Editorial: Art and the More-than-human World

 Hanna-Leena Paloposki, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish National Gallery

 

23 July 2019

 

Artists have always been in the forefront of tackling important questions of life and the world, and one of the roles of museums and researchers is to make these issues visible both in contemporary society and in art and history.

The latest collection exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, ‘Coexistence’, explores a hot topic that stretches way beyond the realms of art –– the relationship between humans and nature, including climate change, between humans and more-than-humans, but also between humans and humans (minorities). In this edition of FNG Research we publish four articles connected to the exhibition, all studying the above mentioned themes – all very topical in academic research, too.

Sanna Karhu writes about the contradictory relationship of humans to other animal species, ranging from speciesism to the possibility of coexistence. Saara Hacklin’s subject is temporality and the Anthropocene in contemporary art, while Satu Oksanen explores the challenges of reconciling the divergent rhythms of a museum and non-human life. Kati Kivinen’s article reflects on how people feel an increasing urge to connect with the past, to unite ancient customs and rituals with today’s digitised existence, and how this has given birth to a global interest in local heritage, traditions, and alternative belief systems, also in contemporary art. Hacklin, Kivinen and Oksanen work as staff members at Kiasma and are curators of the ‘Coexistence’ exhibition.

Our research intern programme at the Finnish National Gallery has once again produced excellent results, which we publish in this issue. MA student Emma Lilja, who worked as an intern this spring, writes about artist Outi Pieski and her installation, Our Land, Our Running Colours (2015). From one artwork Lilja widens her study of the artist to include many focal issues: landscape, environment, Sámi handicraft tradition and identity, tradition and art museums, and the rights-of-nature debate.

In this issue we also have an opportunity to a reconsider a period in Finnish art history from a totally new angle, shedding fresh light on some very well-known art works in the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Collection as they are studied from an esoteric and occult point of view. Occulture is a current trend both in art-historical research and exhibitions. In June, Gill Crabbe from FNG Research attended an international conference on wide-ranging themes of esoteric influences on culture at the University of Turku and writes about two of the presentations on subjects connected to art history given by two Finnish researchers, Nina Kokkinen and Marja Lahelma. This new gaze gives fascinating insights into artworks by Ellen Thesleff, Pekka Halonen, Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Hugo Simberg.

A call-for-papers is now open for an international conference that the Finnish National Gallery is organising in January 2020 at the Ateneum Art Museum. The conference with the theme ‘Art, Life and Place: Looking at European Transnational Exchange in the Long 19th Century’ concludes the international research project ‘European Revivals’ that the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum began in 2009. We are looking forward to receiving a great number of interesting proposals, so remember to submit yours by 30 September 2019 (please see https://fngresearch.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/european_revivals_call_for_papers.pdf).

I wish you all a nice and warm summer with a photo from our archive collections depicting the summer life over a hundred years ago: the Finnish artist Hugo Simberg with the family spending a cheerful day by sea at their summer paradise Niemenlautta in Säkkijärvi, Karelia, in 1905.

Featured image: Finnish artist Hugo Simberg (far left) and his family by the seaside at Niemenlautta in Säkkijärvi, Karelia, in 1905. Hugo Simberg Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

Sari Palosaari, Time is out of Joint 1, 2018: By your Side, stone and double seat, and Atmospheric #1, railing, pole, light, poly bag, light and colour sensor; stone, soundless cracking agent Finnish National Gallery / Finnish State Art Deposit Collection Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Time out of Joint – Temporality and the Anthropocene in Contemporary Art

Saara Hacklin, PhD, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

A large rock rests upon one of two blue seats. Another waits on the floor. When the viewer enters the room, they might observe a crack in the first rock – or not. A flickering light bulb wrapped in a plastic bag is attached to a metal railing above. Time is out of Joint 1 (2018), by Sari Palosaari (b. 1974), emulates the atmosphere of an anonymous waiting room, possibly in a hospital or railway station. The static environment belies a hidden tension. Inside the rock is a silent cracking agent that does its work with simple efficacy: a hole is drilled, the cavity is filled, and the agent slowly expands, eventually splitting open the rock.

