EXPRMNTL Galerie http://exprmntl.fr/Textes,175.html
Antti Laitinen (English below)
L’art d’Antti Laitinen est un art de la performance, qu’il s’agisse de performances réalisées devant un public dans un espace urbain (Running Wheel, Snow Man), ou de performances réalisées en pleine nature (Untitled, a seven day digging event). Toutes ces actions engagent un rapport physique fort de l’artiste avec son propre corps, qui le place dans la lignée du Body art.
Les œuvres réalisées dans la nature se situent également dans une certaine relecture du Land Art, où l’artiste modifie provisoirement ou durablement le paysage - un chemin creusé en rampant jusqu’à la mer (Attempt to split the sea), la construction d’une île artificielle (My Island) - et conserve les traces de cette action. Les images prises alors existent comme traces documentaires, en même temps que le soin apporté à leur réalisation atteste d’une volonté esthétisante.
In the Manila Rope (1957), the novel by Veijo Meri, the grand old man of Finnish literary modernism, the protagonist smuggles a manila rope back home from the front. To make sure that he is not caught and that no one will steel the rope in his sleep, the man asks his mates on the front to coil the rope tightly around his body. The train journey back to Finland takes a long time, and inside the rope the man starts to swell up. His situation gets worse, but the other travellers do not understand his predicament, for the rope prevents him from speaking. Finally the others decide that the man is crazy. At last they arrive at his station. Staggering, the protagonist barely makes it to his front door, where the folks think he has been smitten by some horrible swelling disease. Finally his wife discovers the rope that has eaten into her husband’s flesh, and cuts it off with a knife.
Antti Laitinen’s work shares some of the absurd seriousness of this literary performance of body art. Just as in Meri’s story, so in Laitinen’s works incongruity between an individual’s performance and circumstances grow into a cultural metaphor. Many of Antti Laitinen’s work deal directly with fundamental issues of Finnish identity and cultural imagery, they are pictures of masculinity set in a context of nature and culture. In Bare Necessities (2002) Laitinen explores our romantic notions of nature in this urban age by living for four days in the Finnish national landscape, a forest beside a lake, without any food, water or clothes. The concept – escape from culture into the arms of wilderness – is one of the basic motifs of Finnish identity : the first Finnish novel, Aleksis Kivi’s The Seven Brothers, is a story of seven men who escape into the forest the demand of civilisation. Laitinen’s work is a documented lifestyle experiment, which explores the idea of return to nature in an age of ecological problematics. In the video, we see the artist in all sorts of seemingly comical situations : lighting a fire by rubbing two sticks together, picking up ants for food, fishing with a primitive spear, burrowing in the moss under a tree to sleep. On the other hand, the pristine, poignantly beautiful nature and the artist’s naked body documented in Bare Necessities add a note of innocence and purity to the work, an idea of primal origins we can never return to, but which nevertheless continue to exist on some level. In Laitinen’s treatment, the fundamental issues of avant-garde performance art about the body and authenticity seem to acquire a new freshness.
Untitled (2004) consists of three stones that Laitinen found after digging with a spade first for seven minutes, then for seven hours, and finally for seven days. THis absurd archeological project is umbued with the same ambiguous humour we find in Laitinen’s works, the kind of humour that is created when solemnity is combined with vanity, when the small meets the big.
Yet Antti Laitinen is not just a humourist playing around with cultural meanings. His work attest to the presence and attitude of an author who is aware of the tradition of experimental performance art. The artist comments ironically on the canon of body art, such as the esteem provoked by heroic performances pushing the envelope of physical endurance or the transience of performance art. Laitinen’s graduation thesis from the Academy of Fine Arts in Finland, Sweat Work and Running Wheel (2002), comprised a running wheel in which the artist ran until he began to sweat. At the end of the performance he pressed an image of his body on a sheet of photographic paper. The "paintings" made with sweat marks remained on the paper for a couple of weeks, until they disappeared. Sweat Work is also a photographic series that records the vanishing traces painted by sweat.
Art and the artist’ identity are the topic of Laitinen’s Walk the Line (2005-2006) in which he draws his own image onto a city using GPS receiver. The self-portrait is made up of the route traced by Laitinen in the city streets and recorded by the GPS receiver. Laitinen’s performances are constructed of a few carefully chosen images. Snowman (2006), a video performance Laitinen made during his residency at the Ujazdowski Centre for Contemporary Art, shows a solemn figure with a carrot for a nose, standing inside a rain of white powder.
In Antti Laitinen’s case, the term work needs be defined with care. Many of his works are actually composed of various stages in the process of its making, when he moves fro one medium and semantic context to the next. The switch produces a new, independent work, which then becomes part of the overall piece. Antti Laitinen likes to give his ideas time to mature. In the final stages of execution, the concept is clear and precise, and the performance is carried out within its carefully chosen context. The show is documented and the record is then processed by the artist to create a new work in a new context, consisting maybe of photographs, videos or objects. A work can thus incorporate different temporal stages. By way of documentation and the switch between media, presence – that quintessential ingredient of performance, the becoming of the work – becomes temporarily independent object, a new presence.
In Finland performance art consolidated its position as an independent art form in the 1980s. Antti Laitinen (b. 1975) belongs to a new generation of authors whose work reappraises the heroic ethos and underlying notions of the artist in performance art. Laitinen’s idiosyncratic approach lends a new perspective as well as a universal dimension of humour to his performances, a humour that arises from a meeting between impossible and incommensurate elements. “Go on, laugh, you’ll be crying yet,” says father to his son in Veijo Meri’s novel – the father who never laughed in his life and considered his rope-smuggling son no laughing matter.