BODY BUILDING 20.10. –14.1. 2017 2018
WÄINÖ AALTONEN MUSEUM OF ART 1
C URATOR: Piia Oksanen ARTIS TS : Artor Jesus Inkerö, Essi Kausalainen, Reija Meriläinen, Sini Pelkki & Jani Ruscica, Aurora Reinhard, Iiu Susiraja, Niina Tervo, Masi Tiitta, Anna Torkkel, Salla Tykkä P RODUCTION: The Museum Centre of Turku T EXTS : Piia Oksanen, Niina Tervo INTER VIEWS: Artor Jesus Inkerö, Essi Kausalainen, Aurora Reinhard, Iiu Susiraja GRAPHIC DES IGN : Ulla Kujansuu T RANSLATIONS : Ulla Tervo, Delingua 2
BODYBUILDING IN AN EXHIBITION Bodybuilding is an exhibition about the bodily experience. It brings together images of bodies, contemporary artworks that discuss the practices of body representation and the bodily experience. The performativity of identities is at the centre of many of the featured artists’ work: identity as a performance, as repetition of learned acts and gestures. For many, their own bodies are instrumental to their work. Artor Jesus Inkerö (b. 1989) studies the gendered identity and how it is expressed in his bodily project where he transforms himself to conform with the normative male ideal. Aurora Reinhard’s (b. 1975) Boygirl video work (2002) is about the diversity of gender. Shown 15 years after it was completed, it sheds light on how the vocabulary we use to describe bodily experience has changed and expanded during the past couple of decades. Iiu Susiraja (b. 1975) creates her performances in the privacy of her home. A key element in her performances and the presentation of their documentation is negotiating the boundary between a private act and a public display. Our environment determines how we exist in our bodies. The relationship between the camera, the photographer, and the person being photographed, the use of power between the subject and the object, is essential to the work of all of the artists above. Who is putting whom on display is one of the fundamental questions when images of the body are presented. The bodily can be approached from the point of view of material, sensory, intuition, or body memory. A body is an entity that operates under the conditions set to it, among other things, by biology. The idea that bodily functions and bacteria control our thinking challenges the notion of a human as a conscious agent and as superior to other species. This view has influenced Niina Tervo’s (b. 1983) art. Her sand sculptures that change over time are beyond the artist’s control. The sand crumbles onto the floor, the materials move, and the artwork breaks free from the form given to it by the artist.
Museum space and the exhibition are particular places where the architecture and established behaviour shape the experience. It is a space for social interaction between the museum staff and the audience at the ticket office, the exhibition rooms, and the workshop. The museum space forms a framework for the movements of the body where some senses become sharper than the others. Most of the time the viewer forms a relationship with an artwork through vision. The sound work of Essi Kausalainen (b. 1979) forms a layer that permeates the entire exhibition and guides the audience’s attention towards a multisensory experience of the space. The dance works of Masi Tiitta (b. 1983) and Anna Torkkel (b. 1975) bring the dancers’ bodies temporarily into the exhibition space. The dance is based on the presence of both the dancers and the audience, the time and place they share for the duration of the performance. Unlike the more stationary artworks, Tiitta and Torkkel are present only for a fleeting moment. Salla Tykkä (b. 1973) filmed her work at a Romanian boarding school that specialises in artistic gymnastics. The discipline that takes the body to its very limits, and strives for physical extremes and strict regimes, is practiced by individuals, but the body is also subjected to the control and discipline of the community as well as the political power. Museum, like other institutions that control the society and uphold its values, is a space that regulates and organises bodies. Museum and visual arts have, for their part, defined the ideal body, selected the objects of identification, and decided who belongs to ‘us’ and who are ‘the others’. Society structures consist of the use of power and discipline, norms and control, subjecting our bodies to organisation. Some bodies are more vulnerable to this than others because of racialised or gendered practices. The threat and violence against bodies, and tensions between bodies are all present in a public space. The works of Reija Meriläinen (b. 1987) take place in various communities that operate under mutually agreed rules, but where social tensions often rise. These can be, for example, games or YouTube channels.
Bodybuilding exhibition analyses the means and forms that shape the bodily experience in our time. Digital bodylessness, or virtual embodiment, affects the way we exist in our bodies. The virtual and the real are intertwined into simultaneous spaces that can overcome the obstacles of physical time and place. Furthermore, the social space of Internet sets new conventions and ideals for the body culture and its representations. However, the virtual space also gives visibility and active agency for those who have previously fitted poorly within the society’s notion of an acceptable body. Some of the works featured in the exhibition are inevitably and deliberately juxtaposed with the sculptures of Wäinö Aaltonen (1894–1966) that are on permanent display at the museum. Aaltonen’s Work and Future series on the museum’s terrace, originally created for the Finnish Parliament House, and the Maiden of Finland at the lobby represent the classical ideals of the male and female bodies raised on a pedestal. Artor Jesus Inkerö’s work Justin is displayed on the façade of the museum. The public space, which has become increasingly commercialised, defines what a body should be like. These ideals are constantly gendered to fit the traditional ideas of masculine and feminine. The scale of Wäinö Aaltonen’s sculptures, the softness, hardness, and colour of the materials used in the artworks and the meanings attached to them, as well as naming or not naming them are part of the artists’ representational strategies. The video work by Sini Pelkki (b. 1978) and Jani Ruscica (b. 1978), Screen Test (For a Living Sculpture), studies the different modes of performativity and visual representation. The way the viewer connects with the materials, how they move or not, or how their mass and weight are experienced, becomes a part of the bodily experience of the exhibition.
THE MUSEUM AS A SPACE. BODIES IN A WHITE CUBE Stairs lead up from the pavement onto the terrace and towards the entrance of the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art: a spacious lobby, the ticket office and the museum shop. The café is on the right. Straight ahead, there are steps leading to one exhibition space after another. White walls, stone floor, and skylights. The space enclosed by these surfaces forms the white cube of the art museum.
