A Year of Painting

The MFA Degree Show at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki shows painting’s ability to address everything from the nature of different materials to the politics of migration.

Johanna Laakkonen, Untitled, 2018.

Currently, the very center of Helsinki is a construction site for Amos Rex, a large-scale space for contemporary art opening in August of 2018. In the meantime, the former museum space of Amos Anderson offers a grand site for Kuvan Kevät, the MFA Degree Show of the Academy of Fine Arts. Like every graduation exhibition, it presents a wide range of artists varying in style and skill. Besides the Amos Andersson Museum, Kuvan Kevät takes place in the large Exhibition Laboratory and the smaller gallery space, the two official exhibition spaces at the Academy.

Being the oldest institution in Finland offering higher education in the fine arts, the Academy is today an international school with students from various backgrounds. While many of the graduating students are young, still in their early 20s, some have already established careers as visual artists. Nevertheless, Kuvan Kevät, is often the first major exhibition for many of the students. The expectations are set high, and the exhibition has been closely followed by Finnish media, which in the past has also published lists of the “top students,” and speculated on the names that are “worth keeping an eye on” in the future. Luckily, such predictions are absent this year. Needless to say, Kuvan Kevät is just one exhibition in the path to becoming a professional, and it is hard to conclude anything definite about the young artists merely based on their graduation work.

Mirza Cizmic, ur serien Exodus Part III, “Walk, laugh, and prosper”, 2018.

Studies on form

This year Kuvan Kevät presents 36 artists from 11 countries. The overall impression is surprisingly coherent. With few exceptions, the exhibition comprises mostly painting. Over the past years, painting has not been so heavily emphasized, nor so traditionally exhibited, in Kuvan Kevät. Last year, for instance, paintings were often installed in inventive ways, rather than simply hung on the wall. In the Exhibition Laboratory, the traditional, yet skilled, treatment of the medium is demonstrated in the work of Johanna Laakkonen (b. 1988/Vantaa, Finland) who examines different shapes and textures through folded cloth. Her oil on canvas, Folds, manages to reflect the nature of different materials in a vivid way.

At the Amos Anderson site, Ann-Sofie Claesson (b. 1992/Håcksvik, Sweden), reaches towards another medium through painting. In an eight-piece series, Claesson imitates the aesthetics of photography from the early 20th century. Nostalgia and the passing of time are studied in the imitations of worn photographs. Claesson also plays with the impossibility of representation by installing different layers on the surfaces of her paintings. For instance, a frail veil hung on the canvas suggests the object’s withdrawal from the subject’s gaze.

Next to Claesson is the work of Christian Langenskiöld (b. 1978/Seattle, US), who shows a series of photographs in a vanitas style. The eleven-piece series addresses the theme through prosthetic limbs skillfully placed among classic symbols such as fruit, flowers and musical instruments. Through these objects, the theme approaches questions of cyborgs and artificial life. Furthermore, the prostheses seem to replace the human skull as, coming across as life-improving elements rather than signs of death. The series is reinforced with a portrait of the Finnish comic artist Kaisa Leka, who has previously explored her own experiences with prosthetic legs in her art. 

From ecocriticism to migration

Christian Langenskiöld, Untitled #1, 2018.

Ecocriticism, post-humanism and new materialism are the big-isms of the Finnish art scene today. Kuvan Kevät hints at these themes in The Exhibition Laboratory Project Room. Harriina Räihä (b. 1989/Kemi, Finland) addresses the value of the animal in a world defined by humans. Recently, many artists have addressed similar themes, among them Perttu Saksa, a photographer shortlisted for the Ars Fennica prize. Räihä poses the question of animal life with a three-piece contribution including an installation and two video works. The series, entitled Hunted, presents an artist crushing animal bones with a hammer, a group of hunters hunting wild beasts in a Finnish forest, and a glass sculpture in the shape of a gravestone engraved with a quote from Jacques Derrida. The most striking part of Hunted is the sound of a breaking skull. The pieces of the bones are later collected in small plastic bags, labelled and collected carefully in a box.

Another pressing theme of today, diaspora is discussed in a series of paintings by Mirza Cizmic (b. 1985/Banjaluka, Bosnia and Herzegovina). Exodus Part III, “Walk, laugh, and prosper” is comprised of multiple small paintings and drawings. Cizmic’s Exodus-series manages to bring together both form and content in a powerful way. His choice to include a variety of different surfaces in his piece creates the impression that the works are painted on various canvases that he found “on the road.” Like many other artists in Kuvan Kuvät, Cizmic blurs the boundaries of different media; in his work, painting is treated both as a travelogue and a public testimony, which captures the state of contemporary politics.

Harriina Räihä, Hunted, 2018.