Ilya Repin, Double Portrait of Natalia Nordmann and Ilya Repin, 1903, oil on canvas, 78.5cm x 130cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenny Nurminen

Editorial: Past, Present and Future

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

 

31 May 2021

 

This edition of FNG Research is looking to the past, present and future. The future is opened up in two major research projects – ‘Gothic Modern’ and ‘Pioneering women artists’. The two initiators of the Gothic Modern project, Chief Curator, Dr Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, from the Ateneum Art Museum and Dr Juliet Simpson, Professor of Art History at Coventry University, are spearheading an international endeavour to rethink the development of a specifically Nordic Modernism at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, having its inspiration in the northern Gothic and Renaissance. The project is concentrating on illuminating the Gothic as a core fascination for late 19th- and early 20th-century art that crossed cultural borders, transcended nationalism and straddled war and its aftermath. The sources of inspiration for artists of that time can be traced to some exhibitions and to specific artists, such as Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein.

Influences were also a political issue, as shown by Dr Krista Kodres, who in her article sheds light on the Estonian historiographical undertones shaping the understanding of Gothic art and architecture in Estonia. In her article, which is an extended abstract of her lecture given at the Gothic Modern knowledge sharing workshop in March of this year, she is asking how in different periods art-historical writing has formulated the understanding of cultural heritage. The basic question she asks is whether the artistic results of medieval and Renaissance art were nationally unique, or were they just copying the ‘trend-setting centres’, located mainly in German cities. The aim of some local art historians in Estonia was to demonstrate that the Baltic-Nordic region created its own independent art forms, an idea that challenged the view that Hanseatic German art was the predominant influence in this region.

Dr Anne-Maria Pennonen presents the recently launched international research project concerning women artists in the mid-19th century from Finland, Nordic and Baltic countries and Germany. What were the routes of inspiration for these artists, where did they study and what kind of networks did they form during their years of study?

In this issue we also present the results of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery undertaken by MA student Emmi Halmesvirta, who examines a much more recent artist, namely Juhana Blomstedt (1937–2010). Halmesvirta took as her starting point the archive material and sketches in the Finnish National Gallery collection related to Juhana Blomstedt’s career in the period 1970–80. Blomstedt’s art-theoretical thinking during the 1970s seems to revolve around questions of form, content, expression, abstraction, subjectivity, truth and optics. In his art he was somehow distancing himself from the high modernist demand for purity, even if his art could be categorised as being part of the constructivist tradition.

The Director of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum Kirsi Eskelinen writes about the provenance of a painting by Jacopo Bassano (c. 1510–92), Virgin and Child with John the Baptist and St Anthony the Abbot, which is housed in the museum’s collection. It is a republication of her article from 1992 but in connection with it, we are for the first time publishing images of the details on the back of the frame moulding. These give some important clues about the provenance of the artwork. The Museum has plans for a monographic exhibition on Jacopo Bassano in the near future, which makes it even more relevant to republish and expand on this article.

Two articles in this issue are focusing on the current exhibition of Ilya Repin at the Ateneum Art Museum: Chief Curator Timo Huusko’s essay on the Russian artist’s relationship to Finland, and an updated article by curator Helena Hätönen on the archival material related to Repin in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery, first published in the catalogue of the Kadriorg Art Museum’s Repin exhibition which took place in Tallinn in 2013.

The Ateneum Art Museum’s curators Hanne Selkokari and Anu Utriainen have been interviewed in connection with the exhibition ‘Among Forests and Lakes: Landscape Masterpieces from the Finnish National Gallery’, which is now on display at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle.

Dr Harri Kalha’s interview in this issue is connected with the exhibition of Magnus Enckell, which unfortunately had to be closed just a few weeks after its opening in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, this exhibition is continuing in the Tampere Art Museum in a slightly smaller version this autumn.

I hope you will enjoy these diverse articles from different sectors of art history.

Featured image: Ilya Repin, Double Portrait of Natalia Nordmann and Ilya Repin, 1903, oil on canvas, 78.5cm x 130cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenny Nurminen
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

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Featured image: Magnus Enckell, View from Kaivopuisto, 1919, oil on canvas, 59cm x 68cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

From Chaos to the Security of Home: the Late Work of Magnus Enckell

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Also published in Hanne Selkokari (ed.), Magnus Enckell 1870−1925. Ateneum Publications Vol. 141. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020. Transl. Wif Stenger

