Monday, 19 August 2013

Blowing in the Wind

Imagine freshly washed linen hanging on endless lines, neatly arranged and put on to dry.  Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen uses second-hand clothing, and mostly hundreds of discarded men’s shirts and jackets, to create huge installations which have been raising contradictory opinions and political controversy, which immediately reminds us of the open air laundries of Mumbai, for instance.

Kaikkonen, an internationally acknowledged and respected artist who has had her work on exhibition throughout the world and in the most important art centres, mainly produces site-specific, large-scale environmental installations with items which evoke everyday, domestic life. According to organisers who co-commissioned the May festivities in Brighton, where she was present with her installations “The Blue Route” and “Time Passing By”, her intention was mainly to create a celebratory portrait of common city dwellers, using second-hand clothes donated by city residents themselves. She further wished to bring a smile to the face of Brighton residents and visitors alike.

Kaikkonen’s work “Where is my Home?” – a house made of bags and luggage of different sizes, kinds and origins – can achieve the shape of a small house that is collapsing or that of an unfinished one, is an allusion to the construction of the EU. It has been on exhibition in places as different as the Helsinki Main Station, the Vilnius International Airport, the Plataforma das Artes in Guimarães or the Centre International d’Accueil et d’Échanges des Récoltes in Paris.

A favourite one, however, and one of Kaarina Kaikkonen’s most recent works, is “Are we still going on?” (2013), which is made of hundreds of shirts that seem to be holding hands, neatly organised by colour and resembling, in its shape, the interior hull of a ship. In the carefully arranged blue to pink shading of the colours of garments which seem to be holding hands, she evokes a dialogue between the masculine and the feminine. She further echoes her concerns about people, the relationships they can set among themselves, and how they connect to each other, in short, about life. In its allegory of a boat, this artwork is particularly moving as a metaphor of life as a journey, turning out to be even more touching since viewers can easily identify themselves with the common everyday material used in its creation: the clothes we all wear.

A particularly relevant aspect about Kaarina Kaikkonen’s creations is the fact that viewers are allowed to walk around and along their perimeter and to explore them as if they were territories meant for them to explore. Visitors to her exhibitions are, thus, offered the strong sensation that they are actually plunging into the works and embraced by them, as if they were actors moving within the setting unfolding all around them.

Interestingly enough, the names of Kaikkonen’s works are often questions, which immediately leads us to think that she is often  directly addressing viewers and inviting them to participate and get involved in her creations and in her quest.

Just like Bob Dylan’s song, from which the title of this text has been borrowed, asks fundamental questions about our journey in life, her installations seem to herald questions which are blowing in the wind, in the same sense as “the answers, my friends, are blowing in the wind”.  

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