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/

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

Suohpanterror, Checkpoint n:o 169, 2015, a series of posters, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, installation view, DEMONSTRATING MINDS: Disagreements in, Contemporary Art, 9.10.2015 - 20.03.2016. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Editorial: Should Art Have a Nation? And How Global Are We?

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

 

March 24, 2016

 

Nationalistic agendas are very strong in many European countries, and unfortunately Finland is no exception. The rise of nationalism also has its influences on the art world, where international activity has been one of the key elements. Today I can also hear echoes of polarised populistic discussion when visiting different board meetings and panels. ‘Should we support all artists living and working in Finland, or just Finnish artists?’ Public debate and the political climate in Finland have long been defined by a spirit of consensus and a striving for unanimity. Yet, with only one valid truth accepted at any given time, this climate of perpetual consensus sometimes grew to be suffocating.

Over the past year, Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki’s new outdoor public meeting place behind Kiasma, has been the stage for various demonstrations supporting everything from same-sex marriages to multiculturalism, as well as anti-racist rallies. Our immediate context is a melting pot where many agendas and people from all walks of society meet, collide and interact, and Kiasma strives to highlight a varied spectrum of themes in its seasonal programme. The ‘Demonstrating Minds’ exhibition, which opened in October 2105, is an international survey of political art, and it looks at how critical thinking and social consciousness manifest both locally and globally in contemporary art and in relation to art history. Answers that the artists give us in the form of works of art are more on a personal level. Each one of them is taking a stand by provoking even more complex and specific questions.

International politics has always influenced the art world: how artists work, travel and collect influences, and also how art history has been written in different times and revisited in the light of current topics and research results. In February 2016, the Ateneum Art Museum opened a large survey exhibition, ‘Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875–1918. Now it is possible to see Nordic golden age classics with a Japoniste twist – the signs and visual elements have been there even if we haven’t noticed them. At the end of the 19th century Japonisme took Europe by storm, spreading out from the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It was part of a wider interest in the so-called Orient. Orientalism, a concept of the difference between East and West, between Orient and Continent, was created through an understanding and awareness of differences in cultural practices which that era’s Western anthropologists, historians and artists from different fields carried into their works.

In the current situation, there is still on-going mutual interest between these cultures. Even if we lose a lot of meanings in cultural translation, thanks to individual researchers we have now more knowledge and vivid interpretations. And after all, we like to rely on recognisable aesthetic and visual qualities that are shared between Japan and the Nordic countries, such as sophisticated minimalism and nature references. Still, we could ask: Should art have a nation? Or does art belong to some specific region? Is there Finnish art, and if so, does it include Nordic qualities or does it come, for example, with Japoniste influences?

In January 2016, Frame Visual Art Finland commissioned a survey from the Foundation for Cultural Policy Research Cupore. One of the key notions highlighted in its report, From Cultural Influences and Exports to Dialogue and Networking, is how the nature of international activity in contemporary art has changed significantly. It has moved from cultural diplomacy between states towards multidirectional and multidimensional activity within networks. Internationality is also an integral part in Kiasma’s activities in terms of our acquisitions policy, research orientation, and especially programme making.

In the current Internet era we are living in a far-reaching world, and can share a feeling of being in different places at the same time. Our mindset has gradually changed. I would say that the art of our time – all times? – and also new art history writing, go hand in hand with global art life and international activity. The development of digital technology has substantially influenced the nature of international activities by making communication easier, even making it possible to move works in digital format across borders. We not only reflect cultural influences in art or exhibition-making, but actively produce it in our daily professional lives as curators, researchers and museum directors.

Featured image: Installation view of Suohpanterror, Checkpoint n:o 169, 2015, a series of posters on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma exhibition ‘Demonstrating Minds: Disagreements in Contemporary Art’, 2016.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Download the PDF of the report, From Cultural Influences and Exports to Dialogue and Networking from the Frame Finland website:

http://www.frame-finland.fi/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Report-Frame-Visual-Art-Finland.pdf

 

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

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

Article: 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

[2] http://conversations.e-flux.com/t/some-points-to-consider-if-youre-an-artist-who-wants-to-make-work-about-refugees/2716/3

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

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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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