A WHITE CUBE INSIDE The concept of a ‘white cube’ refers to the art gallery, and more precisely to its interior space, the rooms where the works are exhibited. White, smooth walls form a place where the works are confined within their own particular space. A white cube is the established and still common format for a museum of modern or contemporary art.1 The typical gallery space is stripped of all details, as well as any elements that might point to a specific time or place. Inside a typical art museum building one loses touch with the signs that indicate climate, time of the day, continent or city. The rest of the world is often shut outside to protect the art experience from interference that is considered not to belong to it. Daylight sifting through the skylight is ideal for a modernistic museum building. It distributes light evenly on the works, letting in diffuse light, but not the environment surrounding the building, other buildings or people passing by. The walls of the introverted museum are impenetrable to the sounds and smells of the city. The conditions of the interior, isolated from its environment, are carefully controlled. In an art museum, the temperature and humidity must be strictly regulated.2 The amount of daylight allowed in is also controlled. The lighting is designed to create optimum conditions for experiencing art, but most of all for the works of art themselves. UV window films 7
protect the works against fading and the materials from any risk of transformation. Security systems and the museum staff guarding the rooms keep the museum under a constant watchful eye. The white cube provides a meditative space for observing works of art, but it also seems to epitomise the critique to which art museums have been subjected over time. Isolation from the rest of the society has a physical expression in the exclusive museum building. The series of critical, now classic, essays by art critic and artist Brian O’Doherty on the white cube were first published in the art magazine Artforum in 1976. While writing for an art publication, O’Doherty shifted his focus from the works to the context of their presentation. He placed the white cube as a polar opposite to the real world outside. It was an artificial, placeless space that insulated art from time and place and maintained the myth of a work of art whose values are eternal and absolute. Works of art were no longer necessarily placed on pedestals or within frames, but the surfaces of the gallery space, its walls and floors had become the new pedestal or frame that were required for the works to be art. O’Doherty also drew attention to how even the viewer’s body was external to the exhibition, an element that did not belong to the same space with the works of art. Even today, exhibitions are usually documented with photographs where members of the public are absent. A museum building forms the frame and creates the conditions for the actions that take place inside it. Museum’s activities are largely tied to this solidified context, but the building also represents continuity and is therefore an integral part of the institution. The archives and collections are static elements and their preservation and maintenance is among the key tasks of a museum. At Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, the sculptures by Aaltonen are part of the collection and also of the museum building. Some of them are permanently on display on the terrace, in the lobby and in the atrium of the museum. As well as being a home for permanent elements, museum is also a place for transience, brief visits and temporariness. Compared to permanent collections, exhibitions are always temporary from the operative
perspective – the ‘space’ of an exhibition is always built anew. Any previous temporal layers in the gallery spaces are erased: the holes in the walls left by the previous hangings are filled and a new coat of white paint hides all traces. Movable walls change places or disappear completely. Permanence and transience need not, however, be seen as opposites. Rather, they overlap one another into spatial and temporal layers. The walls are covered with countless coats of white paint. The passage of time shows on the floor, the handrails, the surfaces, here and there of the 50-year-old WAM. Materials are of a certain age, no matter how much the white cube avoids any references to specific time and place.
THE PLACE OF THE BODY WITHIN A MUSEM (SPACE) Wäinö Aaltonen’s monumental sculpture The Maiden of Finland (1927– 1928) in the lobby of WAM is 4.3 metres tall. The sculpture shows the visitors stepping inside the museum where they stand within the context of the museum. The proportions of museum lobbies often indicate what the role of the public is in the entity: it is one of an observer within an institution. The way to the works of art is traditionally signalled by stairs that serve as a transition to the art space. A massive staircase, as in Ateneum (1887), or a long ramp, as in the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (1998), lead the public to the spaces dedicated to art. The scale of the actual gallery spaces may be less grandiose. At WAM, the proportions vary and the relationship between the body and the space changes from one space to the next. Only a few steps separate the lobby from the exhibition. It is a small but significant architectural gesture. Besides defining the position of the viewer’s body within the space, the museum building also guides its progress. The museum opens doors to the public as much as it closes them. From the lobby, a series of spaces open in all directions. They are divided into public and private spaces, visible and invisible to the public. The gallery spaces form only one part of the museum complex, but with spatial organisation, the exhibitions and other museum programmes are made accessible to the public.
