The claws are out as the first full-scale artistic research exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts opens in January 

Claws and Connections – All the World’s Senses is an exhibition showing artistic research at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. It invites visitors to explore together within the framework of sound art, painting, video works, performances, and participatory exercises. The curators of the exhibition, Denise Ziegler, Maiju Loukola, Haidi Motola, and Mika Elo discuss the exhibition, which presents research broadly and builds connections between the unexpected.

Exhibition view of a gallery space with a handcart full of various objects in the front.
Petri Summanen Claws and Connections –All the World's Senses, 26.1–25.2.2024, Kuva/Tila

Claws and Connections – All the World’s Senses, is like a heaving buffet, bringing together 34 artists and artist groups – what is the intention behind the exhibition?

Denise Ziegler: At the Academy of Fine Arts, students often study towards a Bachelor’s degree, followed by a Master’s one. These are then, in turn, followed by exhibitions. Kuvan Kevät and the Bachelor exhibition are familiar events to many. However, when studying for a doctorate degree, the degree itself is not an ending, but a beginning. Of course, an entity of sorts is completed, but I feel that the researcher’s career is just starting. In a similar manner, this exhibition is not a conclusion which marks an ending, but is actually the dawn of something new. It is taking a step into the midst of it all.

Maiju Loukola: The exhibition includes a broad array of artists and works – there are 34 contributors and groups involved. It is a delightful blend that represents the artistic research and processes of individuals working in different stages of their studies and research careers. In addition, usually when we talk about exhibitions, we tend to talk about finished works. But this is a show full of questions, different things, and materials. Claws and Connections is about trials and incompleteness. 

Haidi Motola: I joined the curator committee during the selection process. Going through the applications, we decided that the exhibition should include and show the broadest possible selection of artistic researchers and actors. This is the first full-scale artistic research exhibition at the Academy and we were hesitant to limit it to a specific, bound theme. We are eager to instead see what artists are able to bring to life. The exhibition is all about building connections – something which also shows in its title.

Mika Elo: The exhibition focuses on research activities and thus, diversity and the pivotal role of artistic thinking in artistic research take centre stage in this array. 

Could you elaborate on what artistic research is?

ML: When we talk about artistic research, we mean research where artworks or art are not the subject of the research but rather the terrain for it.

DZ: Artistic research differs from art research, among other things, in that artistic research harnesses the processes of art-making as research methods. This way, art is not the subject that is being studied – but more the tool.

ML: In artistic research, an entirely new method can emerge, and its starting point is in the practicality of making art. For example, in materiality or the rhythm of creation.

DZ: To put it concretely: a doctoral student is currently conducting artistic research with wood. Working with the material, the wood is not solely malleable by the artist, but the research happens interactively with the material. When the creative process is done together, in this case, with wood, a new method must be found because such processes do not necessarily exist yet. Some need to be invented. Artistic research is work that gives birth to its own methods – something which then needs to be verbalised, documented and presented.

ML: In this example, listening to the wood as a material is also part of the working process. It can prove to be useful, giving access to new guidelines: the wood will crack like this, at this point in time the wood will behave in this way etc. Artistic research also involves challenging one’s own creation. Wood responds as you work with it, but art-making also includes a dialogue with oneself and the environment.

DZ: Many artists are also researchers, but many do not place their work at the core of the discourse for artistic research. A discourse that takes place within institutions – or in groups outside such institutions. But if there is no dialogue, then there is no community, and in that case, we cannot speak of artistic research.

ME: I am tempted to add that, in addition to the community of researching artists and the art-making, artistic research is characterised by multifacetedness and distinctiveness. Instead of trying to find a definition, I believe it to be more interesting to examine the works and theses of the exhibition through what they propose. What ways of thinking do they carry with them? How do the works connect to things that, for now, remain unknown?

Coming back to the name of the exhibition, what does it entail?

HM: When we talk about artistic research, we are always talking about posing questions. It is a process in itself, but what is truly important is the engagement and involvement of an audience. They are part of the research and the interactive process that forms it.

DZ: I think this is such an important point! When a visual artist researches through their work, the pieces are always made to be displayed and have a relation to the audience. Displaying is inherent, as is the dialogue with the audience or the viewer. The dialogue can, of course, also be built within the insider circle made of researchers, but in the case of this exhibition, the conversation extends beyond the institution. The exhibition is a dialogue open to everyone, seeking to build connections.

ML: The exhibition is on display for a month and includes the Event Week. The week sees artists, current doctoral students, and alumni of the Academy in discussion together, while seeing over video pieces, for example. Event Week also offers various lectures, exercises, discussions and other performances. It also includes reading sessions that are active, shared readings with the audience. One such deals with the memory.

DZ: In addition to bringing together the research, pieces and artists, the exhibition reflects on the role of imagination in artistic research. With the exhibition spanning between the 1st and 2nd floors of the Academy, one artist, presenting two video works in the exhibition, claimed that placing the works on different floors was ‘totally OK’. Since the subject of the pieces is stone dust and could, therefore, “beautifully descend from the top on down”.

Imagination is a resource that is often underestimated as being very non-concrete. Yet the contemporary world needs new perspectives and approaches. Artistic research can respond to that need.

Artistic research is work that looks at societal issues with a fresh perspective, boldly through the lens of imagination. Artistic research is free to find new, applicable ways of acting, while artistic processes create connections to society. If the research field, established 30 years ago, previously had to justify itself, it can now flow back to the system.

Artistic research is now established enough to want to show its claws – and fight back. It is eager to show what it is made of, while creating connections.

HM: The richness of the exhibition invites you to grasp whatever is calling you. So why not spend some more time with that? Afterwards, we can come together and think, and collectively explore. After all, aren’t we all here researching?

ME: And now I notice that there is a dash in the title of the exhibition, perhaps a connection incised by a claw?

Written by Elena Sulin

Claws and Connections – All the World’s Senses 

  • Artistic research exhibition 26.1.–25.2.2024
  • Academy of Fine Arts, Mylly building exhibition spaces: Kuva/Tila, Mylly lobby, stairs and Myllytori on the 2nd floor – Sörnäisten rantatie 19, 00530 Helsinki
  • Opening hours: Tue-Sun 11am-6pm