Riiko SakkinenBy Maria Hirvi-Ijäs
For Riiko Sakkinen being an artist and producing art are essentially tied up with public life and his attitude to existence. This has been obvious to him from the time he decided to become an artist. Instead of becoming a poet or activist, or even an international terrorist, he chose pictorial art, because it seemed possible for almost anything at all to be encompassed by artistic activity. Art meant freedom. He has been working on this freedom in various ways for more than ten years.
Sakkinen's artistic motto takes the form of a manifesto – I always disagree, I am always wrong. Continuous provocation and protest have led to the creation of cryptic works whose messages are usually contradictory. Text-based drawings, paintings that resemble placards, objects that refer to consumer goods and public acts. Always disagreeing, always wrong. The viewer is left with the right, the freedom and the responsibility of interpretation. The subjects of the artworks are a conflicting society and reality, commentary on capitalist society and the absurd situations in our consumer culture, and a critique of the system in all its forms.
But, in 2011, there came a major shift. Sakkinen visited the Syrian capital Damascus on a residency of the Finnish Institute in the Middle East. He encountered a society on the brink of civil war, where it became clear that life's contradictions have to be taken seriously. In art, one has to take a stand, not just against something, but also for a cause. In a world full of conflicts, it is easy to be against everything. It is considerably more challenging to express an opinion for something, to face up to compromises and to take responsibility for the consequences.
Since 2003, Sakkinen has been living with his family in the small Spanish village of Cervera de los Montes. After his experience in Syria, it seemed natural for him to join the Spanish communist party and declare himself a communist artist. He also resigned from the Artists' Association of Finland. It was important for him to distinguish between his own principles about the status and role of the artist and those of the Association's other 3,000 members. What this public, political act signifies for his art remains to be seen. The next step is to reformulate his 2010 Manifesto of Turbo Realism and attempt to express more precisely the conclusions of that new policy. His crypticism should most probably become more targeted and more propagandistic for the artworks to serve the objectives of a political artist.
His attitude to making art as a social act and the public sphere as an arena for his work situates Sakkinen as a romantic heir to the classical avant-garde of the early 20th century. Artistic actions matter more than the production of artworks. Works are then more like traces, momentary events or inexpensively produced performances than decorative furnishings or investment objects made for the art markets. But within the artworld, one must operate on art's own terms. You cannot have a political impact by shutting yourself out of society and its structures.
The Finnish publicity channels have been consciously chosen instruments for Sakkinen's art since the time when, as a student, he posed in a newspaper interview as an internationally renowned painter and visiting professor at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts. Sakkinen caused his most recent stir in the media in February 2013 when he announced that he had put 1000 euros in five-euro notes between the pages of his favourite books in Helsinki City Library. In doing so he meant to pay homage to literature and learning. The five-euro notes quickly became collector's items.
As a resident of a small Spanish village and father of two children, Sakkinen's artistic activity ranges over random networks formed by his own international connections and as part of the Finnish artworld and culture. In summer 2013, Sakkinen was invited by Hyvinkää Art Museum and artists' society, together with his colleague Jani Leinonen, to curate their annual Taju (Consciousness) event. As a commentary on the tradition of home-furnishing fairs devoted to interior decoration and ideal homes, the artists arranged a 'Homelessness Fair' and invited organizations that work for the homeless to the museum as exhibitors and planned an extensive programme of related activities around the theme.
In public, Sakkinen underscored his own political engagement and stance, as well as art's role in society. In his blog, he at the same time contemplated the conflict of interest in being chosen to exhibit at the Carnegie investment bank's painting exhibition, which also serves as a Nordic painting competition with a top prize of a million Swedish crowns.
The contradictions of the artworld dog the artist who, in the guise of a dissident, still dreams of being a famous painter. In his role as commentator and detached observer, however, he has been commissioned to plan a larger project for summer 2014 on the current state of the art museum for the inauguration of the Serlachius art museum's new extension. MuNA, Museum of No Art, sets the stage for a political act.
Originally published in “22 Ways – On Artistic Thinking in Contemporary Finnish Art”, Parvs Publishing, Helsinki, 2014.