Salla Tykkä, Giant, 2013. A still from an HD video 12:9, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

Editorial: Hear the Heartbeats of Museum Collections

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

 

‘Is “contemporary” the name of an art-historical period that has succeeded modernism, or does ‘contemporaneity’ mean that periodization is past (an anachronism from modernity) both in general culture and in art?’  This question from the Australian art historian Terry Smith prompts us to think about the meaning of living today and actively shaping our cultural heritage. Is contemporary art a label for today’s art, or is ‘contemporaneity’ also something that can be found from each historical period?

Art collection is one way of telling our story as a nation. That is a big challenge. What kind of story do we want to tell? And how do we want to be remembered by future citizens and museum visitors from other countries? Who are we, who are those who belong to ‘us’, and how is the nation defined through art? Museum directors need to face these questions every time they plan a new collection display or write an article about one of the museum’s many collections.

The art museum is a collecting institution. The collections of the Finnish National Gallery comprise around 40,000 works of art, objects and an art-historical research archive. The collections are closely integrated into the three museums’ exhibition programmes in the Ateneum Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. In the current edition of FNG Research, all three museum directors reveal the timespan and the guidelines for current acquisitions. Each time has valued its art differently – asking what is important, who are the artists to represent the nation or a particular patron, what is the relationship between private and public collections, whose taste to follow? The exhibition and research activities of the three museums range from contemporary digital art and European old masters to the constitutive history of Finnish art before and after Independence. One time’s novelty is today’s antiquity.

Collection is a wider concept than just the body of works. The organisation of exhibitions and public programmes inside the museum goes hand in hand with acquiring collections. Every year a number of pieces exhibited in the temporary exhibitions programme of the three museums augment the collections: either as purchased works of art, or through documenting them in photographs, artist interviews and research articles. Museums create narratives around the collections and about the collections via arts professionals together with living artists or with the help of documents. The art-historical archive is a treasure, full of artists’ correspondence and notebooks, audio records and media archives, art reviews, and even more.

Contemporary art is created and displayed in a context that is characterised by interaction between local and global culture. Finnish contemporary art, too, has become an important part of the international scene with its biennales, topical museum exhibitions, international artist residencies and art fairs. Kiasma’s collections are currently developed by acquiring important works of contemporary art of outstanding quality, regardless of national or geographic boundaries and yet with an underlying focus on art from nearby regions. Kiasma’s mission is to collect current contemporary art that reflects the times as broadly as possible. Important factors that determine acquisitions are an understanding of the times, fearless vision and sensitivity to phenomena such as network culture. As the Ateneum Art Museum’s Director Susanna Pettersson remarks in her paper in this edition, ‘The trends of the 21st century urge the museum field to share collection resources and to make better and more effective use of collections.’ That is precisely the target we are aiming at in Kiasma too, as we prepare to launch a digital Online Art Collection as a part of the forthcoming ‘ARS17’ exhibition. Through this initiative, online commissions will be made directly accessible to our digital natives wherever they may be.

The collection is the heart of the museum!

Featured image: Salla Tykkä, Giant, 2013. A still from an HD video 12:9, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

Article: 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/

Picture This!

Conferences: Picture This!

24–25 November 2016

This upcoming two-day international conference organised by the Finnish Museums Association, the Finnish National Gallery, and the Finnish Museum of Photography discusses the position and challenges of museums in the world of growing and changing streams of images.  The venues of the conference will be the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, Finland.

To view the programme of the conference, please visit http://museoliitto.fi/picturethis

Saarikoski, Hanna, See Paris and Die, 2012, HD video 16:9, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

Article: To Touch and Be Touched: Affective, Immersive and Critical Contemporary Art?

Saara Hacklin, PhD, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

This article was recently published in Stedelijk Studies, Issue No. 4/2016, and is based on a paper Hacklin presented at the conference Between the Discursive and the Immersive: Research in the 21st Century Art Museum, 3–4 December, 2015, co-organised by the Louisiana Museum in Humblebaeck, the University of Aarhus, and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Hacklin presents as a case study the collection exhibition shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in 2016.

Featured image: Saarikoski, Hanna, See Paris and Die, 2012, a still from an HD video 16:9, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

To read Saara Hacklin’s article, visit

http://www.stedelijkstudies.com/journal/to-touch-and-be-touched/

Markus Heikkerö, Summer Day in Kangasala, 1969, oil painting, 84,5cm x 100cm, Markus Heikkerö Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Article: Eye, Phallus and Fantasy: Recurring Figures in the Paintings of Markus Heikkerö

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

 

First published in Markus Heikkerö. Elämä on turhaa baby… / Life’s a bitch, baby… Edited by Saara Hacklin, this article transl. by Silja Kudel. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 149/2015. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2015

The unbelievable is happening as soon as we open our mouths.[1]

Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny, 2003

Listening to Markus Heikkerö, the above statement could not be truer. Memories, anecdotes and incidents from his life become interwoven in an endless saga – much in the same way as copulating cartoon creatures, extra-terrestrials and disfigured human bodies are entwined in the jumbled character gallery of his paintings. The bewildering, sexually fanciful imagery of his 1960s and ’70s paintings finds its match in a colourful array of titles: The Fateful Vermin of Ursus, Necrophiliac Childbirth, The Pegasus Conspiracy and Ali Receives a Commandment by the Red Sea (Self-Portrait). Sexual encounters of sundry descriptions morph into acts of theatrical performativity in his panoramic fantasies.

