONAL: YOU, EKKM, Tallinn, 2017)

DISCLAIMER: This text is way incomplete. Anyone can blow my arguments down with one puff, I imagine. I am signalling those of you who feel the way I feel. Additionally, I am interested to discuss more concrete, albeit technical changes that could take place: For example, instead of giving out grants, foundations and others could simply hire people to do artistic work or research.

Unlike almost anywhere else in the world, artists in Finland, like their colleagues in other Nordic countries, can access numerous grants that come from both private foundations and public funds. This is truly amazing and worth applauding for. I won't break down the numbers here, but the amount of open calls and money given out is staggering to say the least. Application deadlines give a rhythm to the year, a bit like seasonal work at farms. Artists post Facebook updates both when their number is called and when nothing gives. There are a bunch of deadlines in the Spring and then again come Fall. Sometimes we gather together to support each other in order to get the applications done. You can apply for anything from small 200-1000€ travel stipends to a full-time 1 to 5 years artist grant for 2300€ per month.

But here's the thing. These grants don't, in most cases, lead to a larger change in the realities of the applicants, save for a temporary fix. When your funding runs out, you're back to where you started, back to competing with people who are 20 years older or younger than you. The only thing that's equal about it is that everyone's put into equally precarious situation. And since we're talking about art, there are no objective criteria to speak of.

You could be wildly successful (as in having international museum shows that don't pay, for example) and still that would not mean you'll get funded. This highlights one part of the problem: foundations all rely on anonymous jurors who are usually renewed annually. As an applicant, you have no idea who will be deciding on your grant and what they value. I get why they do this, but I suspect if being open about the jurors would make people bribe them or otherwise corrupt the process. Foundations do offer guidelines for the applicants, but in the end it is up to the incognito reviewers to choose who they want to support. Their suggestions are then affirmed by the board, but I've never heard of them doing any changes to the lists provided by the called-in experts.

There's no way for applicants to know if what they're doing will be awarded with a grant or not. If I as a reviewer (note: I've done this job for almost all of the foundations and public councils) feel ice-skating as art is the new thing and should be buttressed above everything else, then that's what's gonna happen. And then if you're a multi-disciplinary artist, a representative of a festival, or, say, a producer working for your town's cultural office, and you choose to read this as sign of times, thus shaping your next year's application to be more responsive to the current trend of ice-skating in order to keep your project running, there will be someone else reading your pleas this time around and deciding it's time to support oil painting instead. And so it goes.

Even if you would be perfectly suited for the changing trends, the money you receive is not seed money. "Apuraha" in Finnish means literally "help money", the original idea being, I assume, that the grant helps you to do something, nudging you forward a little. But this is not how it works: you need to spend all the money you're given in a way that doesn't generate more money, and in almost all of the cases you cannot invest the money into something like real estate that would, for example, give your art organisation a more sustainable future.

The deciding bodies handing out the grants tend to emphasize two things: the money they give is meant for non-profit activities, and that it's not allotted based on social reasons (ie. the applicant is poor and needs to pay their rent). Basically, the grant system stops you from being a capitalist while keeping you living in the capitalist reality of attention economy, where you need to prove yourself and rely on ever-fleeting grants indefinitely. Secondly, why else would anyone apply for money other than socio-economic reasons?

You don't need to know economic theories by heart to understand that the only way up for the lower classes is by owning the means of your production, and/or the ability to collect rent (ie. accumulating money out of what you have already). By examining the grants system, it becomes evident how the art industrial complex works like any other of its kind: it gives people rope while keeping them under stress and tied down in their class position so they wouldn't take over or do anything to unbalance the neoliberal order and class positions. As a side product from keeping creatives in check, the art scene accumulates capital: rents to go up in neighborhoods with galleries, artists take over the functions of care work after the neoliberal regime has cut public services, and in some cases firms can culture-wash their reputation, and global tourism business attracts more clientele.

I regularly receive grants. But I shouldn't say "receive" because what happens is I take them. And when I do, someone else can't have it, just like with higher education. I can take it because I'm suitable to play the part, not too strayed from the norm, not too impossible. And through such rituals as award ceremonies and affirmation letters printed on expensive-looking paper, we are made humble. We must always tell everyone how thankful we are that we were able to recei..take the grant. As exceptional the grants system is with all the extraordinary things it has made and is making possible, it is ultimately, for most parts, not doing anything to help the core problems and inequalities in our society. Should it? Could it?

This would require a fundamental shift in thinking, and a re-positioning of the artistic work away from giving the society bonus points for being so civil as to support a handful of "special people" (ie. artists worth supporting of), towards localised, engaged work that thinks hard about sustainability and universal access to production and benefits, something which is actually taking place within some funded projects already.

It would not be easy by any means, and I don't know how it would look like, nor am I actively pursuing it apart from writing this. But then the grants system as it stands today didn't just happen one day, but was part of a larger societal change and rooted in specific ideologies. By awarding money to certain people in society for something as abstract as being artists, the grants system seemed to have followed the global trends in the West to dismantle the welfare society and replace it with a neoliberal one, in which individuals are celebrated over equal opportunities and social security. Even if the people working in these institutions giving out grants would not share such right-wing values, as they almost never do in my experience, quite the opposite-I've met some of the most kindest people working tirelessly to advance the prospect of arts & sciences and civic discussion at large-, their institutions become complicit in the bigger scheme of things.

Going to back to humility bit, it makes sense to point out that most foundations and public bodies won't pay you to review their applications. It is also deemed as an honor, or as taking one for the team. Problem is, it is not helping my team.

Paging team: We need to stop lying to ourselves this is healthy and worth the anxiety, depression and seeing colleagues drop out. We must resist being complicit in a system that is catering to the ultra-competitive anti-welfare dream society of the right. Recent events in Finnish politics, from granting the wishes of neo-nazis and collaborating with them in human rights violations to the humiliation of unemployed citizens by cutting their subsidies should make it clear to anyone that we are already in the midst of an unspoken class war.

The right simply doesn't want to label it such because for most of them, their whole idea of society is based on the idea of suppressing the dissent voices and people with random inclusion and benefits just enough so that business can go on as usual. For example, there will never be 100% employment because if there would be, the workers would have the upper hand in negotiations. When work is scarce (but not too scarce), it makes us grateful to have job in the first place. This makes us lower our standards when it comes to job benefits etc, while the exclusion of publicly funded safety nets and deteriotion of unions (sometimes of their own making) make us unwilling to go on strike. This logic is reflected in the art world, as well.

Maybe you're a liberal leftie, or Green party voter, and you don't like the sound of class war, but if you think about the way the rich are taking the money from the poor through tax and subsidies cuts, almost everywhere in the world, what other term could come close to describing our reality?

I am very glad to see there are still individuals and organisations willing to support the arts and sciences in Finland. But I believe we need to have a conversation about what the grant system adds up to, and what everyone wants. Here's my aims: I want long-term wealth and power to everyone who is being suppressed -some obviously more heavier than others- and wants to support the fight for a more just world. I don't want for anyone to live under constant stress caused by the arbitrariness of systems that decides for your fate, and by the rat race for the temporary chances held up in front of you. I don't want to gamble, I want to burn down the casino.

sunnuntai 17. joulukuuta 2017


Feminist Forum exhibition, installation view. Courtesy the artists. Image: Kimmo Modig
Feminist Forum exhibition, installation view. Courtesy the artists. Image: Kimmo Modig


"not only is contemporaneity about the engagement with the urgent issues of the moment we are living out, but more importantly it is the moment in which we make those issues our own. That is the process by which we enter the contemporary."
-Irit Rogoff: The Expanded Field

"I don’t believe there are enough good people in the art world who speak on a level and think about legacy/about policy/who go to council meetings and have a worthwhile presence and do something without prioritising their own gains of being a Gap Yah-type, look I work with Real People in my art-type dickhead”, wrote the White Pube recently. Later on in the essay(1), they recommend art institutions to have obligatory local advisory boards: "With such boards, art spaces of all scales might be responsible and accountable then; social, local, good. their activity would be considered, wanted, attended, and shared. yep ok thats the art world i wanna see. can I have that for christmas please."