Closed doors lead to private, staff-only quarters where the exhibition and collection curators, and the administrative staff work. The offices, storage rooms, archives, the service space for the aquarium in the lobby, staff facilities, switchboards, the library, and cleaning cupboards are all separated from the WAM’s gallery spaces. Museums, whether art or cultural history museums, are institutions that organise and categorise. Museums produce knowledge and shared memory, and create order amongst our experiences of the present. The conventions of presentation at museums have traditionally included systems of classification and narratives, typically told from one perspective and in chronological order. At a museum, objects and phenomena are presented as a continuum, its logical and rational progress undisrupted by deviations or questions left unanswered. A museum space is a series of rooms that form the narrative thread of the exhibition for the public to follow. In most museum buildings such a sequence of gallery rooms is used to support this particular format of producing and sharing knowledge and narrative. While a contemporary art exhibition seldom has a linear storyline, a preconceived choreography or the designed installation guide the experience and the movements of the body. The white cube assigns to the public the role of a spectator. As a space, it is meant to guide and even coax viewers into interpreting the works and seeing certain meanings locked inside them. The qualities of a white cube – silence, whiteness, isolation – are seen to form a ritualistic space for people to contemplate and solve meanings. In other words, the space puts certain demands on the works, which are then passed on to the viewer.3 Contemporary art has distanced itself from the object, aiming to move from passive spectatorship to active viewing. Installations, immaterial and conceptual works leave room for the viewer’s body and for interpretation. However, the works play a role in guiding the viewer’s gaze through the exhibition and the bodily experience at the museum. A video work determines the duration of the experience. A sound work awakens senses that may have been passively dormant a moment before. With installations, the visitor becomes part of the work, which may lead to a heightened bodily awareness. We often emphasise the role of vision when
visiting an art museum. This tendency is further underlined by the textual material provided: labels, gallery texts and the speech of the guide. The prohibition to touch the works is a restriction that stymies the sensory experience.4
THE SHARED EXHIBITION SPACE In addition to the space and the physical conditions, our behaviour at the museum is also controlled. The way we conduct ourselves at a museum is directed by adopted behavioural patterns. A white cube is a social space. First, we encounter the museum staff at the ticket office. At the exhibition, we share the space with guards, guides and other museum-goers. At WAM, a workshop room in the middle of the exhibition rooms may become a space for a communal experience. The staff present in the space control the situation, but also the visitors expect others to follow the unwritten rules of exhibition behaviour: calm and collected movements, lowered voices. Outside the gallery spaces, there is a host of people working who are physically absent. The curators, museum technicians, conservators, the museum director, administration, service staff. Their presence is indirect. It shows in the gallery texts, the choices made and the prevailing order of things. The invitation to share the space and to interact at the museum has not always been inclusive. It is important to remember at this point that the history of the museum is also the history of exclusion: especially museums of cultural history, which tell the story of nation states, have defined us in opposition to them, the other. The museum has chosen its angle and limited its theme. In other words, it has selectively told the story of only some and offered objects of identification for a limited group of people in order to bolster a sense of unity and national identity. The messages communicated by an exhibition, the themes it discusses and the values it reproduces may be met with a variety of responses. There is no one way of viewing or experiencing a space. The perspective
is not always that of a white, middle-class male with a Western education whose story we are used to hearing first. Therefore, someone may be able to identify with the narrative while someone else is left detached. There are endlessly different readings of an exhibition and it can also be interpreted in a deliberately subversive way. The perspectives that are missing from the exhibition, or narrative, may in that situation become the focal point of attention. For example, a feminist reading would pay attention to gendered practices in the museum space and the subject matter that the works represent. Contradictions and opposing interpretations and experiences often remain invisible, but are part of the exhibition situation.5
ROUTES AND SHORTCUTS While museum visits often follow a certain spatial and behavioural order, the duration of a museum experience is not predetermined in a similar fashion as in a cinema or theatre. The public can choose many alternative routes within an exhibition space and even move against the grain, change direction, decide on one’s own progress, stop at blank spots, take a break. Shortcuts, routes not conforming to the urban planner’s designs, forged by their users, are one example used by philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre of a lived space that constructs and even resists official routes. It is a way of positioning one’s body within a controlled space. Lefebvre’s ideas about movement within a space have been applied to museums: the public may appropriate the space, use it on their own terms – deviate from the path designed by the curator.6 A labyrinth is built to deliberately confuse or mislead. Labyrinthine design may be used in museum and exhibition architecture as a conscious strategy to break down the logic or the linearity of the narrative. Such spatial organisation creates a sense of conflict, transience and discontinuity. Thus the space can be used to make conspicuous the omissions and gaps that are typical of the narratives presented by cultural history museums. In a maze, the objects do not form a neat entity, and this invites the public to assume a more active role. A complex space
also allows for a multitude of routes that lead to the goal. The question of meanings is left unresolved and open.7 A museum is a certain type of physical framework for bodily presence. The building partly dictates the way we experience an exhibition. It organises the movements of a body within it and gives direction to the movement, placing the body in a relationship with the institution through scale, materials and spatial composition. A visit to an exhibition may reproduce certain behaviours irrespective of the city, museum or exhibition. This experience is influenced by spatial organisation – which at an art museum, as discussed above, typically takes the form of a white cube. The Bodybuilding exhibition consists of accidental breaks in the route. Due to the ongoing structural repairs on the roof, movement in some rooms is necessarily restricted. This is why the steps may lead nowhere. The logic of the building is flawed. Serendipitous routes change the intended order of things. The large windows of WAM overlooking the river form interesting focal points to a place: views out of the confines of the exhibition. There is an enclosed area of managed and unmanaged nature around the Atrium: an entire corner usurped by a perennial rhododendron giving shelter for blackbirds to nest; the blooms, growth and wilting leaves of the tree peony; a fountain that spouts water throughout the year, only to freeze into an ice sculpture in the coldest mid-winter. Openings outside the museum walls is one way of breaking down the introspective order of things, to make the seasons of nature part of the seasons of the museum. The boundary between the hermetic white cube of the exhibition and other spaces is also compromised by, for example, the café sprawling into the lobby with its sounds. Sometimes the clatter of clinking plates and cutlery, and people’s chatter carry across its physical boundaries. A museum visit is about transcending one organised entity to another. A museum space suggests the direction in which the body should move, but it does not make it impossible to choose one’s own path. An exhibition
and its structure, with their attempt to organise one’s experience, may be flexible and contain quiet spots and gaps. The visitor’s own body may position itself as part of the flow of the space and situations that can be either accidental or deliberate, controlled or uncontrolled.
