Me, Me, Me

As modest as the Finns may be, selfies have caught on here too, dating all the way back to the 19th Century. The exhibition Me: Self-Portraits Through Time is a collection of 160 works by 102 artists from Finland ranging through the Finnish Golden Age to noteworthy contemporary ones.

In the early days they were called self-portraits and perhaps the focus was slightly different from today’s aren’t-I-stunning approach. ‘The eyes are the window of the soul’ is an expression we’re all familiar with, but what if you’re too shy or simply don’t want to reveal it to the onlooker, but you still want to be immortalised? Is it about immortality or just vanity?

Otto Mäkelä: Self-portrait (1929)
Alexandra Frosterus-Såltin: In the Studio (1858)

Thank God for Justus von Liebig who invented the mirror in 1835. Without it, some of these would never have existed and while they all used it, only a few admit to the fact and show it in their pieces. But even mirrors can be too self-revealing and hence reflections come into distorted focus in the metal of blenders as in Pauliina Turakka Purhonen’s Oaig, referring to the only visible letters on the cardboard Laphroaig box in which she keeps her paintbrushes. Or could it be a groan, an utterance of loathing? Or the sculpture in wood of 84 year-old Radoslaw Gryta strangely staring out at you from the backdrop of honeycombs.

Pauliina Turakka Purhonen’s Oaig (2010)

As a foreigner, I find the Finnish style rather intriguing. Seeing the exhibition as a whole, shows that most of these are realistic in the way they bare themselves to the general public. Some are perhaps flattering, some are distinctly distorted, others horrifying and abstruse. While you wonder about the character in the painting or photo or sculpture, it also brings you to a point of self-searching and your own reaction to it. The creator must have had this in mind and while they couldn’t predict the response, they could control it to an extent. This is where emotion comes into play. Seeing the irony and humour in Sampsa Sarparanta’s The White Man’s Burden, the Heidi man-girl ridiculously laughing back at you, the grotesque Last Man Standing evoking fear, the sadness, the playfulness, the sorrow – it all draws you into their world and their feelings at the time of execution. Finally, you walk out with a bag of mixed emotions to sort through and the memory of faces you never knew but will never forget.

Sampsa Sarparanta’s The White Man’s Burden (2015)
Last Man Standing – Stiina Saaristo (2007-2008)

Me: Self-Portraits Through Time is on show at Kunsthalle Helsinki from 27 May until 6 August 2017.

Kunsthalle Helsinki

Nervanderinkatu 3, 00100 Helsinki

Tickets +358 40 450 7211

Tue, Thu, Fri 11–18

Wed 11–20

Sat-Sun 11–17

Mon closed

€12 / €8

Under 18s – no charge

Finding the Moomins – Fiskars and Mustionlinna

This elusive family of gentle trolls that inhabit the imagination of children across the world, are pretty hard to find. Head west of Helsinki about 100 km, and you might come close to spotting one in the spectacular countryside near Karjaa.

Svartå Manor or Mustion Linna
Svartå Manor or Mustion Linna

Mustion Linna or Svartå Manor (pronounced ‘svart awe’) is tucked away along a country road and is the proud possession of the Linder family who have owned it since the early 18th Century. A museum of course it should be, but in the capable hands of Christine and Filip Linder and Maria his sister, the many majestic and quaint buildings with the magnificent gardens that sweep down towards the lake, have been transformed into a multi-faceted business. Hotel guests are put up in uniquely styled rooms with modern conveniences, the sauna is next to the water which lures you into taking a dip while the restaurant has a small but carefully selected menu using only local ingredients many of which come from the farm itself. A culinary school is at the disposal of groups where they’ll teach you how to whip up dishes that you never thought you would even begin to attempt. The museum gives you a peek into the lives of the nobility that had close connections with this place and can only be visited with a guide. There’s a summer theatre and plenty of events happening especially in the warmer months. The children can look for Moomins while the adults relax on the terrace overlooking the immaculate surroundings.

