The nominees for the 2023 Ars Fennica award are Henni Alftan and Tuomas A. Laitinen from Finland, Lap-See Lam from Sweden, Camille Norment from Norway, and Emilija Škarnulytė from Lithuania. The winner, to be announced on 22 November, will be chosen by Anne Barlow, Director of Tate St Ives. The exhibition will be on show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki from 8.9.2023 to 28.1.2024.
The Henna and Pertti Niemistö Art Foundation – ARS FENNICA sr organizes Finland’s most important visual arts award every other year. The award of 50,000 euros is given in recognition of an individual artistic oeuvre of outstanding quality.
The nominees and the internationally renowned art expert selecting the awardee were chosen by a panel chaired by Leena Niemistö, Vice Chairman of the Henna and Pertti Niemistö Art Foundation and comprising Eija-Liisa Ahtila, artist and filmmaker, Leevi Haapala, Director of Kiasma and Kai Kartio, Director of Amos Rex. Visitors to the exhibition can also vote for their favourite, and following the conclusion of the exhibition, the audience award will be presented.
The Henna and Pertti Niemistö Art Foundation – ARS FENNICA sr was established in 1990 to promote the visual arts. Exhibitions showcasing the Ars Fennica nominees have previously been presented in Kiasma five times, in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2014 and 2017. The nominees have included artists from Finland, the Nordic and Baltic countries.
The exhibition is curated by Piia Oksanen, Curator of Exhibitions Kiasma. The exhibition is organized in collaboration between Kiasma and Henna and Pertti Niemistö Art Foundation – ARS FENNICA sr.
Ars Fennica 2023 expert
Anne Barlow is Director of Tate St Ives where she oversees its programme of exhibitions, collection displays, artist residencies, new commissions, learning and research. Barlow was formerly Director of Art in General, New York, and held curatorial roles at the New Museum, New York and Glasgow Museums, Scotland. Across these roles, she has organised numerous exhibitions and published and lectured widely. She was also Curator of 5th Bucharest Biennale, Co-Curator of the Latvian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, and most recently curated the Samdani Art Award at the 2023 Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh. Barlow has acted on selection panels and juries nationally and internationally, including the British Pavilion Selection Committee, 58th Venice Biennale.
Henni Alftan paints everyday subjects – interiors, landscapes, personal belongings and figures. The carefully composed close-ups challenge us to consider not only what we see but also what remains outside the edges of the canvas. Combining the familiar with the unfamiliar, Alftan’s works invite us to observe them with care, to look for something in the images that is not immediately apparent.
Due to the tight cropping, there are only scant details in the paintings: a curtain, a clock, a book. Apertures such as windows or doorways, reflecting surfaces, shadows and the inclusion of an image within the image open up new spaces in the works.
“When you paint, you can observe how the image is born, because we are predisposed to see a smudge or a few brushstrokes as an image. I want to capture the moment when the painted marks begin to point elsewhere, resemble something other than itself. That’s why I try to provide only the minimum number of external references.” – Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan (b. 1979, Helsinki) lives and works in Paris. She has work in several collections, including Helsinki Art Museum; Amos Rex, Helsinki; EMMA Espoo Museum of Modern Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Dallas Art Museum; Portland Art Museum; and New South Wales Art Gallery, Sydney. In recent years, she has exhibited in numerous galleries, such as Karma, Los Angeles (2023); Sprüth Magers, London (2022) and Berlin (2021); Karma, New York (2020); Various Small Fires, Seoul (2020) and Studiolo, Milan (2019).
Tuomas A. Laitinen
Tuomas A. Laitinen works with moving images, sound, light, glass, as well as chemical and microbiological processes, and algorithms. In his practice he explores the coexistence of different species, creating installations and situations that highlight the interconnections between language, body and matter in changing ecosystems. His influences include science fiction, mythology and schools of thought that seek new practices for sustainable coexistence on Earth.
The Earth is the Ear of the Bear invites you to slow down and listen. The soundscape becomes audible as visitors move around the space quietly and listen carefully. The ultrasound speakers attached to the metal sculptures project sound that appear to come simultaneously from multiple directions. The portrayed figures are shape-shifting mythical creatures that resemble life forms such as octopuses, praying mantises and humanoids. The world in the installation exists in a state of constant metamorphosis. Through this work, Laitinen imagines what it was like to exist before humans began dividing up the world into exact taxonomies and value hierarchies.
“I often see my work as this sort of symbiotic process where I’m mostly interested in the reactions that happen when different materials and life forms are in the same space. It’s a very process-oriented practice at the moment.” – Tuomas A. Laitinen
Tuomas A. Laitinen (b. 1976) lives and works in Helsinki. Among other contexts, his work has been exhibited at the Sydney Biennale (2018), Bucharest Biennale (2016), Screen City Biennale (2019), Helsinki Biennale (2021), Seoul Mediacity Biennale (2018), as well as galleries and the following museums: Yeh Art Gallery, New York (2021); Vdrome, online exhibition (2020); SADE LA, Los Angeles (2016); Amado Art Space, Seoul (2018); Moving Image Fair, New York (2015); A Tale of a Tub, Rotterdam (2019); Art Sonje Center, Seoul (2017); Helsinki Contemporary (2022); Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki (2017); and Espoo Museum of Modern Art EMMA (2015).
In the 2010s when many Chinese restaurants in Sweden went insolvent or changed ownership, including the one run by Lap-See Lam’s parents, the artist set out to make 3D scans of as many of them as possible to preserve their histories. Resulting in an expanded archive, these glitchy reproductions have since defined her visual vocabulary. Spanning from sculptures to video, Lam’s works decode the ambiguous connotation of chinoiserie and address the cultural transformation of the Hong Kong Chinese in Europe.
