In a perfect world, every artist would have an opportunity to take time off and wander into that space outside of reality where creativity blossoms. Few artists make a living off of their work alone, and even so it’s difficult to constantly feel inspired and motivated to make work in your hometown and studio. This is where artist residencies come in. Residencies present a faction of a creative reality. They may be utopic, time-based experiences, romantic getaways to woodsy surroundings, or isolating and culturally revealing situations that an artist must adapt to with aplomb. But the fundamental purpose remains the same: to position the artist outside of their everyday life, and allow them to make work inspired by and reflecting their temporary surroundings.
More often than not, an artist’s work changes significantly after a residency experience. It also brings up many questions, some of which cannot be answered immediately. For example, how does this sort of experience alter an artist’s perception of their creative practice, both inside the studio and out in the art world proper? How are creative relationships between artists—which naturally occur in art school or through local, community gatherings—expedited through the residency experience? How can a sense of isolation resulting from a residency in a foreign country inspire an artist to travel inward, mining their own creative depths?
For my Art21 Blog series on how residencies change an artist’s practice, I will speak with eight American artists whose work has changed through a residency experience either abroad, in their hometown, on a reality television show, or through a short-term excursion to an idyllic landscape. Artists profiled in this series include Peregrine Honig, Christopher Meerdo, Julie Lequin, Young Sun Han, Aspen Mays, Carrie Schneider, Meg Leary, and Stacia Yeapanis. The series is divided into four distinct mini-sections, each featuring one to three artists.
The Museum of Modern Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, and Walker Art Center are some of the illustrious cultural spaces where one might expect to see our award-winning film series Art in the Twenty-First Century. It’s true that host organizations have traditionally included such museums, as well as universities, libraries, and cultural centers. But Art21 screenings have also happened in the unlikeliest of places, from a water treatment center in Wichita, Kansas to a research base in Antarctica to a former drill hall in Ethiopia.
In my short time here as Art21’s Director of Education, I have heard incredible stories about enthusiastic individuals and spaces opening their doors to friends, colleagues, and the general public with the sole purpose of sharing Art21’s film series. I can hardly wait to hear new stories that I’m certain will emerge during our yearlong screening initiative Access 100 Artists.
Access is our external screening program, which started back in 2007 to coincide with the Season 4 release of our PBS series. Now six seasons in and Art21 is celebrating an important milestone: to date, we have profiled 100 contemporary artists. In conjunction with our 100 Artists celebration, we’re offering our entire collection of films (including New York Close Up) totally free of charge to partner organizations new and old.
Access 100 Artists aims to be a worldwide festival of free Art21 film screenings. From a small dinner party with friends to a 24-hour outdoor jubilee, no venue is too small or too large. Anyone can participate. Here’s how:
- Register at www.art21.org/access. Share your screening dates with us and we’ll announce them here.
- Use our online resources and discussion guides for pre- and post-screening activities.
- Promote your event with Access postcards. We’ll mail these right to your door along with other materials that will help make your event successful.
- Tell us what went down! Who came? What did you screen? What did you talk about? Enquiring minds want to know.
- Add your pictures to our Access Flickr group and help us grow our visual archive of stories.
By getting involved with Access 100 Artists and sharing your experiences, the education team here gains greater insight into the many different ways that Art21 films are used and shown around the world. We’ll not only share your stories with people in our office, we might get in touch with you and ask for quotes or a blogpost. We’re looking to you to re-think the relationships and connections between the artists we’ve featured. You know what we do. We want to hear your stories!
Artist Pilvi Takala describes her practice, which includes performance, video and the related ephemera, as “intervention.” Takala, who was born in Helsinki and is now based in Istanbul, embeds perverse characters – often enacted by the artist – into otherwise ordinary scenarios and environments. The ensuing (in)actions strive to intervene and re-channel the invisible streams of social convention.
For example, in The Trainee (2008), exhibited in The Ungovernables, the New Museum’s Triennial show last spring, Takala played the part of an indolent intern named Johanna at the real-life international financial consulting firm Deloitte. While her co-workers enthusiastically went about their business, Johanna did nothing. At an empty desk, she wanly explained that she preferred to do her “brain work” in her head rather than on a computer.
One week later, the new intern spent an entire workday inside an elevator. To her bedevilled co-workers, Johanna compared the movement of the elevator to a train, a place conducive to deep thought. Understandably, employees dithered over the trainee’s behavior. Meanwhile their reactions were recorded and their email correspondence was collected as part of Takala’s month-long intervention, of which few people at the company were aware.
