Under Your Skin

by Donald Goddard

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1. Anu Pennanen.
Still from A Monument for the Invisible,
DVD from 16mm. original, 12 min. 23 secs.

2. Roi Vaara.
Still from Artist's Dilemma,
Video loop, 3 min. 3. Riitta Pœivœlœinen.
Recollection II, 2001.

4. Juha Suonpœœ.

5. Teemu Mœki.
Marriage, Mutant Fetus Aborted,
C-print diptych.

6. Jaakko Niemelœ.
Repentance, A Model of an American Soldier in Vietnam,
Miniature soldier.

7. Roi Vaara.
Performance of Risky Business at White Box on April 2, 2005.

Group shows usually link the sensibilities of various artists in unfair or misleading ways, for reasons of ranking, marketing, nationality, curatorial showing off, or egregious thematizing.

The works stand apart, like diamonds, or stones, in a stream.

Occasionally, however, we are exposed to interrelationships that establish a context in which the art can be more powerfully understood.

Such is the case with "Under the Skin," which presents thirteen artists in the second of a three-year series of exhibitions devoted to Finnish art at White Box, curated by Raul Zamudio in cooperation with the Finnish Fund for Contemporary Art (FRAME) and the Finnish Film Foundation.

Somehow, the young blind woman traversing parts of Helsinki in Anu Pennanen's DVD A Monument for the Invisible is related to Roi Vaara's tall, formally dressed figure of himself pacing uncertainly at the crossroads of ART and LIFE in the video loop Artist's Dilemma.

They both explore, the first with a cane and an epee, the second with eyes, telescope, and binoculars, a world that is both clearly defined and profoundly undefined.

And Riitta Pœivœlœinen's three photos of frozen, fitted overcoats--Recollection II, III, and IV--have something to do with Juha Suonpœœ's photo of a bear carcass lying exposed on a table in Skinned.

In one the outer covering is there and the body missing, in the other the skin and fur have been stripped from the body.

Perhaps they have changed places, the bear that was once considered sacred and the other animal that needs what the bear has naturally.

The inside world, where the bear has ended up, is strangely structured in Teemu Mœki's photographic diptych, Marriage, Fetus Aborted.

On the left, the absolutely symmetrical scene has a young woman and man sitting in chairs, facing a wall with a centered fireplace and a small painting (by Cezanne?) high above it.

Everything is covered or concealed--the chairs upholstered, the floor carpeted, the wall textured.

fireplace is blocked off with bricks, the people have their backs to us, and the painting is out of reach---.

On the right is the fetus of Siamese twins in a jar, facing us, the revelation of the couple on the left.

It is mostly head, as is the room on the left in its strict arrangement and obfuscating camouflage.

For Jaako Niemelœ, inside is a definition of self.

His two-minute digital animation is called Fear of Loss, as though plotting the interior of his childhood home on a computer would maintain it, and him, at some level of remembrance.

The projected web of digitized lines swoops around to form the ceilings, walls, floors, windows, stairs, vases, lights, furniture, and the image, in red, of himself crouching under a table, as he did as a boy.

Perspectives change rapidly and constantly.

Modeling and miniaturizing are present in all Niemelœ's work, to bring them more clearly within his, and our, view.

Two miniature figures of American soldiers in full combat uniform are indeed toys, in the realm presumably of children, but not ones that can thoughtlessly be deployed in battle, as children are expected to do.

They are slightly too big, for one thing.

But they are also a little too affected by what they are engaged in.

Repentance, a Model of an American Soldier in Vietnam sits resignedly in a chair, his head in his hands.

Dead, a Model of a USMC Flamethrower Soldier stands rigidly in position to do his job.

Both are solitary, and the level of their consciousness is beyond playfulness, as is sometimes the consciousness of boys at play.

And then we see the model of a house that has been bombed - Burned, a Model of a Soldier's Room--small, as it might appear on television.

A projector casts an image through its ruins, creating on the back wall a ghastly moving specter of shadows and objects that were in the room, again as it might appear on TV. Anu Pennanen's blind woman, and the city she passes through, are no less spectral.

She masters every part of it, every seam in the sidewalks, every crag and gouge and cliff in a huge excavation, as day passes into night

Three times she lingers over a square tomblike slab in a grid of such slabs.

It lights up from below.

Then it blows up.

She is not hurt.

She kneels down to dig out the rest of the hole with her hands, then lies in it and gazes up at the sky with her blind eyes.

She has created her own space out of the monuments and cavities, the patterns of positive and negative, that we see and live in. Roi Vaara sees as far as he can from the signpost pointing to "ART" and "LIFE" in opposite directions.

The landscape is flat and covered with snow, perhaps like the North Pole.

There seems to be no distinction between the two directions, though he looks toward art with a telescope and life with binoculars.

Perhaps he can only see to the point in either direction, if even that far, at which the earth begins to curve.

Vaara staged a performance at the April 2 opening called Risky Business

For nearly an hour, a recorded male voice intoned words, phrases, and names that are more than familiar to us from the media and have the quality of little (or big) warnings, beginning with "Big Bang . . . genesis . . . creation of the world . . . luminescence . . . spirit . . . soul . . . matter . . . angels . . . Hell's Angels . . ." and continuing later with "bureaucracy . . . turn-out percentage . . . ambiguity . . . contention . . . counter-culture . . ." and "faceless . . . news blackout . . . agent orange . . ." etc.

The total of words is probably over 1,500, not a paltry modern vocabulary.

As this long, almost automatic poem began and persisted, Vaara, dressed in tuxedo and black tie, took Champagne flutes from twelve boxes and carefully placed them in close-packed formation, both right-side-up and upside-down, on a small table, like a waiter at a cocktail party for world leaders in Davos.

He then placed a second layer of flutes on the first, a third on the second, and a few more on the third, until the boxes were empty.

Descending to his hands and knees, he commenced pushing the table very slowly and cautiously across the floor, seeming to carry it on his back as Atlas might have carried the world.

Glasses began to fall and crash around him, and he continued on as carefully as he could to avoid cutting his hands and knees on the shards scattered about and to try preventing any further toppling of glasses.

When he reached the other side of the room, there was much debris and still one or two glasses remaining in the third layer.

The bottom layer fared best, and Vaara emerged from beneath the table with the voice still droning on.

"In my point of view life is art enough.

Everyone is the star in his or her life story.

My art is not based on professional skills or exercise but in that which people have in common.

By making image of myself I make people conscious of their own individuality.

My body is the medium which connects people to a sphere outside of the machinery of the rules and norms, and the exchange-based social system.

I aim to break the materialized consciousness of immaterial values." Roi Vaara.

Donald Goddard © 2005

The show also includes interesting and important work by Elina Brotherus, Veli Granö, Riiko Sakkinen, Fanni Niemi-Junkola, Santeri Tuori, Pia Lindman, and Axel Antas.

Videos by Granö, Lindman, and Vaara are shown on the Videobox, an installation by Niemelœ at the White Box Annex, and movies by Ilppo Pohjola and Granö were at the Anthology Film Archives.

The exhibition runs through April 23, 2005 at White Box Gallery, New York, NY.

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