The opening exhibition at Kiasma focuses on "Finnishness". This gives us a reason to ponder what constitutes contemporary art and (contemporary/ modern) Finnishness. What is more, what do they (possibly) have in common?
Luckily enough, the task is relatively simple. We need only start with a quick review of art and Finnishness, and then explain the flavour contemporary and modern gives to them. In conclusion we may safely note that the objects of our study form chiasmas, intersect at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Let us begin by pointing out the secret relationship between our topics. The relationship of contemporary art to (traditional) art rather closely resembles the relationship of modern Finnishness to (traditional) Finnishness.
One of the roles of (contemporary) art is to ask, to keep asking: is this, too, art? Displayed for us to see, hear, touch, smell, or taste, the "this" is something we would not recognise as art. Not unless we encountered it somewhere like the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Here art exhibits its argumentative, provocative role - perhaps also exulting in argument. An artwork may also cause mischievous pleasure while cheeks glow from anger, a sea of sparkles flows out of shocked eyes, indignant exclamations echo in the background. "We have been cheated! This certainly isn't art!"
"We have been cheated! This certainly isn't Finnish!" echoes the cry elsewhere. A modern urban Finn has just placed something at the side of traditional Finnishness, something to be seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted which we would not recognise as Finnishness. Not unless we met it in Finland.
Finnish public figures were recently asked in a Helsinki newspaper about ideas of the essence of Finnishness. The replies included impressive natural phenomena and unparalleled sporting achievements, but also abandoning a child. A traditionally Finnish group always includes a modern Finnish troublemaker.
Like Finland, art is one of the words which have in the older tradition served as a label for various grand and noble ideas. Both serve as fairytale lands of pure inspiration and pure sisu, that side of the wide ocean of everyday life. The more modern tradition has adopted the task of reminding us of everything else the trademarks 'Finland' and 'art' hide behind themselves: unfinished symphonies and construction sites, idle hands, the ravages of alcoholism. Look at Finland, look at art: brotherly hatred embracing sibling rivalry.
Could Finland and art actually be related? Provocation has become increasingly difficult in both realms. How to cross borders now that so many places can be reached without a passport?
In the light of most recent research, art does not have one single original home at the Volga bend. The genetic inheritance of art is not that simple.
The resemblance of Finland and art is striking indeed. According to rumour, both are in reality only figments of our imagination. Finland was invented and put into industrial production in the 1800s, art perhaps somewhat earlier. According to an anonymous tip-off, the roots of the contemporary art world are to be found in the same place as the roots of Finland - Romanticism.
Art no longer speaks a single language, has one colour, one race. No matter what the skinhead critics claim. Art remains silent and speaks in many tongues, in different ways.
Geography cannot be helped, either - here plagued by power-hungry science and technology demanding recognition, there pushed upon by entertainment as it enters the fight for money and uses its fun-oriented nature to ingratiate itself with the public, the judges.
Living in Finland, do we also live in art? Do we exist in an outdoor museum extending over more than 300,000 square kilometres?
Nevertheless, there is a small distinction between art and Finnishness. To me one of the most charming Finnish characteristics is a distinct shyness. An honest, uncontrollable shyness. The painful reverse side of "un-imposition". The thing that makes you pray: don't look at me.
But art cannot be shy. An artwork wants the exact opposite. At its most silent it whispers: look at me. Usually it thunders: listen to me, touch me, surrender to me!
The distinction may not be significant. There is evidence that it will not exist much longer.
Fennia longa, Vita brevis.
Finland and art go chiasmic at the Museum of Contemporary Art.