Interview by Mia Dillemuth | English editor Julie Uusinarkaus | Artwork photographs Jussi Tiainen by the courtesy of Helsinki Contemporary

How does a person defend the particularity of one’s identity in a digitalized world? Hyperculture is the result of endless mixing of origins and ideas on the web. Hannaleena Heiska’s exhibition Camouflage touches not only the current theme of an individual’s right to privacy, but also the actual fluidity of identity.

Can you introduce us the ideas behind your current exhibition Camouflage at Helsinki Contemporary?

About a year ago I bumped into an article about an anti-facial recognition algorithm to conceal people’s identities with the help of make-up. The idea of hiding one’s true identity or even creating temporary one started to fascinate me. I didn’t find it very interesting to directly copy that make-up, but the images were rather an inspiration or starting point for the series. 

This flood of bad news, all the threats that surround us (climate change, cyberwarfare, artificial intelligence and digitalization) – it’s the end of the world as we know it. In my series the camouflage make-up, as well as the drawings of structures,  function at one level as a symbolic cover for us from an unpredictable future. 

On the other hand, the enjoyment in the forms keeps the whole from sinking too much into dystopia.

Hannaleena Heiska, Camouflage XI, 2018. Pastel and charcoal on paper, framed, museum glass, 65,5 x 56,5 cm. Photo: Jussi Tiainen.
Hannaleena Heiska, Camouflage VI, 2018.  Pastel and charcoal on paper, framed, museum glass, 103,5 x 81,5. Photo: Jussi Tiainen 2018.

You have worked with charcoal and pastel, which are both quite sensitive colours that more easily disappear. Why this particular choice of material?

Charcoal is an organic material and part of the lifecycle and life itself. It is also a very old medium that has been used for art works since the beginning. Fragility makes it even more precious and underlines the vuInerability of human life. Human beings are made of stardust, and charcoal for me symbolizes what we are. Dust.

I wanted and needed to add some colour to my charcoal drawings, and pastel was the most natural solution for me. The intensity of pastel pigment goes beautifully with the velvety feeling of charcoal.

Hannaleena Heiska, Structure I, 2018. Charcoal on paper, 86 x 70 cm. Photo: Jussi Tiainen.

It is said that scientists are the rockstars of our time. What originally got you interested in the interplay between art and science?

Science does not always give right or clear answers, there is searching and trying to find correct paths. And failing. Trying to solve the mysteries of the universe. There are more things we don’t know than things we do know. It is the same thing I love about art. Not so much the solutions but the questions, the curiosity and the urge to find out. 

In the Camouflage exhibition at Helsinki Contemporary, you bend the categories of art with the ‘three dimensional drawings’ or ‘statue like objects’. What is your preferable canvas for art making?

At the moment it is paper. Plywood also works very well, but if I should pick one I would prefer paper. It is somehow approachable, easy and light.

Hannaleena Heiska, Structure VII, 2018. Pastel and charcoal on plywood, 171 x 123 x 148 cm. Photo: Jussi Tiainen.
Hannaleena Heiska, Structure VI, 2018. Pastel and charcoal on plywood, 158 x 113 x 232 cm. Photo: Jussi Tiainen.

What eras of art history (or moments) do you find most inspiring?  

At present modernism (especially cubism) and romanticism are the most fascinating eras for me. 

In your opinion, what are the benefits of digitalization from an artist’s point of view. How do you see it affecting the artworld/scene?

It may slightly change the relationship between center and periphery by helping documentation and reproduction, but on the other hand floods the world with images.

How does your art reflect your personality or identity? 

It is part of my professional identity and directly reflects things I’m interested in.  Even if I sometimes deal with very personal issues, it is not necessary for a viewer to know this. Those are just things in the background that keep me going and doing my art. 

Hannaleena Heiska, Camouflage VIII, 2018. Pastel and charcoal on paper, framed, museum glass, 115 x 107 cm. Photo: Jussi Tiainen.

Can you tell us something about your upcoming solo exhibition at the Turku Art Museum in February 2019?

It will be a mid-career retrospective with lots of my favourite works – alongside paintings and recent drawings, and also my film works.  The museum building is fabulous, and I am curious to see how my works fit into it.