The installation Tales of the Altersea is about adversity, the pursuit of dreams and liberation. The images projected onto the floor and walls of the space are reminiscent of traditional Chinese shadow puppetry. Some of the figures are characters from folk tales, such as the giant bird Da Peng, which began its life as a fish and could darken the whole sky with its wings, symbolizing indomitable will. Another is the half-fish, half-human Lo Ting, a rebel figure who defied authority. Set in a fictional ocean called the Altersea, the installation depicts the underwater journey of twin sisters swimming inside a Chinese restaurant called the Sea Palace. A floating restaurant of the same name transported from Shanghai to Europe today serves as a haunted house in a Stockholm amusement park.
“Tales of the Altersea” is the latest instalment in an expansive “world-building work” that continues to grow in various directions. It feels especially meaningful to present it here in Helsinki, since a significant part of the project is based on interviews I conducted with my aunt, who happens to reside in this city.” – Lap-See Lam
Lap-See Lam (b. 1990, Stockholm) lives and works in Stockholm. Her recent solo shows include the following museum and gallery exhibitions: Buffalo AKG Art Museum, New York (2023); Swiss Institute, New York (2023); Portikus, Frankfurt (2023); Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2022); Trondheim Art Museum (2021); Skellefteå Konsthall (2019) and Malmö Museum of Contemporary Art (2018–2019). She has participated in group exhibitions including Ghost 2565, Bangkok (2022); KINDL, Berlin (2022); Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2021–2022); PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv (2021); Uppsala Art Museum (2020); Performa 19, New York (2019); Luleå Biennial (2018); Kópavogur Art Museum (2018) and Kendra Jayne Patrick Gallery, New York (2018).
For Camille Norment, a sound wave advancing through time and matter is like an elemental force that reverberates psychosocially, affecting the body, mind and society, moving through experiences and histories. Employing the term cultural psychoacoustics, the artist describes her work as an examination of entangled political and socio-cultural phenomena through sound and music.
The installation consists of a pattern of architectonic seating structures and oscillating, tactile sound from resonating voices. Resonance occurs when objects or bodies vibrate at the same frequency. The form of the seating structures is based on fractals – geometrical shapes that repeat the same structure over and over again like an endless loop. The artist invites visitors to sit down and participate in the work with their own bodies and voices.
“Sound permeates borders. It treats all bodies as the same. So, within the space of cultural psychoacoustics, it’s looking at not only the way that sound meets physical structures, such as walls and other objects in a space, but how does the sonic meet and empower living bodies and their own experiences, their histories, their environments, and their possible futures?” – Camille Norment
Camille Norment (b. 1970, USA) lives and works in Oslo. Her exhibitions, performances and permanent public works of art have been shown at events and venues such as The Nam June Paik Award, Germany (2023); Bergen Kunsthall with a solo exhibition and Festspillene with a new performance, Norway (2023); The Armory, New York (2022); Punta della Dogana, Venice (2022); The Dia Art Foundation, New York (2022); Boccata d’arte, Italy (2021); Renaissance Society, Chicago (2019); SFMOMA (2017); Jazzhouse, Copenhagen (2016); Lisboa Soa, Lisbon (2016); Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival (2015); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013) and Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo (2012). She represented Norway at the 2015 Venice Biennale and has since participated in biennials including the Kochi-Muziris (2016), Montreal (2016), Lyon (2017) and Thailand (2018), and soon the Biennale Son (sound biennial) (2023).
Artist and filmmaker Emilija Škarnulytė works primarily with deep time, the realm of extremely slow change. Exploring the indisputable problems of our historical era, such as climate change, she tries to look at them from the imaginary perspective of a future archaeologist or geologist. Her works often take place in ecologically unique locations, such as the deserts of the American West or the Middle East, nuclear power plants in Europe, Cold War bases, and aphotic (lightless) zones of the sea. Camera becomes an archaeological tool that pierces through various layers: cosmical, geological, ecological and political.
The figure in the video is the artist’s Lithuanian grandmother Aldona, who lost her vision in spring 1986. Doctors assessed that her optic nerves had been damaged by exposure to radioactive contaminants in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Part of the video was filmed in Grutas Park, a theme park and repository for idealized communist statues. The medicinal herbs in the installation were gathered from the area around the Gerdašiai Entomological Reserve near Aldona’s home. The region lies on the border between Lithuania and Belarus, which is currently also the border of the NATO defensive alliance and the European Union.
“In the moving image, I often see film as a sculptural material, pixels as clay that I try to shape to create the answers to many, many rising issues. I try to take a core sample or strata from today’s world and see different layers of deep time and culture, starting from galaxies, neutrinos, particles, human-left scars, and aphotic zones in marine environments. And I often try to measure these landscapes with my own body.” – Emilija Škarnulytė
Emilija Škarnulytė (b. 1987, Vilnius) lives and works nomadically. She most recently presented works at Gwangju Biennale, Henie Onstad Triennale, Vilnius Biennial and Helsinki Biennale. Her work has been presented in solo exhibitions at the following museums and galleries: Tate Modern, London (2021); Kunsthaus Pasquart, Biel/Bienne (2021); Ferme-Asile, Sion (2023); Den Frie, Copenhagen (2021); National Gallery of Vilnius (2021); Contemporary Art Centre CAC, Vilnius (2015) and Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (2017). She represented Lithuania at the XXII Triennale di Milano and participated in the Baltic Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. Her films are included in the collections of the IFA, Kadist Foundation and Centre Pompidou, and they have been screened at the Serpentine Gallery in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Museum of Modern Art in New York, and numerous film festivals.