Thriving Political Satire By Finnish Artists at the 2017 Venice Biennale

The Aalto Natives, 2017 |© Finland’s Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017 is commissioned by Frame Contemporary Art Finland, 13 May – 26 November 2017
Picture of Jessica Wood
Updated: 8 September 2017
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At a time when the world seems more politically and socially divided than ever and the news is full of depressing scaremongering, many artists and writers are channeling their frustrations into satirical comedy to poke fun at and even raise awareness of these problems. One particularly good example can be seen at the Finland pavilion of the 2017 Venice Biennale.

Political satire and dark humor have always been popular in Finland. Even their most beloved artist Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomin series, began her career by drawing political satire cartoons. One of the country’s most popular T.V. shows, The Autocrats, was a political satire cartoon which took relentless pot shots at Finnish politicians at the time. For example, one episode parodied Finland’s constant failure in the Eurovision Song Contest by showing politicians competing (ironically this was shortly before Finland’s first win in the contest). The series was such an important part of Finnish pop culture that when the movie version was released in cinemas, the entire Finnish parliament took the afternoon off to see their animated counterparts on the big screen.

Since 2017 is the year of Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence, this trend is continued by artists Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen in their installation The Aalto Natives. Using a combination of video and muppet-like animatronics, it takes a surrealist and satirical look at Finland’s society, religion, and creation myth, and explores themes such as nationalism, xenophobia, and political correctness.

The story is told through the eyes of two characters named Geb and Atum, puppets with video projectors attached to their heads to illustrate their conversation. The two divine beings created Finland millions of years ago and are returning to see how its society has progressed. Many Finnish cultural attitudes are referenced, such as the friendly rivalry with Sweden through the dialogue: “We should take this opportunity, while people are pre-occupied with God, to bomb Sweden out of pre-existence.” This combination of serious subject matter and silly imagery is one of the best modern examples of satire told through art.

The 57th International Art Exhibition, Viva Arte Viva, is running in Venice from May 13th until November 26th in 2017. It features 120 artists from 51 countries, three of which are exhibiting at the event for the first time. The aim is for visitors to see works by artists from various countries in order to expand their cultural awareness, as well as celebrating artistic achievement.

The artists behind the Finland pavilion are well-versed in mixed media and satire. Erkka Nissinen is from the central Finnish city of Jyväskylä and studied at The Slade School of Fine Art in London and the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. She has a lot of previous experience in creating absurdist video installations which look at issues such as social interaction, cultural dislocation, and gender clichés.

Co-creator of the installation is British artist and musician Nathaniel Mellors, who now lives and works in both Amsterdam and Los Angeles. Mellors has studied at the Royal College of Art and previously created pieces for the Tate Modern and the BBC. While not a Finnish artist, he is nonetheless the perfect artistic partner for Nissinen, as he also works in mixed media to create videos, sculptures, and writings to address social issues with absurdist fantasy.

Together, these two artists have created a piece of surreal but honest work which looks back at Finland’s ancestral past and forward to its future at the same time, highly fitting for its centenary year. Check it out for yourself this year at the Venice Biennale.

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