Ars Fennica 2017

A joint exhibition by the candidates of this year’s Ars Fennica prize opens in Kiasma in 13th October.

  • 13.10.2017–18.2.2018

Pekka & Teija Isorättyä, Nature Morte, 2017. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

Kiasma proudly presents a joint exhibition by the five candidates for the 2017 Ars Fennica, the most prestigious art award in Finland.

The candidates are Maija Blåfield, artist couple Pekka and Teija Isorättyä, Perttu Saksa, Kari Vehosalo, and Camilla Vuorenmaa. As artists working with photography, painting, sculpture, installation or film, they reflect the diversity of Finnish contemporary art while exploring the potential of different narrative modes.

The Winner of the Ars Fennica Prize Is Kari Vehosalo

The winner of the Ars Fennica Prize Award is Kari Vehosalo. The award is for the sum of 40,000 euros. The winner was chosen by curator Beatrix Ruf and she justifies her choice in her statement as follows:

“While visiting Kari Vehosalo’s studio and seeing his installation in the Ars Fennica exhibition at Kiasma, the profound and striking experience was for me the ghostly rendering of things as we know them. Images, the history of thinking, the history of metaphor and symbol and the function of language all merge into a theatricality of disruption; in Vehosalo’s work, human desires in their many forms of cultural expression have become dysfunctional and are reconfigured.”

The visitors have also voted for their favorite at the exhibition. The winner was Teija and Pekka Isorättyä.

Fifth time at Kiasma

Ars Fennica is the largest visual arts award in Finland. It is presented annually by the Henna and Pertti Niemistö Foundation sr. The foundation was established in 1990 to promote the visual arts, to open up new international contacts for the Finnish art world and to encourage artists in their creative work.

The Ars Fennica exhibition is now being held at Kiasma for the fifth time. The award was last presented in 2015 to media artist Mika Taanila.

Read more about ARS Fennica

In Their Own Words

Read what the artists have to say about their own works:

Maija Blåfield: On Destruction and Preservation, 2017

“On Destruction and Preservation is a film that consists of consecutive stories. Its structure is circular: it has no beginning or end. Visitors to the exhibition in Kiasma can step into the piece at any point.

All the stories are about destruction and preservation. They are all documentary in different ways, and are based on real events, although each one is unbelievable in its own way. The narrative styles range from direct documentary to essay film.

One of the stories was shot during a taxi ride in the village of Longyearbyen in the Arctic Svalbard. The February day was about 20 degrees warmer than average because of climate change.

The scene consists of a guided tour with all the parts omitted except those about unusual weather and security. Because of the darkness and the rain it is impossible to see anything, and the viewer must rely exclusively on hearing.”

”Serious matters cannot really be dealt with without humour, which is an essential part of life.”

“The other extreme in terms of narrative style is a mushroom sex scene, as a result of which a rotting house gives birth to new life. The narration resembles that of a nature documentary, except that the procreative process of mushrooms is seen from a humanising perspective.

In an episode based on a poem I once wrote, Instructions on Building a Monument, the only documentary element is the view of a construction site in a city that is used to illustrate the recital.

Although the stories in the film are separate, there is always a thematic thread that connects one episode to the next. The water damage is a kind of undercurrent for the film, emphasised by the soundscape.

I really like difficult subjects. How do you talk about destruction so that someone actually wants to hear it? In that case you must primarily talk about preservation.

Serious matters cannot really be dealt with without humour, which is an essential part of life. This film was made possible by the people who appear in it, as their likability makes the topic easier to address.”

Maija Blåfield

Born 1973 in Helsinki. Graduated with an MFA from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2004. Has also studied scriptwriting. Lives and works in Helsinki.

Pekka and Teija Isorättyä: Nature Morte, 2017

“Nature Morte is a reinterpretation of The Garden of Death by Hugo Simberg. We recreated the old subject from a contemporary perspective. The original etching by Simberg is mounted on the wall as part of our work in Kiasma.

We wanted to make Simberg’s piece real. Nature Morte cannot be observed from the outside: you must enter and become part of the work. By walking in the labyrinth, you bring the installation to life and start its choreography.

In Simberg’s etching, the garden is tended by monk-like skeletons; in our version, life is maintained by surgical procedures and machines. We got the idea for the piece when we received used surgical instruments from a hospital.

The materials and the charge they carried – what things these instruments must have witnessed – led us to the garden of death. Surgical instruments embody both fear and hope.”

”By making machines, we also try to understand the world.”

“When we have brushes with death today, we turn away from nature, seek efficient treatments and want to be operated on by machines. In hospitals nature is present as cut flowers. And yet we

are all part of nature and death too is part of nature. Death and nature are also both present in the title of the work which is French for still life.

By making machines, we also try to understand the world. You could say our works are playgrounds of ideas.

The historical times we live in are interesting. Digital technology has become a permanent fixture of our lives. No universal notion of humanity as part of nature has yet emerged, or at least none has been generally approved. In our work, we investigate the contemporary status of humanity as a kind of in-between or liminal state. It embodies both fear and hope, future and past.

When we work together, we are constantly learning new things. One of us starts to make something, to take some aspect of the work further. Then he or she the other how to do it. And the other continues to work on it.

Co-creation is also a kind of statement: we have chosen not to focus on individualistic work and thinking. One person is not the most important unit in this world. For us, the natural unit is the spouse and the family.”

Pekka and Teija Isorättyä

Both born in 1980 in Tornio, Finland. Graduated with MFAs from Aalto University in 2010. Live and work in Tornio and New York.

