uusi nykyisyys | new present

Curators Kalle Hamm & Dzamil Kamanger. Photo: Heikki Vesterinen.

The XX Mänttä Art Festival presents a wide sample of international contemporary artists working in Finland. The Finnish art field has become significantly more international during the last decade, and as a result, national borders have begun to seem artificial.  In arts, cultural mobility has for some time been the norm. It takes place in every encounter between people with different backgrounds, crossing and operating between borders. This is called transculturation; it entails the right to not be categorised and the right to stay in between, in the grey, undefined zone. We wish to present to the public the diversity already among us and to give it the status and space that it deserves.

Our time is labelled by simultaneity. History is already being written as it takes place. The exchange of information is fast and multivoiced, with simultaneous intersecting references to different places and temporalities. The remote presence and different forms of crowdsourcing enabled by digitalization have had an impact in communities and authorship. People are no longer necessarily connected by their language and nationality, but via phenomena, hobbies and interests. Collective intelligence and funding make use of global networks and the power of the masses. At the same time, authorship becomes more anonymous, shared among a larger group. Our spirit of the times can be found on the Internet.

This constant hectic pace has also produced counter-reactions. Alongside speed and simultaneity, a slow culture has been created that is visible in the megatrends of health, nutrition and ecology. You've got organic and locally sourced, slow food and down-shifting, everyone 'pimping' and recycling. Speed also manifests as transience.  The aim is to focus on the now, stretching it as far as possible, or something may be 'happening' only for a moment before being replaced by a new phenomenon or trend.

Images and orality are replacing the written text. The change is visible in the recent developments of newspapers. The demand for speed produces condensed and generalised information. Long, analytical articles have been traded-off for videos on the newspaper's website1. It is harder to piece together the overall picture. Issues are truly multi-layered and ambiguous and can't be understood from one set of values alone; for example, the Occupy movement collapsed due to its own internal conflicts. The demand for political correctness makes it difficult to really say anything about anything.

In addition to simultaneity and speed, our time is labelled by multivoicedness. There is no more trusting merely one information source. In addition to the Finnish news agency STT, you also have to follow al-Jazeera, Novaya Gazeta and other media. Emancipatory demands are hurled back and forth: the Arab Spring and post-colonialism, LGBT awareness and feminism, the New Left and criticism of capitalism. Citizens have to make choices between crucially and fundamentally conflicting issues. There is no one public space, but rather a network of public spaces where different opinions intersect.

Like-mindedness without exclusion is impossible. Human diversity and pluralism always leads to contradictions and actual separation. Hence one of the functions of art is to disagree, take over public space and interfere with the 'overtly amicable' use of these spaces.  Consensus within society is a reactionary state.  If no one truly disagreed and all criticism fell silent, it would be a sign of either the decline of true passions and creative activity, or of an overpowering oppression.

Politics and art are not separate fields between which a momentary connection is established. Art always has a political dimension and vice versa. There is also no such thing as political art and non-political or politically neutral art. All art is either for or against–it aims either for consensus or direct counter-hegemonic action. Contemporary art oscillates, simultaneously referring to multiple places, temporalities and values2. At the same time, it comments on and reproduces the present to highlight concurrent changes.

Dzamil Kamanger with Suohpanterror's poster. (Photo: Tiina Nyrhinen)

Selecting Artists and Artworks
The Mänttä Art Festival states its objective to be presenting new Finnish contemporary art. What is interesting in this definition is the word 'Finnish'. The rise of immigration has led to discussions on what is understood to be Finnish and how it is defined.  This is not an easy task. Notions of citizenship and ethnicity are muddled. Are refugees Finnish, or can you be Finnish if you don't speak Finnish? What if you are born in Finland, but don't look 'Finnish' and are still called an immigrant?

In an attempt to manage this situation, various categories and terms have been devised. There is talk of native Finns, New Finns, immigrants, foreign-born, refugees, aliens, asylum seekers, returnees and so forth. Although these categories are meant to help with classification, they also always create boundaries and various divisions of 'us' and 'them'. Usually, these categories are produced in one's own mind and reaffirmed by public discussion.

For the theme of the XX Mänttä Art Festival, we chose international contemporary artists working in Finland. This theme arose from examining the festival's artist lists from previous years: at its lowest 0 % and at its highest 24 % of the artists have been “transcultural”. After 19 years, the annual average of foreign-born artists comes to 5,9% . Calculating the percentages wasn't easy, as it required categorising the artists into 'Finns' and 'Non-Finns', as well as defining such categories. The numbers are therefore approximate, serving to remind us that things could also be different3.

It is impossible to estimate the exact number of international contemporary artists working in Finland, but it is in any case significant. They have been working in Finland throughout history, ever since Swedish rule.  We as curators did not have the opportunity to conduct a thorough survey of the current situation due to limited resources. That would be an entire project of its own. However, we have made an effort to meet as many foreign-born artists as possible. We also managed to include a few “native Finn” artists in the final artist selection.