My personal interest in Heikkerö’s work was piqued by the psychedelically trippy, sexually risqué imagery of his early canvases and their complex allusions both to classical paintings and to Disney iconography: think Mickey Mouse high-fiving protagonists out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. With the passing decades, the boldly explicit content of his canvases has moved in a more metaphorical direction, the exuberant exaggeration of his early work being replaced by larger-scale canvases of exponentially amplified expressivity.

‘Abandoned Orphans’ (1967–68) is an early series of paintings showing the influence of Max Ernst and other surrealists whom Heikkerö has cited as influential to his work. His fascination with surrealism was also inspired by the painter Alpo Jaakola, who was a friend of the family. The weird protagonists and introverted mysticism of Jaakola’s Äänittäjät (The Recorders, 1962) and Uni Erämaassa (Dream in the Wilderness, 1966) offer reference points for reading the sketchily rendered, floundering figures and warped reality of the ‘Abandoned Orphans’ series. Heikkerö was intrigued by Ernst’s 1920s experimental combinations of visual elements in paintings such as Murdering Airplane (1920), Celebes (1921) and Ubu Imperator (1923), which all depict people, animals and machines merging in unsettling states of metamorphosis. Similarly, Ernst created collages by cutting up and re-organising clippings from advertisements and brochures, creating strange anthropomorphic creatures paired with classical sculpted torsos as were common in the work of the surrealists and Italian Metaphysical painters, such as De Chirico.

 


[1] Royle, Nicholas, 2003. The Uncanny. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 291.

Featured image: Markus Heikkerö, Summer Day in Kangasala, 1969, oil painting, 84,5cm x 100cm, Markus Heikkerö Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

 

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Artist Markus Heikkerö has donated a large collection of his artworks and his archive to the Finnish National Gallery. To see the artworks, visit

http://kokoelmat.fng.fi/app?lang=en&si=http%3A%2F%2Fkansallisgalleria.fi%2FE78.Collection_Markus_Heikkeron_kokoelma&museummode=all

For more information on the archival material, you can access the web publication Markus Heikkerö – Ideasta teokseksi / From Idea to Work of Art at

http://www.lahteilla.fi/fi/publication/markus-heikkero

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

Article: 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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Anna Rapinoja, Autumn Party Shoes, 2010, made from northern bilberry leaves, from the series ‘Wardrobe of Nature’, 2005–11, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

Article: Physical Phenomena and Natural Materials – The Challenges in Collection Management

Eija Aarnio, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

 

First published in Kiasma Hits. Kiasma Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Publication 139/2013. Edited by Arja Miller & Joni Kling. Helsinki 2013: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 60–71. Transl. Tomi Snellman

Art research has not always placed a particularly high value on materiality. Matter was seen primarily as a substratum through which meanings were read. However, the separation of matter and idea is no longer considered a realistic approach in the understanding of the processes of art. Art historian Katve-Kaisa Kontturi even claims that no image or representation can be interpreted or would even exist without the material-bodily processes of art making and reception.[1]

Anni Rapinoja’s Wardrobe of Nature (2005–11) consists of hats and handbags made of cotton grass and common reed, complete with sumptuous fur coats and matching shoes made of willow or northern bilberry leaves. Peering into the handbag, you find it is filled with elk droppings. Rapinoja lives on the island of Hailuoto in Oulu, where she collects these sensitive materials for her work. The inhabitants of the island know her and her working methods. Hunters are in the habit of bringing her the ears and tails of rabbits they have caught, which the artist keeps in cake boxes while she waits for inspiration.

Timo Heino’s Dialogue (2005) is made of synthetic and organic elements – car tyres, metal chains and human hair. With hair cascading towards the floor from their centres, the rubber tyres are like a row of chandeliers hanging at different heights. Processing has transformed real hair into an almost unnatural substance. The threadbare tyres are recycled material. The artist wants to blur the aesthetic of materials and the narrow categorisations and rigid oppositions typical of Western culture.

[1] In her study, Katve-Kaisa Kontturi emphasises a neo-materialist approach in which a bodily experience of art can also be part of critical research. Katve-Kaisa Kontturi, Following the flows of process: a new materialist account of contemporary art, University of Turku, Turku, 2012, 22–24.

Featured image: Anna Rapinoja, Autumn Party Shoes, 2010, made from northern bilberry leaves, from the series ‘Wardrobe of Nature’, 2005–11, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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