Suohpanterror, Checkpoint n:o 169, 2015, a series of posters, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, installation view, DEMONSTRATING MINDS: Disagreements in, Contemporary Art, 9.10.2015 - 20.03.2016. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Editorial: Should Art Have a Nation? And How Global Are We?

 Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma


March 24, 2016


Nationalistic agendas are very strong in many European countries, and unfortunately Finland is no exception. The rise of nationalism also has its influences on the art world, where international activity has been one of the key elements. Today I can also hear echoes of polarised populistic discussion when visiting different board meetings and panels. ‘Should we support all artists living and working in Finland, or just Finnish artists?’ Public debate and the political climate in Finland have long been defined by a spirit of consensus and a striving for unanimity. Yet, with only one valid truth accepted at any given time, this climate of perpetual consensus sometimes grew to be suffocating.

Over the past year, Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki’s new outdoor public meeting place behind Kiasma, has been the stage for various demonstrations supporting everything from same-sex marriages to multiculturalism, as well as anti-racist rallies. Our immediate context is a melting pot where many agendas and people from all walks of society meet, collide and interact, and Kiasma strives to highlight a varied spectrum of themes in its seasonal programme. The ‘Demonstrating Minds’ exhibition, which opened in October 2105, is an international survey of political art, and it looks at how critical thinking and social consciousness manifest both locally and globally in contemporary art and in relation to art history. Answers that the artists give us in the form of works of art are more on a personal level. Each one of them is taking a stand by provoking even more complex and specific questions.

International politics has always influenced the art world: how artists work, travel and collect influences, and also how art history has been written in different times and revisited in the light of current topics and research results. In February 2016, the Ateneum Art Museum opened a large survey exhibition, ‘Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875–1918. Now it is possible to see Nordic golden age classics with a Japoniste twist – the signs and visual elements have been there even if we haven’t noticed them. At the end of the 19th century Japonisme took Europe by storm, spreading out from the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It was part of a wider interest in the so-called Orient. Orientalism, a concept of the difference between East and West, between Orient and Continent, was created through an understanding and awareness of differences in cultural practices which that era’s Western anthropologists, historians and artists from different fields carried into their works.

In the current situation, there is still on-going mutual interest between these cultures. Even if we lose a lot of meanings in cultural translation, thanks to individual researchers we have now more knowledge and vivid interpretations. And after all, we like to rely on recognisable aesthetic and visual qualities that are shared between Japan and the Nordic countries, such as sophisticated minimalism and nature references. Still, we could ask: Should art have a nation? Or does art belong to some specific region? Is there Finnish art, and if so, does it include Nordic qualities or does it come, for example, with Japoniste influences?

In January 2016, Frame Visual Art Finland commissioned a survey from the Foundation for Cultural Policy Research Cupore. One of the key notions highlighted in its report, From Cultural Influences and Exports to Dialogue and Networking, is how the nature of international activity in contemporary art has changed significantly. It has moved from cultural diplomacy between states towards multidirectional and multidimensional activity within networks. Internationality is also an integral part in Kiasma’s activities in terms of our acquisitions policy, research orientation, and especially programme making.

In the current Internet era we are living in a far-reaching world, and can share a feeling of being in different places at the same time. Our mindset has gradually changed. I would say that the art of our time – all times? – and also new art history writing, go hand in hand with global art life and international activity. The development of digital technology has substantially influenced the nature of international activities by making communication easier, even making it possible to move works in digital format across borders. We not only reflect cultural influences in art or exhibition-making, but actively produce it in our daily professional lives as curators, researchers and museum directors.

Featured image: Installation view of Suohpanterror, Checkpoint n:o 169, 2015, a series of posters on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma exhibition ‘Demonstrating Minds: Disagreements in Contemporary Art’, 2016.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Download the PDF of the report, From Cultural Influences and Exports to Dialogue and Networking from the Frame Finland website:


Nikolai Astrup, June, Night in the Garden, undated, colour woodcut with handcolouring, 31.2cm x 41.3cm, from the collections of the Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo. Photo: The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo / Børre Høstland

Inspired by the Land of the Rising Sun

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The ‘Japanomania’ exhibition in Helsinki is the culmination of an innovative inquiry into Nordic Japonisme that began in 2011. Gill Crabbe meets the show’s Chief Curator, Professor Gabriel Weisberg, a leading authority on Japonisme, and Riitta Ojanperä, Director of Collections Management at the Finnish National Gallery, and reports on the highlights of the exhibition’s accompanying conference

