Do you want total economy?
By Christian Malycha
Jani & Riiko's Free World
How right the myth-engulfed American clairvoyant Francis Fukuyama was after all. And how very fortunate is the entire world now that—since the long dying breath of the East Block was exhaled and, though not yet entirely out of the woods, its citizens were at least able to pass through the iron curtain—history, formerly comprised of class wars, has finally ended and the empire of freedom has dawned at last. Whether in Bahia, Bitterfeld or Birobidzhan, this post-historical world is one that is built and paved with the elysian pictorial ideals of blossoming capitalism in a new spring.
The only problem is—and this is where Marx the great fairytale-teller was right for once—that, in their newly issued global edition, all of the colourfully enticing advancements (reserved thus far for the Western world) have rapidly evolved into a farce of their own selves, in quite the same way that the whole lot of great historical events and figures tend to do (without noticing it). The fact is, thinking that nothing more would come after 1990, and that whatever was left would be sufficient to satisfy the world was simply not enough. The carousel of history may well have ceased to spin round and round, but the lid of its trash bin was left gaping wide open, promptly enticing Iraq, Bosnia, Serbia and Chechnia to crawl back out. There was something in Africa, there were those days in September, Afghanistan, Iraq once again, a tidal wave, Spain, London, Bali—not to mention Latin America—and, most recently, the failure of some to keep their finances straight. Notwithstanding, one believed of late to be living in times that were far remote from crisis, in which work was once more worth doing and people were happy.
Why all the trouble then? Perhaps because the true glory of capitalism has not yet been fully unleashed. The conflicts of the last twenty years are not easily explained unless by the notion that the joyful tidings of freedom have not yet resounded among the utmost ends of the world. The fact that many are envious of the Western world is no great wonder. Television and advertising simply do not suffice, despite the Pope’s assertion that blessings can be transmitted via television. In contrast, freedom—every human’s birthright—must be tangibly delivered by means of commodity distribution lines, even making its way into sitting rooms in the Hindu Kush—naturally along with the well-esteemed products themselves, which, naturally, are nothing other than symbols of freedom. What good are Thomas Paine, Kant or Jürgen Habermas when one is standing on the street in Djerba, Baghdad or Sao Paulo with a nagging craving for a cheeseburger? Indeed, the globally standardized taste of a McDonalds burger is a most splendid symbol for the notion that freedom and equality are achievable everywhere—at least after one has acquired the taste for them.
Preventing the beauty of freedom from being perverted into a farce of itself and even possibly fuelling envy or resentment, therefore, requires a good deal of hard work. It is for this very reason and only for this reason—for the unrestrained and veritable protection, promulgation and propagation of their noble values—that Jani Leinonen and Riiko Sakkinen have entered into the business of relentless freedom. Efficiency and progress is ours once more and both have finally tackled the issue of capitalist realism. The “free world” is their trademark. Consequently, they approach their enterprise (‘art is a nice job’) with an elaborate and sophisticated commodity-aesthetic. To that end, they have established a market-tested and transnational partnership, despite the fact that the two partners could not be more diverse. Yet, whatever won't fit just simply doesn’t fit; nevertheless, it looks marvelous.
Their shared agenda, the desire to distribute the land of milk and honey, breakfast cereal and burgers (cola included) throughout the world has proven effective now for a number of years. It began with a proper aversion to the schoolyard, but developed over the years spent at art school into a fully fledged slapstick friendship. At present, the two take the stage as a Finnish version of Bouvard & Pécuchet; they psych each other up, spur each other on and at times even scold one another with a good box on the ear. With encyclopaedic industriousness, they paint, stick, construct, readjust and illuminate the world. They envelop it incessantly with their capital-informed message that the history of colonialism has just begun and simply requires a period of field testing before finally inducing the world’s recovery. This is all done with easygoing light-heartedness. After all, capitalism no longer means war but complacency. Come in and find out. Devoid of confusion and free of any catastrophic swan songs, they are interested in boundless comfort and back, which they brightly flaunt in plain view, with utter clarity and astounding swiftness. Not even the Action Directe was capable of affording seductive directness. Advertising, proclaimers and all callers in the shopping-center deserts are free to bag up their things here. The Leinonen and Sakkinen merchandising campaign is well underway.
The same material that binds the world together has been adopted by the two artists as their very own. They dissect the visual ideals of the radio, television and shopping mall Elysium, reprocessing it and sending on its way. With utter contemporaneity and invariably filled with devotion toward the latest brand-name crazes, they foretell the coming of the long awaited arrival among a capitalist everyday life. With liberal libertinism, they entirely exploit anything and everything: toy advertisements, cornflakes, ice cream, candy bars and sexual services, as well as advertising icons such as Ronald McDonald or the Finnish Elovena farmer girl, are all employed in the joint venture for the collective good. Their appropriations even go so far as to counterfeit the logos of renowned tennis-shoe labels, thus pimping cheap no-name products as first class brand-name goods. In this case, Naomi Klein’s little girl fantasies about a logo-free world have done a considerable deal of damage. That is to say, the furtherance of freedom requires a never-ending slew of logos and the existence of inexorably expanding markets, especially because, in the end, one is forced to accept the fact that human rights damage our economy and sweatshops are cosy and warm.
