Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Artist Was There When Life Happened

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
"I don't want to present things like for instance Andy Warhol did by bringing Campbell's soup cans into an art environment. That is just changing the context. A regular thing does not turn interesting only by presenting it in an art gallery. (..) I don't want to make art that talks about art or raises discussion on art itself. (...) Sometimes people who demand more money, education and attention for art sound like those Formula 1 loonies who demand a Formula 1 track to every village."

These quotes from an interview with Finnish artist Jani Leinonen in VELI magazine were very much in line with my feelings today as I walked through the exhibitions of the Museum of Contemporary Art KIASMA in Helsinki. I found myself being extremely moved by Nan Goldin's photography and one painting by Sami Lukkarinen (see pic). Let me try and explain why.

Goldin is a renowned American photographer who has made a career from documenting her own life and those usually considered to be on the downside: transsexuals, prostitutes, sexual minorities, victims of domestic violence, junkies and HIV positive people. Lukkarinen is a young Finnish star of the art world whose painting is part of a series where he worked with photos people used in their personal ads online.

Goldin's photos show people not at their best: with a bruised eye, sweaty and shiny forehead, bad hair day, in dirty underwear on a mattress that has turned brownish yellow surrounded by wallpaper that has lost its original colour ages ago. She shows people who look straight into the camera usually with a demanding look in their eyes, very seldom smiling. Goldin does not ask for pity for these people which a fresh and welcome take. She shows sex and life as they happen not in Hollywood but in cheap motels and run-down apartments. Her work shows human beings in full flesh, a bit scruffy but very present.

Lukkarinen's work then again shows people in the ways they see themselves at their best - often unconsciously reproducing common pornography and advertising imagery. They are not models but they push themselves out there, making themselves available for arousal and evaluation.

I found myself understanding and even supporting Leinonen's remark. I want art that makes me feel like something and says something about things that truly matter and which produces not just a new setting but a new meaning and an alternative way of looking. Goldin makes me face the side of our society not celebrated normally in the media and she shook a bit of my world. Both artists call for attention for life in its full which is what art should be doing.

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