Kiasma-lehti | Kiasma Magazine
Kiasma-lehti 45 | Kiasma Magazine 45
No 45 Vol 13

Irma becomes Optimisti

Irma was not born Optimisti, but the development towards being an artist was winding, and it divided into two. The story takes form in clear decades.

”We have to go back to the 1970s and my school days in Vaasa. I was interested in fine art back then. The school had its own arts club and my grades for art were always the best. I applied to study architecture, but I did not get in. I ended up in the University of Oulu studying mathematics.”

In 1973, Irma Luhta was one of the founders of the Oulu Film Centre. ”My interest in movies can easily be seen as a route towards my interest for live art.”

In the student circles of the 1970s, politics was the main focus, and the powerful left-wingers were not always friendly with the culture circles. However, Irma balanced as a culture representative in the student politics, as well as being a part of the administration and degree renewal.


The time for performance came in the 1980s. Irma saw the domestic groups Homo$ and Jack Helen Brut perform at the Provinssirock Festival and the Vasa Festival – and she was sold. First and foremost, she saw the performances as a development of visual art. Throughout the 1980s, she went to see as many performances as possible. In 1989, Irma performed for the first time with the Hopeataivas performance at a gallery in the exhibition opening of her husband Pekka Luhta.


In 1991, the artist association Muu and the Vapauden aukio Gallery invited all performance artists to a performance cavalcade for the Helsinki Festival. Irma heard of the event from Pekka and took part. This made her one of Finland’s performance artists. ”I had the spark and I decided to be serious about it. As a Feminist artist I wanted to be in charge of the situation - here Irma Optimisti was born.”

The same year, she moved with her family to Turku, and Irma Luhta started on her doctoral thesis on the chaos theory. Female mathematicians were uncommon, but her academic career proceeded well. Turku was also a good breeding ground for Irma Optimisti. People were interested in performance art and there were plenty of spectators. Turun Sanomat and Helsingin Sanomat newspapers featured her and museums provided her with performance opportunities.

A decade was spent in Turku and working from there. In April 1999, the moving truck arrived in Helsinki, and already in May, Irma Optimisti had a workspace at the Cable Factory. ”The dusty space in the cellar, however, was not ideal for working and Lauri Luhta asked if the space could be used for something more useful. This was the start of Là-bas, a performance space for performance, video, and sound pieces and events.”


Just as Irma Optimisti’s (feminist) performance art had a demand in the 1990s, in the 2000s, there was a clear need for a space for performance art. ”You could say that all domestic performance artists have performed in Là-bas in the past ten years. At least we have invited them from their lairs. In addition, we have seen a great number of international performers.”

Irma feels that Là-bas is an easy and flexible organisation as it is not a company or an association It is formed by people loosely tied to each other without a hierarchy, but it aims to not be personified. Artists are important, as is their willpower. There has been practically no money for the activity. Networks and internationality have been central in the operations.

Là-bas events have been organised in museums and other art institutions. Indeed, Là-bas always operates in relation to the situation and location. ”To celebrate our ten years, Kiasma is an ideal location for our Là-bas Biennale. The focus is on contemporary art: in new names and also on renowned international guests who have never been to Finland before.”

And it’s likely that Irma Optimisti will also perform. It remains to be seen as to whether it has affected her, in that the roles of the mathematician Irma Luhta and the performance artist Irma Optimisti have nearly been mixed up, as she was invited to the Åbo Akademi Science Days as Irma Optimisti. Maybe we will see some chaos art?

Jonna Strandberg

Irma Optimisti is a performance artist and curator. Together with her son Lauri Luhta, she established the Là-bas performance art forum ten years ago.

in the Kiasma Theatre. The programme includes international and domestic performance art, sound poetry, and art as well as video installations. The performance art photographic archive is also on show for the first time.