Introducing this year’s Ars Fennica candidates

Four young visual artists have been nominated for the Ars Fennica award, Finland’s foremost visual arts award. The winner of the 2007 Ars Fennica award will be chosen in January by Glenn Scott Wright, an art expert from London. The audience of the exhibition will also be able to vote for their favourites. Competition notwithstanding, this is an exhibition created in a good team spirit and it has much to offer. Artists Elina Brotherus (EB), Markus Kåhre (MK), Elina Merenmies (EM) and Anna Tuori (AT) have replied to frequently asked questions about creating art.

What does being an artist mean to you?
EM: In financial terms, and in terms of health, the pace of work and many other things, a commitment to art means giving up a certain amount of comfort, humane working hours and often even making allowances in terms of occupational safety. On the whole, however, being an artist means enjoying one’s work.
AT: An opportunity to deal with things that are important to me. It also means the freedom to have quite a lot of control over what I do every day, which is sometimes great and sometimes hard.
EB: Work and freedom, in that order.
MK: The most important thing is the intellectual challenge. And finding a meaningful story you like. Being an artist also means a lot of work and giving up lots of other things.

Where do you get the ideas for your works?
EM: From enthusiasm. It has very little to do with inspiration, but enthusiasm and my belief in what I do remain constant. I take a great interest in the reality of people in this world, and on the other hand I have a lot of visions that are connected with it or to some specific part of it.
AT: From my own experience.
EB: From what I see and from things I’ve read or experienced.
MK: All of a sudden, I have a vision that is so strong that I have to put it into practice. I just know that “That’s something I want to experience for myself". The vision comes to me on the move, never when I’m sitting at my desk.

How do you work?
EM: Like crazy, ha ha. I do try to work in a way that allows me to retain a strong feeling that I am also living my life. That I have the ability to live my life. That includes being able to enjoy what I do, coffee breaks, the sound of the rain, for instance, and everything that an artist's work is. In other words, I live when I work.
AT: In many different ways, at my studio I paint and I sit and stare at paintings and try to figure out the practical work; I can think about themes anywhere.
EB: Slowly. I take pictures with a big camera and I let time pass. I think and look for a long time at every stage: when I take the photograph, before I decide to do prints, and in the darkroom. Carrying heavy equipment with you means you have to put up with some discomfort or inconvenience. Making prints requires a sharp eye and a good memory.
MK: I walk. I don’t get any ideas sitting down. Maaretta Jaukkuri once said very aptly that an artist must have good shoes. Finding the question is harder than finding the answer. It’s only when I have had the idea that I sit down at my desk. That’s when the sheer hard graft begins. The boring practical implementation takes the most time.

What is the significance of the technique you use?
EM: It has great significance. I use a number of different techniques. The use of a specific paint, material, binding agent or colour is a very tangible thing. The way the material spreads, or some other particular characteristic that affects the coincidental movement in the picture is crucial. Especially in tempera paintings, an organic feel is essential.
AT: As a technique, painting is a part of the content. Taken by themselves, the elements of painting such as colour or brush strokes don’t mean much, but the subject of the painting, the colour, the brush strokes and the textures combine together to make the content.
EB: The slowness of the film demands that the model is relatively static. The slow shutter speeds sometimes produce visual surprises. I don’t use digital technology, because I enjoy the results I get with film and photographic paper.
MK: The technique serves the idea, nothing more.

When is a work finished?
EM: Somehow that’s always different. Maybe when a work looks like itself, that’s when it’s finished.
AT: When it no longer bothers me; obviously the content of a work may be disturbing or ambivalent, but the execution must be precise.
EB: When it’s been framed.
MK: That’s hard to know. At the stage when you’re doing the practical work, you tend to lose track of how someone would react if they were seeing the work for the first time. So I use a test audience, who tell me when the experience is finished. I can tell myself when something works in the visual and technical sense.

How do you name your works?
EM: Generally I try to outline the subject or somehow expand it, and there’s poetry in the naming, too. My works almost always have names. I’ve noticed that many subjects show up again. Sometimes even the name is the same.
AT: I try to find the same atmosphere for the name as I have tried to create in the painting. I try to make sure that the name does not provide a reading of the work or relegate the work to an illustration, a picture for the words.
EB: Laconically.
MK: I don’t name them at all. A name would only add useless information to my work or be misleading. I want the meaning to derive purely from the experience.

Does your art have a goal of some sort?
EM: I admit that there is a certain ethic involved.
AT: The goal is the direction, a little like a vanishing point, a place you can’t see. If you ever got there, you might as well quit. Searching and seeking are an essential part of art.
EB: To outline a piece of order in a visually chaotic environment.
MK: Every work of mine has a goal, but I don't want to lock down my entire production into serving just one goal. That would be too simple. When we reach the point where I begin to copy myself, I’ll say what my goal is.

What is the artist’s role in society?
EM: I don’t really know, the role of an outsider, that carries certain advantages, too. Working long days for 15 years without wages, without an income… well, it isn’t easy, that’s for sure, and there is a high risk of social exclusion. Most artists live in terrible poverty. I have also gathered from the bureaucracy that many artists are forced to somehow justify their choice of occupation over and over again. I remember an incident from when I lived in Brussels; it was four o’clock in the afternoon and all the civil servants were leaving their offices when I was just setting out to go to my studio. A vast wall of people with briefcases moved towards the central railway station and I had to somehow dodge through against the current. It was positively Kafkaesque and it may be a simple but apt reflection of the artist’s role in society.
AT: It’s hard to say. I think the artist’s role in society is somehow to defend meanings and values that are hard to measure but that nevertheless exist and exert an influence. The freedom of art lies in the fact that you can choose to express the injustice of society or the lovely feeling of a summer day.
EB: In society today, the artist defends cultural values and things that cannot be measured in terms of money.
MK: The artistic brotherhood likes to see itself as an alternative source of good. Artisthood can also be a statement in favour of a good life.