We have become accustomed to thinking of modernism in art as a continuous process of renewal and regeneration. In this light, art history has been written as a sort of bildungsroman, from the art movements of the late 19th century to the triumphal march towards Abstract Expressionism in the 20th century. The careers of individual artists are also examined according to this narrative, which aims at ever-improving results and emphasises the artist’s path towards stylistic purity and clarity.[1] Jaakko Puokka, author of a monograph on Magnus Enckell, sought to see increasing clarity and consistency through the phases of the artist’s career. In his view, Enckell’s late phase brought a mellowness and ‘a return to the Classical-Hellenic style, the birthplace of the crystal-sharp young male figures that he created three decades earlier’.[2] Puokka continues his analysis of Enckell’s late period, writing that, in his painting of Diana and Endymion, Enckell broke free from the imbalance that had led to his ‘aestheticising gourmandism’.[3]

Puokka’s interpretation of Enckell’s development of new content and sustainable form seems, however, to be wishful thinking based on the writer’s own artistic ideals and valuations of Enckell’s work from his own era.[4] During his final decade, Magnus Enckell’s art seems heterogenous and even hesitant: his gaze became retrospective, repeating similar mythological motifs from his younger years, turning inward to his home environment and nostalgic park scenes, or seeking a lost paradise and the support of religion. The style of his paintings also varied between cubist-like structuralism and Nabis-style symbolism. Enckell was undeniably problematic to his contemporaries, but Puokka’s text emphasises a need to develop a narrative around the artist’s career and life that would satisfy them.[5]

How then should we approach Enckell’s late period? How should we interpret his tentative art, which at times looked towards something new and at other times harked back to the past?

[1] See e.g. Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison (eds.). Modern Art and Modernism. A Critical Anthology, 2018 (1982). New York: Routledge.

[2] Puokka, Magnus Enckell: Ihminen ja taiteilija. Helsinki, Suomalainen tiedeakatemia & Otava, 1949, 210.

[3] Puokka, Magnus Enckell, 212.

[4] Puokka, Magnus Enckel, 208.

[5] Harri Kalha and Juha-Heikki Tihinen, whose studies have focused on Magnus Enckell’s homosexuality, emphasise how difficult it was for his contemporaries (and later researchers) to approach Enckell’s art that features strongly homoerotic characteristics. See e.g. Harri Kalha. Tapaus Magnus Enckell. Historiallisia tutkimuksia 227. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2005; Juha-Heikki Tihinen. Halun häilyvät rajat: Magnus Enckellin teosten maskuliinisuuksien ja feminiinisyyksien representaatioista ja itsen luomisesta. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 37. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura, 2008.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, View from Kaivopuisto, 1919, oil on canvas, 59cm x 68cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

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Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Editorial: Living in the Material World

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

 

26 May 2020

 

As I sit down to write this Editorial, the museums in Finland have been closed for more than two months. In this challenging situation, continuity also offers some consolation, the fact that everything continues despite the Covid-19 virus. At this time there is also light at the end of the tunnel, and the museums are scheduled to reopen at the beginning of June, following the decree of the Finnish government.

There is a basic need in people to see beautiful and thought-provoking things in time and space, as a bodily experience – and that is exactly what museums can offer. The digital is only a substitute.

The third issue of FNG Research we publish this year is in this sense special. The articles in this edition are, as if by accident, all related to the effect of the physical aspects in art works. They all underline the importance of materiality and the use of physical means in visual art works: a sense of materiality, the use of tactile surfaces and colours in art.

In an interview by Gill Crabbe, Hanne Tikkala, who is funded as a research assistant at FNG’s materials research laboratory to undertake research for her doctoral dissertation, discusses the use of different colours by the iconic figure in Finnish ‘Golden Age’ art, namely that of Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Forgeries of his works have been circulating in abundance, even during his lifetime, which makes this research of utmost importance to the contemporary art world and art market. The research is based on a conservation project that started in 2017. FNG’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj, together with Tikkala, have been conducting an extensive analysis of the pigments Gallen-Kallela used, selecting works spanning his entire career, from 1880 until 1929. The research shows, among other things, that Gallen-Kallela always tried to use high-quality pigments that retain their colour, which is difficult to imitate.

The two other articles in this issue have been published in the exhibition catalogue of Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction, and the exhibition is currently on show in Stockholm, in the Prins Eugen’s Waldemarsudde museum until 16 August 2020.

In her article, ‘Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism’, Anne-Marie Pennonen is underlining the importance of simplification and the sense of materiality in art in the period following the two World Wars. The style also became an ideological and ethical question for many artists of that time, as they combined spirituality with social idealism. As Pennonen states: ‘The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.’

In Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff’s article ‘A Changing Landscape’, the poetical and ideological aspects are underlined in Finnish landscape painting during the 20th century: ‘Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states’, she writes. The industrialisation of Europe prompted many artists to think about the possibilities of using landscape painting as a manifestation and expression of more spiritual ideas and that was achieved through, among other things, the deployment of colour. The ideal of simplicity too evoked parallels with music and spiritual life. A very Asian notion of emptiness and space was also emphasised.

During this period of the Covid-19 pandemic, when everybody is confined to their homes, the meaning of culture and intellectual activity becomes even more important than before. It is a question of connecting with others. Art plays an important part in bringing humanistic ways of thinking to the fore. This is something we all need – and we need it right now.

Featured image: The banner on the facade of the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, during the closure of the museum in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The text says: ‘Art is waiting until we meet again.’
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Helene Schjerfbeck, Landscape from St Ives, Barnoon Villa, 1887, ink on paper, 11.5cm x 18cm- Friends of Ateneum Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Editorial: Support Strategies

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

 

27 November 2019

 

When I first read the articles for this edition of FNG Research, I did not think there was any particular connection between them. The articles covered curatorial issues, a doctoral thesis on Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits, and a conference paper on the theme of the subjectile and the play between immateriality and materiality. However, a closer look reveals that, in fact, they all have quite a lot in common. Ari Tanhuanpää’s article is based on his contribution for this autumn’s Tahiti 8 conference and is titled ‘All the Leaves in the World: the Subjectile as a Problem’. Tanhuanpää claims in his article that paper, or indeed any other support in an artwork, is something that oscillates between materiality and immateriality.

In the same way, I suppose, curatorial work is the invisible or immaterial aspect that constitutes a support for the artworks to be displayed in an exhibition. The public won’t necessarily notice the curatorial decisions but these play an important part in the narrative of the exhibition. The curatorial underpinnings make visible some issues and ideas, whereas others might remain obscured.

In an exhibition display, the entire design can be thought as the subjectile. The colours of the walls, and the arrangement and juxtaposition of the artworks are there to emphasise meaning. But for the audience the support remains ‘immaterial’ in the same sense that in Tanhuanpää’s article Susanne Gottberg’s plywood support stays quasi-unseen and immaterial as the background for her images.

I am writing this editorial in Paris, having visited many exhibitions here and also in London. The context gives meaning. For example, today we look very differently at the portraits by Gauguin, following the #Metoo debate, as we also look differently at the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters’ exhibition in the context of the current discoveries about women in art. Then again, even when an exhibition is mounted within a ‘white cube’ context, with its neutral background, as was the case in the 1950s, it has significance, as Mariliis Rebane points out in her article revisiting the Collection Display at the Ateneum Art Museum in 1959. The white cube underlines the modernist idea of artworks being something by themselves. Any kind of stories would just disturb the purity of painting.

The modernist purity of painting is disrupted in Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits, as Patrik Nyberg discusses in the interview with Marja Lahelma and Gill Crabbe. In his doctoral thesis, Painted Faces: the Self-Portraits of Helene Schjerfbeck, Modernism and Representation, Nyberg argues that the idea within modernism, that a painting should not interact with the viewer but be its autonomous self, is interrupted in Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits. I also link Nyberg’s ideas on Schjerfbeck’s painting to the discussion of the immaterial and material support for painting. She was actually using the support of the canvas as an essential part of the painting by scratching paint away, having first covered the canvas with it.

This issue of FNG Research is published to coincide with the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition that has travelled from London to the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki. Almost all of the works that were shown in the London exhibition are also on display in the Helsinki show. Yet these two exhibitions are nevertheless very different. This becomes evident in Gill Crabbe’s interview with Chief Curator of the Ateneum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, who was a key player in the curation of the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibitions in both London and Helsinki. The Helsinki version is different because, in addition, it contains many works that were not shown in London. But the essential difference is more on a conceptual level. As the article states: ‘While the London exhibition was very much an introduction to Schjerfbeck’s work, based on in-depth research covering her entire career, and giving centre stage to the artist’s remarkable body of self-portraits, the Helsinki show required a different treatment for an artist who is a household name in Finland and who is regarded as a national treasure.’

The research projects continue, and the next issue of FNG Research will concentrate on the results of the European Revivals research project. The Finnish National Gallery is also organising the project’s concluding conference in January 2020. Registration is now open – visit https://research.fng.fi/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/european_revivals_programme.pdf for the conference programme and how to register..

