Martti Aiha: Omakuva, August 16 – September 30, 2018
Opening reception Wednesday, 15 August from 6 to 8 pm.
Martti Aiha (born in 1952 in Pudasjärvi, lives in Fiskars) is a widely acknowledged artist, not least for public sculptures in Helsinki such as the starkly monumental Rumba (1992) at Salmisaari and the more ambient Länsilinkki (2011), an artistic articulation of a bridge for the ‘Western Link’ highway. Aiha’s idiosyncratic mix of frivolous automatism, reliable craftsmanship and heavy-duty construction became a hallmark of Finnish art in the 1980s and also earned him a following in the other Nordic countries. He was, for instance, awarded the Prince Eugene Medal in Sweden in 2013.
This kind of condensed blurb, while necessary and correct in a conventional way, nevertheless misses some fundamental points about an artist like Aiha, who has been developing his own tone or voice or logic in art since the mid-1970s. The continuous acts of creation that underpin his personality as an artist are driven by radical doubt and a relentless quest for newness. In actual fact he is a much ‘younger’ and more unpredictable artist than his biography indicates.
Those who saw Aiha’s latest retrospective, at the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Tampere ten years ago, will agree. They will also recognise some – but far from all – of the recurrent mental and visual features in the generous selection of his drawings from the last 40 years that ‘opens’ this exhibition in more ways than one. The drawings form an introduction to Aiha’s new sculptures and paintings but they also offer some insight into what moves him to continue making work that never looks like the work we were just getting used to. This exhibition–within–the–exhibition also furnishes the perfect occasion to launch the new book Martti Aiha: Drawings published by Parus Verus.
Anders Kreuger begins his introductory essay for the book by reflecting on the Finnish word omakuva. It translates as ‘self-portrait’ but its literal meaning (‘self-image’) still seems to resonate in it. Any accomplished artist’s oeuvre is both self-portrait and self-image. Not only does it show him as he wishes to be seen (which of course tells us a lot about who he really his); it also continuously creates his self – as image and as something beneath, behind and beyond image.
But there is more. Using omakuva as his exhibition title, Aiha is also saying something about how Kohta is supposed to work. The five artists who founded this new kunsthalle have a strong interest in developing the exhibition as a medium, in dialogue with curators and audiences. Therefore they will be showing their work at Kohta in experimental constellations: sometimes alone, sometimes together with other artists. Besides all the other things it does, Kohta is becoming a new kind of self-image for them and their peers. Such presentations by Kohta’s ‘own’ artists will often inaugurate the autumn season and coincide with the opening of the Helsinki Festival in mid-August.
The main characters in this exhibition are Aiha’s new works (all 2018, unless stated otherwise), and they are every bit as hybrid as Kohta’s institutional identity as curated kunsthalle, artist-initiated gallery and a place for the Helsinki art scene to gather. The first visual that meets the visitor’s gaze when entering the larger exhibition space is Catching the Grey, a wallpaper based on a uncharacteristically detailed graphite drawing from a few years back. It covers the outside of a division wall, shaped like a right-angle corner, which creates two ‘corridors’ for the drawings but also a gallery-within-the gallery for Aiha’s new and rather self-assertive work. The three-part sculptural invention Inverted Image, with its swirling applewood spiral and stitched-felt base, is installed in the smaller exhibition space together with some recent watercolours.
The next layer of the exhibition is the retrospective display of drawings that was already discussed. Inside the extra corner that has been added inside the larger exhibition space yet another layer awaits: some rather self-assertive sculptures in glazed ceramic and other materials. These are not shy creatures; if they could they would push each other out of sight and claim our undivided attention. Stage Resonance is an almost absurdly shiny and frantic portrait head, more than a little reminiscent of Aiha’s blue crayon self-portrait on the cover of the book of drawings. The Origin, a small vessel-like shape, and The Origin of Illusion, a larger floor piece best described as ‘tree-like’, use the high-gloss chrome paint glaze more introspectively, in the latter case quite literally, since the glazing appears on the inside of the hollow trunk, now condemned to mirroring itself forever. Form for Red Colour (2017), finally, is a block of various organic forms, which all appear to have the power to break away and move freely, individually, through space but remain curiously squeezed together (by the volume of the available furnace, as it turns out).
Sculpture Dance, Aiha’s first foray into performance-based filmmaking allows him to be less restrained by processes of making ultimately governed by the laws of nature. The film format, it appears, even allows him to defy the laws of gravity, as we witness him dangling from the ceiling of his own living room, performing a dance in honour of creative unpredictability. This is the newest layer of Martti Aiha’s omakuva.
Installation views of Martti Aiha: Omakuva at Kohta.
Photos: Jussi Tiainen