Jani Leinonen’s School of Disobedience will teach you a thing or two
To call him an artist sounds mediocre, a pop artist weak, an activist warmer, a revolutionary– now we’re getting there. Huge colourful, playful-looking slogans, dolls and objects deck the walls of Kiasma on the 5th floor where the School of Disobedience is located. It’s a real school, there’s a classroom with a videos made by several of Jani’s cohorts whom he has chosen from all walks of life. As in the title, yes, but also a politican, a street artist and some TV presenters, all young, all hungry with a passion to pass on their provoking ideas to the public. Gone are the days of A for apple, B for bear. Now it’s A for anarchy, B for beggar. Slide into a desk and listen!
After your strong dose of how to change the world to be a better place, how to stage your own revolution, how to delve deep to understand who you’re obeying and why, go to the other end of the hall that looks out on Mannerheimintie and you’ll see an enormous slogan so big that it can be seen from the street below, that looks oh so familiar and even more shocking.
The life size dolls in the same room look tired and weary while they’re still campaigning to pollute the minds of children and young adults persuading them to buy their particular brand of goods.
Now for the main exhibition. The real life Romanian beggars sit at the foot of framed signs all bought by Leinonen from beggars, underscored by brass plaques stating the name of the country, all beautifully framed. Anything Helps is a monument for beggars but it is also an analogy for commodification – cheap production, refinement resulting in a work of art/product that can be sold at a hefty profit.
You’re drawn to the cardboard boxes of your childhood with Kellogg’s Corn Flakes printed on them. Come closer and you’re confronted with the Choice is Yours. Real or Fake, Problem or Solution, Family or Career, taking the C and N out of Corn and leaving you with a big OR.
Could it be? It’s the Hunger King booth, a red carpet for the Rich and another lane for the Poor, an experiment Leinonen launched in Hungary ironically so, after a law criminalising homelessness had been passed. He opened this burger restaurant in a vacant office space where the Rich could line up and buy his burger art while the Poor would get a burger box containing 3,400 forints, minimum wage for a day’s work. Even though the media were all over it, not only locally but also internationally, the law was still not repudiated and hence he considered the whole project a failure.
The most pervasive character in the entire exhibition is Ronald MacDonald, a character with whom the artist seems to have a special connection. The clown who can cry and laugh at the same time, who parodies fun and playfulness yet emerges tragic and sacrificial. He’s crucified, hung, even guillotined in a YouTube video grimly depicted as an Isis victim catching the attention of Fox TV and other global media, a stunt for which Leinonen and his co-conspirators were fined. Mac Donalds could’ve saved their beloved Ronald but failed to respond to the ‘Food Liberation Army’s’ questions re the health effects of their food.
One big question going through my mind – how does he get away with it? He’s using blatant, recognisable logos, lampooning them, mocking them, deliberately provoking the onlooker and violating the products. Scare tactics used by Raisio in the form of a letter to sue him for changing their pure, Finnish trademark maiden into a whore and more, is framed and accompanies the distorted package display. This ‘open source artist’ leads the way in disturbing our obsessive consumerism and pushes us to think of what we buy, where we buy it from and whose pockets we’re ultimately lining. If only this were all we are prodded into thinking, there’s so much more in this exhibition that to walk out of there untouched would mean that you didn’t get it at all.