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

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