RELATIONSHIPS & ECOLOGY
Setting out to explore the concept of “relationships”, we’ve met Jenni Nurmenniemi, a Helsinki-based curator currently working at HIAP. Since 2013, she has been developing Frontiers in Retreat: a collaborative art and research project fostering a dialogue on ecological questions and their entanglement with the issues of late capitalist society.
What associations does the word “relationship” have to you?
What immediately springs to mind is entanglements, coexistence and ecosystems, and the subtle transformations that take place in every encounter. This is thanks to the artists I’ve been working with, and in particular a conversation I had earlier this week with Helsinki-based artist Essi Kausalainen. HIAP and Frame’s Morning Coffee Club had a discussion on Essi’s video Newcomers (2016), an artwork inspired by symbiosis that reveals the collaborations between plants and fungi. We talked about relationships like love, trust and desire, all these human centric concepts, and how difficult it is to think of relationships without using this terminology. There are so many hidden processes, so many subtle co-dependencies between humans and other life forms that we are totally dependent upon.
Which relationships influence your creative process?
The key thing is that I work so closely, and often intimately and over long periods of time, with artists. My role is that of a mediator, and a partner in dialogue; I want my work to contextualise. I really love exhibition making, thinking about how visual, audial, choreographic, theoretical and conceptual aspects can mediate an idea. It’s definitely my favourite part of the creative process, watching things falling into place. Sometimes they don’t, but at it’s best it can be a stimulating, wonderful experience. I like discussing through or around artworks or exhibitions, because I think they trigger good conversations.
What do you want to communicate with your work?
I would like my curatorial work to question and challenge out-dated paradigms, assumptions and conventions. I think we need to readjust the prevailing ideas of the industrial society. The artists I work with now are the ones that challenge this the most, defying the idea of constant economic growth or the notion of human mastery of the planet. It’s crucial to carve space for post-fossil experimentalism in contemporary art and rethink the traditions of the avant-garde. I want to create synthesis between different creative approaches in order to reveal the hidden processes and inherent mysteries behind our everyday existence.
In what ways have your work changed you?
In all possible ways. Knowing that what we’re working with is emergent, not rigid and not conforming to existing ideas has taught me to let go of the need for control and to trust my intuition. Previously I would carefully draft every speech and lecture, but nowadays I just let it flow. I might not make perfect sense all the time, but it’s so much more fun if you can be genuine in your generosity. You can also fail, but then something more interesting will come from that failure.
Can you describe a specific encounter that has affected you either personally or creatively?
Last year I travelled to east Iceland for one of our Frontiers in Retreat multidisciplinary symposiums, and I met the wonderfully articulate Guðfinnur Jakobsson. He’d been the pioneer of organic farming on the island, running Skaftholt bio farm in South Iceland since the early 80ies. After giving a fantastic talk, describing decades of innovative thinking, hard work and small victories, he concluded with a very simple statement that stayed with me: “Without good soil humans cannot thrive”. Fertile, arable land requires careful cultivation and understanding of ecosystems – of subtle co-dependences. Our life depends on understanding this, but it’s something that rarely even crosses our minds.
WORDS Vilde Valerie Bjerke Torset
PHOTO Salla Lahtinen