Adel Abidin in a different artist documentary

What happens when fve young people get hold of a video camera and a contemporary artist? Kiasma’s cultural interpreters and director Ville Kiiski made a documentary about the artist Adel Abidin. Interpreters Petra Vuolanen, Taika Mannila and Jaakko Uoti kept a journal of the production process.


Petra: “Today we launched one of the most interesting culture- interpreter projects so far: making a documentary about Iraqi-Finnish artist Adel Abidin. We met its director Ville Kiiski at Kiasma. Midway through the meeting Kiiski revealed that we would start flming from the very frst meeting. He wants all of us to have a camera. We would flm each other talking about Abidin’s art. Everyone was amused with the idea. Is reality TV making inroads at Kiasma?”

Jaakko: “The atmosphere was exciting and a little tense, too. What does he mean we will be flming each other? What will we flm and when? On the other hand, we were all in the same boat and noone was sure of the result. That was a good feeling.”

PRESENTATION TO PARTNERS - “Like the architecture of Centre Pompidou”

Two cultural interpreters Petra Vuolanen and Erkka Luutonen attend a meeting with Kiasma’s partner Deloitte, which is sponsoring the making of the documentary. Others present include Kiasma personnel, director Ville Kiiski and the artist Adel Abidin. Petra: “Kiiski said that we will not be making a conventional artist documentary with a deepvoiced narrator and pretty pictures of the artist’s work and life. His vision is that the Abidin documentary will be like the architecture of the Centre Pompidou in Paris: the structure will be out in the open. The document will be an expedition into the art of Adel Abidin. I have to say I’m excited.”


“Oh, you mean we’ll already be flming today?” Petra: “I was under the impression that at the frst actual session working on the documentary we’d write the manuscript. I was wrong. All we had to do was to learn how to hold a camera and press the rec button.”

Jaakko: “I arrived a bit early at the Paja, which was dramatically lit with spotlights. Working with the lights, cameras and microphones was fun and strange.”

Taika: “It was almost scary to be in front of the camera - I kept thinking do I look alright or do I sound really stupid. I got confdence by operating the camera myself, though. When you are observing others, being observed also becomes easier. We talked a lot about the role of museums and our relationship with art.”

SECOND DAY OF SHOOTING - “What to ask Adel?”

Taika: “I feel that we’re now getting up to speed. We’re talking about Adel as an artist and analysing (or attempting to analyse and understand) his art. The discussion about his work is wonderful, it’s really interesting to guess at themes and hear how others interpret them. It’ll be really exciting to meet the artist himself after this. What questions should we pose to him?”

Petra: “We looked at pictures and descriptions of works that will be shown in the exhibition. Adel Abidin deals with war, nationality and power relationships naturally through sarcasm and irony. Is nothing sacred to Adel Abidin?”

Jaakko: “I liked learning about Adel’s works but meeting him was still a little unnerving. Our art history lecturers always tell us that contemporary artists are not and don’t want to be mysterious creative geniuses. They’re just normal people. Based on his works Adel seems to have a sense of humour and to be easy to get along with.”

THIRD DAY OF SHOOTING, MEETING THE ARTIST - “Do artists take vacations?”

Taika: “Adel seemed to be more nervous than we were. It was a little like an interrogation. Suddenly I had so many questions and wanted to learn as much as I could from Adel. The best part was to hear about Adel’s background and the way he works.”

Petra: “It was a surprise to hear that Adel’s parents didn’t encourage an interest in art. He started as a painter but never really believed in himself until he started working with video. Studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki was the best time in his life. It was interesting to hear that even for a professional artist the most important source of support and feedback is friends.”

Jaakko: “It was great how open and kind of straightforward the artist was about his work. What interested me most about the artist’s work were practical things like how video works are made, does the artist have to know how to flm, edit and do the lighting? Does the artist ever take a vacation? Where does the artist get money?

Petra: “Adel said he gets his ideas from things around him,people’s talk and even clothes. He develops ideas and how to present them in his head. When he has formed a clear idea of what he wants, he starts to work. Sometimes he works 30 hours straight. He prefers being responsible for his own timetable. He says, with irony in his voice, that it’s his job, it’s not a charity. He must earn a living somehow. He used to study business and has fnancial goals, too, but he says he’d display his works even if he wouldn’t be making any money out of it if it was the only way to express himself.”


Taika: “We flmed at Adel’s studio. The atmosphere was great and everyone was excited. I felt somehow privileged to be there. I learned a lot, too, just by looking around. Is this how a contemporary artist lives and works? It was very interesting to see works in progress and also older works. I wonder what how the exhibition will feel like when I’ve learned so much about the background.”

Petra: “If you read the mirror image of the Coca-Cola logo, it says To Mohammed, to Mecca. We’d only seen a conceptual image of the ready work, whose prototype was standing modestly in a corner. Abidin Travels was waiting for February and the exhibition in a container along the wall.

Adel showed us the video works Bread of Life and Ping Pong on his computer. The latter is still in progress and doesn’t yet have a soundtrack. In Ping Pong two sweating men play ping pong. Instead of a net across the table there is a naked woman. Adel didn’t want to say what themes the work deals with because he wants to leave room for interpretation. I asked him how it feels to show works that have not been fnished yet. He said he doesn’t enjoy it but that it’s part of the deal. A pretty unusual situation.”

Jaakko: “It seems like we had come full circle: this was our aim, after all. Being at the studio was a little like being a voyeur, which was nice: it was so clean, no paint or charcoal stains anywhere. The studio inspired more downtoearth questions about work, art, daily life and culture. It really was an inspiring experience and wound together everything we had done. This is what it’s all about, bringing art closer to people and ourselves. A big hand to Adel.”

-Taika Mannila, Jaakko Uoti, Petra Vuolanen