1. The Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art (1967) was purpose-built as a museum. However, even buildings that were originally built for another purpose and later converted into art museums and galleries, such as old factories, are rendered into white cubes on the inside, although their external façades might have retained the format that bears witness to the original use of the building. In this article, I am specifically discussing art museums, although the history and significance of the museum as an institution can never be fully over looked when discussing the museum as a space. 2. The room temperature in art museums is kept at 18–22 degrees Celsius, and the humidity, depending on the time of the year, at 48–57% or 38–47%. 3. Barnaby Drabble, among others, has written on the subject. 4. Essi Kausalainen’s work at the Bodybuilding exhibition discusses the sensory experience of a museum space. 5. The movements of the visitors and how the exhibition space is used have an element of predictability – they are affected by spatial arrangements, curating practices and social codes, but also how the museum categorises its audiences. Curator Marion von Osten uses the concept of the counter public, which is a rejection of the presumption that the public is always homogeneous. Counterpublic do not as such interfere with the physical framework created by a space, but start using it in alternative and non prescribed ways. Counterpublics are parallel, smaller publics within the larger public, typically formed by members of a minority or an otherwise disadvantaged group. They produce their own discourse and actions, a new type of agency. (Osten, von) The idea of the art as a public sphere, which is not presumed, forms the foundation of curator Simon Sheikh’s argument: a public sphere cannot be unitary as it is always conflictual and instead of permanent it is forever renegotiable and malleable. (Sheikh) Bringing together what seem to be asymmetric – publics, objects, things – and allowing them to occupy the same space, bringing in an element of unpredictability into the museum, is also at the centre of the discussion between curator and educator Janna Graham and Shadya Yasin. The museum is not a platform for consensus. (Graham and Yasin) Curator Jorge Ribalta writes specifically about the appropriation of the museum space and the ‘demuseumisation’
of museums. Museums should be places of emancipation, active agency, empowerment, where individuals can construct their own narratives and learn instead of reproducing what already exists. A policy based on pre existing target groups denies museums of this potential. (Ribalta) 6 . Graham and Yasin also refer to Henri Lefebvre’s concept of space. (Graham and Yasin, pp. 158–159). 7. Basu, Paul. In his analysis of the museum space, Basu adopts Michel de Certeau’s ideas about space. de Certeau has written about spatial experience referring to the experience of attempting to see New York City as a whole from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. However, according to de Certeau, the lived city can only be truly encountered by walking the city and experiencing it, by improvising at crossroads, by reacting to the environment. Basu maintains that the museum space can similarly be experienced through improvisation and by making the space a space of one’s own. Basu takes the museums designed by architect Daniel Liebeskind as his example. Liebeskind has consciously designed dead ends, ‘vacuums’ and asymmetry that irritate and confuse the public, as in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. (Basu, pp. 64–65).
LITERATURE Basu, Paul. The Labyrinthine Aesthetic in Contemporary Museum Design. Sharon Macdonald, Paul Basu (ed.), Exhibition Experiments. New Interven tions in Art History, Oxford 2007, pp. 47–69. Drabble, Barnaby. Voices in the Exhibition. OnCurating 15/2012 http:// www.on-curating.org/files/oc/dateiverwaltung/old%20Issues/ONCURATING _Issue15.pdf, pp. 13–16. (2016) Graham, Janna and Yasin, Shadya. Reframing Participation in the Museum: A Syncopated Discussion. Griselda Pollock, Joyce Zemans (Eds.), Museums After Modernism. Strategies of Engagement, Oxford 2007, pp.157–172. O’Doherty, Brian. Inside the White Cube. The Ideology of the Gallery Space. University of California Press, Expanded edition, 1999 (1976, 1981, 1986). Osten, Marion von. Producing Publics – Making Worlds! On the Relationship between the Art Public and the Counterpublic. OnCurating 9/2011 http://www.on-curating.org/files/oc/dateiverwaltung/old%20Issues/ONCU RATING_Issue9.pdf (16.8.2017), pp. 59–66. Ribalta, Jorge. Experiments in a New Institutionality http://www.macba.cat/ PDFs/jorge_ribalta_colleccio_eng.pdf (10.9.2015), pp. 225–265. Sheikh, Simon. Public Spheres and the Functions of Progressive Art Institutions (2004) European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, http://eipcp. net/transversal/0504/sheikh/en (16.8.2017).
The body of the viewer in a museum space is often secondary, unless the format of the work specifically calls for a bodily experience. During their conversation, Piia Oksanen, the curator of the Bodybuilding exhibition, and artist Essi Kausalainen, discuss the museum as a physical structure and how it can be experienced bodily. In her performances, Kausalainen interacts with various things: plants, objects, organisms. Communication and coexistence between species, a connection that goes beyond the verbal communication, is a fruitful starting point for looking at the museum as a bodily experience. Kausalainen’s work is displayed at the Bodybuilding exhibition.
Piia Oksanen: We could start by looking at the museum building and by regarding it as the materialised form of the museum institution. A museum building, collections, the archive and their maintenance represent stability, the permanence of material. However, this stability is only one layer, on top of which all other elements are added: temporary exhibitions and artworks, visitors and their presence in the space, events, and changes that take place in the building over time. Essi Kausalainen: The idea of a museum as a monument, a monolithic entity in the town plan and the canon of art, is very strong. But actually, a museum is a process or an event that can never be separated from the people who work there – the curators, guards and service staff – or the visitors who drift through the building. A major role is naturally played by the exhibition designers who create the internal choreography of the buildings, as well as the materials and the micro-level changes that take place in them. And of course the artists! For some reason, it is so easy to forget that a museum is a living space. It is a self-regulating organism that maintains an even body temperature and humidity, and produces certain kind of existence, action, thinking, and history. PO: The museum as an organism is an interesting idea. A museum building that is wrapped up in itself in a self-sufficient state that, even in physical terms, offers no views outside, and where
experiencing art has been separated from all other activities, can be seen as problematic. Another contradiction is that the perspective selected for an exhibition is typically presented as inclusive, when in reality museums have historically been very exclusive of various groups of people, narratives and perspectives. EK: For me personally, museums have always been accessible and welcoming spaces. And not just art museums. Museums have their own concept of time, which is slightly out of synch with that of the rest of the human environment, which feels like a relief. It suits me. It moves me. A museum is a place where I can withdraw to and be slow and quiet with no pressure to consume or produce. At a museum, I’m allowed to linger and take my time to gaze at things. The artworks give me an excuse – or sometimes a real reason – to stop and observe. For example, I don’t find WAM a cold place, even though it is cool inside; it is airy and accommodating. It gives my body room to move and breathe. I like it how the space frees me of my overcoat and bags. It leaves me bare and feeling light. Quite a few people hide behind their smartphones, even at a museum, but I enjoy enormously that I’m able to sit down on a bench and look – or to choose not to look – at the artwork in front of me. I often find myself looking at other people as much as at the artworks: fingers fiddling with the exhibition guide, the carefully paced steps and furrowed brows. I have lately thought a lot about the habitability of a museum and exhibition spaces in general. Just because I feel at home in a white, brightly lit room doesn’t mean that others feel the same. Part of the dynamic process of a museum is to create various power relations. Even though there are certain democratic values at the core of the museum as an idea, giving access to art, these values are not fully implemented. To whom are we offering these exhibitions? Who will feel at home in this environment and why? And who does it exclude?