This article looks at issues of temporality raised by works in the ‘Coexistence’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki – exploring perspectives on the past, present and future, and also ideas about decelerated and accelerated time. The notion of accelerated time is associated with a modernist faith in progress, yet also, to a growing degree, with a rising concern about climate change and discourse on the Anthropocene that raises salient questions about the future and the role that humans will play in it.

Featured image: Sari Palosaari, Time is out of Joint 1, 2018, Finnish National Gallery / Finnish State Art Deposit Collection
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Read more — Download ‘Time out of Joint – Temporality and the Anthropocene in Contemporary Art’, by Saara Hacklin, as a PDF

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Terike Haapoja, Yhteisö – Community, 2007, five-channel video installation, duration 180min Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

From Speciesism to a Possibility of Coexistence

Sanna Karhu, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Gender Studies, Department of Cultures, University of Helsinki

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Soili Petäjäniemi-Brown

Animals and the politics of violence

The relationship of humans to other animal species is contradictory. We think of ourselves as animal-loving and our lives abound with different animal images, whether in clothing, the emojis in text messages or in the everyday entertainment offered to us by cute cat videos. On the other hand, our entire postindustrial way of life is founded on widespread killing of animals: the greatest part of animals living in our society ends up on our plates.

The ‘Coexistence’ collection exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma nudges us to revisit how we perceive our relationship with other species. The exhibition calls into question the place habitually accorded to human beings as above nature and other animals and as their sovereign. In this article I approach the relationship of humans with animals from the perspective of speciesism. I discuss speciesism in the light of climate change but also as a problem of violence. I engage in particular with the relation of factory farming of animals to the history of capitalism and the ensuing need to question naturalised notions of the status of animals in our communities. The questions brought up here concerning communality and coexistence intertwine with my aim of outlining the conditions of a new kind of relationship with animals.

Featured image: Terike Haapoja, Yhteisö – Community, 2007, five-channel video installation, duration 180min. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Read more — Download ‘From Speciesism to a Possibility of Coexistence’, by Sanna Karhu, as a PDF

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paintings, book, plants) on the terrace of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Museum-as-Compost – Matter, Rhythms, and the Nonhuman

Satu Oksanen, MA, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

The reconciliation of divergent rhythms – that of a museum and non-human life – is a key issue raised by the display of Immigrant Garden[1], an installation by Kalle Hamm (b. 1969) and Dzamil Kamanger (b. 1948). The work comprises living plants that are governed by the rhythm of nature and conditions determined by the weather and climate. The work unfolds on the museum’s balcony at its own unhurried pace.

The living component in the installation challenges established conventions of displaying art in a museum. With rare exceptions, exhibition dates and museum schedules are carefully planned and locked in. Visiting hours are inflexible, and guided tours adhere to an agreed schedule. The museum is a hermetic space with its own self-regulated rhythm. The presence of plants, however, injects an element of autonomous will. When more-than-humans are brought into the mix, the exhibition of artworks is no longer solely dependent on artists, curators, conservators or technicians.

Posthuman theory renounces established hierarchies in favour of the egalitarian coexistence of all beings. Entrenched anthropocentric notions and habitual patterns of thought have been challenged by feminist theory, but also by postcolonial theorists and environmental activists. Little by little, the idea that plants and other non-human agencies exist solely for the purpose of sustaining human life has correspondingly been deconstructed. The philosopher and feminist theorist Rosi Braidotti argues that all species originate from ‘nature’ and are hence equal: humans are part of the material world just like non-humans. Braidotti uses the term zoe to define the vitality and energy that flows through all matter. Zoe is distinct from bios, which represents an anthropocentric viewpoint on life. Zoe thus offers a conceptual tool for subverting anthropocentrism and embracing interspecies equality.[2]

[1] Immigrant Garden, by Kalle Hamm and Dzamil Kamanger, also includes 26 watercolour paintings of plants, a map, written texts and sound recordings of illustrated botanical samples. The plants in question are commonly assumed to be native Finnish species, but they all originate from different parts of the globe. This article focuses on the organic component of the installation and its relationship with the museum.

[2] Rosi Braidotti, ‘Four Theses on Posthuman Feminism’, in Richard Grusin (ed.), Anthropocene Feminism. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2017, 21–35.

