Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Arctic Hysteria: New Art from Finland at P.S. 1

Also at P.S.1 through September 15 is Artic Hysteria: New Art from Finland, which introduces sixteen contemporary Finnish artists to an American audience. Art from Finland, it turns out, is dark, honest, dryly humorous, and executed with sophistication. All media from drawing to sculpture to video to installation are included, along with some creative uses of P.S. 1's more unconventional spaces.

Pekka Jylhä, I Would Like to Understand, 2000-01

A spooky rabbit by Pekka Jylhä lurks in a corner inside the galleries. Another sits at the edge of a massive saucer, pondering or perhaps commanding it. Though tiny, they are menacing, and their intentions are never clear. Jylhä has used stuffed rabbits, goats and birds in several works. Each seems burdened with terrible knowledge.

Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, Complaints Choirs, 2005-08

Complaints Choirs, organized by Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta Kalleinen, invites people in cities around the world to come together and sing about how much the world sucks. Participants in Birmingham, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Hamburg, Chicago and Singapore have created their own lyrics, submitting their complaints ahead of time. Accepted without audition, their laments are robust nonetheless.

Stiina Saaristo, The Celebration-Festen, 2006

Stiina Saaristo's large graphite on paper drawings depict festively clad, glum-faced figures in ostentatious surroundings. Clad in gowns, these stern characters are matronly yet ambiguously gendered. The drawings are hyper-realistic and detailed, the silk of the dresses soft and luxurious. In its grotesque decadence, Saaristo's work evokes Velazquez, referencing the doll-like princess of Meninas in one image.

Veli Grano, installation view at P.S. 1

P.S. 1's converted city school building provides some wonderfully strange gallery spaces. Veli Grano's film installations are situated in the basement boiler room, beside the 100+ year old wood-fired central heating oven. The history of the building is complex, spanning a political machine-driven scandal over its construction, the consolidation of the City of New York from independent municipalities, 70 years of elementary school students and 32 years as a contemporary art mecca. The boiler room is cavernous, filled with dusty pipes and canisters, and Grano's atmospheric black-and-white films haunt the space.

Veli Grano, Meet You in Finland Angel, 2000-03

Grano's work is based in documentary methods. The centerpiece, Meet You in Finland Angel, introduces a tireless cart collector at a popular ferry terminal, and his house-bound wife. His seven-day-a-week schedule leaves her alone with her sorrow, which eventually reaches a peak. Smaller video portraits of these subjects peek out from within the room's vast heating machine.

The Futuro Lounge, an homage to Finnish architect Matti Suuronen's futuristic design of the Futuro House from 1968, 2008

A more utopian architecture also plays a part. One gallery is given over to the Futuro Lounge, a reimagining of architect Matti Suuronen's 1968 Futuro House. A pocket-house designed to function as a ski lodge, it has been adapted into a video lounge. Its tranquility is inviting, but the sleek white surfaces can be intimidating. The atmosphere is oppressive enough that it becomes apparent why the original houses were discontinued after 10 years. Still, the project is significant for its inventive approach to exhibition design.

Still many more artists are to be discovered in the exhibition, which spans 1 1/2 floors of the enormous building. Though the show ascribes a neurotic nature to the Finns, much of the show feels contemplative. The cold and dark seem to enable a certain emotional directness to emerge from the Finnish landscape, resulting in a clear-eyed look at the human condition.

More images of the exhibition can be seen here.