Erkka Nissinen

Issue no5
Oct-Nov 2021

Palindrome is a word, phrase, number or other sequence of symbols or elements whose meaning could be read and interpreted the same way in either forward or reverse direction. “God or terror or retro dog” is one. It is also a title of an exhibition by Finish artist Erkka Nissinen at De Hallen Haarlem – his first museum solo presentation in the Netherlands. If the “God or terror or retro dog” is a palindrome whether the show can behave as one?

The title that can be read to-and-fro “refers to the cyclic, from beginning-to-end-and back-again ideas”, says the press release. Artist himself in the interview for the magazine Glamcult explained: 'It sort of relates to the narrative of the exhibition. The set-up happens partly in palindromes. Which means it’s like a text that you can read backwards and forwards. The name links to the form of the exhibition but it’s difficult to explain.'

It sounds like a rebus. And actually it performs as one. The viewer is constantly given the runaround, being deceived by a form and content of the works. They seem funny but in their heart they are rather serious and cynical. They look quasi-naïve but in fact they hide serious social and philosophical issues. They appear ornery – in order to enhance obscene historical traces of the mankind’s inhumanity.

In the first room of the show, situated on the upper floor of the museum, the viewer is confronted with four videos in the cyclic arrangement (Rigid Regime, Polis X, Material condition of Inner Spaces and Vantaa). Although each of them has its own duration and narrative – they are placed in a way which allow the viewer to encompass them and embrace all together. There is no precise point to start or finish the journey. In accordance to the clockwise or counter, walking in a circle without indicating its beginning or end. Forth and back again. The compilation include works from 2007 to 2013, though they are not shown chronologically. It seems to be more about the general feeling and reception than each piece individually.

The encounter with Nissinen’s videos may seem chaotic or even disturbing. He constructs his own realities – both in terms of scenery and characters. Mixing the HD technology with simple DIY computer animation in the spirit of musical soap-operas he creates performative stories full of bizarre actions, which on purpose touch a thin line between good and bad taste.

Nissinen often 'lends' his voice dubbing the characters or plays himself the main protagonist. Making a use of being non-native English speaker he takes advantage of absurdities and qualities of language. Quasi-philosophical phraseology and vocabulary used in media are extended to the point that become nonsense and even obscene. 'When I read philosophy I sort of tend to misunderstand it and I use this misunderstanding as the basis of something', he says.

Similar aesthetic maneuvers are used in a new site-specific installation in the adjacent room. The space is almost completely darkened, only the spotlight reveal the presence of sculptures and paintings hung on the wall. The artworks are from publicly largely unknown part of the collection of the Frans Hals Museum | The Hallen Haarlem. Nissinen was invited to reflect on conceivable connections between paintings and sculptures, which resulted in establishing an intriguing conversation – also quite literally – by generating possible talks among the works.

The works - taken out of a depot and animated by fictional narratives – gain new lease of life. Put together in a theatrical setting - they tell naïve and humoristic accounts about themselves, sometimes singing cheesy bar songs or “dancing” in a stroboscopic lights.

However, their authorship remains tangential matter. The discussion evolves mostly around their form exposed on a fantasized stories, while there is no individual tags with names, titles, even year– the only annotation is a one page list at the entrance. As the characters in Nissinen’s movies, the works have no clear identities, they serve as general merchandise in a system to create this installation – the collection seen as commodity.

In this world there are no heroes. Semi-autistic characters of fates embroiled into horrendous scenarios based on anomalies and failures – depict a model and scenography of our contemporary 'dirty society'. Leading their corporate meaningless life they picture the kaleidoscope of human destinies and make us aware of the danger of entering the circle of senseless existence.

Erkka Nissinen
God or terror or retro dog
De Hallen Haarlem
14.03 t/m 25.05.2015

Fotografie Gert Jan van Rooij, courtesy De Hallen, Haarlem


Weronika Trojanska
is an artist and art writer

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2021