Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tommi Toija: Mutatis mutandis (exhibition, Amos Anderson Art Museum)

Tommi Toija, March 2014. Photo: Stella Ojala / Amos. Click to enlarge.
Tommi Toija: Mutatis mutandis. Amos Andersonin taidemuseo | Amos Andersons konstmuseum | Amos Anderson Art Museum, Yrjönkatu | Georgsgatan 27, Helsinki. 15 August - 27 October, 2014.
    Painted ceramics, brass, fibreglass, glass balls, type metal, mixed media on plywood, plastic, steel, wood, lead, bronze, aluminium, pillow.
    Vernissage, 14 August 2014.
    Words of welcome: Kai Kartio (Director, Amos Anderson Art Museum). - A word by Tommi Toija. - Opening of the exhibition: Erik Söderblom (Director, Helsinki Festival).

Book: Tommi Toija: Minä - me [Me - Us]. Essays by Susanna Luojus, Otso Kantokorpi. Edited by Tanja Saarto, Jaakko Pesonen. Helsinki: Parvis Publishing, 2011.

Official introduction: "As part of the Helsinki Festival, Amos Anderson Art Museum presents sculptor Tommi Toija's strange figures, delicately dark ceramic sculptures, whose stories are captured in free-standing sculptures and mask-like reliefs as well as a gigantic baroque fountain."

"Tommi Toija (b. 1974) is known for depicting the ordinary using commonplace materials such as clay, leftover plywood, found objects and hardware store paint. The public has encountered these charmingly subtle little clay people in numerous exhibitions, and now Toija had added baroque exuberance, even pomposity to his visual world. Thus the little man takes on gigantic proportions when the 8.5-metre-tall Bad Bad Boy is installed next to the Linnanallas basin by the Market Square in Helsinki. The giant boy peeing into the water was originally made for the summer 2013 outdoor exhibition Open Art in Örebro, Sweden."

"Toija's ceramic sculptures are partly defined by their manufacturing process: the fired clay figures either break or are broken and the parts are then reassembled, with plaster, paint or found objects added – anything goes. In his most recent sculptures, the glazing is allowed to develop freely in the kiln any way it likes, and the end result is always a surprise even to the artist himself. The unorthodox process of constructing, breaking and reconstructing allows the subject to be refined and altered indefinitely, which the title of the exhibition refers to: Mutatis Mutandis, changing the changeable. The mutations result in exciting tableaux and snippets of stories that are easy to empathise with. In Toija's earlier work, the little people were innocent with large eyes and heads, features characteristic of children, and their emotions were easily identifiable. Now the metamorphosis of the figures reveals darker aspects of life. Their twisted, even malformed features as well as the apparent deformities with flaws or outgrowths conjure up images strangers from another dimension. Together they radiate something slightly menacing and scary, yet as individuals their endearing features remain discernable."

"In addition to the Amos Anderson Art Museum and the Market Square, Tommi Toija's work can also be seen in the Forum shopping centre. The sculpture Gone with the Wind will be on show in the Forum Platform exhibition space on the 3rd floor of the shopping centre from 15 August 2014 to 12 January 2015."

"The documentary film Mutatis Mutandis (2013–2014) presenting Tommi Toija and his art has been directed by Topi Heimonen."
(The official introduction).

AA: In the morning I had already detected Tommi Toija's giant Bad Bad Boy sculpture newly installed on the Helsinki Market Square. And now Amos Anderson opens a Tommi Toija exhibition with hundreds of artworks. Single illustrations of them do not convey the impact of experiencing them as an ensemble live in a space. Some works are huge, like the macabre fountain. Others are tiny.

Associations run wild in a show like this. I was thinking about Tove Jansson's Hattifatteners, the gargoyles of Notre Dame, Hiroshima survivors and remains of its victims, Auschwitz, Gulag, and Red Khmer. Of course "Mutatis mutandis", the title of the exhibition, "changing the changeable", includes a wordplay to mutants, perhaps of biological experiments or victims of pollution.

I was also thinking about Island of Lost Souls, Erle C. Kenton's 1932 adaptation of a novel by H. G. Wells. Charles Laughton plays Dr. Moreau who creates grotesque mutants by cross-breeding men and animals. ("Are we not men?" the question uttered by the Sayer of the Law / Bela Lugosi, became a motto for Devo in their agenda of "devolution", and for numerous other new wave bands.) (Which reminds me that in Finland the most popular new wave band Eppu Normaali ripped its name from Young Frankenstein's Finnish translation for "Abby Normal" in the "Do Not Use This Brain! Abnormal" scene).

I was also thinking about Freaks, Tod Browning's tender account, also from 1932, about those who have become carnival sideshow exhibits because of their physical deformations, even though you shouldn't judge a book by the cover.

Further I was reminded of The Elephant Man and Peter Jackson's mutant creatures.

There are expressions of astonishment, disappointment, shame and horror on Tommi Toija's Thickhead Men. They are often caught in the act of wetting themselves in whichever inappropriate space where may they find themselves. They are also often bloody. They are like fetuses from a miscarriage. Or victims of malpractice or malnutrition.

Aliens, strangers, lilliputians, giants, freaks, mutants, deviants, devolutionaries... the reflections are manifold. Perhaps the reflection is on our civilization seen as a failed biological experiment.

The contrast of this large-scale memento mori was perfect to the opening gala audience in our smart casual dresses. And at sunny Market Square - the idyllic tourist spot number one of Finland - the giant pissing mutant is a reminder that we have turned the Baltic Sea to the most polluted sea in the world.

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