Greetings from the generation of the Internet!

A review on TODEN NÄKÖISTÄ – NETTISUKUPOLVEN MAALAREITA exhibition in Meilahden Taidemuseo, Helsinki, running from 9.6. to 29.8.2010

After living in the European capital of art and beauty, Rome, for six months I returned to Finland in June, and in a couple of weeks went to see the exhibition called TODEN NÄKÖISTÄ – NETTISUKUPOLVEN MAALAREITA in Meilahden Taidemuseo, Helsinki, which runs until the end of August. [In English: ‘What looks real – painters of the Internet generation’. In Finnish the ambitious title ‘Toden näköistä’ also unveils a word pun meaning ‘What is probable’.] To begin with, I have to say that I’ve been most terrified in planning and executing this critique, just because it is very rare for my critical nature to come face to face with something I feel compelled to praise.

I cannot go ahead without shortly going into the metaphysics of art. Ayn Rand called art ‘the concretization of metaphysics,’ and added that ‘art brings man’s concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts.’ An individual artist mirrors his own moral convictions and when put in an art historical frame, also reveals something about the philosophy of his time.

Petri Ala-Maunus: In heaven there is a place for me 2010

What this exhibition promises is to portray what the subtitle of the exhibition calls ‘painters of the Internet generation,’ and I can with pride say that the metaphysical and value judgments behind many of the works seem to be aligned with mine. Simply put, I feel about the world in a very similar way that the works revealed their creators to feel. For me it is a rare moment to be in an exhibition and ‘agree’ with the works on display.

Many of the works were huge in size, realistic in nature, and were portraying the infinite possibilities of associations, which the Internet is manifesting day and night. Popular trigger for laughing out loud around Internet is humor derived from photo shopping random images together. The same visual language worked well in the works of Markku Laakso who has given Elvis a new life in the traditional Finnish scenery, as an example.

There has been a lot of ramble in the media about our precious youth losing their capacity to concentrate and understand vast topics because of the shortcuts provided by Internet and other modern media tools. Hal Crowther from Telegraph asked few days ago ‘will this digital obsession destroy the creativity of future generations’? I believe, as positive as I am, that the possibility to ‘connect everything’ will increase the creativity of the future generations.

There will be, like there has always been, people who only strive to numb their minds and the ‘digital escapism’ will certainly make it ever more easy. But there will also be a sect of mankind using the digital tools to recreate reality in a way not possible with old forms of information sharing of the previous generations (as an example localized and/or expensive education, and private libraries), which are easily seen as elitist with the eyes of the currently evolving generation. Elvis in the forest with a girl from Lapland is just the beginning – it seems to say that you can have everything, all you need to do is create it, for the latest generation has learned to ‘have things’ by just viewing them or owning them in a form that only eats memory space out of their hard drives.

When looking at the works of Kari Vehosalo I was amazed by his mastery of technique and of creating an atmosphere, which is at the same time depressing and tragicomic (very representative of the current state of society on my opinion). He is clearly playing with the possibility of giving images new meanings through image manipulation. His black and white paintings bring to mind a window to past decades, but the twisted humor lies in a baby floating in the air of a seminar room ( the work is titled ‘Stockholm syndrome’), or a beautifully fashioned expression comparable to that of a dramatic chipmunk (1) on a painting entitled ‘trauma.’ Both artists mentioned are clearly working from a position of self-esteem, so clear is the vision behind the end products. These artistic achievements made me very happy for the Finnish art scene of today.

I got sort of used to this atmosphere of ‘pride’ in Rome. It is a remarkable city in its architectural grandeur, which also conserves treasures of art within the most impressive settings possible. In their best, these works of past centuries represented mankind in the light of the highest possible self-esteem. What else could be enough to please an employer who is ‘next to God’ or embodies ‘the Roman Empire’?

An artist has limitless possibilities in recreating reality in an image, which will have a life of its own. How he feels about the world around him and himself will work as important premises behind the end product. What I find interesting is that, after decades of mind disintegrating meaningless art, we have apparently arrived to a point when the word ‘sublime’ can be used again. What I mean by mind disintegrating is the sort of art, which draws the attention of just one sense or aims merely at invoking intangible emotions (or at its worst by being merely ‘provocative’).

Human beings have great difficulty in conceptualizing their stand in life, which is never a simple matter. At its best, art can concretize a vast array of ideas and emotions to a tangible for, and give an individual a ‘this is it’ –experience, which in itself is one of the most liberating possible. It reassures a person of his own moral stand, and reminds him that he is not alone with it.

If one possesses the skill and has the means to produce great paintings, then the reason not to do so lies within the self-esteem of a person – this is my belief on the matter. I am reluctant to go too far to see what the metaphysical implications are behind the under-achievements among the female artists in this exhibition. I will settle to just describing them in brief. Paula Ollikainen clearly has talent especially in how she uses light, but chooses such poor subjects delivering just an empty, intangible emotion. Tiina Mielonen does the opposite with choosing interesting subjects and using potentially highly expressive material in her works, but achieves nothing but an emotion thrown in the air due to poor technique.

Stiina Saaristo is the only one in the female camp having in her works a very distinctive style. The works seem to arise from an internal conflict with the values superimposed by society. She pictures herself strangled and mutilated by dolls and ponies, revealing a self-loathing individual seeking someone to blame for her internal torment from childhood accomplices, to give you my five pennies worth of psychoanalysis. To play around with gender question in the frame of this exhibition, I personally find it humorously fruitful to compare her view of herself to that of another painter in the exhibition, who is also displaying a self portrait (I knew it was a self portrait the moment I saw it, by the way): Petri Ala-Maunus and his work ‘There is a place in heaven for me and my kind 2,’ in which the artist is, you guessed it, in heaven.

In my humble opinion, the Internet is the world of possibilities and the embodiment of freedom. The members of the present generation, apparently called generation Z, which was born and raised with internet at hand, have learned how to exist as a free individual in the sphere of the Internet – potentially anonymous, all knowing if just able to come up with the right search terms, existing anywhere, anytime, and possibly immortalized by becoming part of a ‘meme.’

Ideally, the ‘Internet generation’ has experienced first hand that which has been lingering in the words of philosophers for centuries – the world of ultimate possibilities. Art, on the other hand, has always had the capacity to show how things ought to be, not just how they are. So, logically, we should have in our hands a generation that knows from experience what this ought to be is, and thus should also be able to express this value standpoint in art. Members of the previous generations seem to think between their commentary lines that Internet is a world completely separate of the ‘true’ world. There does not, most likely, exist this kind of dualism among the generation Z any longer. It will be interesting to see which way the values will flow – from Internet to society or from society to Internet – before the dualism completely ceases to exist.

I like to think, that this is what is referred in the subtitle of the exhibition, and that this is also something to go and see ‘behind’ these paintings, that is, the sense of life of the Internet generation.

Next to the more realism oriented works, there lies strong, surrealistic works by Minna Jatkola, Markus Heikkerö and Ville Löppönen, none of which brought anything to my mind that I could put to words. Juha Hälikkä falls to this group too even though all of his works in this exhibition are not from the extremist end of his surrealistic line of works. All his three works on display had almost a psychedelic undertone due to the style he has used in all of them, which was linked to Caravaggio in the exhibition material. As an example, on the face of Mickey Rourke he has portrayed how the skin of a human being apparently looks like when one is under the influence of LSD.

1. ‘The best 5 second clip on the internet’, I give you Dramatic Chipmunk

Sources:

Hal Crowther: One Hundred Fears of Solitude

Generation Z