Terike Haapoja is a Finnish visual artist based in Helsinki. She has a Master’s degree from the Theater Academy of Finland (Department of Performance Art and Theory) and from the Academy of Fine Arts in Finland (Department of Time- and Space-based Arts). Haapoja’s work explores the connections between new technology in contemporary art, natural scientific worldviews, and environmental ethics. She has a background in activism, and takes part in the discourse concerning art’s relationship to sustainability and environmental issues. Haapoja is a member of the Finnish Bioart Society, and has founded the Ecology, Ethics and Art program at the Academy of Fine Arts in Finland.
Haapoja’s work consists of videos, installations and stage projects that are characterized by an innovative use of new media and new technology. She also works extensively with professionals from the natural sciences and from different fields of art. Her work has been exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions and festivals both nationally and internationally. Haapoja has also received numerous grants, prizes and awards. She was honored with the Finnish Art Association’s Dukaatti prize in 2008, the Finland Festivals’ Young Artist of the Year prize in 2007, and received a SÄDE prize for best visual design in theater in 2010. In 2011, Haapoja was nominated for the Ars Fennica Award. She has received numerous project and working grants form the Finnish State Art Fund and private foundations, and her articles and essays have been published in art journals in Finland as well as internationally.
Haapoja’s latest installation opened August 19 at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki. Titled Edge of the World, it is a work that tests and challenges the limitations of our world as we know and accept it. Haapoja is represented by Gallery Kalhama & Piippo Contemporary in Helsinki, Finland.
For this interview, I met with Terike just around the corner from the Amos Museum, where she was installing her work, accompanied by her beloved dog Lieska.
Georgia Kotretsos: You’re currently working on an artistic research PhD at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. The umbrella research title for both your studio and theoretical work is Technologies of Encounter. What exactly is put under the microscope here, and how does this inquiry manifest in your studio work as well as your writing?
Terike Haapoja: I started to work on the PhD because I have always liked to write about art and to think about the theoretical and philosophical context of the work. I have published in Finnish and international art journals, mostly essays and also more academic texts. I think that the PhD program is a good way to be connected to the discussions happening in art and also outside of my own field of practice.
My research question comes from my way of working with new technology and scientific technologies. While working on art projects, I have thought of the ways in which media shapes our attitudes towards the object of our investigation. As the subject or the “motif” of my work is often related to nature, and as I often use scientific technologies, I look at this question of “mediatization” especially in terms of human/nature relationships. The approach is eco-criticism, so I try to see how the ideologies of domination or control over nature are embedded in artistic practices, as well as in my own practices.
I am now focusing on my art, but I will concentrate on the writing part for the next few years and hope to get the PhD completed by 2014.
In the Deer Forest
“Hi, my name is Peter. Do you want to find out why?” With these words, I became acquainted with Katja Tukiainen. In the back room at a friend’s holiday party last December, I was shown a square bubble gum pink painting above the bed depicting two school girls in identical uniforms: one was pinning the other down, merrily holding a candy cane. Along the bottom edge of the canvas, the caption was painted in cursive handwriting, curving up the right corner of the painting.
Later I met the artist at her opening, Deer Forest, at Hasan & Partners in February. Under a glow from the soft pink lights in the installation, I was introduced to Katja Tukiainen as the girl who loves unicorns. This fact was relevant in Katja’s installation, densely populated with deer, fairies, and an army of adolescent girls. Katja herself appeared to have stepped out of one of her own paintings: she was wearing a vintage bisque-colored dress on which she had inked her dainty deer and fanciful female characters. Encircling Katja was an impenetrably rosy air.
Much like Katja’s installation, I have been living in a dream world in Helsinki, my Nordic Shangri-La. The stipend from my grant releases me from the burdens that my colleagues, recent graduates from Cranbrook Academy of Art, have been facing: finding jobs, apartments, support, etc. From afar, I have been observing their struggles as they embark on the epic quest to find the magic elixir of living and creating as a professional artist. My Fulbright grant to Finland is a year-long placebo, a temporary lapse before this inevitable hardship. Now, as my stay abroad nears its end, the vastness of my future, no longer neatly spliced into more manageable chunks of time, is starting to weigh on me.