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Landscape from St Ives, Barnoon Villa, 1887, ink on paper, 11.5cm x 18cm- Friends of Ateneum Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Featured image: Aarre Heinonen, Railway Square, 1945, oil on canvas, 81cm x 60cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Search and Search Again

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum

 

24 January 2019

 

Last November (29–30.11.2018), the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts Helsinki, along with the Art History Department of Helsinki University and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, got together to organise a two-day conference, ‘Connoisseurship in Contemporary Art Research’, which had as its theme the importance of the archival approach in research into contemporary art. One of the highlights was Katharina Günther’s presentation, which was based on the results of her year-long residency at the City Gallery in Dublin. Her research project was concentrating on the material from Francis Bacon’s London studio, which had been transported from London to Dublin in 1998 in the exact same condition as it had been left when Bacon died. She worked with the original material in the studio with a variety of items, from photographs to all kinds of ephemera. Seemingly worthless material transformed, in the hands of the researcher, into authentic evidence. With that material, she was able to prove that despite Bacon’s own observations that art has nothing to do with illustration, most of his artworks were based on everyday media images. The composition, details and figures were often borrowed almost identically from images published in printed media.

For a researcher, material that has previously gone unnoticed, has been abandoned or considered as apparently unimportant might become the very core of the research and a source of new knowledge.

In this first issue of FNG Research in 2019, two researchers are presenting their new findings. Both articles are good examples that show how important it is to study profoundly different archives and to experience original material. For these researchers, archival material and the rereading of the material in connection to previous research, is of utmost importance.

Both Sandra Lindblom – whose article is dealing with the early career of the painter Eva Cederström – and Antonella Perna – who has as her topic the friendship, mutual respect and influence of two scholars of Asian art and culture – base their research on letters, diaries and other archival materials.

Lindblom, whose article is resulting from the research internship at the FNG, writes in her preface: ‘The study reassesses and gives new information about the narrative on Cederström’s early career, using previously unstudied archive material, drawings and paintings.’ In her article she is able to show that Cederström eschewed the label of being a woman artist, but at the same time she was the victim of conventions prevailing pre- and post- Second World War. Despite her talent and passion for art she was obliged take on office work because of lack of money. With the archival material Lindblom shows the contradictions in the start of Cederström’s career. Her early years as an artist contained ‘failures, successes, institutional support and economic problems’. The article points out that despite her being appreciated as a promising artist at an early phase, she couldn’t advance as an artist in the way she would have wanted. Being a woman was significant, it seems.

Antonella Perna writes in her peer-reviewed article how her attention was drawn to the relationship and position of Osvald Sirén in Italian studies of Asian culture by a single letter in the Sirén Archive in Stockholm. According to that letter, Sirén was appointed Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Rome La Sapienza. To Perna this single letter was not sufficient to explain why this happened and she started to look for other evidence to find out why he was honoured this way. Perna found the evidence in the correspondence of Sirén with the Italian scholar of Asian studies, Giuseppe Tucci. Perna is revealing new knowledge of this relationship. She writes: ‘since there are no previous studies on the relationship with Tucci, I would like to present a first analysis of unpublished letters and other archival material that can throw some light on this aspect of Sirén’s professional life: his particular role in the development of Oriental scholarship in Italy.’

***

I started to write this editorial for the FNG Research issue just when the annually organised Days for Science were about to start. In the main Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, there was an interview with three academics, namely the former rector and chancellor of the University of Helsinki Risto Ihamuotila, Professor of Cosmology Kari Enqvist and researcher of political history, Johanna Vuorelma. They all defended the significance of the sciences, the meaning of knowledge based on facts and profound research, at a time of the increasing dominance of social media, when it is possible to spread all kinds of knowledge just with one keystroke.

According to them, in science it is important to understand that knowledge is constantly changing and that it is always important to recheck already existing information: what we know and what can be known (Helsingin Sanomat 9 January 2019). In undertaking this kind of rechecking, the role of archives and the development and deeper understanding of their content is extremely important.

Featured image: Aarre Heinonen, Railway Square, 1945, oil on canvas, 81cm x 60cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Boundary Crossings: The Political Postminimalism of Mona Hatoum

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

First published in Christine Van Assche & Clarrie Wallis (eds.), Mona Hatoum. Centre Pompidou, Paris, 24 June–28 September 2015, Tate Modern, London, 4 May─21 August 2016, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 7 October 2016–26 February 2017. London: Tate Publishing, 2016, pp. 150–168. Transl. Silja Kudell

Investment in the look is not as privileged in women as in men. More than any other sense, the eye objectifies and it masters … In our culture the predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch and hearing has brought about an impoverishment of bodily relations.