If I wish for art to make sense locally, it’s worth to ask for whom art is usually made, then? Most shows I see are targeted for other artists & art pros, like the ones I’ve done myself because I have no idea how to talk to anyone else. Attempts to cater for larger audiences usually fail, as essentially no one (=”laymen”) cares enough to see something new, or perhaps, and most likely, the work was not really made with any understanding of any other audience than your peers.

But I know so very little of audiences and communities to begin with. In this case, my point of view is that of a  professional-seeming(?) art worker(?) who goes to see shows and then talks about them privately with their peers.

And I wonder why most of my friends say they don't feel anything when they see art. The art we witness in Helsinki and elsewhere is almost always about showing that you can make “an art thing”. It is proof, as I’ve claimed elsewhere(456). There’s rarely any entrance into the work because the work is made to be acknowledged, not experienced.

All this I say so I can lay the foundation for discussing the exhibition mentioned in the title of this post so hold tight.


Also, and by way of reminding you I don’t hate museums, although I doubt you would care if your snap judgement on my snap judgements is balanced, and not that I was talking about museums this time, but anyways let’s set the record straight: no, it's not that museums should solve all the problems of art+audiences. Quite the opposite imho, I would love them to have the ability to focus on fighting forgetting, that is, doing archiving work (which then would allow you to dissect the ideologies guiding such enterprises, something that is way more urgent than to talk about being depressed by what’s on).

For some reason, museums have been burdened with the task of being the main place you go for all things contemporary art here in Helsinki -maybe because this is such a small place and there is no discourse that would enable more analytical takes on the roles of different institutions, so it is very hard to avoid talking about museums when you talk about contemporary art.

Or actually it is very easy to avoid talking about museums, just look at something else, like the FemF show I am slowly getting to here.

---Which is so weird, that bit about having to talk about museums, because museum shows here very rarely have anything to do with the issues and ideas me and my colleagues deem pressing. No, we don't decide what is worthwhile in general, of course, but I am depicting my reality, so that you would understand where I'm coming from with this and how it potentially visualizes a larger contemporary art discourse. I don't see most museums and their personnel working with the same questions with me, whereas with my precarious colleagues who are critics, technicians, writers, whatnot, I feel a connection because it is based on a situation, a position, instead of a genre.


And also why do Helsinki-based art institutions collaborate with each other when it's pretty obvious that the actual_people_working_in_these_institutions have vastly different, even if unpronounced aims?

Why do independent, fiercely critical festivals, galleries etc. want to work with bigger institutions when they are looking for very different things?

I mean, go to a bar with people who work for any highly visible and/or cool independent art org, and listen to them bleed their hearts out on how disappointed they are with these seemingly required collabs, and you will bloody well learn what the differences are.

I must admit one reason I was positively surprised by the Femf group exhibition was there was no mention of the usual suspects Frame, Kiasma, University of Arts, Taike, Kone Foundation, etc. I mean of course I am not saying this was from the organisers’ part an act of opposing or turning down offers, how could I know, but merely am pointing this out as a visitor who reads the handouts and looks at the Facebook event texts and regards this sort of info as part of the experience.
This fact made me feel hopeful, although I could just as well imagine the people doing this show wouldn't mind the collab/access because it means money and other resources, so obv this is not a clear-cut issue that somehow got "solved" here, or that there wouldn't be structural racism and the like in Finnish art institutions and everyone can just "choose" whether to collaborate/take the money or not.

And lastly, this was an exhibition to go along the Feminist Forum that had a lot of other programme from talks to workshops within it, and from what I understood the Forum is produced with voluntary work. But what I saw was not just something on the side, a fringe event, but one of the most compelling exhibitions in a very long time.

I've recently been reading a book edited by INCITE!, titled “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded - Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex” and I guess that has influenced me quite a bit in terms of understanding how support structures co-opt ideas and movements and energies and what sustainable alternatives are out there.

What this collabo-reflex means in practice is that representatives from the same institutions are present in almost all of the boards, from festivals to artists' associations, to residency and grant juries. Because, you know, it’s “good” for networking to have someone from that museum or this money-laundering business amongst us. Everyone has to be ready to play ball with each other, leading to uninspired, numbingly polite-yet-eerie-cold atmosphere, where any issue gets quickly taken over by the formal, hegemonic production methods (and thus knowledge and value systems).


As Grace Kyungwon Hong has explained(9), inclusion is leverage for the capitalist, or any hegemonic system to protect the power balance, not to change it. By inviting a "suitable", acclaimed individual in, we can stop to think about literally everyone else who is still left out because now we have a visual representation from a given repressed minority. (This is way more clumsier put than how Hong phrased this but maybe you know what I mean.)

On the other hand, "we" have this myth of supposedly needing to pull together, as some afterthought from art-as-nationalist interest that no one sincerely believes in, save for evangelists of entrepreneurial credo such as designer, artist Paola Suhonen(4, in Finnish), but it's still lurking very heavily everywhere in the Finnish intellectual scenery, nevertheless.

But no one needs to pull together on everything imo. Save that for large-scale issues, like fair pay, human rights, and fighting fascism. I think it is crucial to know the difference between when and where to join forces, and for what causes, and when not to, because empty, habitual collaboration simply muddies the waters and makes it impossible to understand what we or you or I or whoever was trying to do in the first place.

I want to find ways to cross over the limits of the cultural-economic boxes the neoliberal reality wants us to stay in, and find out larger societal connections. That would be brilliant, yes, instead of the aforementioned people-with-degrees-and-invites playing the game of performative inclusion. This I want, instead of watering down one’s agencies into a soggy compromise based on contrived locality forced in place to suit the needs of some puny grant the Arts Promotion Centre is wrangling in front of you.

The mere fact that two things exist in Helsinki does not mean they need to collaborate, as much as we like to "meet to have meetings."(5) This kind of thinking comes from the same tainted well as measuring everything by audience numbers, treating institutional collaboration as an ends to itself, and the fantasy of knowing what’s going on because "Finland is so small you quickly get to know everybody"? Really, you know everyone? Who cleans your office and what was it that you said about actor-networks? When was the last time you saw art made by someone who doesn’t have 50+ FB friends in common with you? I am asking this from myself, as well, and I need to keep asking it ffs.

But yeah so, more standing apart when it comes to doing your own thing and more coming together when it really matters we show the power in numbers.

It is why sometimes the cost of making compromises is the losing of the impossible, the radically different way of that which does not figure in the current neoliberal logic or in your organisation's strategy. Hong brings up affect as on opposing force, quoting Kara Keeling in how it “points toward the ways that whatever escapes recognition, whatever escapes meaning and valuation, exists as an impossible possibility within our shared reality.”


What does impossible look like? Does it look like the exhibition curated by artists Ramina Habibollah and Nayab Ikram, which seemed at first glance a familiar affair with its removable white walls, photographs, few installations, a book on display, paintings, and videos? Finding the time and energy to open up to anything is hard, I feel, so you look at the simplest visual cues and make a quick categorisation and move on to think about eating something soon. I think I spend maybe 2 hours in the show, and around the second hour I started to overcome and leave behind my learned taxonomies and other preconceptions, as much as that is even possible, or desireable.