I was waiting in line to buy a movie ticket when I heard the news: Jani Leinonen had been incarcerated. Conversations with my Finnish friends in the previous weeks had been gripped with anxiety over the fate of a kidnapped Ronald McDonald figurine from a McDonald’s restaurant in Helsinki. A series of YouTube videos chronicled the antics of the activist group, the Food Liberation Army: beginning with the abduction of a Ronald McDonald statue on January 31, the delivery of eight demands to the McDonald’s corporation to divulge unsavory secrets of their food production processes (see video below), an invitation proffered to McDonald’s employees to speak out, and lastly the grim execution of Ronald McDonald on Friday, February 11, 2011.
Nearly two weeks following Ronald’s guillotine-style beheading, Leinonen agreed to recount his recent stay in the big house with me. I had imagined that the artist Jani Leinonen would match the bombastic hype of the events reported in the recent media flurry. Parallels were drawn–I hoped with hyperbole–between the Food Liberation Army and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. I prepared myself to face a brash and dangerous character. Truthfully, I was afraid—I don’t make it a habit of lunching with potential terrorists.
My fears were allayed within minutes. It was immediately apparent that the artist and the affable person across the table in a red woven hat with white snowflakes overlap in name only. As we talked, Leinonen picked at a smudge of white paint on his right hand, a gesture that removed the last vestiges of the artist from the conversation. Though the artist might dabble in petty theft and vandalism, Jani, the ordinary person, enjoys snowboarding and strawberry milkshakes. My erroneous preconceptions of Leinonen disintegrated as he explained a belief in the artist’s responsibility to mediate social and civil injustices.
A contemporary artist such as Leinonen is a cultivated spokesperson; the artist is merely a mouthpiece for the cause or agenda that fuels the work. In graduate school in the United States, it cynically occurred to me that self-promotion can sometimes be an indispensable stratagem for success; cleverly, it can be dissolved into the conceptual thrust of one’s artistic output. In Finland, however, those who willingly bask in the limelight are often reproached for immodesty. Far from an exception to the rule, international coverage of Leinonen’s mock terrorism landed him in jail.
At 7:30 am, the alarm clock on my Nokia cell phone rouses me from sleep. In preparation of the minus double-digit weather, I layer like a Renaissance oil painting —two pairs of tights, two pairs of socks, long underwear, black legwarmers over my jeans, one turtleneck and one wool sweater. My eyes and feet are glued to the ground lest I should tumble on the ice. The sun rises from a pink horizon as I walk to school.
My woodblock printing course officially begins at nine but students drift in around half-past. Today we will start to carve our blocks. Choosing a worthy subject for my woodblock has been agonizing. The process of preparing multiple blocks for color printing is time-consuming; I want to ensure I am adequately attached to the image that will surely take hours to whittle and chisel to life. Moreover, traveling has a tendency to afflict me with the artist’s equivalent of writer’s block. I have difficulty absorbing and producing simultaneously. Though I’ve tried, I cannot keep my eyes open when I sneeze.
Eventually, I decide on a photo I took of a house from the 1930s. The house is on Intiankatu, part of my daily walk to and from school. I get distracted at the library’s copy machine, flipping through the pages of a book on Matisse before heading back to class. Last month I saw Matisse’s Paysage marocain (Acanthes) (1912) at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. The soft lavender atmosphere and lush neon vegetation in Matisse’s painting are alien to the piercing white snow and deep indigo sky from my photograph. The drama of Finland’s climate and the exaggerated angles of the raking sunlight rework the natural world in a bewildering way. As a result, the majority of my recent sketches are brooding landscapes. I assumed that Helsinki’s distinct post-war architecture would be most captivating, but I have been oddly more enthralled with spruce and birch trees.
As if I am perched above on a watchtower, I am peering out the window of Café Java in the Lasipalatsi plaza with my friend and Finnish translator, Marjukka. The second story window affords a panoramic view of pedestrians on the street below. Ironically, I am skipping my Finnish language course today to spend the afternoon interviewing the inimitable artist, Miina Äkkijyrkkä .
When she arrives, Miina Äkkijyrkkä is dressed head to toe in animal fur. She is wearing a dark brown floor-length fur coat and a bright red fur hat. Bypassing introductions, Miina tells Marjukka in Finnish that the café is too loud. Within seconds we are whisked away, down the street to Kosmos, an elegant restaurant designed by the architect Alvar Aalto in 1924. The restaurant, formerly a popular haunt among artists and writers, today proudly showcases an Äkkijyrkkä sculpture called Bisse Baby, 2002 in the front window.