Luce Irigaray[1]

 

Early minimalist art challenged the privileging of the gaze by foregrounding art’s relation to its surrounding space and the viewer’s corporeal experience.[2] Luce Irigaray’s critique of the privileged gaze is similarly subverted on many levels by Mona Hatoum. We can feel and hear her works – well-nigh even taste and smell them – and one of them literally even touches us. They are insistently corporeal, experienced viscerally within our guts. The materials she uses – cold steel, human detritus, dead skin, strands of hair, nail clippings, plastic, glass, soap and the like – play a highly potent role in the intricate signification process in which she embroils the viewer/experiencer.

The first time I saw her work was at the Centre Pompidou in the summer of 1994.[3] Earlier that spring, I had just seen a Robert Morris retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Guggenheim Museum SoHo in New York. Even though these two powerfully spatial artists represent different generations and genders, seeing their work in such close succession tempted me to draw parallels between them, particularly as both draw inspiration from the same traditions, minimalism and performance art. Many of Morris’s works in the exhibition marked an attempt to subvert the Western mind-body dichotomy, as Rosalind Krauss, the curator, stated in her seminal essay for the exhibition catalogue.[4] Yet, despite its powerful spatiality, its message was relayed primarily on an intellectual level, subordinate to the authority of the subject’s gaze. Many of Morris’s works occupied the gallery space as aesthetic artefacts, impermeable to our access.

A preoccupation with the Western mind-body dichotomy similarly pervades the oeuvre of Mona Hatoum.[5] Yet, her exhibition had a very different effect on me than Morris’s. With her work, my experience as a viewer was not just intellectual, but also physical and emotional. I identified with it viscerally, which compelled me to question how I relate to everything, from my own identity to world politics. How did she achieve such a powerful destabilising effect, and why did she move me in such a fundamentally different way than Morris, whose minimalistic art largely elicited feelings of aesthetic and intellectual gratification? Was it the political subtext that slowly unfolded through a complex web of associations, or was it that I am a woman and closer in age to Hatoum than I am to Morris? Many such questions filled my mind back then. Now, 20 years later, this essay offers a chance to revisit some of them – and perhaps to find answers.

[1] Quoted in Marie-Françoise Hans and Gilles Lapouge (eds.), Les femmes, la pornographie et l’érotisme, Paris, 1978, p. 50. Luce Irigaray is a French linguist, cultural theoretician, psychoanalyst and philosopher whose writings address the problem of the relation between man and woman vis-à-vis gender difference.
[2] Gregory Battcock (ed.), Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1995.
[3] See Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Centre Pompidou, Paris, June–August 1994. One of the featured pieces, Light Sentence, 1992, was later shown at the Ateneum in Helsinki in ARS 95, an exhibition organised in 1995 by the Finnish Museum of Contemporary Art.
[4] Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Mind/Body Problem: Robert Morris in series’, in Robert Morris: The Mind/Body Problem, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, 1994.
[5] See ‘Michael Archer in Conversation with Mona Hatoum’, in Mona Hatoum, London, 1997, p. 8.

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For more information on Mona Hatoum’s exhibition at Kiasma, visit

http://www.kiasma.fi/en/exhibitions-events/mona-hatoum/

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. https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stéphane_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

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Marja Kanervo, Pallet I-III, 2013, installation, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

Destabilised Gaze Positions and Reminders of Mortality

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

First published in Marja Kanervo. Esiinkatoavaa = (Dis)appearing. Edited by Patrik Nyberg, Jari-Pekka Vanhala & Maija Kasvinen. Museum of Contemporary Art publication 138. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma 2013

In his seminal work The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard discusses the poetic image, which he posits as something radically different from metaphor, a petrified image to which we have become habituated. A poetic image is something unprecedented, and thereby creating something unprecedented. [1] Marja Kanervo modifies spaces in much the same way as a poet conjures up images and spaces with words. By removing structural components so that displaced elements form written words (MORE/LESS, 2013), or by adding artefacts that redefine their surroundings, she transforms the physical site which the viewer occupies into a dream-like ‘imaginary space’ that is charged with an emotional intensity that is difficult to express in words. The pieces featured in her retrospective at Kiasma in 2013 – a textual panorama, a deconstructed Wendy house, hair-reinforced concrete panels, concrete beds with human hair stuffing, and shirts adorned with buttons of human teeth neatly folded in display cases – acquire their meaning through their emphatic materiality. We viewers are forced to ask ourselves: what are my personal reactions to these seemingly familiar yet strangely warped and disjointed dream-like states?

[1] Tarja Roinila, 2003. ’Gaston Bachelard, tilan ja poetiikan filosofi’, in Bachelard, Gaston, La Poétique de l’espace, 1957. Helsinki: Nemo, 12–14.

Featured image: Marja Kanervo, Pallet I–III, 2013, installation, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

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