Items from Mika Vainio’s studio in Oslo, selected by Rikke Lundgreen. ‘Mika Vainio: 50 Hz’, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 2020 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Still Life: A Personal Archive

Rikke Lundgreen

Also published in Kati Kivinen & Rikke Lundgreen (eds.), Mika Vainio: 50 Hz. Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 172 / 2020. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. English proofreading for the book Arlyne Moi

In this text, I focus on the belongings of the composer and visual artist Mika Vainio. Mika had his studio at home and surrounded himself with all kinds of objects: books, musical compositions and notation, records, found objects and memorabilia. What defines a personal archive? Can we categorise his belongings as an archive? How do the possessions of this artist lead us to a fuller understanding of his works? Are we searching for things that confirm the view we already have of him, or for things that help us to tell the stories we would like to tell?

In Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus, Socrates talks about Mnemosyne, goddess of memory, in the following way:

I would have you imagine, then, that there exists in the mind of man a block of wax, which is of different sizes in different men; harder, moister, and having more or less of purity in one than another, and in some of an intermediate quality. […] Let us say that this table is a gift of Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muses; and that when we wish to remember anything which we have seen, or heard, or thought in our own minds, we hold the wax to the perceptions and thoughts, and in that material receive the impression of them as from the seal of a ring; and that we remember and know what is imprinted as long as the image lasts; but when the image is effaced, or cannot be taken, then we forget and do not know.[1]

Mika’s studio contains items such as cigar boxes, old gramophone records, drawings by the artist Franz Graf, a bowling pin, a stone from William S. Burroughs’ porch, ticket stubs, notation for musical compositions, films, vinyl records and books. These are the gifts of Mnemosyne, and as well as using them in my reflections, I draw on conversations I had with Mika, as his partner, and on certain written and recorded sources. Mika and I shared a flat in Oslo, where he lived and worked. He preferred to work from home, in close proximity to his equipment. He could be selective about who he invited into his studio.

[1] Plato. ‘Theaetetus’, in The Dialogues of Plato, vol. 2, 191c-d. Translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1892. New York: Random House, 1937.

Featured image: Items from Mika Vainio’s studio in Oslo, selected by Rikke Lundgreen. ‘Mika Vainio: 50 Hz’, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 2020
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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