Venice Biennale 2017
Pavilion of Finland presented The Aalto Natives, a collaboration between artists Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen at the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. The exhibition was curated by Dutch curator Xander Karskens.
Read Tom Jeffreys‘ article The Aalto Natives: an interview with Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors
Exhibition: The Aalto Natives
Individually known for their irreverent and often comedic story-driven work, Mellors and Nissinen focus on various clichés surrounding Finnish history and national identity for The Aalto Natives.
Conflating ideas and tropes from archaeology, anthropology and science fiction, the work re-imagines Finnish society through the eyes of two messianic outsider figures, Geb and Atum, who are represented by talking animatronic puppets.
The story presents Geb and Atum as terraforming higher beings, who re-visit the Finland they have created millions of years earlier, and who try to make sense of the culture that has developed in the meantime. They are engaged in a dialogue in which they introduce a series of video vignettes on Finnish creation mythology, contemporary Finnish society and their vision for the future of Finland.
Within this narrative framework, Mellors and Nissinen playfully critique religion and the nature of human existence, to reveal the systemic flaws at the heart of cultures dominated by rationalism and the fetishization of progress.
Various visual idioms – including HD videos of old school Muppet-style puppeteering, 3D CGI, and hand-drawn stop-motion animation – conjure the universe and psychology of their characters. These different media and technologies are synchronized into a dynamic and immersive theatrical experience.
Curator Xander Karskens says “The Aalto Natives explores themes such as the invention of the nation state and the origins of culture by way of absurdist satire. Dressing its intellectual ambitions in deceivingly comical gear, the work addresses the complex challenges our globalized world faces today, like neoconservative nationalism, intolerance, and class polarization.”
Erkka Nissinen (1975, Jyväskylä, Finland) has over the years created a series of video works and installations featuring a resourceful do-it-yourself deployment of both vernacular and digital tools (such as hand puppeteering and crude 3D animation) to craft an absurdist comical-philosophical universe. Here, topics such as social interaction, sexuality, violence and the origins of human consciousness and creativity are addressed in cartoonesque narratives populated by a cast of hyperbolic characters, often performed by the artist himself. Nissinen lives and works in New York, Helsinki and Amsterdam.
Nissinen looks for anomalies, for moments of instability or failure, and tries to put pressure on fixed assumptions. In his videos and performances the artist reflects on our fragmented contemporary existence by negotiating the gap between the real and the virtual. Cultural dislocation, failing social interactions, and semantic misunderstandings are at the core of Nissinen’s narratives. His videos’ dialogues derive their comic quality from linguistic confusion, the provocative exploitation of cultural and gender clichés, and the banal treatment of abstract philosophical concepts. Nissinen’s protagonists find themselves perpetually stuck in a digitally enhanced environment that imposes impenetrable and nonsensical power structures, forcing them to engage in comic violence, dwell in foolish naïveté, or resign in dull complacency.
For his recent work, the artist uses palindrome titles, like God or terror or retro dog, referring to the cyclic, from-beginning-to-end-and-back-ideas featuring in many of his works. From a visual standpoint Nissinen’s video work is stunningly resourceful: he combines a clumsy DIY acting technique and the glossy imagery of HD video and computer animation to create an eccentric and inimitable mix.
In 2011 Rotterdam Art Fair Nissinen was awarded with the acclaimed Illy Prize. In 2013, he received the AVEK Prize for media art. Nissinen has studied in The Slade School of Fine Art in London and gained MFA degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, Finland in 2001. In 2007 and 2008 he attended a residency at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam.
Recent solo exhibitions include: God or Terror or Retro Dog, De Hallen, Haarlem (2015); Mikä on yhteisö?, Sorbus, Helsinki (2015), Vantaa, Hordaland Art Centre, Bergen (2015); Erkka Nissinen, Jyväskylä Art Museum, Jyväskylä, FI (2015); Polis X, Ellen de Bruijne Projects, Amsterdam, NL (2011).