Power relations and the act of exclusion are realised through these practices. Museum spaces are governed by a very strict behavioural code, rules that everyone must agree to follow. You must know these rules to be able to relax in that space. Art, like the museum itself, directs the viewer’s body in many ways and, in addition to familiarity with certain rules, it requires a certain sensitivity. Especially with contemporary art, viewers may feel confused and ill at ease if they are unsure of how to position themselves: unclear rules create uncertainty. The pressure to interpret or to “understand” an artwork may easily lead thoughts onto side-tracks. PO: At the museum, the limits of bodily experiences are preconceived. It is a space for a certain way of being where we might be aware of our body, and especially its boundaries. Caution and self-control are generally adopted as behavioural codes at a museum. How could we liberate our bodily consciousness or be more sensitive to the museum space? Is using our senses something we could learn through exercise? EK: The sensory qualities of a museum space take us back to the question of agency. Whose space is it? What are we allowed to do and experience there? How much room do our bodies have? And what is that body supposed to be like? There are numerous rules on how to approach a work of art, and this can also be extended to the museum building itself. That’s why one must move with caution. When your body begins to open up to the slow pace of the museum and the space between artworks, you can give it an opportunity to feel the temperature, the flow of air, and to hear sounds. You can ask yourself, what it is about this space that draws me into it and why? Where do I find it easy to pause? Does this have something to do with the artworks on display? Or the people in this space? What types of potential routes, lures, and invisible obstacles have been built into this space? Or are built by the space itself? If I allowed my body to lead, would it choose a different route?
PO: Our senses are also restricted: touching the artworks is almost without exception forbidden and there is very little to stimulate our sense of smell. We walk through the museum from one artwork to the next, often with a heightened sense of vision or with our ears strained to listen to the guide. You must keep a distance from the artworks. EK: What a fine paradox it is that the artworks have been created for our senses, but at the same time the act of sensing them, the proximity of the body to the art, inevitably destroys the work. A body, like a museum, is not a static entity, it is a living, excreting, and expanding organism. It is not just a question of greasy fingerprints on a glass display cabinet, but a much more intricate and complex process. While a museum is a space that invites you to use your senses, it furiously seeks to neutralise the presence of life that human bodies ooze: traces of touch, humidity, and warmth... It limits and eliminates and creates distance between entities. And ultimately it will fail, because life permeates everything. I’m reminded of eros: the life force and passion that keeps the body in motion. With me personally, art reaches an area in me where thinking becomes sensing and sensing becomes thinking. The medium is completely irrelevant. In view of this experience, the sterility of the museum appears interesting. Because of the strictly regulated behavioural code, a museum may feel overly analytical or asexual, and it takes some effort to be able to reach its erotic nature. It requires that you are rooted in your body and that you remain sensitive and open to the space surrounding you. Because our culture is obsessively visual, the sense of touch and especially the sense of smell are easily overlooked. Or these senses are simply associated with eating and sex – both of which belong to the private sphere. PO: What about other bodies? Although you might experience a work of art on your own, there are other visitors and the guards, and more museum staff behind the doors. How are they present and what is the communication or connection between these bodies like?
EK: Other bodies determine the spatial experience to a large degree. Their presence enforces the rules and creates control. At the same time, they form a peer group with whom you share the experience. Share the space. When looking at a work of art, you may stand extremely close to the bodies of complete strangers. While the direction of the gaze is clearly on the work of art, bodies can be allowed to come close. Close enough to smell each other, should you pay any attention to it. At a museum, another body may be that of your peer, your companion, or an obstacle. This takes us back to the question of power. Who has the license to act and how? Who knows the rules and who has the right to enforce them? The situations are made even more complex by the different rules that apply to the different actors within a space. Only the conservators have the permission to touch artworks, museum guards have the duty to ask you not to touch them, while visitors have the permission to wonder and evaluate. Sometimes such complicated rules lead to a fear of making a mistake. On the other hand, they create an air of reverence: consciousness of the space your body occupies increases when you must avoid touching the artwork. Does this also increase the distance between viewers? Does it mean that bodies touch each other less? I believe so. PO: What is the bodily experience like in a museum, in a space where your autonomy is restricted? EK: The situation in the museum gives you the opportunity to sharpen your senses on the micro-level. These restrictions give you a chance to tune your senses to a much more sensitive level and be aware of your sensuality and agency within that space, of how you are formed of skin, nervous system, flows, pulse, and heat. A visit to a museum may awaken your consciousness to the weight of your body, the tensions in your muscles, the need to touch and to be touched. It may also teach you about how you sense things, which may be surprisingly limited: what if instead of looking I listened to the museum? Or if I chose my route based on smells? What kinds of details would attract my attention? What is visible to me and what do I fail to see?