Gabriel Weisberg, Professor of Art History at the University of Minnesota, is a world expert on Japonisme, a term that was first used in 1872 by the French art critic and collector Philippe Burty to describe the influence of Japanese art on Western art and design that began around 1870 and flowered through to the end of the First World War. Prof. Weisberg was recently in Helsinki, as Chief Curator of ‘Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875–1918’, which opened at the Ateneum Art Museum, and which travels to the National Museum, Oslo, this summer, and to the Statens Art Museum, Copenhagen, in 2017. The project was started at the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki in 2011 as the museum wished to establish a deepened research collaboration with Prof. Weisberg. The curatorial team consisted in the beginning of Prof. Weisberg and the Finnish National Gallery’s Chief Curator Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff and was later increased with art historians from other Nordic countries.

I met Prof. Weisberg, along with Riitta Ojanperä, Editor in Chief of the FNG Research web magazine, to discuss key themes in the exhibition and in art-historical research relating to Japonisme in Finland and other Nordic countries. The meeting took place ahead of a day-long international conference on the topic, with distinguished art historians and experts on Japonisme taking part, including Director of the Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Akiko Mabuchi.
Prof. Weisberg’s interest in Japonisme began in the 1960s when, as a student, he wrote his doctoral thesis on Philippe Burty, who had put his finger on the start of a phenomenon that was to sweep across Europe and America. For Weisberg too his research was the start of an enduring passion that has lasted almost 50 years – one that he shares with his wife Yvonne – and perhaps following the footsteps of Burty, Weisberg himself has now coined the term ‘Japanomania’ in giving the title to this groundbreaking exhibition.

‘Japanomania wasn’t a term that was used in the 19th century,’ Prof. Weisberg explains. ‘It’s a word we have come up with to deal with what was previously called Japonisme, and I now call Japanomania because it was a phenomenon that touched every aspect of life.’ While Japonisme can be seen as an influence on Western art and design, Japanomania implies a much bigger impact, one that caused a frenzy of interest from artists, collectors and fashionable society. ‘It overtook everything,’ says Yvonne Weisberg. ‘Japanomania was huge in America, for example. It was chic. People had their houses redecorated with Japanese objects. The son of the American poet Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow even went to Japan and came back with his body tattooed.’

As Prof. Weisberg points out in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition: ‘The impact of Japanese art throughout the Nordic countries would not have been possible had Japonisme not become more than a mere curiosity.’

Featured image: Nikolai Astrup, June, Night in the Garden, undated, colour woodcut with handcolouring, 31.2cm x 41.3cm, from the collections of the Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo. Photo: The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo / Børre Høstland

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See the video of a presentation in the recent Ateneum Art Museum conference on Japonisme in Nordic Art by Dr. Akiko Mabuchi:

See the Call for Papers for an international symposium Interaction, Influence, and Entanglement. 100 years of Finnish–Japanese Relations and Beyond organised at the University of Oulu, Finland in September, 2016:

Download the CFP of the ‘Interaction Influence and Entanglement’ Symposium >>

Jari Silomäki, I Walk Hundreds – and Thousands – of Steps on Tiananmen Square (from the series ‘“We are the Revolution”, After Joseph Beuys’), 2013, pigment print, 77cm x 65cm, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Unlike Minds: the Sleeping Artist and Other Modes of Resistance

Marja Sakari, PhD, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

First published in Demonstrating Minds – Disagreements in Contemporary Art. Edited by Patrik Nyberg & Jari-Pekka Vanhala. Museum of Contemporary Art publication 150. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma 2015

Stéphane Hessel, the German-born French diplomat and co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, voiced a rally cry to France at the age of 93 with his pamphlet Time for Outrage!(Indignez-Vous!, 2010).[1] The piece was originally written as a speech commemorating France’s resistance to Hitler’s occupation during the Second World War. For Hessel – a former resistance fighter and survivor of two Nazi concentration camps – the main struggle of the 21st century is not against political tyrants, but against ‘the international dictatorship of the financial markets’. His indignation was spurred by the growing gap between the world’s rich and poor, the crumbling of the welfare system, restrictions on the freedom of the Press, the unjustified political influence of the financial sector, the unfair treatment of illegal immigrants and the oppression of the Palestinians in Israel. Also voicing grave concern for the environmental crisis, he advocated peaceful, non-violent insurrection. His pamphlet urges us to be indignant, not indifferent – to take a stand and show outrage at times when we can no longer feel proud of the society we live in.[2] Speaking out and showing anger makes a political difference. Hessel’s key message is that injustice should not be tolerated in any form.

