Interview by Mia Dillemuth | Artwork Tuomas A. Laitinen | Artwork pictures Jussi Tiainen courtesy of Helsinki Contemporary | Portrait Elina Simonen | Copy Editing Matthew Jones

Can you introduce us the ideas behind your current A Porous Share exhibition at Helsinki Contemporary gallery?

This exhibition is a collection of ideas and materials that are displayed in a sort of futurist archeological setting. I wanted to combine a few different tentacles occurring in my previous research for this show. Most importantly, the starting point was to think about the relation between information, language and the body. The exhibition name reveals the concept of porousness, which for me is a way to think about dissolving the boundaries of binary thinking. I am interested in how ideas seep through each other organically. For me, this mode is especially important as a tool to think critically about the rigid categories that are structurally and violently applied to many forms of life through human language and activity.

In the show, a 1968 seminar memo of a biotech company that I used as raw material highlights this idea. In this paper, there are some alarming ideas about how to control the environment by means of manipulating the ecosystem, both in macro and micro levels.

As a commentary for this seminar memo, I used a customized neural network to create dossiers that resemble ways that data is being presented in neoliberal activity and also in showing the effects of climate change. I used the texts composed by the AI and wrote them down as imaginary memos that could have been drawn from corporate conferences. These documents serve as glue to bind the pieces in the show, commenting on their existence and creating a setting where the boundary between information and disinformation becomes precarious. For me these texts represent a kind of comic absurdity of being between knowledge and irrational impulses.

Tuomas A. Laitinen, exhibition view, A Porous Share, 2017, Helsinki Contemporary, Picture by Jussi Tiainen

What originally got you interested in the interplay between human and technology?

I did a project that examined the circulation of copper and its global consequences.  Through this work, I came to realize that I could think about one particular substance as a conductor and a mediator for opening up a broad array of questions about the development of contemporary societies. So the material is a sort of a technology in and of itself, an enabler of the development and transportation of electrical current and consequently of information. In many ways, I think that the experience of materials essential to the industrial age–copper, oil, and glass, for example–are still defining some of the major operations and experiential planes in the world. Consequently, I feel that the language I have learned to speak is a language that has developed through the mechanisms and accelerations of the modern age.  This knowledge relating to the exuberant energy of the sun and the formation of minerals in the terra is engraved deeply in my experience of the world.

However, I always remind myself that it is not technology that interests me, but the idea of how different compounds work as an interface for social interaction, and how these can be used for formulating questions about issues concerning economy and ecology. As I delved deeper into these concepts a few years ago there were a lot of theorists that I have found really helpful, for example Jane Bennett and Donna Haraway. For me, these writers have shown a path to actively engage in imagining emergent futures through the entanglement of ecology, technology and human activity.

Tuomas A. Laitinen, exhibition view, A Porous Share, 2017, Helsinki Contemporary, Picture by Jussi Tiainen

Do you think that virtual reality will change the way we interact? Will we lose our need to touch?

In terms of the concept of virtual, I have never been able to really make the distinction between real and virtual since the so-called virtual is also so dependent on various materials mined from the earth.

I guess we are going to have to learn to interact with the material world on a different level when the effects of human activity on the ecosystem reach the saturation point.  Of course, this seems to have happened already in some cases.

Lasismi manufactured the mask-like glass sculptures in the exhibition in Riihimäki, Finland. Have you worked with glass in this manner before? Can you tell us a little bit about your cooperation?

This collaboration has been so amazing and I can’t thank Lasismi enough for developing these experimental production methods with me. I was also happy to get back to my hometown to produce these works. The history of glass production in Finland is strong so it has been wonderful to be able to think about this tradition through the work of these exceptionally talented glass blowers.

Tuomas A. Laitinen, Sensory Adaptation Device #13, 2017, Glass, 28 x 16 x 19 cm, Picture by Jussi Tiainen

Is your personal history somehow present in your creative work? How much research is there behind an exhibition?