CORPOREAL CONNECTION WITH THE ANIMATE AND THE INANIMATE I have been contemplating how our bodies, as well as the bodies of other biological beings, function as organisms on their own and in connection with others. Iâ€™m interested in how they function from a biologicphilosophical perspective: how different parts operate independently, join together and produce a functional machine that directs and produces thoughts. To what extent is consciousness separate or connected with other beings external to the self and to our environment? I approach the body as a machine that generates thoughts. I explore this topic from a human perspective, but I think that the same qualities and biological functions have emerged in other organisms as well. The idea of the bodyâ€™s role in the thinking process is based on a research in which the human intestines and its bacteria were found to be connected to the brain and are therefore part of the thinking process and emotions.1 The idea of the mind as an integral part of the body challenges not only the idea of the brain as the source of all thinking, but also the idea of a human as somehow special in relation to other species. If bacteria can affect our emotions, are we individual and separate from our environment after all? The human body is a home to approximately 2kgs of bacteria, which amounts to ten times more bacteria than there are human cells in it. The material nature of a thought raises the question of what a thought might be as energy. How is it born, how does it move, and in what kind of an energetic whole do we live in? A thought is electrical energy that moves in the nervous system throughout the body. How do we use energy to communicate with each other and with the inanimate world? Does energy move outside of us and do we receive energy as a thought or information in some way other than through light, heat, movement, or sound? In post-humanistic thinking this could mean, for example, that the concept of the cycle of energy further challenges our individuality: perhaps thoughts are part of our environment and its changing energetic state. 23
Artists sometimes refer to the â€œknowledge of handsâ€?, by which they mean focusing on the tactile sense and intuitive movement. The evolution of our conceptual thinking bases in large part on our bodily experiences and their metaphorical expansion. Intuitive thinking benefits both hemispheres of the brain, as knowledge from both learning and experience forms new connections. Intuitive thinking leaves room for the body to interact with the materials that are being worked on, and to receive the information that the material contains. In such a situation, creating art is a facet of the thinking process and the works of art are its manifestations. Rational thought, for its part, considers the progress of the work. Binary thinking between the mind and body, the body and material, and thought and a work of art fades. Niina Tervo Translated by Ulla Tervo
1. This phenomenon has been researched by psychiatrist Hasse Karlsson, among others.
CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN THE EXHIBITION CURATOR AND ARTISTS AURORA REINHARD PIIA OKSANEN: In you works, you often place yourself in front of your own camera. In the series Teaser, you masquerade as an exotic dancer and a nude model for a life drawing class: an object to be gazed at, but you also assume the role of a subject conscious of the object–subject relationship and the power structures it involves, especially those to do with gender roles – the male gaze on a woman as the object. How would you compare your working role and the final outcome? AURORA REINHARD: Yes, I have been thinking about it a lot lately, how I take the power or the advantage of my own body by using it in my works, and how nobody else is colonising it. My latest 3D printed work Artist & Model reflects these ideas and my artistic process in general. To be the object of the gaze and to be wanted... I asked myself this question in, for example, Why I Pose for Art Students. Maybe I have learnt to enjoy it over the years... I’m not sure, but somehow I feel that it is about something much deeper in humanity than mere power structures. I make use of myself because I’m the only material I have access to at any time. However, there are other aspects to it as well. My body and I are my tools. When I utilise myself, the work somehow materialises without verbal intervention and I find that I can grasp the unconscious and perhaps something unique. Over the years, my body has become my tool in the same way that my mind is my tool. Previously I have used an assistant when taking the photos, but I feel freer and more like myself when I’m completely alone when I work. 25
PO: Do you think that giving directions and positioning another person for an image would be problematic because that other person will necessarily become an object in front of the camera? AR: In a way. There are always certain problems when you work with other people who have their own will and feelings. Our relationship with the images we appear in may change over time, and I don’t want to cause discomfort by exhibiting pictures that make the model feel uncomfortable. It’s so much simpler to just use yourself. For some reason the model is easily linked with the motif, as if they were the one and the same. PO: In the video Boygirl, which is being shown at the exhibition, three people are talking about how they experience their gender identities and bodies. In this work, your role was that of a listener. What kind of process was that? AR: All my works and interests have an aspect of exploration. Boygirl was an exploration into the gender experience when the individual, for one reason or other, does not fit in the two traditional categories available. I wanted to understand them and, in hindsight, to understand myself. I read several books on transgenderism before and during the filming. Making this video was an opportunity to have a focused dialogue with my interviewees and share their experiences with the audience. PO: The video was made in 2002. Today, there is a whole new vocabulary for expressing and describing one’s gender identity because our language has since those days been enriched with new expressions. ‘Queer’, a term that transcends gender boundaries and normative concepts of identity, is an example of how language is broadening the discourse about gender identity. However, as yet, there is no established Finnish word for that concept. AR: In Boygirl, my subjects discuss their gender experiences in their own words. It was important to me that they talked about
their own feelings. The issues or themes they are talking about are still real and same as back then. PO: What I meant was that the work still seems topical today, but in a new way. If there are words and a language to talk about something, it means it exists and is acknowledged in a given community. We make sense of many things through language and it sometimes seems that language overrides the sensual, emotional or bodily experience. The experience (of body) 15 years ago is exactly the same as today, but how it can be talked about has changed. AR: True. A lot has changed in 15 years.
IIU SUSIRAJA PIIA OKSANEN: You use your own body in your works. They are performances for the camera, performances that you record as photographs and videos to show to the audience. Usually you do your performances at home alone. How we operate in our bodies in the private sphere of our homes is different from how we conduct ourselves in the public space, which is regulated and controlled in a different way. Have you given any performances in front of an audience or performed with others? How does the negotiation between the private and the public influence your work? IIU SUSIRAJA: Home is an important tool for my work. At home, I’m able to depict myself much more bravely than in a public space. Of course, when I’m shooting, I’m conscious of the camera and aware that the work will be viewed in public. I can’t think of a work that I hadn’t shown in public because of embarrassment. In terms of displaying artworks in public, I think that when taking self-portraits, the motivation behind it is to seek acceptance, to be loved. The starting point of the work is selfish: the topic is me and my life. In the selfie culture, this is probably the ultimate reason why we take pictures of ourselves. But to link the idea of therapy so strongly with these kinds of works – maybe not so much these days, but three to four years ago there was a lot of talk about therapeutic photography. It undermined the artistic dimension of the images. It really annoyed me. It is not about therapy. I have not performed in front of audiences or with others. I have thought about it, but I don’t think it will ever happen. I’m not brave enough and I think that the works would lose their impact. And the live performance situation involves sounds and elements that are 28
beyond my control. For the same reason, filming outside can be tricky. In front of an audience, social interaction also comes into play, and that brings in the notion of people pleasing. The situation would be confusing for the audience too. The camera provides some distance and some security for both me and the public. Humour is a similar distancing element. It removes some of the cynicism and pathos. I use it to protect myself, but also the viewers. Humour is added to the works when I name them, always afterwards. But not all my works are humorous, that can’t be the case. PO: It would seem that humour as an approach in art is more acceptable for men. IS: When women are humorous in their art, it does not add to their prestige, the works are easily ignored. The same goes for women comedians. My actions in the video performances can be quite wild, I couldn’t subject others to them. Lately I’ve been working on the idea and action of spitting. For ethical reasons, I could never subject anyone else to that. I can do what I choose with myself because, at the moment of the act, I have the power. I would never let anyone else do those things to me either. Of course the sense of power goes the minute I put the works on display, but then again I never read the comments on the Internet about my works. This means I can retain that power. And I don’t necessarily read the magazine articles about me. I have piles of unread magazines at home. I want to stay free as an artist so that I don’t start pleasing anyone. PO: With self-portraits, you put yourself in the line of fire, not just your works, and therefore you might feel more vulnerable to criticism. IS: Also, one should not be taking self-portraits when one is feeling raw about something. The camera has an amazing power, both destructive and empowering.
