"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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