Nora Sayyad: Finding Forgiveness, 2017 (photobook). Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Nora Sayyad: Finding Forgiveness, 2017 (photobook). Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig

For only two days, mere hours really, with the first day filled with performances I sadly missed, and the second day hosting talks by some of the artists, the exhibition was open at one of the spaces at Cable Factory in Ruoholahti, an eerie area of south-central Helsink, populated by successful IT companies, with apartment blocks scattered around the channel built there in the 90s, when the area started to be transformed from a warehouse area into a residential zone. I never enjoyed visiting Cable Factory: it feels like someone is cementing an idea what artistic labor should look like.

When I went to visit the show on Saturday morning, it was still quiet (it got busier later on), and then a colleague showed up. We chatted a little. They were very impressed by the choice of videos and were hoping the curators would put together a screening later on (which they did because, well, isn’t it the right thing to do. Go see it, it's at Third Space in Punavuori, until Saturday 23rd of Dec 2017). The entire runtime of the videos was hours: I am not sure if it would've been possible to see them all during the weekend.

That the show cannot be experienced at whole drives home an important point about knowledge and objectivity: You cannot have the full view. First sign of the impossible? This was similar in spirit with having Nora Sayyad's thesis or graduation work (opinnäyte), with photos of Sayyad's father and his family in Palestine and research on multicultural families at large, on display amongst the other pieces. One wouldn't read the thesis there and then, and I merely glanced it while running around trying to see "everything", but it felt like a useful thing to have there, like this someone could surely use this for something, this is real, lived knowledge. It managed to do that thing people seem to try to do with placing books in exhibitions: the suggesting of another piece of knowledge, to be experienced elsewhere, but accessed partly from this space, like a wormhole, or the echo of a refrain from another song.

Man Yau: Planet HER-BB, 2017. In the background: Kuralay Kin: Woman Dancing, 2017. Courtesy the artists.  Image by Kimmo Modig.
Man Yau: Planet HER-BB, 2017. In the background: Kuralay Kin: Woman Dancing, 2017. Courtesy the artists. Image by Kimmo Modig.

Aside from the videos, shown on two spots in the show, there were lot of drawings, photographs, and paintings. As much as I enjoyed looking at them, I couldn't stop hanging out with Man Yau's porcelain sculpture "Planet HER-BB" (see pic above), which was like an oasis of mutating visual references I couldn’t quite place, or, say, study materials of a biology class from the year 2158. Having in the middle of the exhibition turned into a command center from which you navigate.

Carmen Baltzar's video piece "GYPSY", from 2016, depicted white Finnish people talking about their preconceptions of Romani people. Sadly I didn’t have the time to see it in full, only for few minutes, but what I saw stayed with me: the casual ways you, if you belong to the/a norm, let yourself judge other people outside of this norm while seeing yourself as merely observing the world, the inherent violence of this rhetoric coming through on full force in Baltzar’s video piece.

Even something as fleeting and easily unnoticeable as paintings from a workshop Globaalinuoret & FemF had organised together felt compelling, because the piece was swimming amongst the other, more "refined" works (as in, I imagine the workshop was a short one, perhaps not made to produce art only, whereas the other works I guess were made by practicing artists, but rly I don't know anything about the workshop this is just how I read it), exchanging some of the resonance of their immediacy for the gravitas of the more pronounced pieces.

Those made-up juxtapositions between workshopping and working made (and makes) little sense as an interpretative device, something that become apparent with Shieko Reto's drawings, one of them detailing what seemed like a demonstration against Finnish government's necro-policy of forced sterilisation of transgender people. Reto’s drawings felt at the same time as just a thing one does on the side, and like a work that has been coming up, and lived through, for years. Earlier this year there was an eye-popping window painting by Reto in Kaisaniemi(1000).

Shieko Reto: HelzPride, 2017. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Shieko Reto: HelzPride, 2017. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig

I rarely experience shows through singular art works, but instead as an immersive encounter with multiple modalities, so I won’t usually write so much about specific pieces. And it would be exhausting to go through even half of the pieces in the FemF show.

Additionally, very rarely an aesthetic enters my body with such decisiveness that I cannot do anything but fall in love. And I don’t even think that phenomenon as some applaudable feat, more than simply a sign that me and the artist have similar class/race/gender experiences or taste or something something. We all need to hear the chorus sometimes, of course, so like anyone else I enjoy those moments of deep (or shallow) resonance. I like that feeling but there’s very little I could say about that, or?

This time, I wasn’t even thinking about this whole did-I-felt-it-in-my-stomach -trope so much, because the FemF exhibit was one of those shows that make all the works in it shine brighter (meaning the works didn't have to compete for your attention if that makes sense), instead of dimming their power in order to hammer home some savvy curatorial concept.

Not that there wasn't a concept. It was clearly spelled out that the exhibition displays works made by racialised artists (or artists of color). I understood the curating had been done by combining different approaches: there was an open call, and additionally they handpicked some of the artists, especially friends whose works they wanted to show, plus there was some collaboration with Koltuor, an "Instagram based gallery where we want to highlight and celebrate non-white artists, writers, poets, performing artists and filmmakers mainly in Scandinavia", who did the graphic design.

It was possible to think to whom this show was for and what it set out to do, but this info was put forth in a way that allowed the exhibition to do other things, too, and people experiencing and visiting the show could then set their coordinates accordingly in relation to where the show was located on an intersectional map.

This exhibition, for me, was also an example of how the method in itself doesn't dictate the potential of the results (I could complain about open calls in general for weeks on end) but how you implement it, and what you are trying to do with the method you’ve chosen or found yourself working with.

What a joy it is to stroll around in an exhibition that trusted its artists while having a very clear, and stated, agenda governing it. Maybe the most important thing to get right really is your reasons for doing something.

---OK so yes I am using somebody else's labor to further my own claims. That's what I tend to do with art, which in all honesty has no intrinsic value for me (I think?), only use value. Art works almost always mean something to me only after I have figured out how I can use them (or vice versa), or understand how they are being used by someone. So for example this exhibition became a companion piece to some stuff I’ve been thinking about and going through lately.

Obviously I wasn't getting something out from all of the works, but why would that matter? What is that even, like sitting comfortably on each sofa at a furniture store? In my mind, the show would have not been better or worse had you change one work for another.

I think the curator is always the only person who loves everything in the show they have put together, while the rest of us like what we like.

Why do I say some other work wouldn’t make the show different? Because the curators and everyone involved in the FemF show managed to create a temporary situation, a system*, really, in which everything placed in it became enforced with vitality.

The thinking, energy, and lived experiences that goes into making a show is what protects it and gives it its aura. And if this protective ritual fails, then there’s nothing an art work, press release, installation pics or online hype could change.


This is what happens when I live through an exhibition: My emotions measure the distance between what I want and what the show seems to be. Then, I need to either accept the show or deny it. I can then either carry it with me to future situations (accept it), or try to leave it behind (deny it). But the latter is sort of ruled out at this point, because the show, like any experience, refuses to be left behind without strings, or slime, or threads, or cords attaching it to me.

Whatever happens next in my life, the show hangs on, usually through negation, or as a shadow, or a ghost, because I was there already, I can not not be there anymore. But if I accept it, then I endorse it, protect it, or maybe wear it out so as to make you think it’s been with me for a while, like a denim jacket.

Sometimes, the distance between myself and the show is too big, and I don’t even try working at it. I walk out, I forget it, only a very feeble thread hanging loose from my mind.

In the FemF case, the distance I needed to travel to accept the show varied, but finally the way in was provided by artists whose work I already knew, as is often the case. The first thing I did was I sat down to look at an engaging documentary video about the activist-artist group Mahoyo and their travels & projects, which was kind of advertisement-y as in selling something to me, but that was precisely what I found curious and nicely conflicting and kind of real. Then a video by artist Sepideh Rahaa followed but I thought well I like Rahaa's work already so let's see what else is there and moved on to look at paintings and such, deciding to carry this show with me where ever I'd go next.