When I started taking self-portraits, I didn’t like being photographed. But I wanted to overcome my fears. In the end, I made the choice of photographing myself. It would be difficult to imagine someone else performing as me. I never even considered using anyone else in my place. In front of the camera, I assume a role – the images have a certain setting, object and clothes. The object in each image is also a distancing element. If it was just me in those images, it might be too revealing… The object brings an event into the picture, and with it there is always an action. An object as part of a performance is like another human being, and in that situation I build a relationship with it. In my still-life photographs, there usually are two objects that face each other. On some level, they are also self-portraits. PO: When you stand both behind and in front of the camera, the entire situation takes place on your own terms. It is about your relationship with your body. From the feminist perspective, autonomy means a subject who is conscious of herself and free from the power of the male gaze. Self-portraits may be an empowering act, an active gesture that makes the body visible. IS: I have not consciously thought about feminism in relation to my work. However, feminism is often associated with my works and perhaps with women who photograph themselves in general. Feminism is not the starting point of my works, but it is ok to link the two. Of course, I’m not the first person to photograph large women, but placing myself in front of the camera maybe invites a feministic reading. A large woman who acts in an “inappropriate way” is doubly misbehaving, irritating. I deliberately never include messages in my works. It is much more interesting to me how others interpret them. Actually, I take the fact that my works are perceived from the feminist perspective, without me underlining the social dimension, as a sign that I have succeeded.
PO: We are subjects to the use of power in many ways. For example, norms and the related conventions dictate our relationship with our bodies. How do you see the relationship between one’s autonomy and the community in the bodily experience? IS: I have received numerous invitations to come and talk about beauty ideals. But that is not what my art is about. I have declined every single one of those invitations. If the first thing that the audience sees is a large person and gets stuck with that image, it says more about our time and society than anything else. And about the viewer. I presume that the gender affects the way they comment on my works, too. I sometimes doubt that this could really be so simple, that my works would be unequivocally accepted. However, I hope people are more tolerant these days than before. I choose my Facebook profile picture on completely different criteria. I’m not entirely free from society’s expectations. I take art much more seriously! I smile in my Facebook profile picture. People are sometimes surprised when they see me, that I’m relatively normal and even smile. When alone in front of a camera, I’m stripped of social relationships, although the camera is almost like another person in the room. At the back of my mind, I also know that the image will be shown in public. Editing and selecting are part of the process. It’s not a personal project, it’s an artistic process. I’ve trained as an artist, I hold exhibitions, I apply for grants. I’m not doing this for myself alone. I’ve been pondering about smiling in the images, in the context of art. People often think that the Iiu Susiraja in the images is more real than the one they meet in the flesh. Maybe that has to do with smiling. I never smile in my works. When I take the photos, there is no social interaction with another human being. A smile is related to an encounter with another person, it makes it safe to approach one another.
ARTOR JESUS INKERÖ PIIA OKSANEN: You started your bodily project in summer 2015. During the past two years, you have reshaped your body, built muscle, adopted a new body language and changed the way you dress. This represents the cisgender white male who performs the traditional gender role and dominates the mainstream media and our society in general. You personally identify as non-binary, the division into male and female gender is not relevant to you. What does it mean to you to modify your body to fit the hegemonic, normative masculine identity? And what does it mean that you physically shape your body and its gestures instead of looking at the bodily identities through other people’s bodies as an artistic act? Or instead of discussing the bodily identities in a virtual environment or social media, in places where body has no physical constraints? ARTOR JESUS INKERÖ: As I began working with my bodily project, the aim was to let go of who I was. It was about breaking personal and social boundaries. It is quite difficult to describe our bodily experiences without referring to something that is constructed by popular culture and therefore something that has been very systematically marketed to us. The bodily and physical experience is significant to me for the purpose of understanding the issue. Instead of observing someone else, I study myself – the change and the journey itself. Since I cannot escape my own body, I could never know how someone else experienced something, unless I identified with it. I’ve noticed that many people are afraid of change, or of letting go. Personally, I think that by reaching my goal I don’t learn only about myself, but also about the myth of the alpha male and how my privilege might grow as my physical appearance changes. I want to do this project with myself because I’m then free to decide how I carry on with it. I can control the direction the project takes and better react to physical and mental changes.
