nabbteeri, Rubbish video (detail), 2014, projection screens, video installation, 00:05:28s, loop Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Recycled Utopia – Where Art and Everyday Life Coalesce

Ida Pakarinen, MA, University of Helsinki

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

Plastic. Used electronics, cables, tons of cereal packages, textiles, cigarette butts, radioactive landfills and repositories, glass bottles and rusted cans. Plastic, plastic, plastic. Plastic in all shapes.

We have all seen the photos of the shorelines filled with the trash the oceans have spat back. Some of us are living in the middle of that dumpster-like reality every day. Yet those photos do not move us so much anymore, paradoxically exactly because of the amount of the trash we live with. We no longer see plastic as an alien subject, because it has completely invaded our lives.

I was 15 years old when I first heard about the infamous Great Pacific rubbish patch, the drastically huge island-like area that is said to be nowadays three times the size of France. Imagining this vortex of faded coloured shampoo bottles, toys, straws and fishing nets floating on the sea made me feel weak and hopeless. It was an awakening moment, and the dystopian shadowy feeling has become even bigger over the years. In an era of eco crisis, thoughts of conspicuous consumption, mass extinctions and hazardous changes in the weather and nature keep restlessly sprawling across my mind. As a beginner art researcher, I’ve been contemplating how much the Finnish contemporary art world has raised its head to these matters. It is obvious that my interest in these matters comes from a concern and an anxiety towards the ecosystem. My thoughts have been especially about trash and recycling. That is why I applied for this research intern job in the Finnish National Gallery.

In this article, I want to see how much and which recycled materials have been used in Finnish contemporary art. For me recycled material means something that is not bought as new. By trash I mean all the thrown away material that cannot be seen to have any use anymore. This material includes broken utensils, old electronics and other devices, expendable objects such as cans, plastic wrap, cardboard, wrapping paper, and all the disused, outdated objects. My focus is then on human-made products, thus excluding natural materials such as wood, hair, fur and offal from my research, yet all these aforesaid materials are refined by humans. This framing excludes many influential pieces from Finnish contemporary artists such as Kaisu Koivisto, who has used a lot of animal-based material in her art. Yet she has also used plenty of human-made recycled materials in her artistic practice, such as objects she has found from rubbish skips.[1]

[1] An interview with Kaisu Koivisto, 25 November 2021. Interviewer Ida Pakarinen. Interview made in Koivisto’s studio apartment in Helsinki. Length 01:01:26. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki (AC, FNG).

Featured image: nabbteeri, Rubbish video (detail), 2014, projection screens, video installation, 00:05:28, loop
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

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