When selecting artworks, we did not stress any particular theme. We focused on selecting artworks that spoke to and fascinated us. When brought together, these works entered into a 'conversation' to reveal common messages. In contemporary art, identity and participation are enduring subjects through which artists make sense of their relationship with the society.

Likewise, studying the past helps us understand the present that we live in. At the same time, it gives us clues to the future. We are attached to this reality through our senses which are the only known way we can acquire this understanding. This grouping of artworks is broad and cursory and several would fit under more than one title.

Some of the artworks have been placed in the Mänttä townscape and the Taavetinsaari Island. The works situated in the townscape give voice to various communities, whereas the works in Taavetinsaari  deal with temporality. The organizers have been joined by the Third Space collective, who have prepared their own intervention for the exhibition; a multi-voiced audio guide and exhibition programme with their own commentary. Two artists, Shinji Kanki and Ray Langenbach, will also perform at the Mänttä Music Festival.

The average percentage of artists with a foreign background at the Mänttä Art Festival.

Identity and Participation

Taxonomy, classification and categorization are problematic. On one hand, they help us to perceive things and the relations between them, but they also create black-and-white divisions into 'these' and 'those'. Something has to be put in either this or that category, but it can't be both here and there, in both and yet in neither. We are in the core of typification, where stereotypes are created. There can't be the same number of categories as subjects. That wouldn't make them any more manageable.

Liminal spaces are interesting, because they reveal the power mechanisms of categories. Classifiers want to maintain the power to categorize things according to their perception, but what if the subject isn't willing or simply does not feel included in any of the categories that the classifier attempts to put them in? When this scenario is used to determine one's identity, for example, we find ourselves in the middle of Hegel's master-slave dialectic.

Our society is at the stage where a slave can criticise their master. The master will ask the slaves what their problem is and although they will help to solve it, they will in the end remain the master. The question is, how much participation and power of decision the minorities will be granted. We hope to see the day when the master and the slave decide together that there will be no more masters and slaves.

Those situated in this 'in-between space' can be called liminal humans. They position themselves between the world and other people,  reflecting the interface in which a person meets society. They don't exactly cross the threshold, but rather remain hovering on both sides of it, thus making visible the worlds that would otherwise remain entirely outside of society. They test what a person can be, or what society allows a person to be. This enables others to be more, better and truer.

The artist duo Nana & Felix's works study the different ways people are defined by the colour of their skin and historical recollections. Sasha Huber has created a simple monument to all those perished in the course of slave transportations. Her piece, Sea of the Lost, is coupled with Invisible Evidence by Minna Rainio and Mark Roberts, where photographs have been replaced by text and coordinates recounting the journey of illegal refugees. The Library of Influential Books by Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen is comprised of books that have made an impact in the thinking of the hundred people representing a statistical sample of the entire population of Finland. Karolina Kucia's Para-Site literally places the viewer in a liminal space, inside an exhibition wall. 

History and the present

Official history is known to be written by the victorious. It is generalising and defective, often ignoring the individual experience. The post-colonial approach challenges official history writing by fixing and patching its both deliberate and undeliberate gaps. It often relies on memory and oral statements that official historiography has deemed unreliable, memory being fallible and senses delusional.

But things are not always this straightforward. Most written sources are ultimately based on oral accounts, such as newspaper interviews and eyewitness statements. The memories of individual people give a different perspective to general historiography. In some cases, memories may be the only source for information about the developments and experiences of a community.

Oral history and various microhistories delve into the experience of the individual: how does it feel when great events in history roll over you and how does this affect life on an individual level? A multilevel knowledge of history is extremely important, as it is the only way to understand the present and how we arrived at the present situation. Everyone has the right to their personal and community history. If there is none, it is high time to write one.

The artist group NÆS—Nomadic Agency of Emergent Studies, uses historical records to investigate the development and current state of the Finnish welfare state. Sezgin Boynik's and Minna L. Henriksson's installation and book study multilingualism and language as a medium of power. Edwina Goldstone's installation Found & Lost tells the story of a destroyed Karelian village. Sylvia Grace Borda has collaborated with Google to depict food production in Northern Finland, tracing its journey from the source into the finished product. Adolfo Vera's photograph series Europe reminds us of the dark side of Europe, whereas Diego Bruno reconstructs a play by an Argentinian psychoanalyst which analyses the political developments of Argentina.

Reality and the Senses
Philosophers have always doubted how the human senses convey reality. However, our senses are what connects us with the world, a sort of an interface where the self ends and the world begins. If all sensory channels were to be shut down, what would be left; a pile of flesh, a consciousness, perhaps nothing?

Reason, logic and the technology produced by these capacities aren't in themselves enough to form a complete understanding of the world. Sensory evaluation is still needed, for example in the food and cosmetics industries. As for sensory knowledge, it is its own field of study which contemplates how we receive information about the world through our senses.

Contemporary art often has its conceptual dimension, but it is also multisensory. Many artists have questioned the primacy of sight while also acknowledging the other senses in their expression. This means that the viewer is no longer merely viewing, but also hearing, moving, smelling and touching: experiencing.

