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MUU Maanantai (MUU Monday): Let’s Talk About Performance! 1/2019
What Gave Rise to Performance Art in the Late 1980s?

18 February 2019, at 18:00
MUU Gallery
Lönnrotinkatu 33, Helsinki, Finland

Guest: Irma Optimisti
Host: Kikka Rytkönen

image: Irma Optimisti, “Body Market”, Galleria Bellarte, Turku, 1992


The first Let’s Talk About Performance conversation of the year will take place on 18 February at 18:00 in MUU Gallery. In 2019 the conversations have a new host, artist Kikka Rytkönen, who particularly wants to focus on the history of Finnish performance art along with topical social and political issues.

Register and reserve your seat for the event HERE


Let’s Talk About Performance! is a series of conversations about performance art that range from the forms and approaches of performance art to artists and works and their relationship to the tradition of performance art and other art forms, as well as ethical and social issues and current problems of performance art.

In the conversation under the title What Gave Rise to Performance Art in the Late 1980s? Kikka Rytkönen is joined by Irma Optimisti.

Irma Optimisti is not only a performance artist but also a Doctor of Mathematics who wrote her dissertation on chaos theory. Since 1989 she has given hundreds of performances in all sorts of contexts – festivals, museums, galleries and other venues. Her main themes are identity, femininity, gender, postmodern spectacle, nature and death. She is also famous for her parodies of the masculine conception of art.

“Embryonic forms of performance art emerged throughout the 1980s and even earlier, both as individual and as group actions. I saw the Homo $ performance group at the Provinssirock Festival in Seinäjoki in 1981 and the Jack Helen Brut group at Vaasa Festival in 1984. My own first performance was in Vaasa in 1989, and two years later I participated in an event titled Käsittämätön Iltapäivä (‘Unbelievable Afternoon’) at puppet theatre Peukalopotti, where the other performers included director of the theatre Kristiina Hurmerinta and regional artist Veltto Virtanen.

Things were happening also in the wider world in 1991: the economy fell into recession. The slump pointed up in a most grotesque way all those aspects of society that I had thought about or opposed throughout my life. I saw parallels between my research on nonlinear phenomena and the instability of the social situation. 

When Artists’ Association MUU and Vapauden Aukio gallery organised a meeting of Finnish performance artists in 1991, I was there and participated in a series of performances as part of the Helsinki Festival programme. My piece was a lecture performance in which I used mathematics directly for the first time. I was writing my dissertation on chaos theory at the time, and I realised that the concepts could be used in the performance in popularised form. In my Katse (‘Gaze’) performance in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tampere and at the Vaasa Festival I used burlesque comedy to radicalise femininity, turning the gaze back on the male viewer; the culture section of the local newspaper called me a porn star. The Katse performances were the first ones I gave under my stage name Irma Optimisti.”

The moderator of the conversation, artist Kikka Rytkönen grew up in the 1970s as a hippie and political activist. Educated by the 1970s singing movement, she is founder, drummer and songwriter of the post-punk girlband Edith Biafra. Rytkönen continues to work as singer and performer, and she has also acted in films like Räpsy and Dolly and Mercy all the Way. She has been a visual art practitioner since the 1980s, using recycled and household plastics to create works of environmental and light art and also videos. She builds her performances around music, rhythm and themes ranging from womanhood to politics and other contemporary issues. Rytkönen has also collaborated with Romanian and Bulgarian migrants who make their living on the streets of Helsinki.