In bodybuilding, the idea is to lift weights so that the muscle tissue actually breaks down. As a result, the muscle will grow back, but larger. In other words, weight training literally destroys the body. To me, this is a fascinating idea. Adjusting to a masculine-normative appearance, some may think I’m erasing parts of my personality. One of my colleagues said that my bodily project was sad precisely because of its destructiveness. I see my work more like a research project that gives me highly personal and empirical material. The word ‘destroy’ is a very loaded expression, but it can also be linked with mental transformation, with letting go of something. What else is being destroyed? Will my values change, or my outlook, after I reach a state of masculinity? PO: The exhibition features Rihanna (2015) and Justin (2016). In the video Rihanna, you replicate the movements made by the singer in her music video. In this work, the bodily experience is an act performed in front of camera, and the gender (femininity) is a performance of learned gestures. In Justin, you use digital image manipulation to reproduce the ideal body depicted in the original advertisement. Where does the boundary between performance and actually adopting a new body lie, or what is the relationship between the two? I’m specifically talking about the interplay between Rihanna, Justin and your own bodily project. A momentary performance as a work of art of a certain duration from beginning to end, and a project that is temporally tied to the process of achieving physical change in the body, are two very different projects. AJI: I use well-known figures from popular culture as ideals and models. I think it was interesting to try to adopt somebody else’s habitus. The underlying idea was that through my failed or even cringe-worthy attempts the viewer would be able to see something that was out of my control.
When re-enacting Rihannaâ€™s movements, I was operating on some level of learning. Although Rihanna was shot in one take, whereas my bodily project takes years, I see similarities between the two in how one assumes a new role. Similar sensitivity has been part of the bodily project, although it is realised through lifting iron and huffing and puffing at the gym. I also feel that Rihanna took my work towards a more bodily level. I first chose a really superficial approach because it felt easy and quick to do. However, superficial and rapid changes in appearance only led me to think more about the mental changes. The fear of mental change affected my works, so they turned into something much more than mere before and after images of bodybuilding. I never thought that as an artist I would end up focusing on one single idea or within a framework this strict. It certainly wasnâ€™t my original plan. The bodily project was supposed to be a test and finish quite soon. The project itself continues. I think Iâ€™m dealing with not only gender, the identity and how we identify ourselves, but also with empathy and connection between people and with oneself. These are fundamental elements integral to constructing identities.
DANCE AS A TEXT
Each performance of Anna Torkkel’s Present takes places in a different location1. The piece travels within the memory of the dancers’ bodies, in the trained body and its movements, and in the choreography, to be recreated uniquely in each new space. Masi Tiitta’s and Anna Torkkel’s work is based on the temporal expansion and analysis of a simple gesture, rising up from lying down. Explaining the subject matter and the form of an artwork in a text is a typical part of any exhibition. While dance is not being performed, it only exists as a text in the exhibition: in a catalogue, as a wall text, a name in the list of artists presented – all references to the future or the past moment. The text becomes separate from the performance and thereby evidence of the absence of the bodies. The inevitability of bodily presence disappears. Dance is a challenge for the museum and its relationship with time. The idea of a museum as an archive is complicated by any ephemeral artwork that only exists in the moment and in interaction with the audience. Photographs or a video recording of a performance preserved in the museum archives transforms the dancers’ presence into an image, freezing the movement and erasing the warmth of the body. Most of the artworks at the Bodybuilding exhibition are fixed to their place: solid objects or video loops, repeating their internal rhythm irrespective of the events around them. A dance piece is a passing moment in the timeline of the exhibition. Its realisation requires that the dancer and the audience are present simultaneously, in a shared time and space. Anna Torkkel, Present, Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, Saturday 2 December. Masi Tiitta and Anna Torkkel, Saturday 13 January.
1. Galleria Titanik (Turku) 5 October, Kutomo (Turku) 8 October, Sorbus (Helsinki) 16 November, SIC (Helsinki) 18 November, WAM 2 December
GOOSEBUMPS The skin is our largest organ and the interface for the sense of touch. The skin feels heat and cold, dryness and moisture, touch, pressure and pain. When distanced into an image through a video projection, the skin enlarges into a vast surface. Immaterial and material, mind and body, virtual and real. Presence and absence. These are some of the concepts that we use to makes sense of reality. In Reija Meriläinen’s EN GARDE, a 3D animated figure is projected onto the museum wall. When the media player and video projector are switched on, it brings the character to life. Only the size of the wall, the technical features of the projector and the number of pixels in the image file set limits to the physicality of the 3D figure. The facial features of the character are based on a 3D scan of Meriläinen’s own face. The increasingly larger HD screens and more powerful video projectors reproduce the images of the body with great accuracy. The skin of the 3D figure is a perfect replication of the human skin. It is uneven with pores that sweat and grow facial hair. The body of the figure resembles a real life body. As the 3D figure in the interactive video reacts to the viewer, the real time and the virtual state intermingle. In effect, the digital is seldom completely removed from a bodily experience. The algorithms of Facebook and Google are based on user data and targeted ads latch on to the needs of our bodies. The imagery in social media also aims to imitate the real world. Emojis mimic facial expressions, body language, and gestures. We operate our phones by touching them. Using devices strains the body: smartphones damage the tendons in the thumb, cause pain in the lower back, tiredness in the arm, and dryness in the eyes. Longtime use will leave a dent on the little finger. We stand hunched over our
phones and suffer from “text neck” – pain. The blue light of the screen affects our sleep. EN GARDE is an installation that consists of two videos and three sculptures. The first video shows a fencing match. Its referee is an animated character in the second video, who reacts to the movements of the viewer. The video loop lasts a few minutes and automatically restarts. Therefore, the action is never completed because the threatening situation always returns to the beginning. The bag seen in one of the videos, which contains liquid chemical, is on display at the exhibition. The knife was thrust into the bag during the filming of the video. The crystallised chemical and the knife stuck in it are a proof of a real act that happened to a physical object. The knife in the other bag on display fell into the chemical during the exhibition in which the work was featured for the first time.1 The liquid substance has gelled into the shape of the sculptures – now on display – during the events that took place earlier. The work on show in this exhibition and the times and places of its creation and previous displays come together in the exhibition experience: in the moving image, in the material of the work, and in the bodily experience of the work of the viewers present.
1. EN GARDE was shown at HAM gallery in autumn 2015.