Beautiful murals in Svartå Manor
Beautiful murals in Svartå Manor

If you don’t find Moomins there, you might just come across them in the fairy world of Fiskars, arguably the prettiest town in Finland. Oozing charm from its wooden houses, mill and river, this place used to serve as a foundry once upon a time. Today artists and crafts people occupy these spaces and take exceptional care of them. Finnish design can be seen in every nook and cranny of the boutiques and restaurants and a major exhibition takes up room from May to September. This year ‘Kasvu, Tillväxt, Growth’ is organic and earthy and pretty wild with 45 works to intrigue, puzzle and wow you.

The organic 'Growth' exhibition
The organic ‘Growth’ exhibition

2016-06-09 13.14.36

Have lunch at the famous Wärdshus Restaurant where you can also spend the night. The local brewery is a class act and calls itself Rekolan Panimo. They are extending their craft beer selection to gin and whisky in the near future once the distillery is up and running. In the meanwhile, try their Metsän Henki or Spruce Shoot beer, it’s different and apparently their biggest seller. Café’s are in plentiful supply but there’s one that’s just a little different. It’s called The Laundry. Soak up the sun, sip on a cold one while overlooking the pond or stay the night in their cute little B and B.

Beautiful Fiskars - it couldn't get any greener
Beautiful Fiskars – it couldn’t get any greener

Fiskars has it all. Their summer programme is jam-packed with events including the Beer Camp with products from micro breweries and lots of munchies to drive away the hunger pangs and Faces Festival in August, celebrating multiculturalism and world music. Nature lovers can take long walks in the truly beautiful surrounds and who knows, you might come across a little creature hiding in a crevice? Don’t be afraid, it’s only a Moomin and they’re known to be gentle and kind.

 

Links:

Svartå Manor

Kasvu, Tillväxt, Growth Exhibition

Wärdshus Restaurant

Rekolan Panimo

The Laundry

Faces Festival

Beer Camp

 

 

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) – the Reluctant Photographer

Emotional, anarchist, humane and definitely NOT a journalist, is how Agnes Siré, Directeur de Fondation HCB describes him.

“It was by chance that he became a photographer. He was more interested in painting and drawing and literature than in actual photography. In fact, he gave it up in the 70’s and concentrated on his fine art skills in stead.”

Île de la Cité, Paris, France 1951
Île de la Cité, Paris, France 1951

This talent made him a master of composition, gave him the eye for that ‘decisive moment’ that turns a one-dimensional photo into a 3-dimensional work of art. His deep concern and engagement with human beings was further nurtured by the 3 years he spent as a prisoner of the Germans. His travels took him far and wide and his ‘nose’ for historic events landed him in strategic places at strategic times. Only a few hours before Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, Cartier-Bresson photographed him. When Mao Zedong’s troops marched into Beijing, he was there. When prisoners of WWII concentration camps were released, he was there.

Gypsies, Grenada, Spain 1933
Gypsies, Grenada, Spain 1933

While he was recording historical events, his main focus was always people. The USA did not attract him as it did other photographers. No sweeping landscapes or city scenes but rather the Black people from Harlem, the rich from the Upper East Side, the ghettos of South Carolina. His subjects, except for his portraits of famous people, have no names and only the city, country and year marks the occasion. He said himself, “One should not try too hard to explain the mystery”, and even though he was referring to that serendipitous moment of capturing the unexpected, it also allows us as onlookers to let our imaginations run amok on what we observe.

Seville, Spain 1933
Seville, Spain 1933

Ateneum Art Museum in collaboration with Magnum Photos and the Foundation HCB have put on an impressive display of 300 photographs depicting The Man, the Image & the World.

Dates: 23 October 2015 – 31 January 2016

Easter Sunday Harlem, New York City, USA 1947
Easter Sunday Harlem, New York City, USA 1947
Ascot, UK, 1953
Ascot, UK, 1953

An Artist, a Rapper, a Priest et. al.

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.

School of Disobedience
The Most Terrible Things – acrylic on polystyrene

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.

Alluring brands to hypnotise consumers
Alluring brands to hypnotise consumers

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.

 

Anything Helps - Framed beggars' signs
Anything Helps – Framed beggars’ signs

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.

 

Choice Is Yours - acrylic on product package
Choice Is Yours – acrylic on product package

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.

Hunger King - installation
Hunger King – installation

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.

Coulrophobia - fear of clowns -
Coulrophobia – fear of clowns –

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.DSC04089

Links:

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art

Jani Leinonen School of Disobedience