Mahoyo: The Mahoyo Project, 2015 (video). Courtesy the artists. Image: Kimmo Modig
Mahoyo: The Mahoyo Project, 2015 (video). Courtesy the artists. Image: Kimmo Modig

“We will follow any hint of energy, at least for a little while. When something happens, we swarm toward it, gaze at it, sniff it, absorb its force, pour over its details, make fun of it, hide from it, spit it out, or develop a taste for it. We complain about the compulsion to participate. We deny its pull. We blame it on the suburbs and TV and ourselves. But we desire it too, and the cure is usually another kind of swarming, this time under the sign of redemption: a mobilization for justice, a neighborhood watch committee, some way of keeping our collective eyes open. Something to do.” 
-Kathleen Stewart, “Ordinary Affects”


One particularly enjoyable thing about this exhibition was its size. Even though it was a group show with a set concept, it didn’t require tons of intellectual-emotional-physical labor to go through it -not to say the works would have not been complex or worth diving deep into, or that I "got" it all, but that everything was not overly complicated merely for its own sake.

I mean it is the dark season in Finland, 24/7 cognitive capitalism reigns over everything, and everyone I know is tired. When you create a show, the amount of info/triggers/cues you put into it for viewers to digest tells us what kind of life (diet, schedule, abilities) you expect the audience to lead, you know, in order to have the surplus energy and cultural capital necessary to take in your vision. Maybe that should be spelled out at exhibition entrances?

--But like this is coming from a person who just wrote a long winding freewheeling text so---

In general, not having chairs while showing long videos is a way of saying you must be healthy enough to stand here for 30-60 minutes to watch my art without losing your concentration. But since the videos in this show were shown as collections (and there were a few chairs there), I didn’t feel them imposing a certain kind of spectatorship onto me. It was more like a YouTube a playlist, like here are the names, take the handout home and look them up, or alternatively see what you have time to see now, and then do what you want. And the fact there is now a screening of those work is great news.

Jon Ely: People who deserved to be on the Swedish hundred-crown bank note instead of Carl von Linné, 2017. Installation shot. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Jon Ely: People who deserved to be on the Swedish hundred-crown bank note instead of Carl von Linné, 2017. Installation shot. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig 

Jon Ely: People who deserved to be on the Swedish hundred-crown bank note instead of Carl von Linné, 2017. Installation shot. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Jon Ely: People who deserved to be on the Swedish hundred-crown bank note instead of Carl von Linné, 2017. Installation shot. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Artists in the FemF show: Aka Niviâna, Ana Gutieszca, Carmen Baltzar, Caroline Suinner, Crystal Z Campbell, Diana Soria Hernandez, Ding Yi, Dzamil Kamanger, Elise Mattisson Chue, Jay Mar Albaos, Jon Ely, Karoline Montero Araya, Kemal Koçak, Kuralay Kin, Lolo Arziki, Mahoyo, Man Yau, Mona Eid, Müge Yildiz, Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro, Nora Sayyad, Razan Abou Askar, Saadia Hussain, Sabah Ejaz, Sepideh Rahaa, Shieko Reto, Vishnu Vardhani.

1 = http://www.thewhitepube.co.uk/local-advisory-boards
4 = https://areena.yle.fi/1-4158535
456 = http://kimmomodig.com/themes/
9 = Grace Kyungwon Hong - Death beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference (introduction + chapter 2)
5 = https://youtu.be/Z0ndtYaCRO0?t=4m58s
1000 = http://shiekoreto1.blogspot.fi/2017/01/genderhuman-jan-25-march-2017.html
* = for more on how exhibitions could be understood as systems, see and interpret Reza Negarestani’s essay Frontiers of Manipulation as a piece on that topic, if you want, albeit it talks about material organisation and conceptual modelling but I think it could apply for what I am saying here, but maybe it's worth to elaborate on a wholly other review.

torstai 30. marraskuuta 2017

111X & JOHANNES EKHOLM & MAN YAU at SINNE, HELSINKI, Oct 14 - 29, 2017

Image from Sinne gallery, courtesy of artists, pic by Kimmo Modig

Last month, I sat down amidst vintage Artek chairs, Genelec speakers, and a selection of house plants, all enclosed in a room-inside-a-room at Sinne gallery. Fluorescent lights above me were occasionally flickering in sync with the audio, trying their best to animate the makeshift, deadened space. A 90-minute dystopic-utopian radio play, taking place "fifteen minutes from now", in the vein of the British TV show Black Mirror, was playing.

Afterwards, a staff member at the gallery was happy to see I stayed for the full length of the piece. I imagine 90 minutes is a lot to ask for most, but then I was there to write this. Work work work. To be honest, I wasn't there all the time, but went online to vent my frustration. Aargh. I don't have a smartphone but I had my computer with me and it had Sinne's Wi-Fi stored in it from the time our band played there a few months ago.

Whereas Black Mirror -and no I won't drag this comparison throughout- looks at how technology influences (mostly white, middle-class) social relations, "There Is A Light..." imagines the desires and potentialities of Helsinki-based precariat after the current order has gone up in flames in an activist uprising.

The exhibition itself is two-fold: there's the sound piece, and then there's everything else, which is credited to artist and sculptor Man Yau. The broken-beats, post-club bass-heavy music in the radio play is produced by 111X. In a puff-cum-interview(1), the artists said the visual setup should remind audiences that the fictional world of the radio play, in which an actress is receiving a state award while the parliament is being taken over by protestors, is not unlike ours. Choosing audio as the primary medium is an apt choice, as it frees you from having to come up with a visual stand-in for all the ideas. The way out from the muddy waters of representation is through the immersive, physio-hallucinogenic medium of sound, perhaps.

OK so I have no idea how to say this other than like: it seems as if the exhibition wanted us tell ourselves that we, both the audience and the creators of the exhibition, know what is wrong in the world, and that this exhibition exists in that same world. The nod, the wink.

What is it about artists or our working conditions that make us put things into space and will them into meaning what we think they should mean? And if I, as a spectator, subscribe to this meaning, for example by reading the handout text and deducing that the beat-up BMW must symbolise crony capitalism, what does this process do to me exactly, apart from granting me cultural access to a set of symbols & concepts, and before that, making me desire for that make-believe access in the first place? What would happen if I wouldn't agree to accept the presentation of design furniture as a sign of anything else but, I dunno, a successful partnership with the companies mentioned in the thank you notes? As proof of labor? Artists & co always say you're free to interpret the work to your liking but no one ever tells you how you actually can do that, and what doing so would mean to the discourse we're in.


Should we categorise "There is a light...", jarringly, as political art, then how is it different from the works of Jani Leinonen and Riiko Sakkinen, for example, whose works have gathered vast amount of criticism (if you're not aware of these events unfolding in Finnish art, perhaps cut a few paragraphs)? This might seem like a calculated rebuttal, but risking that I still think the comparison is one that must be made in order to clarify these terms so we understand what we are talking about here. What is the difference between this and that kind of art, if they both borrow their momentum and raison d'être from the political (for lack of a better term)?

As a tactic, it reminds me of highbrow music journalism. Pop music thinkpieces seem to be based on the notion that since they tackle globally worshipped, mega-successful artists, the writing must be important, too.(0) Of course, most of the time it absolutely is not meaningful to anyone outside pop criticism believers, as is the case with art and its priesthood, as well.

Obviously, this is not about the merits of pop journalism: it's just that the topic you choose does not elevate or justify your writing per se. People might care about object A, but it does not follow they care about somebody talking about A. The talk in itself is simply another object with which one needs to create a relationship, or not.

Referencing political events or struggles won't add to the weight an art work has in the cultural sphere, then (something the Sinne show doesn't exactly do, though the script contains a lot of quotes from activist-friendly literature etc). Although it kinda adds. What can happen is that the theme itself creates a certain type of aura around your practice: you might have better chances at getting grants, be featured on serious panels, people perhaps deem you as a person worth considering seriously, all that.

