Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki
24 May 2019
Last year, when Kiasma and the Finnish National Gallery took responsibility for co-ordinating the Nordic Pavilion for the 2019 Venice Biennale, we decided to focus on the main global concern of our times. The Nordic Pavilion’s exhibition, Weather Report: Forecasting Future, is themed around the complex and varied relations between the human and non-human in an age when climate change and mass extinction are threatening the future of life on Earth.
From this year on, the Nordic Pavilion’s exhibition will be co-commissioned by a Nordic Committee representing the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery, Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the Office for Contemporary Art Norway. Together, these three institutions will select the curator and review the proposed themes and artists, and we will jointly provide institutional support for efforts to raise the profile of Nordic contemporary art.
The multiple components of climate change are anticipated to affect all levels of biodiversity. Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on our natural environment.
It is often difficult for we humans to notice life forms that exist on a scale different from our own. When imagining the future, we face the responsibility of acknowledging multispecies entanglements.
According to a recent report in Finland, 12 per cent of all species are under serious threat of extinction. As Ane Graff, the Nordic Pavilion’s Norwegian artist, reminded me the other day: ‘Our human guts are the interface to our environment: the extinction of bacteria in our guts reflects directly the extinction of other species in nature.’ Biodiversity affects our food, medicine, and environmental well-being.
At its most interesting, contemporary art engages in public discourse through questions, proposals and provocations put forward by individual artists and, to a growing degree, also cross-disciplinary projects. Art enriches our vision of the future by casting light on its many dimensions and opportunities.[i] While voicing a call for responsibility, future-sketching is often a collective process that brings people together. The Nordic Pavilion provides a forum for reflection on the future in various formats: in our curatorial notes, in the selected exhibits, and in a series of scholarly discussions.
Along with Ane Graff, the other artists invited to exhibit in the Nordic Pavilion this year are Ingela Ihrman from Sweden, and nabbteeri, an artist collective from Finland. They all work across a wide range of media, including sculpture, digital media and text. Their practice is interdisciplinary and often produced collaboratively or in dialogue with experts from specific fields.
The work of artist duo Janne Nabb and Maria Teeri is context-specific, engaging in close interaction with the venue and its immediate location, materials, and multispecies neighbours. Their new intervention, Ethnographies of a homespun spinelessness cult and other neighbourly relations, consists of three parts: a 3D-animation and plant installation, Gingerbread House, displayed in an enclosure of sandbags; Compost, a compost heap growing herbs and vegetables outside the pavilion in a container made of discarded mooring dolphins partly digested by naval shipworms; and Dead Head, a wire sphere, also outside the pavilion, that contains twigs collected from the immediate environs. Together, they constitute an endeavour to create a self-maintaining, life-producing ecosystem in front of the pavilion.
Ane Graff employs a wide-ranging multidisciplinary approach incorporating perspectives ranging from feminist new materialism to microbiology and chemistry. In her Cabinets of Inflammation, Graff focuses on the environmental toxins in our daily environment and their destructive effect on vital microbes in our bodies. Graff’s works make connections between climate change, Western societies driven by economic growth, the extinction of immune-modulating intestinal microbes and the spread of inflammatory diseases. The three beautiful glass vitrines and objects on display refer to the human body and its current inflammatory state, emitting signals from the past and hinting at possible future scenarios.
Ingela Ihrman comments on the environmental wave of the 1970s, while also drawing from queer theory and ethnobiology. In the exhibition Ihrman highlights colourful species of algae in her multipart installation A Great Seaweed Day, which reflects on the direct, near-bodily connection between humans and other species. Ihrman’s algae installation tells a story of the liquid origins of human bodies and the existing connections between diverse lifeforms. Silent, large-scale seaweed sculptures invite the exhibition visitors to partake in a bodily experience. I believe that a growing interest in the energy stored in seaweed also yields a promise of a viable renewable alternative for our future post-fossil age.
In this edition of FNG Research we republish three newly commissioned catalogue essays from the Weather Report. Forecasting Future exhibition catalogue. In her contribution ‘Being and thinking with(in) the pavilion space’, co-curator of the exhibition Piia Oksanen writes about how ‘the exhibition is a temporary guest that must adapt to the space’ with its three European nettle trees (Celtis australis) growing inside the pavilion. Hanna Johansson, Professor of Contemporary Art Research at the Academy of Fine Arts/University of the Arts Helsinki, writes a critical reappraisal of climate issues from the perspective of air and the atmosphere, within the context of art and philosophy. A new media theorist Jussi Parikka, Professor in Technological Culture & Aesthetics at the Winchester School of Art/ Southampton University, analyses the challenges of forecasting the future, both throughout history and in this age of climate crisis, in his essay ‘Abstractions – and how to be here and there at the same time’. The catalogue is co-published and distributed by Mousse Magazine and Publishing.
We are also delighted to publish a new article by our recent research intern Eljas Suvanto. In his article ‘Examining the acquisitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland 1939–46: a case study of Arvid Sourander’s donations’, Suvanto focuses on the ideas behind the acquisitions of the time of the Second World War. His motivation is to understand the formation of the collection during that time of crisis through correlations and variations between purchases and donations, especially from the perspective of a specific private donor, whose donated collection contains 63 works now in the Ateneum – a museum governed by the newly established Fine Arts Academy of Finland at that time.
[i] Renata Tyszczuk and Joe Smith, Culture and climate change scenarios: the role and potential of the arts and humanities in responding to the ‘1.5 degrees target’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2018, volume 31, 56–64.
Featured image: Installation view of works by the artists at the Nordic Pavilion exhibition, Venice Biennale, 2019
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen