The Dumpsters of Humanity
Whitechapel, London, 2003: I am meeting Tea Mäkipää because I am curating a
show called the Young Artist’s Biennial in Helsinki. Tea prepares a meal
for us in her kitchen. She tells me to be careful and wear shoes so her pet
mouse cannot bite my toes. Then she says that, since there are so many rats
in London, her next project consists of catching one and eating it.
Kreutzberg, Berlin, 2005: While walking with Pirjetta Brander to
Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Pirjetta’s telephone rings. After a brief
converstaion she tells me that her daughter’s pet hamster has just died and
that she has left instructions to have the hamster frozen in order to give
it a marine funeral in the Baltic Sea.
Summer 2005: I find myself in a café with these two women talking about
being a Finnish artist in an increasingly global art market.
Annamari Vänskä: How would you describe each other’s art?
Pirjetta Brander: I find Tea’s works monumental, megalomaniac and fearless.
She works objectively as if she were a researcher. Moralistic overtones are
absent. Tea’s monumentality is manifested in her sweeping reach and the way
she condenses her message. I am more introverted and interested in details.
Tea, on the other hand, concerns herself with broader frames of
Tea Mäkipää: Pirjetta’s works are like maps: the lines of her drawings
guide the viewer through aspects everyday life. They might refer to the
anticipation of Christmas or the need to feed the child at a particular
time. Her drawing is joyful, beautiful at times, or purposefully ugly.
Day-to-day survival is paramount in her work. Even though Pirjetta is a
draughtsman, she may produce a video, installation or a painting.
AMV: Could you say a bit about where you start when making art?>
PB: For me, art is a medium for thinking. Tea poignantly noted that my
works are like maps. I see them as survival kits. For me, what makes people
tick has and will always be a mystery, and people’s relationships are the
most important source of inspiration. The biggest emotional events happen
within the family. And I see the family as the smallest particle of
society. All its hierarchical structures also exist in society. I am also
interested in the way media directs our feelings and desires. In this sense
my works map emotions and desires. I am interested in the process of coming
to know feelings, how they begin and end, the logic they may have, and
their often contradictory nature.
TM: I am interested in the scenography of society and what happens behind
it: the dumpsters of humanity–things not meant to be seen. This can be
problematic since my works may seem unnecessarily cruel or sad. To balance
this I also employ humor and irony. I am also interested in our
relationship to other species and the environment. Growing up in the
countryside and having many animals, I was never aware of the hierarchical
ordering of species.
AMV: You seem to have political aims and want things to change.
TM: Content for me involves more general feelings, like the fear of not
having an apartment, enough food or love. Some of the concerns were
expressed in my installation 1:1, which dealt with moving into a
factory.1:1 and Parasiitti (Paracite) were created out of the horror at
high living costs in Scandinavia. The end of rent controls in Finland meant
that people without a decent income could hardly manage. If we wanted,
people of every gender, sexual orientation and race could have the best
home possible. Another work, Domesticated Dreams (done in collaboration
with Pasi Mann), examines the lives of chickens in the meat and egg
industries. It forces the viewer to consider the way various species are
PB: Living in this time of consumerism, art offers the only place where one
can breathe. I want to promote the future possibilities of art. In this
sense I am a shameless idealist: I aim to keep art free and enlarge its
presence in the society.
AMV: Do you see this being realized within current Western societies?
PB: Art’s freedom has decreased. People see art having a kind of use-value
and as a profit producer.
AMV: How do you see the politics of your own work?
PB: I critically analyze close relationships between people to show that
natural and self-evident family constellations are actually the products of
certain ideological constructions and how these constructions are sold to
us through advertisements and films.
AMV: How do you see your position as an artist in the global art scene?
TM: Over the last five years I have lived in Germany and Britain. This has
broadened my outlook. Rents are astronomical in Finland, but there is more
access to nature than in London or in Berlin. Finns are more concerned
about the natural environment. Social relationships seem to have less
importance. Finnish people are more open to participating in art projects
and the Finnish art world is not rigidly hierarchical. A young artist with
talent has as many possibilities as established artists. Exhibiting in
Finland can be stressful because you know nearly all the people coming to
see your show. And there seems to be only one hot trend each year. In
London and Berlin parallel scenes occur at the same.
PB: Finland’s excellent grant system and free daycare still lets me work as
an artist. Though the welfare state is being eroded by rightwing politics,
the system continues to operate around the idea that both women and men
have an equal right to work.
AMV: As an artist, do you think gender matters?
PB: Yes. A survey from 2003 showed that most of the employment
opportunities, grants, and exhibitions in Finland still go to men, though
most graduates from art schools are women.
TM: And the most succesfull Finnish artists today are women. Just think
about Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Salla Tykkä or Aurora Reinhard
AMV: What projects are you doing at the moment?
PB: I am making a music video for Maja Ratkje, a Norwegian musician, and
preparing an installation for a leftist art show in Helsinki Kunsthalle
next year. I am also producing large scale watercolors for an exhibition at
the Amos Anderson Art Museum in 2007. As head of the board of AV-arkki, the
distribution society for Finnish media art, I am involved with the annual
Finnish media art festival and exhibition.
TM: I am an artist-in-residence at Berlin’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien. Current
exhibitions I have include World of Plenty, a large photographic
installation, in the World Exhibition at EXPO 2005 in Japan, and 1:1 in
Passion of Collecting, Leipzig, Germany.
AMV: How do you see art’s future? What are its chances in the global
TM: Art is the only medium through which one can show how life feels. This
is art’s task and it will not vanish.
AMV: What aims do you have for the future?
TM: I think my work cannot go out of fashion because I do not follow any
fashions. I aim to be open to new ideas and thoughts.
PB: I hope that I don’t get tired and depressed and that I will not lose my
NY Arts magazine, October 2005