Mika Taanila’s art is born out of everyday observations
A large retrospective of over twenty films in London
Mika Taanila can easily be called a man of many talents. It has been natural for him to juggle the roles of a filmmaker, artist, curator and producer for some time. Today, the artist is nevertheless slightly nervous. Pakasteet, a group made up of Taanila and Jussi Lehtisalo, is about to play its first ever live show – in London.
The London programme includes a wide selection of Mika Taanila’s films. More than twenty of his works are exhibited over four days at the Whitechapel Gallery, the ICA and the Close-Up Film Centre. The Seismic Ooze programme has been curated by Stanley Schtinter.
Two dreams come true
“The idea for this series of screenings came from Stanley. We met at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival in May 2014 where I had put together a programme of conceptual films, film-without-film. One of the works was a film performance by Chris Petit and Emma Matthews where Stanley played Lee Harvey Oswald,” says Taanila. “We had many similar interests – we immediately started exchanging cassettes and records.”
Schtinter is known as a curator of experimental films in particular and he often cooperates with art institutions in London. The current programme includes the best of Taanila’s works. They range from a music film called Hermaphrodites by Taanila’s teenage group Swissair to a collage film from 2017 called The World. “For me, it is really exciting that all the works were selected by Stanley. The dramatic arc as a whole is interesting – the way the films are shown together. The project includes my dearest moving image projects,” Taanila says.
Each screening includes a conversation with Taanila. At the ICA the conversation is chaired by curator and author Ele Carpenter, the leader of the Nuclear Culture Project. “I first visited the ICA a long time ago and dreamt that one day one of my works would be shown there. Now that dream will come true,” says Taanila. “I am also looking forward to the conversation with Ele – it will be interesting to look at how an issue as vast as nuclear technology can be dealt with in art.”
“Music changed my life”
Another one of Taanila’s long-time dreams comes true on Friday night when Pakasteet takes the stage at the Café OTO. The club focuses on improvised music and will host Taanila’s first live gig since the 1980s. “We have dreamt of making music together with Jussi Lehtisalo for at least ten years. The opportunity presented itself, and now we also get the chance to perform with drummer Charles Hayward from This Heat, one of my and Jussi’s idols. We are way out of my comfort zone here,” Taanila chuckles. “Music plays a very important role in my films, and in my youth in the 1970s and 80s music was an important passage into the world of art. Music changed my life.”
What is cinema?
Film and the moving image have been at the core of Taanila’s art since the mid-1980s. “I have never planned too far ahead – I move from one project to the next,” he admits. During the past few years, Taanila’s works have begun to feature installations as well.
In his Film Reader series exhibited at the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale Taanila had the chance to ponder his favourite question: What is cinema? In the series, Taanila “re-edited” film books using knives and scissors. “The history of film still interests me enormously. It shows up behind all my works. My ideas are born out the history of the moving image and everyday observations.”
In the future, Taanila intends to continue with the series created for the Venice Biennale. Film Reader will continue its way to the Künstlerhaus Graz in Austria after Venice. Another private exhibition is also going to open soon at Sweden’s Sandviken. “It is wonderful to be able to exhibit various kinds of works in these different settings.”
In addition to the London screenings and shows, the artist is busy with upcoming projects at the production company Testifilmi. The company was founded two years ago and includes Taanila himself, director/producer/cameraman Jussi Eerola and the IC-98 duo Visa Suonpää and Patrik Söderlund. Currently, the company is working on IC-98’s Realms – their first film featuring a camera – and Sami van Ingen’s new short film Flame.
To come back to London and the week of screenings ahead, what does the city – a hub for modern art and film – mean to the artist? “I have a couple of friends in London, I have visited the city many times and know it a little bit. Nothing quite as big as this has happened to me here yet, and it feels good.”
“It will be a busy week. I will enjoy myself and have a good look at everything I have done so far,” Taanila says.
Seismic Ooze – A Survey of Work by Mika Taanila
London, UK, 16–22 October 2017
Mika Taanila (b. 1965) is a filmmaker and artist from Helsinki. Taanila’s films move between documentaries, experimental film and the visual arts. His films often deal with utopias, the vulnerability of technology and the relationship between human beings and machines. Taanila’s works have been included in important group exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (2017), the Aichi Triennale (2013), dOCUMENTA 13 (2012), the Shanghai Biennale (2006), the Berlin Biennale (2004), Manifesta (2002) and the Istanbul Biennale (2001). Taanila has held private exhibitions at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (2013–14), the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2013), TENT Rotterdam (2013), the Badischer Kunstverein (2008), the Dazibao in Montréal (2007) and the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art in Zürich (2005). Taanila’s films have been shown at over 300 film festivals. In 2015, Taanila won Finland’s biggest art award, the Ars Fennica.
Text: Laura Boxberg. Translation: Tommi Kakko.
Photo of Mika Taanila: Sirja Moberg / Frame Contemporary Art Finland.
Images: Tectonic Plate (2016 © Testifilmi) & Cinmano from the series Film Reader (2017), photo: Johnny Korkman.