Also, no one ever criticises such works unless they're blatantly ignorant, as has been the case with the countless numbers of "refugee-inspired" art made by white Finnish artists touring the topic in their careers. But when, for example, an artist makes an informed work about, say, fascism during a specific period in Finnish history, the cultural sphere ceases to address its aesthetic or artistic merit. It becomes a monument for being right, and for a shared leftist/liberal/critical values (which I share, too). And since this monument is categorised as art, not science, for example, no one will check if the sources hold, there is no peer review system, and so on. We are prone to think the artist is right and so we simply salute the effort, instead of analysing it critically. (But I can't help but to add we need these monuments sometimes, you know, just to have something?)

Still, nothing stymies discussion as combining poetic license with morally proofread topics. Again, no, I am not saying one shouldn't do such works, or that they couldn't work just fine in some cases. What I am trying to argue for here is how so-called political art is being received, and what the choice of content might mean to their reception and cultural mileage. This goes back to the earlier remark about putting a thing in an art space and forcing meaning onto it. We must be able to look beyond that gesture, to see what really happens when the work goes out into the world, and gets mixed up with worldliness.


Though why wouldn't the act of providing information be enough? (ok so this is a tangent way removed from the Sinne piece already just fyi)

Can't I just accept that a move like that is a smart, cold-blooded hijacking of the medium of art for saying something more pressing? And why would I even care if someone does use art to simply disperse some intel?

I mean, I have no desire to "defend" art from anything. I also want to see our current world order up in flames, and art is, as Man Yau and Johannes Ekholm pointed out, complicit. But then I've almost never learned anything from art that that informs me. If I've been made to do so, I've forgotten all the facts on my way home, just like how my tears inflicted by the narco-optics of a Hollywood flick dry before I've managed to exit the cinema.

So I guess if you do appropriate art for something else, then you have to go all the way in, and change not just the content but the conditions of its production, and not simply commit to the tried exhibition practices, artist careers, accepting of group shows, keynotes, and awards, maybe?

In order to set the stage for a meaningful analysis, artists need to recognise similarities between their activities, so we can understand what these concepts mean, as I stated earlier. As much as more in-the-know artists like to set themselves apart from the ones they hate, I can't see any real difference between, say, Alfredo Jaar's empty slogan-heavy posturing and that of the celebrated, intellectually more "mature" artists with up-to-date vocabulary, themes, and subjects. I'm talking to myself here, as well. I want to learn to understand similarities so I can defend the making of a difference.

Just as I feel that criticising the instrumentalisation of art, most recently by Anna Tuori and Aleksis Salusjärvi(2), rings a little hollow, because using art to get things done is not the problem, at all. If you need to stop an environmental exploitation venture by a predatory company and the museum can be of help, of course you do it. Art spaces and workers are real things living in a real world, so of course it's ok to act accordingly. Instead of defending autonomy, I'd like to talk about how you can instrumentalise your practice in a meaningful way. Wouldn't it be healthier to start from the fact we are always complicit, subjective, subjected, and operating in a web of connections, dependencies, and agencies, than to try to defend some 20th century avant-garde dream of autonomy which really ever made sense if you were the heir of a rich family in Italy, driving fast cars and being high all the time?

The problem is never the media and forms in themselves. I think we should look at the institutional execution of the work, ie. how it is embedded in and entangled with its own context, from the salaries of everyone working towards making the work happen, to the affective-intellectual connections it draws, and what are the values it either consciously or unwillingly furthers. Who do you work with, who are you talking to.


Narrowing my interpretation of the work at Sinne as politically mindful but ultimately ineffective miming routine is a disservice to the work. The audio piece comes off as engaging, fun, and refreshing, when you forget this political art label bs I've gone on about here.

First of all, the play is not trying to be well made. It's overarchingly exuberant, and as asuch breaking from the tradition of "good work", something I salute. Sure, the artists are connected enough to get well-known actors &co to read the lines, and they are showing it in Sinne. More so, it's hard to imagine any Helsinki-based art institution saying no to this trio (this was, I understood, a commissioned piece by Pro Artibus, the association/foundation funding Sinne), but I'm sure that has happened and will happen too, sobecause nothing in this faux-meritocratic nightmare neoliberal art world makes sense and everyone is always going way down or up without a second's notice and everyone is paranoid of everyone else, while some of us have decided to judge anyone who dares to complain about these velocities, ultimately denying the intersectionalist power of tears.

But anyways so the work is dirty, the sound design is sometimes very tongue-in-cheek (there's a lot of eerie industrial wind-ish ambience), the acting is all over the place, the text too goes to places without worrying too much about narrative credibility or anything, really. I just needed to relax a little first and take off my usual pair of POLITICAL ART IS SO PROBLEMATIC AAAARGH glasses. It just that everything is politics already, everything is capitalised so I might as well enjoy myself experiencing this work.


OK I'll rage about political art some more now. For most parts, it feels like campaign rhetoric familiar from elections. And just like in politics, in art it is the actions that (should) count. But then, what are real actions in art? I feel my take on this is patchy, and I haven't really grasped this in any particularly deep way, but my gut feeling says art's political potential is in dealing with the politics of art itself, stealing art as a platform in its entirety for completely different means, or working along other non-art-related actors in the long-term, but isn't that pretty standard? I will leave it here to show where I am at. ++I'll try to follow up with this real actions gambit next time when I will hopefully write about a group exhibition that was on for two days as part of Feminist Forum.

So were the actions "real" in this show at Sinne? For me, the answer lies in the space: did the work gain any vitality from the context of a gallery? That's a boring question. Let's try something more suited for the times: did I feel something? If I didn't, is there something wrong with me, should I learn to feel more, or differently?

Is there any way under late capitalism to write a blog like this as a gesture of friendship, or are these things always about envy, belittling another artist, competition, or accelerating knowledge production to keep this machine called art world in motion? What does anticapitalist criticism look like? Is it an act of solidarity to take something seriously and go out your way to write about it, or is it always just careerism? What happens when I meet Man Yau or Johannes Ekholm again in Helsinki? Do they think I'm any less scared or tired than they are? Do I? Am I?

Do you? What makes you want to stand on the side of the ring reading this? What should an anticapitalist spectator do? Should we all just go back to the evasive, invisible, yet deeply political artistic practice of David Hammons, who for all their life has done the most etheral-but-super-concrete, unsellable-yet-totally-sold-out, mysterious-but-pedestrian, hobbyish-yet-professional, silly-tho-political art that I am (made) aware of (what made me know these things, what are the conditions guiding my references)? Negri & Hardt, two philosophers who have written books that you shouldn't feel like you should read them ---screw it live your life, have argued for the abandonment of institutions such as museums, so should we? Why isn't this audio work being played to audiences from car stereos at a parking lot? What do the artists want from the gallery? Or from us, the gallery goers? To wake up? To see you and your knowledge?

How is this show any different from my own show at Helsinki Art Museum's gallery, which was an exercise on entry-level conceptual art? Should we raise or lower the standards? I think, don't I, that we should all be hobbyists and stop doing any kind of art that requires support, gallery spaces, or any other compromises towards the white anti-queer hetero matrix called the normative society, in which art plays the role of the moderate joker so "everyone" can feel they're all right and nothing is too subversive, personal, or weird. I wish it would be that easy. I wish "no" was less expensive.

This I think is true: either you believe that the site of contemporary art (museums, galleries, etc) is worth fighting over, as Irene Campolmi argues, following Chantal Mouffe and sort of counter to Hardt&Negri(4), or you don't. If you don't, then working in art begins to feel overtly pointless. Then the solution is not to insert so-called political content into the art works as a means to signal that these are the real issues that are more important than aesthetics and whatever. For if you do that, it's such a nihilistic, un-beautiful act that I will leave the room, because while it's easy to point out the other, more urgent things we should work on than the politics of the exhibition space, then I as a viewer can't help but to think "then why are you here? And why did you invite us?"

