Kiasma, näyttely Dreamy Queer ja vapaus unelmoida Dreamy keskittyy seksuaalisuuden ja sukupuolen kysymyksiin Kansallisgallerian kokoelmista valituissa teoksissa. Näyttelyn teoksista voi löytää queeriä oman paikan etsimistä, kipua, rakkautta, himoa, fantasiaa ja unelmien tekemistä todeksi. 28.4.–26.11.2023 2. kerros ripustuskuva Teos: N-2017-199 Proposal for image placement (stretched, curtain) Andrey Bogush, taiteilija valmistusaika: 2017 taideteos Tekniikka, digitaalinen tuloste Kansallisgalleria / Nykytaiteen museo Kiasma kuva | Photo: Kansallisgalleria | Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Entry to a land that is not

” My life was a burning illusion. But one thing I have found and one thing I have really won – the road to the land that is not.” Edith Södergran (1)

I’m passing time and dreaming. In my dreams I become attuned to another kind of reality for a moment. I imagine another time which I call the future. Something is coming.

Dreamy is an exhibition where dreams, fantasies, nightmares, visions, and scenes are seen as signs of queer existing in the world and as potential for sharing, finding common ground. How has art documented queer time from time to time? And how can we as viewers of art find entry to something we couldn’t even dream of? Queer time opposes itself to the linear time of order. It is outside chronology, another reality and parallel to straight time (2). Artworks created in various decades settle in their unique ways into queer time, where they trace and create new dreams and seek pleasure. Dreamy is a collection from queer time.

For the exhibition I went through the almost 9000 pieces in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. As I was looking through the collection, I thought about why certain works caught my attention while others did not. On what grounds do I choose the pieces for Dreamy? I mulled over when it is that a work of art is queer. I set as a point of departure that queer is life as lived rather than some particular visuality – that a work of art is not queer in itself unless it relates to the experiences of the artist and the social conditions in which the artist operates. I thought it is important to reflect on the positions of the artist and the different crossroads where the works are constructed.

While studying the collection I also thought about the different questions concerning representation. Who are the artists whose pieces can be found in the collection and whose cannot? Which artists have more works there, which less? I observed that a large part of the artists included in the collection who I recognised as living queer lives were homosexual men or assumed by me as such. The women represented were considerably fewer in number, as were the non-binary identities. The National Gallery keeps a three-option statistics on the gender of artists, but listing is a tricky business because it brings up the question: What are the criteria used in making the list and how often is it revised? Is it, for instance, relevant to statistically document the gender of artists who have already passed away, if they themselves were never asked what it was?

According to the current understanding, gender and sexuality are in motion and, as identities, strongly related to the vocabulary used in any given time. Many identity categories have come into use as late as the end of the 20th century or the 21st century, and the history of queer as concept is plural as well. The gist of the matter is, however, that queer finds its meanings outside of norms. I am enticed by the notion of José Esteban Muñoz that queer is something that does not yet exist, that it is something not yet known to us: “Queer as utopian formation is a formation based on an economy of desire and desiring. This desire is always directed at the thing that is not yet here, objects and moments which burn with anticipation and promise.” (3)

Muñoz sought freedom outside of identification, and the more I have reflected on the essence of queer, the more interested I have become on disidentification. I believe that opposing categories is at the core of queer. This kind of life that opposes both staying put and going with the current is, in the wider perspective, the ground of all human growth. Life is staying in motion and accepting change. I am not surprised that many artists are queer or that artistry and queerness sometimes go hand in hand. There is an element of trailblazing in both, desire and ability to invent new routes and create life from the inside, from one’s own desires and dreams.

Related to directing orientation from inside to outside is the notion of transitional space, coined by psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott. In Winnicott’s view the child learns to form the experience of continuity between the self and the surrounding reality with objects. The object can be for instance a soft toy, or a picture of the parent drawn by the child. The objects function as hinges in negotiating the border between the internal and the external. They enable the formation of a transitional space in which the I operates with others. (4) Thinking about the significance of transitional space and objects is fruitful also in relation to the formation of queer experience as a coherent experience of being in the world. That one can discover one’s own fantasies and internal world in one’s surroundings is literally vital. The role of visual culture is central in promoting queer representations. Works and images are hinges between one’s own world (dreams) and the real world.

The creation of artworks is creation of being in the world and finding hinges there for the artist as well. The image found by Jessica Andrey Bogush (b.1987) in Tumblr is an object. Tumblr was at the beginning of the 21st century an important site for the queer community for finding images and through them, finding oneself. Proposal for image placement (stretched, curtain), 2017, is a “found object” which through the gesture of editing both hides itself and becomes visible; both the image and its meanings are “hiding in plain
sight”. (5)

I was born in the 1980s, and for me growing up in a hetero- and cisnormative culture meant feeling fundamentally different from the others. I did not know of a single queer person in my home town. I grew up thinking that I must hide my queerness. From the local library I secretly borrowed Alison Bechdel’s graphic novels, Dykes to Watch Out For (6), seeking entry to a world I could not find around me. At the same time, I also felt that I cannot live a full life unless I can openly be what I am and live in relationships in which I can express my desires and sexuality. This experience has a name, and the name is being in the closet.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s book Epistemology of the Closet (1990) deconstructs the binary distinction between homosexuality and heterosexuality as well as private and public. Sedgwick sees the distinction as political action that reinforces and sustains cishetero
culture. (7) When I think about the normatising of sexuality and the past decades from the viewpoint of various closets, I think about how queer individuals have somehow managed to find ways to communicate their desire, need to connect and longing to be with their kind. Euphemisms have been used in dating ads and there have been speakeasies, woods and swimming pools. Closeted desire has found objects.

