Interview

Jani Leinonen. Photos: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

What do you think about school/teaching?

School has afforded me many positive experiences, but also a great deal of frustration. In the Academy of Fine Arts I challenged everything all the time. No one talked about issues of power, or why something was good or bad.

In what direction should schools be developed?

There should be more collectivity and teamwork, more group discussions, more analysis of society and its structures. It should be made clear to students that all this is not up to the individual, but to the system. For example, economic cycles cause human suffering totally regardless of the individual. We should try to think about what is wrong with the system when this happens on a regular basis.

What is disobedience needed for?

I’d like to quote Howard Zinn here: the most terrible things in history, genocide, slavery and war, have happened because of obedience. The problem of humanity is that people obey their leaders because of hunger, fear or poverty, and that leads to greater evil. Passivity is obedience, disobedience requires us to be active, and is therefore a bit more burdensome.

Can art change things?

Yes and no. Art is also a problem. Many people do not take art seriously. The singularity of the artist’s role had already emerged in the kidnapping of the Ronald McDonald statue. If the media had from the start reported the kidnapping as an art project, no one would have taken it seriously. That is why we were at pains to convey the idea that it was a real activist organisation, not an art project.

What kind of a brand is Jani Leinonen?

I don’t see myself as a brand. I don’t want to reify myself, even though my professional role is different from the real me. My role is rather like that of an actor.

Are you afraid that your head will fall one day?

My friend Riiko Sakkinen has a great way of putting it: after the revolution that I pine for, we artists are the first whose heads will fall. But you cannot control everything, especially not in the age of the social media. The kidnapping of Ronald and Hunger King were concrete examples. Bureaucracy or politicians have reacted unpredictably to them.

Interviewed by Arja Miller