Kunsthalle Kohta is preparing for its 18th opening since the beginning more than three years ago, so we might say that we are coming of age.
This time we are weaving two exhibitions into one by showing videos by Michel Auder (France/US, 1944) on seven screens (plus one projection) while reserving the walls (painted red, the traditional ‘active neutral’) for images that Outi Martikainen (Finland, 1962) construct with multi-coloured synthetic-fibre braided into ropes.
As a whole, this becomes a meditation on the paradoxes of story-telling through images, pitching detachment against engagement, the randomly captured against the meticulously planned, the shared human condition against the intensely personal.
Both artists are somehow both playwrights and history painters, without picking up a pen or a brush. Yet they could hardly be more different.
Michel Auder started making films in his native France before marrying Viva, one of Andy Warhol’s superstars, and moving to New York with her in 1969. Unfortunately, most of his French films are now lost, but thousands of hours of video from his American life have been preserved.
The exhibition at Kohta – Auder’s first in Finland – contains a handful of works made with footage from 1971–2018. It presents different facets of his oeuvre, which is now a fixture on the international contemporary art circuit and was featured in Documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel in 2017.
‘Chronicles’ is a title Auder himself uses for compilations of remastered early material, much of it shot on open-reel video tape. Chronicle/Chelsea Girls with Andy Warhol 1971–76 (1994, 73′) is a prime example of his ‘fly-on-the-wall’ method of being in the right place at the right moment – and with the right people. Here it adds up to a revealing character study of the Godfather of pop art. Van’s Last Performance (1971/2002, 55′) strikes an ever darker note and immortalises the last days of Van Wolf, a Broadway producer terminally ill with cancer and a friend of Auder’s who commissioned him to film his circles gathering at the hospital and in his New York home.
The Seduction of Patrick (1979, 28′), on the other hand, offers masterfully improvised comedy by the likes of Viva, Gary Indiana or Taylor Mead, and Annie Sprinkle (1981–84, 33′) is a hilariously uninhibited portrait of the performance artist (who was incidentally also featured in Documenta 14) while she was in her first career as a porn star. In The Plague/Apocalypse Later (1984, 15′) Taylor Mead (another of Warhol’s film actors) reappears, and we also get a pocket-size portrait of the artist Cindy Sherman, with whom Auder was living at the time.
‘Compositions’ refers to the meticulously finished works Auder has been making (always with a cunningly thrown-together feel) since the 1980s, when video editing was still cumbersome. We show TV America (1984, 22′) and what is often considered his masterpiece, Voyage to the Center of the Phone Lines (1993, 53′), with its pretty beachfront landscape footage and soundtrack of illegally intercepted mobile phone calls. Both are descents into the maelstrom of the collective American psyche, whose long-ongoing decay is perhaps best captured by a knowledgeable outsider like Auder.
The same is, without any doubt, true of Trumped (2018, 9′). The title should be self-explanatory. For historical perspective, this work is juxtaposed with the more chronicle-like 1981 Regan (1981, 4’22”). A lighter, but no less critical, form of composition is imposed on the boudoir-like boutique interiors with bodies and hands craving high-end merchandise in ShoppingHeads (1990/2009, 3’35”).
To make these works by Auder easier to decipher, Kohta has had them subtitled in English.
Outi Martikainen was trained as a textile artist and has frequently collaborated with architects to make upholstery fabrics, acoustic panels, patterned glass façades and other ‘applied images’ meant to be integrated into built environments. To her, textile is both an institutional affiliation and a licence for constant technical innovation. Her image-making practice presupposes both composition (like most other artists’ work) and calculation (made necessary by her use of braided ropes and computerised Jacquard looms).
In a self-organised exhibition at the decommissioned Helsinki University of Technology, installed in collaboration with renowned curator Maaretta Jaukkuri and open to the public in September 2020, Martikainen presented five new monumental woven images. Two of those (both 2020) are repeated at Kohta: the panoramic Utö – Yta (Utö: Surface), based on photographs from the island of Utö in south-western Finland, and the more intimate The Piper, relaying a view of the eighteenth-century Piper’s Park inside the island fortress of Suomenlinna in Helsinki.
For the latter, and for A Dream Couple (2018, inspired by a vintage postcard of a young woman and a horse), she used rope containing reflective threads, and now she has collaborated with Head of LEDs Aapo Rista to create a singular viewing experience. When you look at these pictures through a makeshift mask decked out with a LED strip you see shimmering lights that no one else around you will notice.
How this actually happens remains a mystery, all the more impressive for not insisting on our appreciation, just like the intricate calculations behind Martikainen’s images. A series of images of children or childhood memories (all 2019) concludes her participation in the exhibition. They have titles such as Baby Ballerina, Rightminded, The Knight of the Teeter or Under the Pine Tree that are both descriptions of what everyone can always see and invocations of what remains unseen to most of us most of the time.
Studio Kukkapuro has lent chairs by Yrjö Kukkapuro for the exhibition. Michel Auder is represented by Karma International in Zurich. Outi Martikainen is represented by Lokal Helsinki.
The exhibition is organised by Kohta. The Council responsible for Kohta’s programming consists of artists Magdalena Åberg, Martti Aiha, Thomas Nyqvist, Nina Roosand Hans Rosenström, curator (and director of Kohta) Anders Kreugerand filmmaker and lecturer Richard Misek.
Kohta was launched with support from the EMO Foundation, which funds the arts in Finland, and is currently supported by the Arts Promotion Centre Finland, the City of Helsinki, the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland, Konstsamfundet and Stiftelsen Tre Smeder. Kohta is also sponsored by Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo (Helsinki Coffee Roastery).
Gallery name: Kohta
Address: Työpajankatu 2 B, building 7, 3rd floor, Helsinki
Opening hours: Wed-Fri 12:00 - 18:00, Sat-Sun 12:00 - 16:00
Open: 14.01.2021 - 14.03.2021