Perttu Saksa: several artworks


Rose Is a Rose (2017), Ghost (2017), Cloud (2017), Mask (2017), Apple Mouth (2017), Flesh (2016), Swallow (2017), Blood (2017)

“Animals in my works are a way of investigating the human condition and the way our actions are at odds with nature, with the environment and with ourselves. I am interested in the viewer’s awareness of their own place in the world, their relationship with their body and with other people.

The familiarity and strangeness of animals fascinates me. The layered portraits of horses on show in Kiasma make visible the many simultaneous presences and potentials for being of the individual animal. In addition to the portraits I also examine the animals as objects of consumption – as matter, flesh and blood.”

”The familiarity and strangeness of animals fascinates me.”

“I’m interested in the history of photography, the politics of the image and the modes of observation – concealing and revealing. The marble-like quality of some of the photographs was achieved by adjusting the colour channels of digital images of flesh and blood. This cleansed them of qualities regarded as unpleasant and repulsive, making them as white as marble.

Alongside contemporary techniques of colour photography, I have also employed early photographic techniques from the 19th century. They have certain deficiencies and distinctive features, such as the impossibility of reproducing red tones.

This means that the motif in my photographs – blood – is almost impossible to capture using these techniques. In my search for ways to overcome this obstacle, the chemical traces and wear have become an inseparable part of the photograph and its liquid subject.

Perhaps the subject of the photograph is still present in the matter we have made it into and is looking back at us from afar, but we can’t return its gaze?”

Susan Sontag

Regarding the Pain of Others:

“Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence. To that extent, it can be (for all our good intentions) an impertinent – if not an inappropriate – response. To set aside the sympathy we extend to others beset by war and murderous politics for a reflection on how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering, and may – in ways we might prefer not to imagine – be linked to their suffering, as the wealth of some may imply the destitution of others, is a task for which the painful, stirring images supply only an initial spark.”

Perttu Saksa

Born 1977 in Jyväskylä, Finland. Graduated with an MFA from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2008. Studied Photography at the Lahti Institute of Design and the Iceland Academy of Arts. Lives and works in Helsinki.

Kari Vehosalo: several artworks


Unabomber Home (2017), Three Figures on a Stage (2017), Baroque of Violence (The Auto-Erotic Decapitation of Jayne Mansfield) (2017), Unabomber Home (2015/2017), Object I (2017), nimetön (v. III) (2015)

“I am fascinated by the fatefulness of our life. It is beautiful precisely because its end is already written into it.

I have two three-part paintings in the Ars Fennica exhibition. One shows Jayne Mansfield at left, a Hollywood star who died in a car crash in 1967. The crash itself is depicted in the right-hand panel of the piece.

The painting shares some qualities with J. G. Ballard’s book Crash and the subsequent film adaptation by David Cronenberg. In both of them technology, sex and death are fatefully interwoven.”

”For me art is an expanded form of philosophy.”

“The other triptych presents opposing pictures of an autopsy and of a stuffed deer from a natural history museum diorama. Between them is a text that proposes a question about the relation between language and death. It is a quote from philosopher Martin Heidegger. According to him animals cannot actually experience death as death because they have no language. Therefore the two worlds are separated by language.

One of the paintings and the sculpture depict a cabin. It belongs to Theodore Kaczynski, the American mail bomber known as the Unabomber. I find it a fascinating and powerful symbol: a home yet also the setting of something dreadful.

In the painting the Unabomber’s gaze haunts the empty cabin, while inside the sculpture one can hear a beating heart.

In my work I depict even violent things in a straightforward manner. However, my art is rooted in the tradition of humanism: I have a genuine interest in human life. I want to investigate the world and encourage the viewer to do the same. For me art is an expanded form of philosophy.

I plan my works down to the very last brushstroke. I photograph the subjects and put the picture together on a computer, combining several photographs. Finally I reproduce the picture as a painting on canvas.

I employ a realistic style because it has a feel of familiarity and recognisability, but I also include a small, alienating element.”

Kari Vehosalo

Born 1982 in Ylöjärvi, Finland. Graduated with an MFA from Aalto University in 2010. Studied Semiotics and Philosophy at the University of Helsinki and Art at the Lahti Institute of Fine Arts. Lives and works in Helsinki.

Camilla Vuorenmaa: Chamber, 2017

“Wood is a familiar material to me, yet it continues to be challenging. The better I get, the more dimensions I find in it. I alternate between painting and carving. The piece in the Ars Fennica show was made on pine board.

All walls of the gallery in Kiasma are clad with wooden boards. I wanted to create the mood of an Egyptian tomb in the gallery space. Although the atmosphere is ancient, there are modern people in the pictures. I’ve been pondering what a contemporary tomb would look like.”

”Every detail in the piece has a story.”

“I sketch my works by photographing. Last autumn I went to see the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki and took photos of the skaters warming up. In this work I also used photos of wrestlers I had taken previously.

What fascinates me in athletes is the notion of effort. A career in sports is a kind of condensed version of the human lifespan. One of the walls of the chamber is full of sports topics.

Every detail in the piece has a story. You can find a detail from a hand-painted wallpaper in Victor Hugo’s home museum, impressions of the ceiling in a medieval English church, a picture of a Pinocchio puppet, sheep photographed in different countries, and a Norwegian road.

Water is a recurring element. I went through photographs from my travels that I haven’t previously used in my work.

In this work I wanted to turn my gaze inwards and do something more personal than usual. I thought about moments when I have come face to face with death, as well as the ceremonies of death in my life.

It was difficult to make these personal pictures, but it was also rewarding. They turned out more abstract and mystical than the other subjects.”

Camilla Vuorenmaa

Born 1979 in Tampere, Finland. Graduated with an MFA from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2005. Lives and works in Helsinki.