In the end, this had little to do with the exhibition in the title, as often is the case. But the radio play is now in Soundcloud(5), go listen to it, I think it really is wonderful, but it took me three listens to get into it, ie. I am not busy.

0 = https://www.theringer.com/music/2017/11/16/16666306/taylor-swift-poptimism-2017
1 = editmedia.fi/pitkat/lainauksia-ilman-lainausmerkkeja/
2 = https://nuorivoima.fi/lue/essee/aikamme-estetiikka-kapitalistinen-realismi
4 = http://www.irenecampolmi.com/uploads/7/0/5/4/70545307/campolmi_icom.pdf
5 = https://soundcloud.com/johannes-ekholm/there-is-a-light-that-never-goes-out

keskiviikko 8. marraskuuta 2017


Diego Bruno James Prevett SIC


Jätkäsaari is a new residential area in central Helsinki that looks like a more sombre Copenhagen. The scandi topping of primary colours and subtle asymmetrical quirks are there, but life is yet to be downloaded to the grid, as is the case with most suburbs in Finland. But then I don't live there so how could I know.

The name Jätkäsaari translates to "Dude Island". something the abhorrent, mammoth sculpture of a pissing little boy next to Verkkokauppa megastore wants you to remember. It's by artist Tommi Toija, and titled "Bad, Bad Boy". In the radio play ”There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”, written by Johannes Ekholm, the protagonists marvel said megastore in flames, along with the statues of Finnish nationalist heroes of the right, in a nod toward the removal of confederate monuments across the US. The play was part of a show Ekholm did with Man Yau and 111x, and I am trying to write about that soon.

Aside from the three galleries, SIC, Huuto, and Rankka, the Jätkäsaari area is home to West Harbour, with its mega-cruisers, Helsinki-Tallinn ferries, and the hoards of tourists who try to fathom a way to the city centre from the Ballardian, grey surroundings. I’d be surprised to find out the galleries would still be here in five years, after completing their duty of injecting the neighbourhood with cultural vibrancy to attract bussinesses and tenants.

In addition to running their own programme, SIC serves as a new home to Ruler, a mobile gallery project for lack of a better description, initiated by artists Mikko Kuorinki and Diego Bruno, the latter currently having a show there, whilst the former is showing in Helsinki Art Museum's gallery.

You wouldn't blame them for it, but both the artists running Ruler and SIC as a gallery represent the kind of visual art that is regarded support-worthy in Finland. The heavyweight grant-giver and art policy game-changer Kone Foundation has supported SIC in the creation of the extended makeshift space for Ruler within its premises. Currently Kone also supports Kuorinki's artistic practice (it said so in the handout at HAM). Bruno's exhibition notes tells us the show is supported by Kone, Art promotion Centre Finland, AVEK (an organisation supporting audiovisual art that gets its money from royalties), and Helsinki International Artist Program. As everyone knows, these currents come and go, especially so when the money is coming in from foundations that rotate their jurors annually, creating even more instability to an already precarious system. I bring all of this up to shed light to the infrastructure of the art ecosystem here in Helsinki.

I've worked with Kuorinki a few times. EDIT: Kuorinki mentioned on Twitter that I did also participate in a Ruler-organised group show curated by Valentinas Klimasauskas. I wrote about a show by Happy Magic Society, a group Kuorinki's part of together with performance artist Essi Kausalainen, for Alkovi gallery's catalogue(0). Before that, I wrote a text for another show Kuorinki was in, at Oksasenkatu. People running SIC once sort of asked me to do something there, but this never materialised. Once I was with a friend in Corona bar, where artists tend to go after an opening. Me and my friend were both crying for some reason when the people from SIC suddenly stormed our table asking what do I do nowadays since they haven't seen me around, encouraging me to propose something. Bruno I don't know, apart from one or two chance meetings at not openings but somewhere else. I recently visited Prevett at their studio.

Bruno's previous work was a 20-minute video work titled "Galindez". It got its name from a theatre play titled El Señor Galindez, written by an Argentinian psychoanalytic-cum-playwright in the 70's. The video unearths the connections between institutionalised violence, and the once-felt revolutionary potential of psychoanalysis, if my memory serves right. It is easily one of the most powerful video works of late that I've witnessed; you want to know more but you're unsure if it will help. It was also shown in SIC's premises, but I don't think it was part of their exhibition programme back then.


Bruno's new show, "1035/1039", and its main piece, a 17-minute single-channel video titled "Space Under Hidden", traverses in similar terrain than "Galindez". Bruno's camera seems set to break any notions separating objects from subjects, or the humans portrayed from their surroundings; it moves deliberately on the surface of dusty chairs, house plants, and architectural details, while the voiceover and historic still images inform the viewer about events concerning the Revolutionary Workers Party, the measures someone took to protect an ideology, or the minuscule routines of everyday life surrounding the constructing of a secret hideaway and meeting place for the Party. The feeling I get is not of flattening relationality, but of agencies shifting between front and back so that, just like a film is a succession of images made to flow by speed and light, history becomes watery without the sharks disappearing.

Keep in mind I only looked at the the video once.

The overall stripped-down look of the exhibition manifests some of the characteristic traits of biennial-level, rigorous video art installation: architectural investigations juxtaposing political meddling with the sites of such actions, minimally produced posters (shown alongside the video in adjacent room) echoing a resonance from hidden histories, sedate cinematography preferring sluggishly sweeping interior shots over fast-paced editing, and deadpan voiceovers caught in crisp, high-definition audio.

One could simply look at these features as medium-specific, sensible standards that should not catch your attention, but for me, those choices reveal the desired-cum-couldn't-be-helped positioning of the work in the complex web of aesthetics, class, art scenes, identities, and careers. Some of those features did seem like part of the deal and thus as off-putting or attractive as those things are, depending on what you're looking for, but the extra wall separating the text works from the video, in a space within a space in the muffled Jätkäsaari neighbourhood, for a video that investigates the building of a secret underground space, is a glorious, even chilling move. I thought of Anna Daučíková's video shown at Documenta this year, cleverly installed in a small, sweaty room with constant traffic of visitors, mimicking, for me, the invasive reality of Soviet era domestic/sexual life depicted in the film.

I am not writing about the content of Bruno's work that much, because I have only a rudimentary idea what it was about, and, without any sarcasm, I am not sure if that matters. I mean it does, but how, and how much? Afterwards, I duckduckgo'd the address and other info mentioned in the handout text, but after 30 minutes of online investigation, I still wasn't even sure which country these events took place in, and felt both confused and ignorant and like I've missed some important clue, which I most likely did because I didn't take notes while watching and because of my non-existent knowledge on the subject. The cold-but-sensual camerawork grabbed all my attention.

Other small details drove me away from sticking with the facts. One of the most striking moments, although possibly only taking place in my head, had to be this banal foley sound added to a black-and-white archive material bit, which I imagine was silent originally. But I wasn't sure. Sound is particularly apt for making you mistake a fleeting experience for narrative key.

When I'm around a work that looks very much how critical contemporary art should be looking like, with support from numerous foundations in Finland, in a smooth new district in Helsinki, it makes me wonder if art works sometimes take the form of escapism from the conditions of their own production. (Sometimes they celebrate that, as is the case with IHME Festival, for example.) Meaning, one feels pressured to provide for content deemed worthwhile and serious, when surrounded with such an opportunity. But as said, the support comes and go, and I doubt Bruno, or most of us, would make work based on whether you are temporarily supported or not.