Sound and music have been very important to me throughout my life and I came to the arts from a music background. In recent years, this history has definitely been something that has popped up in my work from time to time. I recently did a three hour ambient soundtrack for my colleague Mirko Nikolić’s PhD show and a performance that was connected to copper and mineral agencies.

In terms of research, most of the pieces that I have done in the past years have started from extensive research. But I have tried to move on from that a little bit because I started to see that some of the things I did felt like a corporate pitch where everything needed to be rationally explained through some reference-laden concept paper before actually producing the work. I am trying to organize the work more freely now.

How does an artist retain his sensitivity in this chaotic and hectic world and the ability to absorb and process it through materials? What in your opinion will be the future role of the artist in the rise of automation?

I feel that art can be a great language for mediating the discussion between personal spheres and pressing issues in contemporary society. I guess the amount of input one can absorb in relation to the nature of the work is always an individually based balancing act.

For me, automation seems almost a given thing right now and in some ways all work, including that of the artist, will be affected by this immense change.

One of the subjects addressed at the 2017 Venice Biennale is loitering? Is to linger important for your creativity?

This is something that I have had to learn how to do. To take time and step back from the work. The downtime is an important tool for realizing the possible trajectories of the work.

Tuomas A. Laitinen, exhibition view, A Porous Share, 2017, Helsinki Contemporary, Picture by Jussi Tiainen

Is consistency important for an artist today? Do you think that it’s more important to build a world of your own than concentrate on individual pieces of art in order to be recognized?

I have always admired thinkers and artists that are not bound to any specific means of producing their ideas. I don’t have any illusions that anyone could build a world of their own without relying on some structures that are and will be there despite the artist’s contribution. From my obviously privileged position, I am interested in a discussion of a culture that could lead by example towards more tolerant societies.

I tend to question whether this goal is possible with consistency in creative decision-making. Rather we should have a constant drive to find ways to negotiate our views and positions fluidly in relation to the world around us. I feel that the idea of consistency associates with logical coherency and that feels like an old-fashioned and boring remnant of the patriarchal world.

Tuomas A. Laitinen, Sensory Adaptation Device #12, 2017, Glass, 28 x 16 x 19 cm Picture by Jussi Tiainen

The unfinished artwork is something that has been discussed lately. I find the idea of art unlocked very fascinating. Many of your works are in constant movement. Are change and stability themes that you consider in your work?

I have been thinking about the work of art more as an event than a “piece” and this often leads to the impulse of setting up an exhibition situation in a way that all the actual bits and pieces introduced to the given situation have a strong relation to the space. Also, I have started to think of the final exhibition as just part of the process and not as a finished product. Sometimes the problem here is the lack of specificity, which can feel troublesome at times, but I have been pondering the idea that some activities in society should approach a level of complexity and openness that are not easily truncated to slogan-like gestures.

The laid-down installations place the viewer atop and all around your artwork, which makes the happening of confronting the pieces more intimate. Is there a certain hierarchy between the works?

I hope that the works could operate as a decentralized network where the movement of the viewer is hopefully opening up new combinations for the experience. This also leads to the concept of porousness.  I wanted to create fluid spatial transitions for these different works so they could create an idea of active tentacular co-existence.

Tuomas A. Laitinen, exhibition view, A Porous Share, 2017, Helsinki Contemporary, Picture by Jussi Tiainen

Shades of blue keep on returning to your work. Is there any specific reason for this?

In my recent works, I have used a lot of the textures of azurite, which is one of the ores from which copper can be extracted, and in this exhibition the main substance in the chemical reactions is copper sulfate. These substances are blue so I accepted this as a decision made by the mineral agency.

What next?

I am planning a more event-based show for Sinne gallery in August. This piece is essentially a version of an installation that is now showing at the Finnish institute in Berlin.

Portrait of Tuomas A. Laitinen at the 2017 Venice Biennale by Elina Simonen


Tuomas A. Laitinen
A Porous Share

Helsinki Contemporary

Artist Talk: Tuomas A. Laitinen & Kati Kivinen at Helsinki Contemporary Gallery

Bulevardi 10

28.5.2017 from 2pm until 3pm