A complaint often registered by members of regional art scenes is the hegemony of western-centric aesthetics and ideas centred on its own creative capitals, essentially importing and exporting art in its own image. It’s a problem that’s mirrored in other global markets, where rather than offer a platform for growing local business as promised, free trade and networked connectivity only aids in the expansion of already existing corporate monopolies.
As a London-based editor and writer visiting Helsinki, there’s a certain draw to the familiar that means any experience of art in Finland comes strongly coloured by that bias. Whether it’s in LA-based artist Amalia Ulman’s Prognostics lecture at the University of Helsinki’s Exhibition Laboratory or a particular penchant for Samantha Conlon’s tabloid and Tiqqun-referencing ‘The Young Girl Blames Herself’ (2014) at Node Gallery, mine is an interest that’s thoroughly centred on the Anglo. But then, with English being the language of the imperial artform concerned with popular culture, the internet and economics –along with how they’re all related –it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to the cross-cultural Kylie Minogue-referencing I Was Gonna Cancel by Kimmo Modig and Georges Jacotey.
Conceived and recorded in Athens where Jacotey is based, the video features the two artists lolling about a Greek beachfront crying and rapping to sloppy-slow instrumentals while a German Shepherd howls and Modig rhymes, “The ghosts of your networks/ will haunt you till the day you die”. This plays from wall-mounted speakers in the Sorbus-galleria, which is otherwise empty aside from a canine plush toy at the window and an iPad on the ceiling. With no instructions on what do and the invigilators hidden from view, it’s hard to know that the handheld mirror next to the visitor’s book is meant for watching the video rather than craning your neck and reading a flashing “G and K” on the distant screen run backwards rather than forwards.
A more lateral-thinking mind, perhaps, would read the short play-as-room-sheet that comes with the I Was Gonna Cancel lyrics and a character called “KYLIE” inflates and flies away as “DRAKE EX MACHINA” saunters into Sorbus, depressed and narcissistic, as he looks at a mirror and kicks the stuffed dog aside (“if you’re reading this it’s too late”).
Objects and their functions are things that concern the exhibition at artist-run SIC Space, a cold and concrete bunker-like structure in a defunct cargo port on the third floor of a post-industrial warehouse building. As part of the nomadic curatorial programme Ruler, “ruled” by Diego Bruno and Mikko Kuorinki, the latter’s dark blue ‘Sun Tracker’ (2015) boat cover and gray ‘Truck Carpet’ (2015), appears in the sparsely furnished and well-lit side room, along with gestural sketches and a sculpture by Ola Vasiljeva. Kuorinki and Carl Palm’s ‘Menu (True Blue)’ (2014) stands in the main room projecting its list along “Hamburgers & Tools”, “Sleep Over”, “Extra Toppings” from an LED-lit aluminium lightbox. Bruno’s Galindez (2015) video, inspired by the theatre play by Eduardo Pavlovsky questioning the social function of psychoanalysis in subjective constructions within capitalism takes the centre. Except that the back of the screen faces the entrance and the three torturers are absent as Pavlovsky himself narrates excerpts from the original text: “There cannot be a dictatorship without the complicity of civilians”.
Complicity is a point that Amalia Ulman addresses at her Prognostics lecture as she recognises the possibility for change by taking agency over, rather than mimicking, gender stereotypes as previously performed in the online artist-as-circulated-representation of Excellences & Perfections. A live narration of her recent ‘The Future Ahead’ (2014) video essay follows a PowerPoint presentation of recent work as its focus shifts away from the filtered self-mediation of a particular point of privilege to aestheticising violence in the sophisticated cinema of terror through Stock Images of War (2015).
Perhaps it’s a violence that can drive us together rather than apart as expressed via the At the party, I write words on balloons exhibition at Node featuring video by selected artists from the Cork-based Bunny Collective and Tampere’s Areole. Where Conlon’s images of ET interviews and Gothic Lolita’s in ‘The Young Girl…’ for the former barely crosses cultures to Hinni Huttunen’s body becoming fragmented across the H&M catalogue of ‘Koko-opas / Fitting Guide’ (2014). “The Young-Girl is good for nothing but consuming…” Conlon writes, quoting Tiqqun’s Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young Girl in the At the Party… photocopied catalogue. The Helsinki gallery’s website quotes the Oxford Dictionary in defining its name on the About page: “Junction, intersection, interchange, fork, confluence, convergence, crossing”. Given its proximity to Russia, Estonia, the ‘east’ and its ties to the Nordic and European Unions, Helsinki presents as a uniquely integrated economy and a global art scene in kind.
Exhibition photos, top right.