But social injustice and inequality show no sign of abating. The political climate is more volatile than ever: The Arab Spring failed to bring democracy to North Africa, the crisis in Ukraine is breeding fear among Russia’s neighbouring states, and Isis is gaining power and ground. Equality is far from a given: rape remains a widespread problem around the world, female genital mutilation persists, and sex slavery and trafficking are rife, even in the West.

How do contemporary artists deal with such injustices? What strategies can they employ to voice their indignation and mount a resistance?

[1] Hessel’s (1917–2013) pamphlet was translated into many languages immediately after it was first published in French. It sold millions of copies and is cited as inspiration for various global protest movements including Occupy Wall Street.éphane_Hessel.

[2] Stéphane Hessel, Time for Outrage! Charles Glass Books, London, 2011.

Featured image: Jari Silomäki, I Walk Hundreds – and Thousands – of Steps on Tiananmen Square (from the series ‘“We are the Revolution”, After Joseph Beuys’), 2013, pigment print, 77cm x 65cm, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Read More — Download ‘Unlike Minds: the Sleeping Artist and Other Modes of Resistance’ by Marja Sakari as a PDF

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Artist Tanja Boukal at Melilla CETI camp with residents, 2015. Photo: © Tanja Boukal

Over the Borders

Kati Kivinen, PhD, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Kati Kivinen interviews the Austrian artist Tanja Boukal, whose work focusing on Europe’s refugee crisis was featured in the recent ‘Demonstrating Minds: Disagreements in Contemporary Art’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

When doing research on art as social commentary for the exhibition ‘Demonstrating Minds: Disagreements in Contemporary Art’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (9 Oct, 2015 to 20 March, 2016), our curatorial team [1] wanted to discover how contemporary artists deal with different social and political injustices. We wanted to know what kind of strategies the artists employ to voice their indignation and mount resistance. In the era of exhibitions drawn on the signature imagery and repertoire of marches and demonstrations, from protest placards and riot barricades to Occupy camps and Pussy Riot, we wanted to find a different path to follow when tackling these issues. Instead of aestheticised politics or documentation of any particular political conflicts or events, we wanted to take a critical look at the universal power mechanisms and the conflicting stances that artists take against the prevailing consensus. Thus the selected works in the ‘Demonstrating Minds’ do not simply address a specific conflict or recent world event; rather they make a statement of a more universal yet also particular nature, often framed through metaphor or a deeply personal perspective. Instead of just reporting and acknowledging current events, the art in the exhibition offers an interpretative angle, leaving the ultimate conclusions up to the viewer.

The number one topic of discussion of the summer and autumn of 2015 has certainly been the refugee crisis, which has extended in a completely new way all the way up North to Finland as well. Both the media and coffee-table discussions have been taken over by the news of the influx of refugees and of the border fences that European countries have started to erect in order to direct the masses of refugees on new routes. Many artists have felt a strong need to tackle the subject in their individual works, especially with the aim of shedding light on the matters that easily remain hidden from mainstream media attention. This is what the Austrian artist Tanja Boukal (b. 1976) has also done in The Melilla Project (2014–15) which was on show at the ‘Demonstrating Minds’ exhibition. However, at the same time discussion on the effects of the current situation on artistic production have arisen; questions on the ethics and responsibilities of the artists working with such delicate issues have been debated during this autumn. [2]
Tanja Boukal’s art revolves around people, their social circumstances and their various ways of coping in the face of adversity and unexpected challenges.

The Melilla Project is about a Spanish enclave on the north coast of Africa that is separated from Morocco by a 3m-high, 11km-long border fence. For many sub-Saharan Africans this 13.4 sq km enclave with its population of over 80,000, is a gateway to the north – a heavily guarded European fortress on the African continent. Boukal first travelled to Melilla on a research trip in spring 2014 to meet the refugees, both those waiting on the Moroccan side for ‘the perfect moment’ to jump the fence, as well as those who had somehow successfully crossed over, but were now stuck in limbo in the Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes (CETI) Camp in Melilla. Boukal wanted to meet them to discuss their dreams for the future and how it feels to wait, day in, day out, for a new life to begin, without ever knowing what will happen or when it will happen. Through her work she wishes to give visibility to those who are invisible and who have been deprived of the authorisation to speak and act on their own behalf.

I contacted the artist as I wanted to hear more about her ideas and thoughts on what it is like to work with such controversial subject matter and what kind of ethical duties and responsibilities are involved for artists in such a project.

[1] Kati Kivinen, Patrik Nyberg, Marja Sakari & Jari-Pekka Vanhala


Featured image: Artist Tanja Boukal at Melilla CETI camp with residents, 2015. Photo: © Tanja Boukal

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