Photo: Nóri Varga
Mary-Lou, an "art-piece mediator" puppet.

An artistic intervention at the exhibition at EMMA museum


"I was inspired by the collaboration between the three painters: how they have created the installation and paintings together, mixing their own views and experiences”, says Noora Karjalainen, a master's student in theatre pedagogy at the Theatre Academy of Uniarts Helsinki. ”I wanted to offer a similar opportunity to the visitors of the exhibition. It got me thinking, how to create sculptures with bodies." 

At the intervention, staged at EMMA, Espoo Museum of Modern Art, the "space stations" of six students provide new approaches to the art works. The surrounding exhibition The Man Who Fell from Earth, by three modern painters Jonathan Meese, Daniel Richter and Tal R, is an absurd onslaught of colours, textures and cultural references. 

The intervention, collaboratively created by three students in dance or theatre pedagogy at the Theatre Academy, and three students of Visual Cultures, Curating and Contemporary Art (ViCCA) at Aalto University, will happen once more 24th of May, from 17:00 to 19:00. Free entry. 

Easily accessible bird watching and rule breaking

During their project, the students have pondered on how to make the exhibition and their intervention more accessible for the visitors.

At ViCCA student Verna Kuusiniemi's station, the visitors can lie back on beanbags and observe the sculptures through binoculars. The idea arose from bird watching. ”There's a lot going on at the exhibition, and it got me wondering, what if the visitor could remain a bit farther back from it, somehow casually on the outside? It could help the visitors to whom this could be a bit much. The artists behind the works in the exhibition may seem a bit like three old friends who have loads of inside jokes and a radically good time together, and the museum visitor may feel like a bit of an outsider in all of that. So what if the visitor was allowed to, clearly, remain an outsider?"

The visitor can participate in the artistic intervention at some stations but this is not a requirement. ”People don't want to get to commit too much. Maybe their biggest fear is that they're just sucked in and they need to participate publicly!" Verna laughs. "This project has been a good experience in that it has got me thinking about how people approach this sort of events."

”My idea changed quite a bit”, Noora admits. ”Quite many of the visitors arrived at the museum by themselves, and it wouldn't have worked if one person created a shape with their body and a [Finnish sign language] interpreter and I looked on." Noora began to fill her station with props, and ended up with a collaboratively created artwork that the visitors kept transforming. "In the end, the visitors came up to it when there was a lot of stuff there, and asked if they could move this, and do that. A baby was put in the middle and they started studying the objects! I thought that was quite nice: people of all ages could take part, and we would see, together, where it all would lead."

The stations created by the students are solidly lodged in the exhibition and draw from its aesthetics. The works of the contemporary painters in question have been described as playful, surprising, pioneering, and "drawing from punk and the visual culture of other alternative movements". It follows that the station of Leonore Iiebich, a student at Aalto, is a tent in which one is allowed to break rules.

”The exhibition toys with taboos or uses them in a provocative way. I don't know if you could say that the artists actually break any rules, but the exhibition reminds you of rule breaking and taboo breaking", Leonore describes. ”But as a museum visitor, you are very much inside this instituion that is very much governed by rules." 

She describes the tent as largely symbolic (all the ways of breaking rules proposed in the tent have been accepted by the administration of the museum), but it offers an opportunity to increase awareness about the rules in the lived environmetns and structures and reflect upon them.


An artistic intervention transforming the space and questioning the structures

”What became very central to me, was the spatial aspect of the exhibition. What kind of spaces do the works of art create, what is it like to be in these spaces, and what about if we offered alternative ways of being to these spaces?”, says Ville Nylén, an MA student in dance pedagogy. His station assumes the form of a durational performance and fills an exhibition space with movement and music.

“As a group we pondered whether to continue with the flippant and uninhibited way of working shared by the painters of the exhibition, or whether we wanted to offer another type of a comment to it. For me it was important to make visible the power relation between the artists and the museum visitor." According to Ville, especially the collaboratively created works show that the three artists are male artists enjoying a high status in the field of arts.

The power relation of the exhibition and the visitor can be shifted at Maria Villalargachna's (ViCCA) station as well, with the visitors commenting upon the exhibition and the comments being projected upon the  museum's walls. "I was interested to know how the visitors experience the exhibition and what they take away from it. The intervention was designed to invite everyone to reflect upon this." 

Maria has found that it is not too easy to get visitors to provide written comments: "Not everyone is comfortable with writing. But it has been interesting and great to start conversations with them and hear theit thoughts on the exhibition. Conversation has been number one, and the writing is like the second part."

The multidisciplinary approach has been liked by the students:

”I've learnt a lot from the perspectives coming from the Theatre Academy”, says Maria. ”I'm very used to working with visual artists and I'm interested in performance, but performers from theatre and dance have a very different way of thinking about the body, the presence in space, and performance as a practice."

”It has been worthwhile to work with other programmes", mentions Ville. ”The different ways of working and thinking make you see your own actions from a different point of view. You have to explain your decisions in new ways."

”Even though we have different stations, they are connected and we had a complex common brainstorming-creation phase, during which we all worked on the stations together. After that they became more or less the children of different participants”, says Nóri Varga, an MA student in theatre pedagogy. ”Nevertheless, I don't believe in these hermetically sealed boxes, or categories in art. Especially not in performative arts, so I would say that the fact that we are different people with different social-cultural background added a lot to our interpretations, working methods and multidisciplinary-ness.”

Nóri, located in Brussels at the moment — or actually the character created by her, Mary-Lou, has taken part in the first few interventions through Skype. The character is named after the female lead in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) (actor: Candy Clark, directed by Nicolas Roeg. The exhibition at EMMA also harkens back to this film). At the first intervention, the skyping character was a Barbie doll. ”In my interpretation the exhibition is an ironic and sarcastic game reflecting on the patriarchal, capitalist society we live in. The Barbie reflected the capitalist society, infantilized women's body, eating disorders, patriarchalism — a bunch of things, what can be connected to the exhibition, or at least, what we associated with it.”

Nóri tried to be consistent with the character even though she made a new puppet that took the place of a Barbie doll. ”I wondered, how could Mary-Lou create a reflective connection between the installations, the museum space, the visitors and another, totally different space, and participants? For me, Mary-Lou's function is like an art-piece mediator: not just in the interpretation and questioning, but regarding to her material and art form. She is a puppet, somehow between an artefact and a live being.”

At EMMA, the visitors have interacted with the skyping Mary-Lou to differing degrees, but at her actual location in Brussels, she has attracted a lot of attention. The Barbie and the puppet have ended up in photos with pets, and Nóri tells of a homeless woman who joined the Skype session with Mary-Lou and the museum visitors. ”This way, together, she and Mary-Lou were both agents, creators of the happening inside the exhibition", Nóra muses. ”I am not naive, I know that it is not a worldchanging turn, but a little step, I think. I would love to continue working in this way.”



The intervention at EMMA, Friday 10th, 17th and 24th of May.

The intervention includes a station using Finnish Sign Language, and an interpreter is available for other stations as well.

The study module continues the collaboration between the MA Programmes of Dance Pedagogy and Theatre Pedagogy and the Theatre Academy, Aalto Arts, and EMMA, Espoo Museum of Modern Arts.


Text: Kenneth Siren and the students