A beloved phenomenon has many names: Outsider Art, self-taught art, Art Brut, contemporary folk art… Finns have their own contribution to bring to this international list of names, ITE Art (DIY Art), which is derived from the Finnish phrase ’itse tehty elämä’, self-made life. ”European experts say that Finnish ITE Art is original and differs clearly from anything else in the field of Outsider Art,” says Liisa Heikkilä-Palo, head of cultural activities for the Union for Rural Culture and Education.
Liisa Heikkilä-Palo is one of those responsible for realising Kiasma and the Union for Rural Culture and Education’s joint exhibition In Another World. It is the first international exhibition of Outsider Art on such a large scale in Finland. Works from many European collections have been brought together, providing a deeper interface for Finnish ITE Art.
GETTING THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE
However, before a project on the scale of In An-other World was possible, ITE Art had first to be found. In Finland in the 1990s the phenomenon of contemporary folk art was neither recognised nor used as a concept.
”For a long time folk art referred in Finland only to music and dance. Its visual aspect was simply perceived as traditional utilitarian art,” Heikkilä-Palo says. ”My visit to the Musée de l’Art Brut in Lausanne changed all this, however. My eyes were opened at once when I realised what Outsider Art meant. I understood that if people elsewhere in Europe had their own marginal phenomena in art, we must have parallel uncharted territories, too.”
It was time to give a voice to this silenced form of art. The Union for Rural Culture and Education began to hunt down Finnish exponents of folk art.
”We started a project to survey contemporary folk artists. We had to start from scratch, and we tried to figure out ways in which to find these people. It was clear to us that announcements in the newspapers would lead us nowhere. For this reason we handed out ’informer’ cards, urging anybody who had a neighbour or friend who was a contemporary folk artist to report them to us,” Heikkilä-Palo says.
As a result of this process people managed to compile a list of three hundred or so names and to create a rich picture archive, an international network of experts, and also brisk publication and exhibition activities around ITE Art.
”I am very proud that the work, which at that time was more or less invisible, is now bearing fruit. This has been the most enjoyable project of my life. It has brought us enormous joy, and now other people can enjoy it too,” Heikkilä-Palo says.
The Kiasma exhibition is still only an intermediate stage in the Union for Rural Culture and Education’s work for ITE Art. One dream is to find a permanent home for the collections and archives – a museum dedicated to this purpose.
”If I had the power, I would confiscate the old warehouses adjacent to Kiasma and establish a museum there,” says Heikkilä-Palo jokingly. In part, the ”cornering” of the warehouses will become reality this summer. In con-junction with In Another World, the Union for Rural Culture and Education will build a sculpture park of ITE Art at Töölönlahti. This area will accommodate, among others, the monumental works that would not fit into Kiasma’s exhibition halls.
”TOOL SHED PICASSOS”
The roots of European Art Brut are often linked with difficult personal histories and often the works have been produced in bleak circumstances. The history of Finnish ITE Art is rather different: here contem-porary folk art is characterised by the joy and enthusiasm of creating and the artists’ will to mould their own life sphere into something made in their own image.
”I once asked a folk artist from Kainuu how it was possible that he could produce so many works,” Heikkilä-Palo recalls. ”The man answered: ’If I have produced a lot, the reason is that the TV programmes are so lousy. I can work long hours in the tool shed, from dawn to dusk.’ This ’tool ’shed Picasso’ only stopped working for the news at half past eight.”
Tool shed art links ITE Art closely with rural culture. The best recognised landmarks of ITE Art, the bear figures hewn from enormous logs, do after all need a yard, an open space around them, which you cannot find in the city. However, the Union for Rural Culture and Education does not want to exclude city dwellers from the ITE movement.
”ITE artists are an excellent bunch of people – bold and positive with high self esteem. As a form of art the phenomenon appeals to people of all ages. Everyone can derive pleasure and positive energy from it. We need it” Heikkilä-Palo says.
EVERYONE’S RIGHT TO CREATIVITY
The idea that everybody has the right to be creative is not something that is taken for granted in Finland today. At the end of May, Kiasma will host a seminar featuring internationally renowned speakers, and one of the themes will be the relationship between creativity and mental health.
”The conference is an important one, as we too have closed institutions that offer too little in the form of art therapy. In these institutions there are some very creative people who have no way of expressing themselves. I firmly believe that a human being can lead a valuable life as long as he or she has some means of self-realisation,” Heikkilä-Palo says.
In Another World
14.5.–21.8. 4th and Fifth Floor
The exhibition In Another World features the works of almost 50 contemporary folk artists. The exhibition has been realised in cooperation with the Union for Rural Culture and Education. The exhibition architecture is designed by stage designer Ralf Forsström. The exhibition is sponsored by the French Cultural Centre, the Embassy of Austria and Pro Helvetia, Arts Council of Switzerland.
Tyyne Esko (Kokkola), (15) Edvin Hevonkoski (Vaasa), Martti Hömppi (Siuro), Enni Id (Padasjoki), Johannes Ivakko (Lahti), Rikhard Koivisto (Kauhajoki), (1) Alpo Koivumäki (Kauhajoki), Mauri Korhonen (Suonenjoki), (6) Viljo Luokkanen (Riihimäki), Petri Martikainen (Kemiö), (8) Väinö Oja (Paimio), Timo Peltonen (Korpilahti), Jorma Pihl (Sauvo), (13) Ilmari Salminen (Petäjävesi), (5) Johannes Setälä (Karjalohja), Kaarina Staudinger-Loppukaarre (Savonlinna), (4) Seppo Suomensyrjä (Villähde), (2) Maija Takkinen (Rantasalmi), (10) Jussi Tukiainen (Kerimäki), (3)Ensio Tuppurainen (Vekaranjärvi)
Allain Bourbonnais (France), Simone le Carré-Galimard (France), Nek Chand Saini (India), Thérèse Contestin (France), (9) Aloïse Corbaz (Switzerland), Janko Domsic (France), Johann Fischer (Austria), Willem van Genk (Netherlands), Madge Gill (Iso-Britannia), Chris Hipkiss (Great Britain), (7) Aleksandr Lobanov (Russia), Francis Marshall (France), (12) Reinhold Metz (Grmany), Edmond Morel (France), Michel Nédjar (France), Joël Négri (France), Jano Pesset (France), Giovanni Battista Podestà (Italy), (14) Vahan Poladian (France), Emile Ratier (France), Albert Sallé (France), (11) Judith Scott (USA), Oswald Tschirtner (Austria), Scottie Wilson (Great Britain), Adolf Wölfli (Switzerland), Roza arkih (Russia)