Whether their work should be described as Agit Pop, Guerrilla Painting, or Franchise Painting is of little importance. With no alternative in sight, Leinonen and Sakkinen delve into the depths of the market economy’s pictorial world and relentlessly, though always according to the rules, drive it toward its uttermost limits. They sweep away the traces of any fine-spirited aestheticism, at long last, and work with their overdrawn expropriations toward a pictorially elite mass proletarianism. Indeed, even their choice of staple foods is elevated to a state affair; for, as the unpatriotic journeyman Martin Kippenberger so stubbornly ignored, patriots, for one, hate spaghetti—as long as they ain’t ‘spaghetti‘ themselves. In that case, their scorn might for instance be aimed at the Kallakukkos. As Chairman Mao said, the revolution is no coffee klatsch; and if BMW is advancing the revolution, one ought to think all the more carefully before taking on Sakkinen’s L.A.C. (Liberation Army of Cheeseburgers). Their black lists have already been compiled: people we have to kill to reach the free world.
Notwithstanding. The crusade for the “free world” is a double-edged affair. Though Leinonen and Sakkinen certainly cultivate a sort of over-affirmation (the likes of which Herbert Marcuse could never have dreamt of), a constant stream of bilious cynicism and filthy humour pervades, such as with Mona Lisa’s beard or a smoothly shaven Usāma ibn Muhammad ibn Awad ibn Lādin, ensuing in all that is so benevolently presented being ‘subverted’ by the back door, overstated to the breaking point and thereby undermined. The result is sabotage through excess plan-fulfilment or collateral damage from friendly fire. For, there’s no business like show business & no damage like collateral damage. (We’re lovin’ it!, just as the next man loves a good polka). One is almost tempted to allege the existence of certain pertinent sharkiness on the part of Leinonen and Sakkinen, unsettled by the suspicion that, in the end, with all their propaganda, they have no intention of serving anyone’s interest at all.
This would be an entirely different free world, complete with Disney-Land socialism, expensive cars and silicon breasts for all; a world in which there was no shortage of anything, even if it was playfully forced to live off irony and macaroni. Are the two artists simply moralists of the highest degree under God? This would pose a rather twisted turn of events. After all, they have showcased the “evil commodity-world,” only to steal the show at the very same moment with unabashed audacity (just as Roland Barthes did before them with the striptease and obscenity). Then again, Leinonen has also wrapped the naked Porno starlet la tosca back into prudish folkloric attire, which, though refraining from disrupting it, certainly calls attention to the borderline nature of her lolling repose.
The consumerism propagated would thus present less a promise of redemption and more a single provocation till one drops—according to circumstances. An immense sensory overload is created, which threatens to burst the dam, to leave one up to the neck in fast food, up to the ears in soft drinks, and blowing one’s top at the sound of the next gruesomely hollow slogan. Expropriation strategies have been commonplace since the time of Mao-dadaism, Indiani Metropolitani (‘more atomic energy and less public housing!’) or even Ad-busters, but Leinonen and Sakkinen are far more circumspect than any of their predecessors. They thoroughly evade capture—for both the one side and the other, attitude is everything. One can never be sure whether neo-liberalism is being celebrated, or whether the phrases have been so distorted that they have been threshed into a new form, as is purported by demonstrations of the world, unite!
Somewhere between sudanese diets, mailorder brides and bitter-sweetly evil choko cluster bombs in a more than fiery cold cola war; between neon signs with lights like grenades, facelifting, burgers with extra lard, suicidal Terriers or halloween-Pokemon-illuminated-explosive-vests; while wading through the puke of elovena at the foot of a crucifixion entangled in the tow-and-rip line of the African tricksteress princess lucy; when the king of china has the world died red, and when Marx and the workers of the world are dead on their feet in the face of the seasoned but enticingly bodacious posha; it is time for another cuba libre with Paula Posso and Fatima, so that it is possible to stomach the homecoming big american G.I. Joes, who are free to vote alongside obdurate and strangely withdrawn pig-noses or voluptuously ruffled burkas; before the bloated and well-exploited melancholy-clown Ronald McDonald joins forces in a rebellious insurgency with the trodden-down and Molotov cocktail-throwing advertising-mascot Sugar Bear, and hurls no more and cheers, eat up in our direction.
So, ought one to look for total market economy? You bet. The free world of Jani und Riiko any time and any place! Only No more Frutti di Mare would truly be a shame, darling.
Christian Malycha is an art historian based in Berlin.
Originally published in "Jani Leinonen & Riiko Sakkinen", Bourouina Gallery, Berlin 2009.