Kohta continues to feature artists of all active generations from all over the world who help us realise that ‘art is what makes life more interesting than art’, in the nicely twisted words of French artist and poet Robert Filliou (1926–87). After Britta Marakatt-Labba’s well-visited retrospective in February–March, thematising Sami history through embroidery, we now present two concurrent solo exhibitions by two young artists, thematising affinities between Finland and Asia through lens-based images, found objects and live organisms.
Trevor Yeung (born in Guandong Province, China,in 1988, lives in Hong Kong) is a new art star on the East Asian sky, beginning to exhibit more regularly in Europe. He has had solo exhibitions in Hong Kong and China, Switzerland and France, and he has participated in large events such as the 10th Shanghai biennial in 2014 and the EVA International biennial in Limerick, Ireland, in 2018. This is his first exhibition in Finland.
Yeung’s work speaks of the emotional and behavioural conditions for human life in spatial installations incorporating photographs and objects (both crafted and found) but also plants (like in this exhibition) and sometimes animals (usually live fish in tanks or shells from other aquatic creatures). He doesn’t tell stories but instead sets up situations for viewers to navigate both physically and mentally.
The works Yeung is displaying in Kohta’s larger space were produced during a working residency in Helsinki this winter, and they articulate ideas he connects to the city. He brought with him an assumption he says was borne out: that people here would tend to interact with strangers, and also with each other, in ways designed to minimise intimacy.
Mr Butterflies Junior, the potted palm tree illuminated by a stripped-bare light therapy lamp and spinning by itself in a corner of the exhibition, could be us, Yeung’s viewers, ‘not yet ready to socialise’. Perhaps we also recognise something of our own ineptitude in the two poplars seemingly extending their thin branches to greet each other in Awkward Introduction, one of four photographic images in the exhibition. Two of the others – Bench (Frozen Bay) and Greenhouse Sitter 2 – also portray situations observed in Helsinki, while Melting Snow, despite the title, is based on a snapshot from Hong Kong.
Declined Invitation is a piece of spectrolite, a rare variety of feldspar mined in Finland for its many-coloured shine, which Yeung has partially polished to enhance its reminiscence of northern light. ‘As if someone had declined your invitation to travel together to see the northern light and you end up projecting your imagined experience onto this object.’
Work So Hard to Make Things Happen (Medinilla) shows an outsider struggling to survive by either adapting himself to the environment or vice versa, adapting the environment to himself. Medinilla magnifica is the scientific name of this warm-pink potted plant indigenous to the Philippines, which would immediately perish if exposed to the much colder and drier outdoor conditions up here. Yeung places it on a towering array of locally sourced objects, as if it were striving to reach the skylight and reviving sunlight of early spring.
Between Water, a grid of transparent plastic cups suspended from the gallery ceiling and half-filled with water, serves the double purpose of embodying the distance between humans in settings supposedly designed for encounters (‘like two people sleeping in the same bed but putting a bowl of water between them’) and humidifying the sensitive flowers. Bottom Line Sensor is an installation with an amber-coloured light bulb turning itself on when we get too close.
Artor Jesus Inkerö (born in Helsinki in 1989, lives in Amsterdam) is already a fixture of Finnish art life, whose work has been acquired and shown by Kiasma and other Finnish museums and also featured internationally, notably at the New Museum in New York in 2018. Since January 2019 Inkerö is a resident at Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, a postgraduate programme for young artists from all over the world.
Inkerö’s overall project could be described as an ongoing process of building and dismantling character, in which the author’s body becomes a prime material. At the same time, it is as if the body really becomes the author. As viewers of Inkerö’s video performances we ask ourselves whether it can still be true that ‘the eyes are the mirror of the soul’. But isn’t today’s all-pervasive screen reality just the logical conclusion of the television-dominated reality in which artists born in the 1940s and ’50s grew up? Could this kind of work have existed without, say, Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills?
Guest (2019, 14'18") is Inkerö’s latest film, shot in a hotel compound in Kyoto that caters mostly to westerners. The character that is the author walks alone through the different rooms, appointed in a style that is traditionally Japanese in much the same way as Japanese restaurants in Europe or America: there are tatami mats and dining pits, but also tables and chairs and chandeliers.
The Guest, modelled on the fairytale heroine Goldilocks, is an innocent/insidious intruder, keeping stylishly chunky sneakers and rustling down jacket on indoors, opening drawers and cupboards without displaying much curiosity, doing the self-obsessed ‘absent-minded’ things that no video camera is supposed to see. Inkerö’s themes include such violence to how we wish to think of ourselves (as properly socialised respectful individuals) but also the no less brutal violence of exotising the other and thereby ourselves. (‘Finland is Europe’s Japan and Japan is Asia’s Finland.’)
Kohta is a kunsthalle presenting uncompromising contemporary art. Kohta’s Council is responsible for the programming and consists of artists Magdalena Åberg, Martti Aiha, Thomas Nyqvist, Nina Roos and Hans Rosenström, curator Anders Kreuger and filmmaker and lecturer Richard Misek.
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Image Credit: Trevor Yeung