One often assumes that a “genuine” experience of any particular locality, the “local” experience, is what can be identified as sincere or specific to that place. The “sincere” is assumed to be the “personal”. The “local” is assumed to be the uninhibited. But all this is based on particular forms for expressions of sincerity and we use these to orient ourselves. In truth sincerity is a fluid and intangible matter, so how can we ever use it to define a point on a map? Jenni Markkanen, Vibes and Tuomo Tuovinen each act as guides in this sense – offering vibrant glimpses into their personal search for the sincere and, thus in turn helping us locate ourselves in relation to their processes.
In Finnish language sincerity does not translate to one but is described with several words: earnestness, honesty and transparency, immediacy. Finnish language Wikipedia thread on the subject does not exist online. Unlike with the assumed Latin origin of the word – sincerus, meaning clean, pure, sound (1525–35)* – there’s nothing in the Finnish translations of the word that connects sincerity to purity or cleanliness other than the word transparency. And we are crazy about transparency: see the annual Corruption Perceptions Index data by Transparency International.
I dare to state that in my lukewarm western culture sincerity is commonly assumed as a constructed social ideal. Sincerity is something too romantic, something emo and uncertain, wobbly naivety and maybe even deceitful. How would we know if someone acts alone the same way when in the presence of others?
Sorbus Gallery recommends the following artists and artist group because their work gives us an experience of a sincere…something. Maybe we’ll never exactly know what that something is, but that is what makes them stick with us.
*Source: The Oxford English Dictionary
Jenni Markkanen looks at you directly, earnestly, honestly from the screen. This is a storyteller. Looking you in the eye Markkanen makes both her working process and motives transparent. This allows the viewer to simultaneously be aware that they are looking at an art work and be touched and carried away by it. Though she may be looking out as a performed character there is no question it is Markkanen speaking her personal truths. There can be a piercing earnestness that is nearly heartbreaking. Sincerity and its expressions is an essential medium in Markkanen’s work. She is questioning how to express and how to receive expressions of sincerity, sinking her hands into the pot of sticky, warm goo of deep feeling and seeing what she pulls up.
Markkanen says about the work Rabbit Called White (Jänis nimeltä Valkoinen) (2014) “By combining the content of the story, the traditional style of good moral fairy tale and the unprofessionally trained touch of the performer’s act, the performance strongly evokes the idea of ironical intention. However, by never reaching the ironical sense, the work estranges itself into an opposite level, reflecting the idea of pure sincerity.” It is saccharin, but not abjectly so, and reminds one of the essential process of placing yourself, as a youngster in bed at story time, in relation to the world; contextualizing your life experiences, through fictional stories. At that young age these stories were as real as anything else despite our awareness of fiction. Maybe they can still be so.
She says goodbye to her recent cast of characters in Creation Of A Character (Hahmon synty) (2014), performed and created at Sorbus Gallery. She explains that each character from the last few years has emerged from a part of herself and a need of herself, embodying both. She says the experiences she has had as these characters is the greatest truth she knows. She says all this live, in front of a camera, during a series of single-take performances (the videos of which are screened in the gallery the following day until the next evening performance). I get the impression that it is when performing that she can be most sincere, and we, the audience, who she loves, can have the most sincere experience of Jenni Markkanen. And this is the goal; the utopia; the saccharin, uncomfortable, but necessary result. And who is the next character? The character she seeks at the end of this work? Not to spoil the end I’ll just say Markkanen boldly faces both herself and the cliches of artist self discovery with no fear, speaking whatever comes to mind and finding her own truth within it.
Video still from Creation of a Character (2014), Jenni Markkanen
Video still from Frame (2013), Jenni Markkanen
Vibes is a total, perennial piece consisting of one-off performances, situations and gatherings. Its key characteristics are commitment, spontaneity and constant change.
This summer the collective Vibes ran a health centre (Hoitola) in Sorbus Gallery in Helsinki. During the ten days the health centre welcomed people to wake up at the sunrise and join their daily morning jog after the morning meditation session at 4.15. During the ten days people were writing grant applications, making energy objects from clay and were guided thru a sitting meditation to focus on inner and outer vibes. During the ten days some in Helsinki woke up early. During the ten days a group of actors would read your first play for you and others would listen. During the ten days the receivers of a noise therapy were swaddled in sheets.