The recent group exhibitions include: Pretty Straighforward, Neuer Kunstverein Wien, Austria (2015); 7th Turku Biennial, The Unexpected Guest, Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, Turku, FI (2015); The Varieties, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston, Lancashire, GB, (2015); La La La Human Steps – Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, NL (2015); Superficial Hygiene, De Hallen Haarlem, Netherlands (2014); Projections, Rottend Art Fair, Netherlands (2014), Ten Million Rooms of Yearning. Sex in Hong Kong, Para/Site Art Space, Hong Kong, CN; The Invisible Lady, Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki (2013); Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, NL (2013).
Nathaniel Mellors (1974, Doncaster, UK) is an Amsterdam and Los Angeles based artist working across a wide range of media. His irreverent, absurd and hilarious videos, sculptures, performances and writings challenge notions of taste, morality, and intelligence. His absurdist drama series Ourhouse (2010–ongoing) about an eccentric British family and its entertainingly erratic interaction with reality, language, and power, has been central to a host of international exhibitions. In these exhibitions, video is typically presented alongside sculptural work, in which the ideas and characters present in the video’s narrative are further elaborated. Mellors’ work was part of the 2011 54th Venice Biennale’s main exhibition ILLUMInations, curated by Bice Curiger.
Mellors’ work often takes the form of absurdist fantasy used to address serious themes. His film The Sophisticated Neanderthal Interview (2014), produced in collaboration with Commonwealth Projects, features an interview between a naive contemporary young man (Truson, a character from Ourhouse) and an apparently real Neanderthal man.
Mellors script-writing is in a long-standing reciprocal relationship with sculpture and mediating technologies. He writes and produces film and video with a recurrent group of actor-collaborators. Mellors is also an advisor at the Rijkskademie, Amsterdam and a Senior Lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University, in the U.K. He studied at the University of Oxford‘s Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, the Royal College of Art and the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam. In 2014 Mellors was awarded the UK Contemporary Art Society Prize. In 2011 he was the recipient of the Cobra Museum Amstelveen’s Cobra Art Prize. In 2013-14 he was artist-in-residence at HAMMER Museum, Los Angeles and MONASH, Melbourne, Australia.
Recent solo exhibitions include: The Box Gallery, Los Angeles (2016); NEW_CAVE_ART_NOW, Stigter van Doesburg (2014); The Sophisticated Neanderthal, art:concept, Paris (2014); HAMMER Museum, Los Angeles (2014), Ourhouse E.3 feat. BAD COPY, Matt’s Gallery, London & Salle de Bains, Lyon 2012; I.C.A., London (2011); SMART Project Space, Amsterdam (2011) and Cobra Museum, Amstelveen (2011); De Hallen, Haarlem (2010); and the Stedelijk Museum Bureau in Amsterdam (2009)
Recent group exhibitions include: Modest Proposals for Radical Borgeoisie (2015), The Great Acceleration –Taipei Biennial (2014); ILLUMInations – the 54th Venice Biennale (2011); British Art Show 7 – In The Days of the Comet (2010-11); Altermodern, Tate Triennial (2009) and Biennale de Lyon (2007). Art Now: The Way in Which it Landed, curated by Ryan Gander at Tate Britain in 2008.
Exhibition catalogue: The Aalto Natives – A Transcendental Manual by Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen
The manual accompanies the installation The Aalto Natives realised for the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia by Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen. It reveals the full story of Geb and Atum, two terraforming mythical creatures who are floating through space in a vessel shaped not unlike the structure of the Aalto Pavilion.
Exercising the all-encompassing knowledge that egg-borne mystical beings are typically blessed with, Geb and Atum mediate between the banal reality of objects and creatures, and the infinitely more advanced structures that lie beyond it. Along their mission of rebuilding Finland Geb, the wise father, and his rational-empirical son Atum, struggle to deal with the persistent faults, glitches, and transcendental mistakes they encounter in the formative stages of New Finland’s national development.