Featured image: Kalle Hamm and Dzamil Kamanger, detail from Immigrant Garden, 2006-18, shown on the terrace of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, plants (the complete art work includes paintings, book, plants). Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Read more — Download ‘Museum-as-Compost – Matter, Rhythms, and the Nonhuman’, by Satu Oksanen, as a PDF

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Paavo Halonen, Shaman Drag, 2014, mixed media: sleigh, antlers, textile shreds, swan herald, 260cm x 80cm x 6cm Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Shamans, Star Charts, and Ecological Lore: Towards Nature-centric Thinking

Kati Kivinen, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

A figure wearing a white garment threaded with colourful beads and mystical embroidery slowly treads a fern-lined path. The figure carries a small creature that looks half-human, half-animal – somewhat wolf-like. It lies motionless in the figure’s arms, its flesh pink and raw, as if it had been skinned. The surrounding primeval forest is silent. When I Go Out I Bleed Magic (2015) is a video by Norwegian artist Ingrid Torvund (b. 1985) fusing sci-fi and fictive mythology. The artist’s imagined world is interwoven with elements of pre-Christian religious ritual and the folkloric practices of western Telemark, the location of the film. Torvund is interested in how local pagan traditions have, over the centuries, become intermixed with Christian heritage in the region where her parents grew up.[1]

This article reflects on how people feel an increasing urge to connect with the past, to unite ancient customs and rituals with today’s digitised existence, and how this has spurred newfound global interest in local heritage, age-old traditions, and alternative belief systems. For instance in northern Europe, established notions about nationalism and the supposed hegemony of mainstream culture are being challenged through the inclusion of local folkloric elements in music, visual art, literature and handicrafts. Many practitioners are also taking a special interest in indigenous peoples and cultures.[2] Current discourse additionally emphasises human dependence on the wellbeing of nature, prompted by a rising concern about the threat of climate change.

[1] Torvund has said that one of her main sources of inspiration is an ancient book of spells and enchantments, Norske Hexeformularer og magiske opskrifter. Edward Picot, ‘Blood and Magic: An Interview with Ingrid Torvund,’ Furtherfield, 2015. http://archive.furtherfield.org/features/interviews/blood-and-magic-interview-ingrid-torvund (accessed 27 November 2018).

[2] A good example is ethnofuturism, an aesthetic and philosophical movement that celebrates the unique character of a marginal cultural or language group, enriching its archaic folklore – such as ancient legends and incantations – with elements of world culture and experimental art and technology. Ethnofuturism is principally found in the Baltic countries and Russia, particularly among Uralic groups. The movement has its roots in Estonia. Ville Ropponen, ‘Tulevaisuus on merkitty marginaaliin’, Kulttuurivihkot, 31. vk, nro. 2–3/2003, 48–51. There is also newfound interest in the cultural heritage of the Sámi, the only indigenous group surviving in the European Union. The Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) honoured the 100th Sámi Jubilee and dedicated its 2017 programme to ‘A year of Indigenous art and thought’ (Tråante 2017). Also the Lithuanian Nida Art Colony’s Inter-PAGAN research network for Baltic and Nordic cultural organisations dedicated its summer symposium ‘Inter-Format Symposium on Rites and Terrabytes’ (20–24 June 2018) to discussing how artists examine and harness local cultural heritage, traditions and belief systems in their art.

Featured image: Paavo Halonen, Shaman Drag, 2014, mixed media: sleigh, antlers, textile shreds, swan herald, 260cm x 80cm x 6cm
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Read more — Download ‘Shamans, Star Charts, and Ecological Lore: Toward Nature-centric Thinking’, by Kati Kivinen, as a PDF

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‘Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections‘ is open until 1 March 2020, with an expanded display opening from 23 August 2019

Outi Pieski, Our Land, Our Running Colours, 2015, Sámi shawl thread, wood, 300 x 300 x 170cm. Detail. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen§

Hand-Knotted Landscape – Reflections on Outi Pieski’s ‘Our Land, Our Running Colours’

Emma Lilja, MA student, University of Helsinki

This article is published as a result of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery

Introduction

One day I overheard a discussion that some teenage boys were having about an artwork exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. One of the boys said: ‘No fell is pink. They are white in winter, and brownish-green in summer.’