Modern culture is digitising fast, at least in the welfare states. It is said to improve our quality of life. At the same time, a virtuality has been created alongside reality. These two are likely to somehow converge in the future.

Digitalisation is increasingly replacing earlier technologies of making art. It is therefore interesting to study the difference between analog and digital: the analog is a physicochemical trace of reality, whereas the digital is coded reality. The difference is crucial and not merely philosophical.

Jakob Johannsen's installation-performance reminds us that making art is actually hard work. Christelle Mas uses an X-ray camera to reveal some hidden sides to reality. Hilda Kozári bypasses the primacy of vision, creating her installation with braille and scents. Egle Oddo restores the role of nature and ritual in art, juxtaposing analog and digital images in her photographs. Mime presents us with the world from the point of view of the dragonfly.

Nature and Temporality
The Taavetinsaari Island has been transformed into Isle of the Dead. However, death does not manifest as a scary Grim Reaper, but rather a natural part of the cycle of life. Pira Cousin has created from recycled materials a memorial spot with DIY crosses, enabling the audience to reflect on their own temporality in a natural environment.

The guests can ponder the cycle of life sitting on the island's benches, watching the spiral sculptures of William Dennisuk. At the same time, they can listen to Mark Mitchell's audio installation that utilizes the forces of nature and recycled materials. It also refers to the Finnish funeral kanteles from Satakunta and Ostrobothnia, which had the name of the deceased carved into them. The wind chimes clang in the breeze, communicating between this world and the next.

In Pekilo, the anchor pieces to the theme of Nature and Temporality are Sandor Vály's Die Toteninsel and Dwi Setianto's Growth II. By Meri Linna's Retreat, the audience can ponder their relationship with emptiness and the unknown, whereas Shinji Kanki's Music for flowers in a white round tea house brings them face to face with the infinity of the universe.

The Voice of Community and Public Space
Seppälän puistotie (Seppälä Park Road) and the Town Hall Gallery have been dedicated to the voices of communities.  Privatisation and commercialisation have left individuality and communality drowning in advertising and consumer culture. However, mass production can never offer the true individuality it promises in the advertisements. Brands advertise a lifestyle that the actual product doesn't include. This serves to disappoint and further alienate the buyer; brands produce wants but do not satisfy the needs.

Jyri Pitkänen's Social Landscapes (Mänttä) adds to the streetscape the community values that are otherwise invisible. The works of Yvapurü Samaniego are a commentary on advertising and ownership of public space, whereas Martta Tuomaala's video installation gives a voice to an ostracised profession: the cleaners.

In Pekilo, the anchor piece to The Voice of Community and Public Space theme is Jon Irigoyen's installation There Is Always Room For One More. The paintings of Panos Balomenos depict imaginary encounters between minorities and celebrities. The works of both Bita Razavi and Sepideh Rahaa speak plain truths about the status of women in Iran, and the posters of Suohpanterror make sure that the voice of the Sámi people will be heard.

Wishing you a most rewarding exhibition tour,
Kalle Hamm and Dzamil Kamanger
The Curators, XX Mänttä Art Festival

1 This also has its countermovement in slow journalism.
2 Oscillation is a recurring term in Timotheus Vermeulen's and Robin van den Akker's article Notes on Metamodernism http://www.aestheticsandculture.net/index.php/jac/article/view/5677/6306. They define the metamodern as an oscillation between a typically modern earnest commitment and a markedly postmodern ironic detachment; an oscillation between hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity. They note that this oscillation is not balanced, but functions more like a pendulum, swinging from enthusiasm towards fanaticism, from fanaticism towards irony, from irony towards apathy and then back towards enthusiasm. Metamodernity deliberately aims to be out of time and place, simultaneously referring to many temporalities and places; forever pursuing the receding horizon.
3 It is difficult to compare these percentages with the amount of all foreign-born people living in Finland. According to Statistics Finland, in 2012 the percentage of foreigners in Finland's population was 3,6 %. This number does not include those who have received Finnish citizenship. The percentage is not likely to have been any higher, so the annual average of 5,9 % derived from 20 years is actually not a bad one for the Mänttä Art Festival. The percentages do vary according to classification by citizenship, mother tongue or country of origin, or a combination of any or all of these factors; for example, 6,4 % out of all families had one or both spouses with a foreign mother tongue in 2012.

Kalle Hamm was born in 1969 in Rauma, Finland. He graduated in Lahti Fine Art Institute 1994 and made his MA in the University of the Art and Industrial Design in Helsinki 2002. His art examines cultural encounters and their impacts both in historical and contemporary contexts. He is also dealing with the concept of freedom and how it has been defined and understood in different times and ideologies. He has collaborated with Dzamil Kamanger since 1999.
Dzamil Kamanger was born in 1948 in Mariwan, Iran. He is an Iranian Kurd and set in Helsinki since 1994. He studied ceramics in the Kermanshah University and made his MA in 1973. In his art he is dealing with his own experiences as a refugee by using traditional Iranian handicraft techniques. He has collaborated with Kalle Hamm since 1999.
Their website: www.beelsebub.org

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