Express interview with the winner of the 2015 Ars Fennica Award, the Finnish artist Mika Taanila
Reminiscent of a film character in appearance, Mika Taanila (1965) is a filmmaker himself. The films that he makes can be described as documentary and experimental cinema; sometimes they are transformed by him into impressive video installations and screened at movie theatres and art galleries worldwide.
His film ‘The Future Is Not What It Used to Be’ was screened at the opening of the 50th Venice Biennale; meanwhile, the video installation created by Taanila using footage filmed for a documentary about the Finnish nuclear reactor town of Eurajoki was seen by hundreds of thousands of people at the dOCUMENTA (13) festival in Kassel.
May 2015 saw Mika Taanila become the winner of the prestigious national art award Ars Fennica (and the recipient of EUR 40,000 in prize money). He was chosen by Charles Esche, an independent British curator and museum director in the Netherlands.
Esche motivated his decision in the following way: ‘Mika Taanila’s works are the most convincing of all the candidates for their full realization of his ideas. He has worked with extraordinary commitment, as well as political and social awareness, to produce video works that are both documents of a time and place and expressive vehicles for ideas about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ society. Mika tackles some of the fundamental questions in a social democratic European society in terms of conformism, tolerance and the power of the state. He does so in ways that are never rhetorical or abstract but concrete and particular. Through his work, viewers have the opportunity to observe how society comes to its collective opinions and why that matters.
It has been a hard choice to make as all the candidates have particular qualities and reasons why it would make sense to award them the prize. In the end, however, I have chosen to award the Ars Fennica to the artist who in my opinion has the most fully developed body of work in which the intentions of the works have been brought closest to realisation. For that ultimately overriding reason, I would like to award the prize to Mika Taanila.”
Arterritory.com contacted Mika Taanila to offer congratulations on the success and ask a couple of questions.
Arterritory.com had an interview with you in 2012. What has changed in your creative moves and gestures since then?
Well, since 2012 I have had two large solo shows in museums: first in St. Louis CAM and then in my home town of Helsinki, at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. It has been exciting to make new works, reaching out more towards repetition, minimalism and other things related to exhibition practices. On the other hand, I have also been busy with some more directly cinematic works for the big screen. In autumn 2015 we hope to premier a feature-length documentary ‘Return of The Atom’, co-directed by Jussi Eerola. With Jussi and IC-98, we recently also established a small film production company called Elokuvayhtiö Testifilm Oy, with the aim to produce highly ambitious art films, mostly non-narrative ones, eh.
Next on your agenda is a wide-ranging retrospective show at Bildrausch Filmfestival Basel in Switzerland. What does it mean for you as an artist to make a retrospective while you are still in your creative heyday?
Retrospectives at these couple of museums and additionally at film festivals is a great luxury. It’s a moment to meditate and look back a little. Mostly I am fond of what I have done and surprised by the number of titles.
How does it feel to win the ARS FENNICA Award? What does it mean to you and does it make any difference in your work and life?
It is a great honour. Looking at the list of the previous 21 candidates and winners, I feel extremely happy to be part of that company. It is simply inspiring. The list is an interesting guided path through eras, styles and tendencies in Finnish contemporary art. Financially the award is, of course, very important for me. It means that I can now take at least a little time to fully concentrate on making new pieces in my studio.
An exhibition of works by Mika Taanila will be shown at Hämeenlinna Art Museum 30.10.2015-6.3.2016. An e-book of Taanila’s works, including moving images, will be published and posted on the Foundation’s website for free download.