As we talked in a quiet corner booth, Miina gesticulated grandly. She pulled at our tablecloth and circled her hands in the air, making amusing sound effects such as a flushing toilet. Her face was expressive, her voice, distinct—low and gravelly. One time, she whispered to us and once, she nearly cried. With one watch on each hand and her wild white hair, I began to understand her reputation as one of Finland’s most colorful personalities in the art world.
There are many reasons why I wanted to meet with Miina Äkkijyrkkä (b. 1949, néé Riitta Loiva, though she has also used the alias Liina Lång). For nearly four decades, Miina has made a career almost exclusively based on the image of the cow. Her love for the cows is the foundation for her work as a sculptor and a cattle-raiser. Her steadfast commitment to Finnish cattle at once evinces her sincerity, validates her work,—and frequently, spins a web of controversy around her.
“We live in an age where the artist is forgotten. He is a researcher. I see myself that way.” — David Hockney
Sometime in the afternoon on the second day of hanging a recent installation of my work at a gallery space at school, I was approached by one of my professors. He asked if the exhibition was related to my research.
I found myself unable to come up with an appropriate answer. After three cups of coffee and nary a drop of water, I was finding it hard to focus: a fluorescent light flickered in my peripheral vision. I looked at the spectrum of bold, metallic and iridescent craft papers cut into the patterns of American pinwheel quilts; I didn’t see an immediate connection between this work and the work I had been doing a few days earlier, reading feminist revisionist history in the library.
Drained but buzzed, I mumbled, “Not really, not exactly.”
The beginning of my second semester as a student at Aalto University marks the halfway point of my time in Finland. As a student at this leading design center, the question of research and its relationship to my artistic work has continued as a reoccurring concern both to me and among my peers.
One of the best exhibitions I saw in Helsinki this summer was at Galleria Heino, a small space on the hip street Uudenmaankatu. On the recommendation of an artist friend, I went to see Mika Taanila’s show, Installations. Taanila is a moving image artist working with both film and video. For over twenty years, he has created a body of work —short and long, narrative and experimental — that looks at technological evolution and the intersection of art and science in particular. I first discovered Taanila when I saw his documentary about the electronic music pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi, The Future Is Not What It Used To Be (2002), in Arctic Hysteria, a recent historical survey of Finnish contemporary art at Taidehalli (Helsinki’s kunsthalle) in 2009. At Galleria Heino, ironically, part of Taanila’s show was out of order; one of the two installations was “broken” the day I went. Ultimately, it didn’t much matter for what I did see allowed me to consider Finnish contemporary cultural practices’ address of technology on a broader scale.
Taanila’s video installation that was functioning, Twilight (2010), consisted of two old-school video projectors mounted on rails on the gallery floor, slowly traveling back and forth across the diameter of the space and repeating the same linear movement in an endless loop. These projectors threw a large doubled image on the wall: a grainy, barely moving portrait of a single laboratory toad looking for worms. Taanila’s clever formal and conceptual doubling of the projectors, as well as the natural and the synthetic — the use of technology to view the “natural” world of the toad in the lab and, conversely, viewing the natural world in a way making one hyper-aware of the technology involved —was, if you were patient enough to pick up on the snail-paced moving projectors, rather sublime. Taanila, in the show’s press release, likens both the toads and the conveyer belt rails to the cycle of light — “the waiting, the reward, the light, the darkness.” Recalling the materialist and time-based concerns of structuralist filmmaking as well as more recent forays into artists’ cinema involving projectors (think Tacita Dean and Rodney Graham), the installation allows the viewer a phenomenological experience of the work itself.
Continuing Taanila’s interest in merging humans and machines, the exhibition points to the ceaseless presence of technology, as both aid and passive witness, in our everyday lives. My experience of Taanila’s exhibition reinforced stereotypes of Finland’s technological prowess (Nokia, anyone?), but in a good way. These could be, like Taanila’s installation, purposely archaic and paying homage to a simpler techno-era (think the synthesizer-jams of Pan Sonic and Vladislav Delay). Or they can be more generative, I thought — which brings me to Pixelache, a real-life activist translation of Taanila’s phenomeno-formalist investigations.