In the experience of Geb and Atum, culture presents itself as an eternal feedback loop of trial and error, a scatological dialectic of production and consumption, of shiny façades and vulgar essences, of bad mantras and glitchy technology, of sophisticated neanderthals and cosmic ducks. In all its grotesque display of failing social contracts and polarizing populism, it is surprisingly similar to the world we are living in today.
In short, this manual will guide you towards a more transcendental understanding of the human spirit. Please use it.
The Aalto Natives – A Transcendental Manual is designed by Studio Remco van Bladel, Amsterdam and published by Mousse and Frame Contemporary Art Finland.
Partners and supporters
The main partner for The Aalto Natives is the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, alongside Visit Finland and the City of Jyväskylä. The main supporter of The Aalto Natives is the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland, together with the Mondriaan Fund and the Saastamoinen Foundation.
The Aalto Natives is supported by Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Jack Bakker, THE EKARD COLLECTION, the Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture AVEK, Suomi Finland 100, Dommering Collection, Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem, Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Embassy of Finland in Rome, MONITOR, Ellen de Bruijne Projects, Stigter van Doesburg, The Box, and Matt’s Gallery.
Frame issued an open call for the Pavilion of Finland at the 57th edition of Venice Biennale. The six-member jury included Curator Katerina Gregos, Professor Sarat Maharaj, Curator Taru Elfving, Leevi Haapala, Director of the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Curator Maaretta Jaukkuri and artist Patrik Söderlund. The jury was chaired by Frame’s Director Raija Koli.
Frame received 96 proposals of which the jury selected a shortlist of four very different and extremely interesting works. The other shortlisted artists and curators were Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen with Curator Alexandra MacGilp, Mika Taanila with Curator Joasia Krysa and Pilvi Takala with Curator Antonia Majaca.
Nordic Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale
The exhibition Mirrored will be presented in the 2017 edition of the Nordic Pavilion at the 57th International Art Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia. Mirrored is a group exhibition featuring works by six artists from different generations: Siri Aurdal, Nina Canell, Charlotte Johannesson, Jumana Manna, Pasi “Sleeping” Myllymäki, and Mika Taanila.
“The artists in Mirrored present a mapping of connections that override the national and regional boundaries, and instead track a more multi-faceted view of how artistic practice may connect,” says curator Mats Stjernstedt.
The exhibition Mirrored attempts to avoid a topical approach, to focus on challenging a self-image reflected in, or stereotypes projected on, the Nordic countries. Mirrored thus suggest a “placeless place”, to borrow Guiliana Bruno’s allegory on mirrors.
Siri Aurdal (b. 1937), Charlotte Johannesson (b. 1943), and Pasi “Sleeping” Myllymäki (b. 1950) are innovators who, to some extent, have created and articulated the artistic realms they later came to work within. All three artists can be described as atypical for the Nordic Pavilion’s extended architecture, as much landscape and outdoor experience as an enclosed space. Their works are examples of urban art and urbanity that was ahead of its time in exploring industrial material, digital space, or design experiments with moving images. Aurdal’s module-based sculptures challenge the sculpture medium and establish new premises for it.
Johannesson took her cue from traditional textile crafts and translated the logical setup of tapestries into computer-based pixels. Before giving up his film practice, Myllymäki produced forty-four super-8 films from 1976 to 1985; these films explore a wide range of elements from graphic design to performative actions.
A similar interest in urban subject matter, expressed, for instance, through material transformation or political content, intersects the works of the following artists; Mika Taanila (b. 1965) is primarily recognised for producing temporal artworks in film, video and sound. For the present exhibition, Taanila uses montage technique to create a cut-out project in cinematic literature. Nina Canell’s (b. 1979) experimental mode of relating to sculpture and installation, considers the place and displacement of energy. However, like Taanila’s film and sound work, they have a temporal quality, as Canell converts sculpture’s often fixed form into open-ended processes. The works of Jumana Manna (b.1987) explores how power is articulated through relationships, often focusing on the body and materiality in relation to narratives of nationalism, and histories of place. In her sculptural work, Manna indirectly unfolds representation, creating a visual language of absence and substitutes.