After the ten days your hands were soft and tender (They did indeed also give you hand treatments). After the ten days the air was still cold although it was summer in Helsinki. It wasn’t the sixties but 2014 and when Hoitola at the end closed its doors you were leaving behind a mindset, a place where things once felt suddenly weirdly possible and reassuring. For ten days we were more hospitable than hostile and then returned back home (hoping) to get more of it from (watching) Grey’s Anatomy.
Vibes has, among other things, practiced collective playwriting and meditation. It has taken the shape of a healing centre and brought about surprising social situations. Events have been held at, among others, in galleries, theaters, festivals and private apartments in Finland.
Vibes (2012–) is a collective consisting of Ville Ahonen, Laura Birn, Anna-Mari Karvonen, Anni Puolakka, Ville Seppänen, Heidi Soidinsalo, Masi Tiitta and their friends.
Image from EU, 5 hour performance at Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum, Helsinki (2014) by Ville Ahonen, Laura Birn, Dakota, Dxxxa D, Johannes Ekholm, Masha, Anna-Mari Karvonen, Ruut Kuittinen, Samuli Niittymäki, Jaakko Pallasvuo, Pietari Peltola, Anni Puolakka, Ville Seppänen and Heidi Soidinsalo
Still image from 'Metsän hiljaisuuteen' ('To the Silence of the Forest', 2014)
Tuovinen’s work makes me think, well, what the hell else do I need in life? Not in a romantic, overly stereotypical zen-ish epiphany of “All I need is already before me” sort of way, but so often in his work he places what is already in front of me in front of me again. And what could be more sincere than that? It is not an act of simplification nor of complication, but a placing again, without pretense. His work does so in a way that communicates that this (whatever it happens to be) is something he believes in and wants to show you. That is a lot.
As an organizer of Sorbus Gallery, Tuovinen is empathetic and direct at the same time, lending the space the same sort of calm “I believe in this and want to show you”. This is freeing, exciting and sincere. As each exhibiting individual comes from a different personal space sincerity becomes an exchange and a conversation and, now and then, an act or form of sincerity happens.
In his recent Taideskole/The Art School Tuovinen places the text description of the goals of the institution and resources provided students by the University of the Arts Helsinki (specifically the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts), taken straight from University documents, in front of a fluidly composed enactment of one student’s experience of the institution. It ends with Tuovinen confessing his own struggle and realization regarding how and why he wants to make art. Decide for yourself the degree of irony with which he states “From my years in the Art School I have gained the ability to encounter the world as it is. I have found the artist I dreamt of when I was five years old in me.” These last words paired with the inspired piano solo communicate a powerful sincere something.
Tuovinen writes about his own practice:
“My work is often based on collaboration with other people and connection to people is important for me in general. I worry about art getting too estranged from the experience world of you and me.
I want to sing. Singers are able to give something to people just by being present as themselves. In my works I often create some sort of a setting and then bring in a person or a group of people, sometimes myself. The things that come up when people interact with the setting then make the artwork.
Making music videos is a way for me to collaborate with musicians and other artists, and make art that has the potential of reaching people outside the art world.
I try to find meaning in living in the contemporary world and to take part in it. Maybe utopia can happen only in the present.”
Documentation gif from performance at Kasarmikatu Gallery, Helsinki (2013), Tuomo Tuovinen
Image from Taideskole/The Art School (2014), Tuomo Tuovinen.
Sorbus Gallery is an artist run gallery located in the Kallio neighborhood of Helsinki, Finland. Sorbus opened in January 2013 and has since hosted exhibitions, performances, concerts and happenings from different art fields. The gallery tries to remain impulsive and adaptable to a variety of exhibition lengths and formats. We have found that a quick-on-their-feet space is a necessary alternative within a regional arts community that is dominated by galleries that require applications and proposals at least one year in advance of any exhibition. This format allows us to curate experiments, projects critical of more immediate issues and impulses within our peer community. We do not consider ourselves a project space per se, rather an intuitively and organically run exhibition space.
Our non-profit gallery is run and curated by a core artist working group:
Artists, artist groups and musicians who have most recently exhibited or performed at Sorbus:
Lau Nau (FI)
Brenna Murphy (US)
Jan Anderzen & Lars Mattila (FI)
Anna Rokka (FI)
H&M (FI & US)
Antti Korkeila & Saara Piispa (FI)
Angela Washko (US)
Jari Kallio & Antti Jussila (FI)
Laura Jantunen (FI)
Jaakko Pallasvuo (FI)