It feels ridiculous, and a little shameful, to think about the funding or the professional-looking execution of the work, when I am pretty sure it was not some lavish production. What I'm after here is not at all if this childish remark holds true, but to say out loud what certain aesthetics trigger in me, and perhaps in other people too, from what I know from my conversations with friends. Furthermore, can anyone really look at "the content", and if they do, how do they do it and where does that put them? On the right side of the discourse?

That is another question I can't help pondering over when I attend critical curatorial talks in Helsinki, where the rare micro-histories, always new to its audiences like a shiny gift, are presented as the latest findings of the dedicated clergy. Or this is how I witness it amid my defensive paranoia. 

Does the choice of topic make all the difference? How does, for example, Bruno's resolute investigations compare to a DJ digging crates for rare Italo 12" singles? It's not a problem related to Bruno's elegant works. No, this is the house ghost I greet at these premises when I'm presented with high-definition video and the logos of supporters. 

So this was not a review of the exhibition, really, but an account on how the exhibition nudged me away from itself and how I was unable to find a way back in. I leave the space and feel like I didn't do enough work, something I often feel so I might as well point it out. But then this choreography of doubts, and a gaze that flickers between what is offered and what is not meant to be looked at feel very much like suitable partners to Bruno's works, where you find yourself contemplating untypical connections between histories, stories, information, objects, people, actions, and aesthetics.


At the same time in SIC there was a show by James Prevett titled "Distension", which the dictionary tells me means "disagreement", but I imagine it's alluding to "distention", which means cutting up, which maybe has something to do with a specific medical condition (such as bladder distension), but my English fails me here. Later, while visiting their studio, Prevett tells me both ways of writing the word are grammatically correct and mean the same thing, but, fittingly, I forgot to ask what it means precisely.

Visually the exhibition differs from Bruno's commanding rigidity bordering on austere. But then, Bruno's show strays away from Prevett's fractured storyline bordering on hallucinatory. Put it this way, I feel they both are more closer to each other than their presumed extremes.

In the exhibition space, there is a sense of harmony and poise, and a warmth you might take either as coyness or care. Some of the materials, bronze and aluminum more precisely, create a distance between myself and the works. It reminds me of how Julia Bryan-Wilson tore down the claim(7) about the everyday nature of Carl Andre's materials, which were seen at the time as just stuff Andre found from the streets, whereas in reality there were only very few places to get those specific raw materials in the US at the time. 

I have no idea how to get my hands on bronze and aluminum, let alone figuring out a place to work with them. I expect it wouldn't be beyond my means, though. I just wonder how one ends up forging that relationship with bronze.

Prevett has placed two 3D printed objects on the floor acting as small plinths for cast toes. The toes are so shiny you can see yourself and other gallery visitors reflected on the surface, like a body part made to monitor us -or a trigger to make you hum Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb". This has nothing to do with Prevett's show, but in general I love to look at people's toes when they're talking: they're like kittens saying everything the cultivated mouth is avoiding to speak about.

But maybe there is a connection to the show: The wobbly, uneven, distorted, wounded characteristics of the body parts seem to contradict what the show at large seems to be saying. If you glance at the credible, trustworthy group of objects as placeholders that are there to affirm your idea of how contemporary art should look like, or if you take the proportionate placing of the works as an invitation to stroll around them pleasantly and unobstructed, you're prone to feel the show is beautiful, fun, a little indeterminate as these things always are expected to be nowadays(8), but enjoyable nevertheless, whereas the individual works and their details speak of a more darker, difficult experience. This tension between how the show looks like at first take, and the deeply troubled place you can see them emanating from if you give them time, is the blood-pumping heart of the show.

On the exhibition notes, Prevett describes being in the hospital, which I take for granted has happened. There has been a procedure the artist had to undergo. The text renders visible the knees of a worker laying in the adjacent bed: "he spent fifteen years on his knees installing" TV-related things. The text ends on a description of the surgeon who has "very big hands", a phrase forever connected to current president of the United States and the body-shaming culture prevalent online. In line with such images, Prevett remembers the anesthetist's room transforming into "a hole".

These images lend the show an air of psychoanalytic unconscious and masculine innuendo. There clearly is admiration towards what you can do with your able body, and horror for what that body usually ends up doing in this world.

Some of the works feel unsure about being in such a world. Five characters made of plaster, with long legs and brown paper bags covering their heads, seem to be walking towards the exit of the gallery space. This piece is titled "Walking 1,2,3,4,5". While they're the biggest in the space, they seem to ask for the least attention.

A small cast bronze object mounted on the wall is named "3rd Part (Brainstem)", and it looks like the Willendorf Venus figurine. I wonder if I should take it as a hint that perhaps the operation was much more serious than I first thought, or concentrate on the potential art-history reference (but then it also does look like a brainstem). On the ground next to Brainstem, there's another work titled "3d Part (Semicircular canals)", that could pass for handcuffs. Am I fetishizing everything, or is Prevett's work helping me see how I fetishize everything?

Close to the end of the show (it makes sense to tour the space clock-wise), the point about masculinity and the hegemonic vista is hammered home. There are two digital prints mounted in steel frames, around 150 cm from ground, that have legs on both sides of the frame. One depicts a hairy white person's belly, and the other an upper-middle-class home with functionalist design furniture and decor. I went and stood between the silk screens, surrounded by two well-established centers of the capitalist world: the affluent home, and the naval-gazing of a white human.

I feel the objects testify to the potential violence of presenting yourself in the everyday (the walking figures with paper bags covering their heads), being on the mercy of biological luck (pretty much all the other works), and turning your cursed body into lucky charms that reflect the world back at itself, because there is no escape. 

You can try to outsmart the world: You dip your toe in first, thinking you're clever to be so careful, only to see people next to you being thrown in at the mercy of the river.

From the handout text: "The television news is on but I can't move to look. Some violent men somewhere." Are they not here?

How do their violence compare with that of Bruno's revolutionaries, and why would you compare? Moving on: what are these exhibitions you do when no one is watching, until, after you've finished with the show, you wish everyone would be? A gym teacher in a video(1) I have on while doing my workout in my living room is encouraging me to try harder. "What you do when no one sees you tells a lot about your character."

Afterword: This text was very much inspired by this text(6).








Julia Bryan-Wilson: Art Workers (2009)



torstai 19. lokakuuta 2017


"When philosophers get into art and start endorsing artists, we get the official version of how a theory should look like as art." This is what I remember a friend of mine saying while we were having coffee and talking about certain theories currently circulating in our art universes. The discussion begun from my friend having visited Alma Heikkilä's exhibition at AMA gallery, here in Helsinki. They were unsure of the relationship between the ideas informing the show and the execution & works themselves. 

Heikkilä's previous exhibition at AMA in 2013 struck me as powerful. I can't remember any details from the show, only its considerable impact that stayed with me. Looking at the documentation now, I noticed how similar these two shows are to a fault. There's the zooming in on white skin (this time between the eyes), and what looks like the ground seen from space, but also the echoes from the lineages of abstract painting, such as line drawings and color field, and playful hanging of canvases that barely fit to the wall height-wise. All of this made (and makes) you consider the nature of seeing and measuring both within and outside the gallery.

It might be worthwhile to mention that I am not really writing about the works themselves for the simple fact that I don't know so much about painting. So my attention steers towards the effects the exhibition as a whole has on me, and the connections I am making from what I've been seeing, reading, and sensing lately, and in the show.

The most striking thing I saw, in the 2017 show, was witnessing an artist sticking with their inquiry. It comforts you as a viewer when an artist is signalling a commitment to what they're doing. This might seem self-evident or something best dismissed as a shtick to some, but it made me realise how the artists I know usually try out a different approach each time (unless a particular thing sells well). I do that too. So in my world, staying is much more rare than shifting, and it's something that pulls me in immediately.