In the works of Kalervo Palsa (1947–1987) it is the act of desire that functions as entry to an imaginary world: desire is perverse and it burns in the midst of coldness and darkness. In these works, desire often finds an outlet through anxiety and malaise while yet seeking objects in the real world to engage with. Terror, porn, sexuality and death intertwine. (8) Turning a mental landscape into an image binds the internal experience to everyday reality and, in passing, brings about a whole new visual world.

In queer culture, club bathrooms and dance floors are traditional places of seeking and finding intimacy and connection. In Jacolby Satterwhite’s (b. 1986) work En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance: Track #1 Healing in My House (2016) the childhood home and the night club are paired as equal sites for the construction of selfhood: the club is home; the virtual world is home. People who share the same place form a community. (9) Nan Goldin (b. 1953) also found home in the queer community, and photographing and documenting it has been an expression of love for the chosen family – or else it has been a substitute for sex, as she says in the documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. (10)

In the paintings of Bogna Luiza Wisniewska (b. 1988) there is longing for intimacy and for tangible warmth. (11) The text in the work Crushing on repeat, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” is also a song by Foreigner and the song that plays in Fucking Åmål, an iconic queer movie for my generation, in a scene where the main characters Agnes and Elin are smooching in a car. The queers often describe the first queer kiss as feeling like the first kiss and the first queer relationship like the first relationship, as the experience of how love really feels.

It is thought-provoking to think about what it takes to live openly out of the closet. What kind of society, culture and community would foster the ability of everyone to reach for relationships and expression of sexuality and gender that are right for them? In the past decades there have been changes in Finland in the fields of legislation and social norms concerning the so-called private life, expression of sexuality, relationship norms and conception of gender. Certain practices that previously belonged to subcultures, such as kinky, have become mainstream while on the other hand many separatist spaces characteristic to queer culture that used to facilitate coming together have petered out. Visibility has many aspects, and sometimes a hiding place offers shelter and safety. The question of living out of the closet leads back to the meaning of representations. What we see has a fundamental bearing on what we desire and what we know to be possible.

Andrea Glik, a somatic trauma therapist, writes that everyone would benefit from surrounding themselves with glimmers, that is, things that radiate joy. Glimmers are a kind of antithesis to KonMari: rather than discarding all clutter that does not bring us any joy, we furnish our lives with things and objects that remind us of what we enjoy and which world we inhabit. Glik describes glimmers as a counterforce to triggers, as symbols of safety. (12)

A notion similar to glimmers has been present in setting up Dreamy: works of art are objects with which we surround ourselves and which thereby anchor us to the kind of world which gives us pleasure and feels like home. The glimmers work actively in us as grounding elements creating safety. The exhibition is based on the idea that queerness as named has meaning, and that the meaning it has is in itself glimmer. An artwork is glimmer when it functions as a desirable, healing, wonderful, empowering, warm, safe, assimilable, grounding or homey element. Each piece will probably not bring up these emotions as there is also a lot of pain and conflict. Neither is it necessary that a work bring up anything at all – it is enough that it is. Queer is a position and a radically lived life.

Dreamy is a dreamworld come real, navigation in the transitions and power relations of straight and queer time, dreaming, remembering and making real.

Author:Max Hannus

Vieraileva kuraattori / Guest curator

The author is a freelance curator and writer from Helsinki, with an interest in the interfaces of desire, human relationships and making of art.

Translation: Soili Petäjäniemi


  1. Edith Södergran, “The Land That Is Not” (1925). Trans. David McDuff. Complete Poems (Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, 1984). The author’s reference is to “Maa jota ei ole” (1925). Trans. Uuno Kailas. Kultaiset linnut (Hämeenlinna: Karisto, 1990), 117–118.
  2. José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia. The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 25.
  3. Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 26.
  4. Donald W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (London and New York: Routledge, 1991 (1971)).
  5. Jessica Andrey Bogush, Proposal for image placement (stretched, curtain), 2017, work in Dreamy.
  6. Alison Bechdel, Dykes to Watch Out For (1986). Trans. Stina Grönroos. Lepakkoelämää (Helsinki: Like, 2000).
  7. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkley, University of California Press, 1990).
  8. Kalervo Palsa, works in Dreamy.
  9. Jacolby Satterwhite, En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance: Track #1 Healing in My House, 2016, work in Dreamy.
  10. Nan Goldin, Pjotr and Jörg on their hotel bed, Wolfsburg (1997), Pawel on the beach laughing, Positano, Italia (1996), works in Dreamy. Laura Poitras, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022), documentary.
  11. Bogna Luiza Wisniewska, works in Dreamy.
  12. Andrea Glik, “The Nervous System, Triggers & Glimmers!”, 2019.