Artist Tanja Boukal at Melilla CETI camp with residents, 2015. Photo: © Tanja Boukal

Over the Borders

Kati Kivinen, PhD, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Kati Kivinen interviews the Austrian artist Tanja Boukal, whose work focusing on Europe’s refugee crisis was featured in the recent ‘Demonstrating Minds: Disagreements in Contemporary Art’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

When doing research on art as social commentary for the exhibition ‘Demonstrating Minds: Disagreements in Contemporary Art’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (9 Oct, 2015 to 20 March, 2016), our curatorial team [1] wanted to discover how contemporary artists deal with different social and political injustices. We wanted to know what kind of strategies the artists employ to voice their indignation and mount resistance. In the era of exhibitions drawn on the signature imagery and repertoire of marches and demonstrations, from protest placards and riot barricades to Occupy camps and Pussy Riot, we wanted to find a different path to follow when tackling these issues. Instead of aestheticised politics or documentation of any particular political conflicts or events, we wanted to take a critical look at the universal power mechanisms and the conflicting stances that artists take against the prevailing consensus. Thus the selected works in the ‘Demonstrating Minds’ do not simply address a specific conflict or recent world event; rather they make a statement of a more universal yet also particular nature, often framed through metaphor or a deeply personal perspective. Instead of just reporting and acknowledging current events, the art in the exhibition offers an interpretative angle, leaving the ultimate conclusions up to the viewer.

The number one topic of discussion of the summer and autumn of 2015 has certainly been the refugee crisis, which has extended in a completely new way all the way up North to Finland as well. Both the media and coffee-table discussions have been taken over by the news of the influx of refugees and of the border fences that European countries have started to erect in order to direct the masses of refugees on new routes. Many artists have felt a strong need to tackle the subject in their individual works, especially with the aim of shedding light on the matters that easily remain hidden from mainstream media attention. This is what the Austrian artist Tanja Boukal (b. 1976) has also done in The Melilla Project (2014–15) which was on show at the ‘Demonstrating Minds’ exhibition. However, at the same time discussion on the effects of the current situation on artistic production have arisen; questions on the ethics and responsibilities of the artists working with such delicate issues have been debated during this autumn. [2]
Tanja Boukal’s art revolves around people, their social circumstances and their various ways of coping in the face of adversity and unexpected challenges.

The Melilla Project is about a Spanish enclave on the north coast of Africa that is separated from Morocco by a 3m-high, 11km-long border fence. For many sub-Saharan Africans this 13.4 sq km enclave with its population of over 80,000, is a gateway to the north – a heavily guarded European fortress on the African continent. Boukal first travelled to Melilla on a research trip in spring 2014 to meet the refugees, both those waiting on the Moroccan side for ‘the perfect moment’ to jump the fence, as well as those who had somehow successfully crossed over, but were now stuck in limbo in the Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes (CETI) Camp in Melilla. Boukal wanted to meet them to discuss their dreams for the future and how it feels to wait, day in, day out, for a new life to begin, without ever knowing what will happen or when it will happen. Through her work she wishes to give visibility to those who are invisible and who have been deprived of the authorisation to speak and act on their own behalf.

I contacted the artist as I wanted to hear more about her ideas and thoughts on what it is like to work with such controversial subject matter and what kind of ethical duties and responsibilities are involved for artists in such a project.

[1] Kati Kivinen, Patrik Nyberg, Marja Sakari & Jari-Pekka Vanhala


Featured image: Artist Tanja Boukal at Melilla CETI camp with residents, 2015. Photo: © Tanja Boukal

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Heli Rekula, Skein, 2000, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen.

From Monitor to Gallery Space – Spatialisation of the Moving Image in Finnish Video Art in the 1990s

Kati Kivinen, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

One of the main trends in both the video art and photography of the 1990s is related to spatial works of art rapidly becoming more common in both domestic and international contemporary art. In video art, the projected and multi-screen video installation quickly replaced earlier sculptural video installation art, which still depended on monitors as the image source. In the video art of the 1990s, the partner in dialogue was more often cinema rather than television, and the emphasis shifted from the political video art of the 1970s, which had used TV aesthetics, to more experiential video art that returned to cinema aesthetics (Iles 2003; Kotz 2005/2008). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, photography turned to installation’s new ways of presenting and interpreting in an effort to break away from the documentary tradition, and to pursue the fine art dimension of photography in particular (Rinne 1997, 11; Elovirta 1999, 199–201).

The new spatial trends in the field of art soon also inspired various attempts to compartmentalize and define the new spatial forms of expression in both moving image and photography. At the turn of the millennium, terms such as gallery film, used in Anglo-American discourse, and cinéma d’exposition (cinema of exhibition), based on French research, established their presence in the discourse on spatial forms of the moving image, while in photography, the discussion was situated somewhere between the points of fine art photography and fine arts. In Finland, these fields had only just started to move towards one another at the beginning of the 1990s. The outbreak of photography into space mainly took place through conceptual art, when the photograph – no longer merely a pure aesthetic object, but now a part of a process – broke out of its frame, expanding the traditional boundaries of the medium and seeking to find new ways and forms for the expression traditionally imposed on it (Hietaharju 1992). Later, photography also showed signs of moving towards cinematic representation in the works of significant photographers of the 1990s such as Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky. One of that decade’s central phenomena in photography became the monumental ‘cinematic tableaux’, which, in art-historian Liz Kotz’s opinion, brought together the high culture aspirations of painting and the pop culture appeal of Hollywood (Kotz 2005, 105).

This development started around the same time in both art forms; however, in photography, it withered quickly. In Finnish art large-scale projected video installations – often in multi-screen format – had great exposure at the turn of the millennium in both domestic and international exhibitions, and were often accompanied by Finnish photography. The significant difference was, however, that coming into the new millennium, photography abandoned installations and ‘returned to the walls’. Director of the Finnish Museum of Photography Elina Heikka sees signs of ‘business economic rationality’ in this development, which, in the internationalization of the art world, shuns the more experimental forms of art and favours easily movable pieces that can be placed in different kinds of spaces (Heikka 2004).

Featured image: Heli Rekula, Skein, 2000, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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