Friday, July 13, 2012

Retretti: Cave Allegories – Finnish Contemporary Art and Images of Our Time (introduction by Marketta Haila)

Retretti Art Center, Punkaharju, 9 June 2012 – 28 August 2012. Curator of the exhibition: Marketta Haila. Viewed on Friday, 13 July 2012

Artists on display: Adel Abidin, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Kari Cavén, Cleaning Women, Veli Granö, Ilmari Gryta, Tommi Grönlund & Petteri Nisunen, Bo Haglund, Sasha Huber, IC-98, Elina Juopperi, Pekka Jylhä, Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, Otto Karvonen, Antti Laitinen, Tea Mäkipää, Ville Ranta, Anni Rapinoja, Seppo Renvall, Paavo Räbinä, Emma Rönnholm, Kaija Saariaho & Jean-Baptiste Barrière, Charles Sandison, Pilvi Takala, Tommi Toija, Pauliina Turakka-Purhonen, Salla Tykkä, Roi Vaara, Elina Vainio.

Marketta Haila: "Classical Greek philosopher Plato came up with his Parable of the Cave 350 years before the common era: The prisoners chained by their hands and feet in place can’t see in their subterranean cave anything except shadows projected on the back wall, created by dolls passing by a fire behind their backs. For the prisoners, the shadows are the only reality, because they have no way knowing of anything else. No one wants to believe the one prisoner who has managed catch a glimpse behind him and realized that the reality he has known is only shadows and the dolls are more real. But the most severe punishment is suffered by the prisoner who happens the break free, and comes to understand that in the world outside the cave the dolls are only replicas of even realer things."

"Plato’s cave analogy has gained different meanings depending on the prevailing stage in the cycle of history. As the pace of development has accelerated, conceptions of reality and its reflections have only become entwined into increasingly complex coils."

"Even when viewing our near history, we don’t always recall that starting from the late 19th century cultural and economic globalization was for some time notably fast and various migration movements between countries were quite strong. But the First World War and the 1930s Depression broke up these trajectories of internationalization, and the situation was to soon culminate in the Second World War."

"These transitions lay in the background of one important albeit rather short-lived period of reformation in Finnish art. It is personified most strongly in Tyko Sallinen who, like other artists of his close circle, was very well aware of and interested in the European intellectual tide of avant-garde and drew influences from it in his work."

"Even though international influences were strongly laced into Finland’s own arts tradition and its thematics, Tyko Sallinen’s career and the way in which his works were publicly received serve as concrete examples of how the familiar is seen as safe and there is little tolerance for those who question it. ‘The Sallinen Wars’ marked the Finnish art scene of the first decades of the 20th century; Tyko Sallinen was even thrown out of a meeting of an artists’ association only because he dared rise up against the leading authority of that time, Akseli Gallen-Kallela. It wasn’t until 1939 that this ‘slayer of the Finnish tradition of painting’ was invited as an honorary member of the Artists’ Association of Finland. After the Second World War, in 1949, he was granted the title of professor. In other words, it took more than twenty years before the power of Sallinen’s works came into view, and people started to understand the connection of his two main works, The Fanatics (Hihhulit) and The Barn Dance (Jytkyt) from 1918 with the tragedy of the newborn state. Social inequality had at that time ascended to a point from where the only way down was through a bloody civil war."

"Throughout the whole project of constructing the Finnish welfare state after the war, Finnish society has had to grapple with the taboos of the civil war. The new phase of internationalization following the oil crisis didn’t take off in Finland until rather recently, starting from the late 1980s. It has meant a huge and unprecedented change in many respects, as the general social atmosphere has gradually started to open up. But it has also brought along paths of development that touch upon us all, and literally force us to stop."

"Today’s global economic crisis is reflected everywhere as an uncertainty produced by continuous change. Even if the traditional social divisions are becoming blurred, the mechanisms of social inequality and exclusion are growing stronger. The juxtaposition is now defined more deeply than ever by concern for the environment, on the one hand, and different viewpoints on the potential and legitimacy of a social structure based on continuous economic growth, on the other. Growing social inequalities are in today’s world easily channeled into frustration and protests, which in turn reinforce prejudices and fear towards any influences coming from the outside. Internationality has become a dividing line in politics, and conceptions on internationality and international values are obtaining on both sides new, strongly emotional and simplifying meanings."

"Our present time, with its stake in creativity, places art in a strange intermediary role. In an increasingly complex world art is, at its best, a universal implement which through its analogies is able to pin down from reality something that the means of logic and science cannot reach. With its new perspectives, art can shift our attention in a direction from where we can reflect on some vital questions: What are the chains of our time that make us believe that the whole play of entertainment and consumption that reigns over our visual imagery is true? Does the world have any other alternative than to serve as a stage of injustice for the strong, whose actions are primarily based on the values of personal gain and success, greed and lust for power? And is it possible that when all this is revealed to be a mere reflection, the light outside is too blinding for us to see what is outside the cave?"

"Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago took an excerpt from Book VII of Plato’s The Republic as the motto for his book The Cave (2001):"

You have shown me a strange image,
and they are strange prisoners.
Like ourselves.

"Saramago builds his allegory at the threshold of the 21st century around “the Center”. It is a faceless, gigantic social monolith that inevitably keeps extending its sphere of influence. The Center is capable of looking after its inhabitants’ basic needs – homes, jobs, shops, offices, amusements, hospitals, crematoriums – so well that nobody has to ever leave or know anything about the past. But at the end of the book, a family fleeing from the Center discovers that even the cave revealed from the subterranean layers has a new, reversed life planned for it when they see the advertisement emblazoned on the outer wall: “COMING SOON, PUBLIC OPENING OF PLATO’S CAVE, EXCLUSIVE ATTRACTION, UNIQUE IN THE WORLD, BUY YOUR TICKET NOW.”"

"The artists of the Cave Allegories exhibition however get there first. They take over the Retretti caves for a while and open its allegoric curtain a crack to offer us glimpses of the multidimensional reality of our time. The corridors in the cave and the water flowing in its clefts do not carry along a congruous story or message. Instead, they set the pace for perspectives that move from one level to another and new chains of associations born from mutual dialogue on the natural conditions and cultural structures that define our existence. The only certain thing is that we cannot predict the future or know how sound a foundation our human culture is based on." (Marketta Haila)

Translated by Susan Heiskanen (Retretti)

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