When the centenary of Finnish comics was celebrated last year, the emphasis was on history. The Eyeballing! exhibition in Kiasma can be seen as the culmination of the centenary – or alternatively the beginning of the next one. The exhibition explores a current trend in comics: gallerisation.
The number of comics exhibitions has increased a multiple of times over the past few years. They can in fact be considered a new presentation format for comics. But we might equally well say that comics are returning to their origins: to a place beyond the printing press.
Comics as a form of popular culture are associated with newspapers and comic books and albums. But their sequential format and comics as an art form are considerably older.
As everyone familiar with the history of the genre knows, comics are older than literature, older even than writing. Cave paintings, pictorial scrolls, the Bayeux Tapestry, stained glass paintings in churches – all these involve a serial format in which pictures are juxtaposed, tell stories and invite interpretation.
THE GUTENBERG GALAXY
However, comics as an art form are far from abandoning the Gutenberg Galaxy. On the contrary. Modern technologies, lower printing costs and a wider view of comics as a genre have finally made it possible to create stories that are limited only by imagination rather than by the restrictions set by newspaper or printing technology.
Nearly a hundred comic albums were published in Finland last year. At the sam e time, comic artists have increasingly begun to consider the world beyond printed publications. One key issue that has emerged in this context is the spatial presentation of comics. Whether traditional popular comics or more experimental works, comics exhibitions have often comprised just originals on walls, complemented with a few dramatic enlargements. The originals of comics published in magazines and books are small and do not make the desired impact in an exhibition space: we read traditional comics, but we look at exhibitions.
APPROPRIATING THE SPACE
The exhibition space could be considered a new format for the presentation of comics. It is no longer enough to show previously completed work in an exhibition. Old works in a new space demand at least new concepts and opportunities for new interpretations.
A good comics exhibition reveals the core of the art in a new and special way. It nestles in the space in such a way that it could not function in the same way any-where else. A challenging but interesting task.
As Jyrki Heikkinen says in the Eyeballing! exhibition catalogue: “We as humans are destined to compete. Good results can be achieved only by tackling boundaries. For me, at least, creating art is impossible without emotional storms, and those cannot be achieved without struggle.”
The writer is a journalist and one of the curators of the Eyeballing! exhibition.