John Gayer: Pushing the Boundaries of Tool-Use

10/02/2020

MUU kirjoittaa Finland is a nation of art lovers, with visual art events and venues attracting some 4,6 million visitors annually. Visual art is available for enjoyment the year round in all sorts of places, from established institutions to small galleries and pop-up exhibitions. New exciting venues are being set up all the time. Yet the number of discriminating texts about art is dwindling. This deplorable lack has also been noted at Artists’ Association MUU, the second largest organisation representing professional artists in Finland.

MUU Writes is a group composed of artists who share an interest in writing. It has been meeting for a couple of years already to discuss the role and potential of writing in contemporary art. Now the group has set themselves the task of publishing an essay on every exhibition scheduled in MUU’s program autumn 2018, to be released both online and in the gallery. The project seeks to offer a creative alternative to art criticism, with artists writing about the work of a colleague.

Pushing the Boundaries of Tool-Use
Text: John Gayer

Kujansuu’s latest installation confronts visitors with a profoundly heterogeneous and wonderfully cockeyed group of elements. The works, composed of a broad range of materials, are indiscriminately distributed throughout the gallery as if to make use of all its surfaces. While the arrangement presents multiple vantage points for considering the array, it doesn’t offer a clear path into the work. The accompanying artist’s statement, if one can call it that, comes across more as a project element than an explanatory text. Being on the skimpy side, it adds to the quandary prompted by the display’s general character. It only offers two definitions for the word ‘stock’ – one defines it as a noun and the other clarifies its use as a verb – plus a short list of related words. One feature that distinguishes sections of the text is the bold type in which parts of it have been set. There must be reason as to why they are emphasised. They must be clues! At face value, these words seem to diminish the art’s significance by equating it with the mundane task of gathering provisions. It’s another twist in that circuitous path to comprehending the work.

Zeroing in on particular pieces triggers more questions. The artist’s skewed use of utilitarian materials produces idiosyncrasies that pervade the gallery. The metal uprights, from which multiple ink jet prints dangle, exemplify one of these peculiarities. As part of a standard wall shelving system (existing bar code stickers identify the brand), they must be used in pairs. But here they appear individually, and they are horizontally oriented. The labels specifying the works’ titles and media, moreover, contribute a workshop ambiance. In addition to their seemingly haphazard placement, the details are embossed on the kind of self-adhesive plastic label making tape that appears on untold numbers of equipment supply cabinets.

The titles of the works highlight situations, devices and actions that urge viewers to puzzle out their significance – or lack of it. The ambiguity of some proposes a ruse. What, for instance, links KLO 15.24 with a shaped fragment of cloth and an image of a construction site situated outside a German furniture store? That time stamp adds a factual air to a most elusive pairing. Close to a quarter of the floorspace is dominated by Kompassi 1, an erratic starburst-like structure made of wood bars, the ends of which are studded with socks. It sits next to Kompassi 2, an image of a geometrical outdoor metal sculpture that stands in a park. Their presence is striking, especially as in the ways both subvert the planarity of the standard compass rose. Although they seem to be more accessible than KLO 15.24, what they are pointing to is open to conjecture. Kujansuu’s use of wordplay and odd juxtapositions immerses the viewer in a space fraught with ambiguity and dollops of humour. His work also teases and cajoles. It may, potentially, appeal more to people captivated by riddles or who find bewilderment appealing. But in reality, who isn’t intrigued by riddles, especially those embedded in the scope of this vividly diverse realm. TOOLBOX elicits an awareness of patterns and discrepancies that propose apprehension through squinting, glancing sideways and chance sightings, all of which sustains its empirical basis. It seems to operate as analogy for the act of making that and deflate the notion of art as an esoteric pursuit at the same time. It implies that art is the equipment through which the artist realises and transmits his ideas and observations.

Jouni Kujansuu: Toolbox / Tarvikkeita / Tillbehör, 18.1.-23.2.2020 MUU Kaapeli, Kaapelitehdas, Tallberginkatu 1 C, Helsinki

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