I was reading a review of the 2013 show, written by Veikko Halmetoja, a Helsinki-based curator, art dealer, and critic. Halmetoja notes how refreshing it is to see "these themes" (ie. ecological issues in general) being turned into paintings, instead of the usual strategy of depicting them via photographs. In general, either strategy isn't preferable over the other for me. Both tend to result in visualising a theme or a theory, while the making of a show itself-where it is, who pays for it, who works there, how is it made and experienced-might bear no relationship to the ideas it is said to explore. For example, if I would make a show criticising the the role of work as the new religion in our society, wouldn't it be weird if I'd do 18-hour days and drove people helping me into burnout in order to finish the show on time? Maybe it wouldn't to you, but I think it should feel weird. I prefer the exhibition space not be cut away from the reality that produces it, although I see no value in reproducing images of that reality in that space, either. So what is the solution?

I want to say something along the lines of "more holistic approaches in which one considers everything that goes into the production and experience of knowledge in exhibition spaces", but what that means is beyond me. I am standing in AMA, confused by my own art-related preconceptions and anxieties which I then project onto the works of another artist, half-heartedly wishing for them to solve these issues, while I full well know the only way I'm able to be in a meaningful relation to these works and ideas I'm temporarily sharing the space with is by both abandoning my presumptions and cherishing them, thus accepting the mess I am bringing with me to meet another mess. 

A few quotes from the 2017 Heikkilä exhibition handout: "I (and many other humans, and why not some of their pet dogs as well) MUST CONSUME LESS", "This is Me (the biophilist / multi-species ecological unit) working in a state of complete merging of the Self
with all Life using materials like acrylic glue that is harmful to both Self and Others.", "To reject the privileging of human existence over nonhuman existence. Is this “fashionable”? If it is – it’s kinda cool. Essential fashion on Most Important Matters. Please gimme more ᕙ(`▿ ´)ᕗ ♥". "Trillions become one and this one is acting towards it"

If this is the case, then I think it's worthwhile to ask this: If a merging with everything arounds us, and the un-privileging of the human existence, is paramount, why adhere to the modernist role of the individual artist who creates discreet art works? Isn't that prone to shut out all other possible agents and connections? Or am I doing the shutting out? Am I taking the press release text too literally, instead of seeing it as just another squishy piece of material contributing to the tapestry of things, ideas, realness, and references? "Every relation immediately generates a new object."1

Or is the press release, as it so often seems to be, a way to make sure the "aboutness" of a show comes through? Is it up to me to start creating those new connections, to lose myself in the allusions to glue, the trillions, and other ecological units? But if we take these ideas seriously, wouldn't it lead us to question the very foundations of the platforms we inhabit as artists? The rejecting of the privileged position of the (Western, white) human existence compels us to ask what is human and who defines it, and how that definition and category is being protected, and who ends up feeling the violence from such categorising. Can artists (and curators, directors, producers, technicians, etc) change these things, if they don't question the very nature of how knowledge is being produced and safeguarded?

Surely these are questions that most artists struggle with: representation vs action, beliefs vs practice, ethics vs forms, defences vs curiosity. One could say that Heikkilä's text is a strategy to show the limits of what art works can do, and investigate those limits within a chosen medium. Perhaps the answer to "what to do with art" is in the small things and gestures that spark your imagination and subtly nudges your preconceptions. If I tend to feel sad about what I perceive as the limits of an art work or an exhibition, what can I do? Demand the artist works more to my liking? Or accept what's there in this room, and start over?

(To quote Ta-Nehisi Coates, one makes art not to change the world "but in the mean and selfish desire to not be enrolled in its lie"2. But it is also true that art is the one thing that has affected my structures of thinking the most. It has never been about learning new things or receiving information per se: art changes the way I experience the world, if it does anything at all. This is why formal qualities, questions of presenting, curatorial concepts, and aesthetics have far more political potential than the raw information one might inject into an art work, or an exhibition, although it is hard to say where on ends and the other begins.)

Speaking of small things, Maureen O'Malley's book "Philosophy of Macrobiology" was hidden under a pile of seemingly art-making -related objects, such as a plastic box where one mixes colors. I was crouching like a cat trying to see what the book is. It felt oddly rewarding to figure it out but this is not a value judgement.

In their writings (of which I have, as with most things, only a cursory understanding -I looked up a review of the book while writing this, and then hastily read an article from John Dupre's Philosophy of Biology), O'Malley has made a a compelling case for considering fundamental philosophical questions through the lens of microbes, "the smallest things". The book could easily be implemented, by artists, as a contribution to the current increase in all things system theory, diagrams, and classifications (in art discourses). O'Malley encourages the reader to re-think the foundations of the categories that, for example, separate living and non-living things in philosophical thought. The unfortunate thing is, as much as artists are being encouraged by a host of thinkers, and no matter how many art works are asking the viewer to question certain given notions of meaning, subject-object -relation, and other binaries, the museum machine, the biennial complex, or the educational paradigm will eventually render everything violently into neat categories to uphold the tenets of their reality.

Whereas O'Malley's writings makes the case, as far as I understood, for taking microbes seriously, Heikkilä's exhibition proposes something akin to refurbishing. That is only if you're willing to look at the works as paintings in a gallery that tries to sell art, and if you compare them to what is being shown in other spaces where similar gambits are at play.

Most of Heikkilä's paintings that were sold had sprinkles of miniature stuff on the surface that gave them more three-dimensionality. These bits connected the works, by the choice of materials the sprinkly stuff was made of, to the themes addressed in the handout text. It looked as if someone had updated the abstract landscape painting genre that, I imagine, comprises 70% of all the art works sold in Finland. This is a harsh thing to say, but it's not about the effect of the work: it's about the reference points I have at my disposal, collected from time spent touring Finnish galleries.

After I am done sharpening my nails with such routine dismissal I've learned to exercise around art, a practice I am slowly unlearning as I begin my long goodbye to orderly art while considering the potential value of those nails and that order, I sit down, get back up, walk around the gallery a few times, re-read the text, pace arund a little, and eavesdrop a visitor talking with a staff member (they were quibbling about Finnish art scene). I hang out with the works again, feeling unsure if being direct is more needed today than being there.

I try to be there. The more time passes, the more I feel like being somewhere. This isn't landscape painting: this is a landscape, one that Heikkilä has created from a petro-lifestyle that runs counter to the ideals one holds dear, a paradox so fundamental that many of us have given up on resolving it.

As so often, I'm thinking of how crucial curating is to the experience of art. My mind starts to place Heikkilä's works in wholly different contexts, away from AMA gallery. To see these works at AMA is to look at a machine turned off, stored away from the consuming effect of daily usage. I imagine the inevitable "Anthropocene" group exhibition, probably already in the works in some Finnish museum, that will feature all the 30-something artists currently engaged with issues of intra-agency, non-human subjectivity, petro-narratives, and epistemic disturbances, or, if you instead consider how the rooms in such a show will be put together, pastel-colored mushy objects, fungi, theory-heavy books, diagonal neon sticks, 3D landscapes, the lot. Such categorising and forcing into museum discipline discredits the artists greatly. I secretly hope the artists will turn down those future offers if they can afford to do so.

Such a show would, once more, make clear how thematic curating is a way of ostracising ideas for the entertainment of the enlightened members of society, by conserving the works stationary, instead of implementing and vitalising them. It will remind you how "all human orders [...] have mapped their "descriptive statements" or governing master codes on the heavens [...] in doing so, they had thereby mapped their specific criterion of being human, of what it was "to be a good man and woman of one's kind" [...] their respective truths had necessarily come to function as an "objective set of facts" for the people of that society"3.

If I/you wouldn't force art works to mean what I/you think they should mean out of being scared that people will think I/you are not in the know, would I/you have extra room in my/your heart for the total mess?

1 = Graham Harman: The Quadruple Object
2 = Ta-Nehisi Coates: We Were Eight Years In Power
3 = Sylvia Wynter: Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth&Freedom - Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation-An Argument