The work at stake here was Outi Pieski’s Our Land, Our Running Colours. It is an installation from 2015. In 2017, it was acquired for the Kiasma’s collections from the ‘Greetings from SUOMI’ summer exhibition by ONOMA, the Cooperative of Artisans, Designers and Artists in Fiskars, Finland.[1] A little later, in the spring of 2019, this work was installed as part of the exhibition ‘Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections’[2].

The materials used in the installation include wood and thread – more specifically stripped rowan twigs and polyester fringe thread that is used in making the shawls of traditional Sámi dress. The fringes have been tied to rowan branches hanging from the ceiling. The work occupies about 3m x 3m x 1.7m and can be approached from all sides. The colour scheme of the threads is very rich: from basic colours such as red and yellow, to burgundy, pink, light blue and bright green.

Outi Pieski (b. 1973) is a Helsinki-born visual artist of Sámi origin, who divides her time between Numminen in Southern Finland and Utsjoki in the far north of Lapland. She graduated from the Painting Department of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2000. Pieski works mainly with painting, collage and installation. In recent years, she has also participated in various (environmental) community art projects.[3] Her works have been featured in various private and group exhibitions both in Finland and abroad.[4] She is also represented in several public and private collections. Our Land, Our Running Colours is the artist’s first work to be acquired for the Finnish National Gallery / Kiasma’s collections.

[1] To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finnish Independence, the exhibition (curated by artists Minna Suoniemi and Petri Ala-Maunus) focused on multicultural Finland and the Finnishness of our time. See ‘Greetings from SUOMI’, 2017.

[2] The exhibition will be open at Kiasma until 1 March 2020.

[3] See for example Rájácummá / Kiss from the Border (2017–2018) by Niillas Holmberg, Jenni Laiti & Outi Pieski.

[4] Pieski is also one of the founder members of the Miracle Workers Collective which hosts the Pavilion of Finland at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019.

Featured image: Outi Pieski, detail from Our Land, Our Running Colours, 2015, Sámi shawl thread, wood, 300cm x 300cm x 170cm. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Read more — Download ‘Hand-Knotted Landscape – Reflections on Outi Pieski’s “Our Land, Our Running Colours”‘, by Emma Lilja, as a PDF

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Ellen Thesleff, Self-Portrait, 1894–95, pencil and sepia ink on paper, 31.50cm x 23.50cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Hidden Influences

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The esoteric interests of Finland’s fin-de-siècle artists have been brought out of the darkness by two ­researchers, as Gill Crabbe discovered at a recent conference at the University of Turku

The Finnish painter Pekka Halonen stares intensely out from the canvas in his Self-Portrait of 1906, his face glowing with light; in sketches for the Jusélius Mausoleum near Pori, built by his friend the industrialist F.A. Jusélius to lay his young daughter to rest, Akseli Gallen-Kallela designs frescoes featuring vibrational waves in vivid orange and blue; Hugo Simberg paints a child enchanted by strange forms emerging from the darkness in Boy from Säkkijärvi (1897); Ellen Thesleff materialises herself from a deep sepia chiaroscuro resembling the spirit photography of her day. All highly regarded, even revered, artists from Finland’s Golden Age, all interested in esoteric influences that were part of a wider fascination in fashionable fin-de-siècle society across Europe.

Art-historical research has sometimes had an uneasy relationship with the theme of occultism in art. Esoteric influences on many artists in the art-historical canon have remained largely at the margins of academic research, or at worst ridiculed as flights of fancy. Now, however, with recent successful exhibitions such as that of the Swedish artist and medium Hilma af Klimt (1862–1944) at the Guggenheim Museum New York – the museum’s most popular exhibition to date – and with the current resurgence in interest in esoteric subjects by contemporary artists, as seen in some of the works in the Kiasma exhibition ‘Coexistence’ (until 1 March 2020), the presence of occulture in artistic output is something that researchers are starting to take more seriously.

Featured image: Ellen Thesleff, Self-Portrait, 1894–95, pencil and sepia ink on paper, 31.5cm x 23.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Read more — Download ‘Hidden Influences’, by Gill Crabbe, as a PDF

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