Maija Albrecht, Maria Hedlund, Outi Heiskanen, Mari Keski-Korsu, Iwo Myrin, Mindaugas Navakas, Gediminas Pempė, Merja Salo
Opening reception Wednesday, December 5 from 6 to 8 pm.
Kohta has been welcoming visitors to its exhibitions and discursive events for more than a year, and the time has come for the first group show at our experimental kunsthalle.
Luontokuva is a Finnish word that literally means ‘nature image’ but really denotes a special genre of nature photography: usually rather romanticised shots – think young elks in early morning sunshine, their horns playfully interlocked – snapped by technically skilled non-professionals: a minister of foreign affairs or the CEO of a major paper and pulp company enjoying some quality time outdoors…
The title is therefore to some extent ironic, but above all purposely naïve. It insists that words may retain a ‘first’ meaning beneath and beyond their socio-cultural connotations, but above all that nature remains a significant topic for visual art, not least today when ‘climate anxiety’ is rampant in northern Europe, and for good reasons.
The exhibition itself intends to question not only the concept of ‘nature’ but also that of ‘image’. An image can, at the same time, be an object (a sculpture, a found object, a page from a printed book), a process (a moving image, an installation with moving parts) and an action (comprising people and objects that ‘represent themselves’ whether they are being depicted or not). Luontokuva will contain images of all these kinds, and also images that can be approached in more than one way.
Moreover, Luontokuva is an attempt to resurrect and rehabilitate a method for making exhibitions that was standard at the Nordic Arts Centre at Suomenlinna, the island fortress just off Helsinki, some twenty-five or thirty years ago. For larger group shows, at least two artists from each of the Nordic countries would be invited. Such visualisations of political equity, deemed hopelessly unfashionable in the late 1990s, now appear ready for re-evaluation. The Nordic regional perspective is again becoming relevant, even more so than before economic globalisation gained full speed.
The group behind Kohta suggests that this method is worth trying again. This exhibition therefore features two artists each from Lithuania and Sweden and four from Finland, the host country:
Maija Albrecht (Finland, 1967) revives a small-gesture ‘magical realism’ reminiscent of the best printmaking from the 1970s and ultimately of pre-war surrealism. Her dry point engravings gather elements from closely observed animal and plant life – mostly birds’ eyes and beaks, but also roots and seeds – into eerie visual constellations that could not possibly be images of nature.
Maria Hedlund (Sweden, 1961) peels away layers of conventional seeing and understanding. She makes the world fit into her flat, which becomes a refuge for rejected plants, abandoned collections, too easily discarded knowledge. The medium is analogue photography – and the objects that can be photographed. The topic is the nature of things, here a stuffed ozelot kitten from a fur shop.
Outi Heiskanen (Finland, 1937) is a classic of Finnish post-war visual art, precisely because her prints and drawings are so uncompromisingly idiosyncratic that they cannot be styled as characteristic of the country or the period. In collaboration with Metti Nordin, Heiskanen’s daughter, we have made a selection of drawings and ink washings of hybrid, half-natural creatures that may even be monsters.
Mari Keski-Korsu (Finland, 1976) stages collaborations between individuals, communities and species. The reflective and the recursive are crucial aspects of her practice. Clear-Cut Preservation (2010–80) fences off forestry on a hectare of clear-cut forest in Tunnila, Finland, for 70 years, with a photograph taken every hour. Lähirohtola (Local Plant Pharmacy, 2018) involves ‘plant ambassadors’ in the Kaarela area of Helsinki to promote representation of plants in the human domain as well as the knowledge and use of wild-growing medical plants usually considered weeds.
Iwo Myrin (Sweden, 1964) first took pinhole photographs of the underbrush in northern forests, often centred on growing mushrooms. His next step was to cast the same underbrush in bronze, again with mushrooms in prominent positions. The technique is an adaptation of ‘lost wax’, with nature itself in the role of the original that must be sacrificed (melted, burned out) for its copy to become unique.
Mindaugas Navakas (Lithuania, 1952) typically makes ultra-large-scale, ultra-heavy-weight work in materials such as granite or welded steel, while still managing to keep it subtle, thoughtful and somehow flippant. The Kiasma collection has some pieces by him. Šnaresiai (Rustling, 2003) is a smaller sound installation combining monumental and ephemeral parts.
Gediminas Pempė (Lithuania, 1922–2008) was a productive and versatile graphic designer who authored many logotypes for Soviet Lithuanian enterprises and organisations, but also a trained agricultural scientist and an extraordinarily sensitive and precise illustrator of encyclopaedic books on nature. A selection of his watercolours for the book Lauko augalų kenkėjai ir ligos (Pests and Diseases of Field Plants, 1994) is kindly lent by the M K Čiurlionis National Art Museum in Kaunas.
Merja Salo (Finland, 1953–2018) passed away this summer, before we were able to do the studio visit to prepare her participation in Luontokuva. As a homage to one of Finland’s leading photographic artists and art pedagogues, we exhibit her perhaps best known book Musta kasvisto – Illuusioita luonnosta (Black Herbarium – Illusions about Nature, 1984) in collaboration with the Finnish Museum of Photography in Helsinki.
Luontokuva is organised by Kohta, with support from IASPIS/Konstnärsnämnden in Stockholm and the Lithuanian Cultural Institute in Vilnius.
Installation views from the exhibition Luontokuva by Jussi Tiainen.