The prestigious award in the Finnish art scene, Ars Fennica, which can be compared to the Vilhelma Purvīša award in Latvia, was awarded to the artist Anssi Kasitonni (1978) in 2011.The retrospective of his works can be viewed at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki until the 30th of January. Kasitonni is a stylish and contemporary artist. With his partner Maria, Kasitonni lives on a farm approximately 200 kilometres away from Helsinki.He creates his art pieces in a studio in his barn which does not at all fit in with the present-day standards of comfortable living. Moreover, apart from an art studio, you will also find a skate ramp, for Kasitonni is a dedicated skateboarder.
He has been known in the Finnish art scene for years because of his pop culture citing works – installations and objects, video pieces, songs, drawings and, especially – witty and endearing animations, for instance, one in which squirrels learn how to fly (Gliders, 2005) or the bank robbery episode, illustrated with the help of sausage and mash (The Knockers, 2003). With intensity and overexcited joy characteristic to that of a child he brings the eighties atmosphere back in present day and with a light humour and irony reflects the alteration of „high” and „low” art, its characteristics and the rules put forward by the industry of art.
Darth Vader Under-performing. 2009
The exhibition taking place at the Amos Anderson Art Museum provides a close look at Kasitonni’s creative work of the past ten years. Some of the pieces exhibitioned are already a part of notable collections, for instance, naming the Finnish contemporary art museum KIASMA as one. Although the exhibition must be critically acclaimed and it genuinely portrays a substantial range of materials, it needs to be noted that objects, sculptures and installations are dominant, leaving out the creative part of the artist’s work – animations (here is a wider view of Kasitonni’s animations), and his contribution to the field of music is also barely reflected (for instance, together with Maria, he has created a musical project/band Ansi 8000 and Maria Stereo; a small insight in this is given by the piece Planet of Sexes,2011). Thus, the exhibition rather overlooks a particular aspect of the artist’s creativty, but does not present him as a particularly versatile and dynamic artist, whose work is not concentrated purely on visual art, but stretches to other areas as well.
Ansi 8000 and Maria Stereo
The material of the exhibition is mainly focused on the impressions Anssi gained from the American pop culture of the eighties and the idiosyncracies of that lifestyle, which are associated with the artist’s childhood. The heroes in his work and his sources for inspiration can be found in TV series, shows, video games and movies. Some of the main characters are ones already forgotten about by the current generation, like Alf, the car KIIT from the popular TV series Knight Rider and heroes from the movie Star Wars. With the popular slogan of the eighties ‘If you've got it, flaunt it and You can have it all!’ in the background, the cult of fortune and „glamour” – whether real or imitated, in neon, synthetics or covered in gold – was placed directly in the spotlight. It must be noted, that this was a time when the progression of the art industry was at its most dynamic.Institutional mechanisms of power cement their significance in the administration of discourses of art. But Kasitonni does not regard this material with disgust or disapproval, but rather with a playful excitement and love.
The works of the artist are full of positively charged energy, they are funny, entertaining, whilst simultaneously being full of conflict, contradiction and critique. Most of the installations and sculptures are created by using cardboard that has been painted gold, for instance, the very expressive Winning Horse (2011), Playmoth (2009) and others. Cheap, quick, impressive and effective – the artist uses the weapons, the roots of which can be found in the very essence of consumerism – a cardboard box creates an analogy of a supermarket and shopping. Here it is at once possible to note a reference towards the long-standing division between elitist or elite-created and mass culture or pop culture. Although the fight about the maladjustment of this divide has been protractedly discussed, Anssi still considers it to be an essential theme in his work. He also stresses the link between overly estheticizing a material and its overvaluation amidst the process of creating an artwork. By choosing something incredibly mundane and simplistic as cardboard, Kasitonni has definitely made things difficult for the renovators of the institutions, who have to worry about the preservation of his work.
Damien Hirst’s Skull. 2009
It is interesting that Kasitonni does not simply reflect on nostalgic memories about the sweetness of the eighties. Along with the excitement and joy about this period, he also accentuates the conditions and consequences in which the art has progressed, providing separate indications and critical clues. For instance, by wittily ironizing about conceptualism’s overly estheticized minimalist language in the video piece Conceptual (2010), where the monotonous movement of an image of the black car from Knight Rider resonates with a red electricity switch that is lit on the wall. In another piece he helps to remember the absurdly paradoxical Damien Hirst’s pre-crises artwork For the Love of God,the famous skull worth millions, reflecting about it with a copy made of cardboard, Damien Hirst’s Skull (2009). This skull and its depiction has now become a symbolic reference and indication to hysterical mania to squander money or the principle “art follows the money”, which was characteristic of the art industry a few years ago. Its roots can be directly or indirectly traced to no other time than the eighties.
A scene from the animation “Gliders”. 2005
It could be said that Kasitonni plays out many roles dressed as a clown to reveal both the attractive and ugly sides of consumerism. Nevertheless, he effortlessly manages to find himself between position and opposition – with one foot in the mainstream and the other in subculture. In order to become more familiar with the artist of great help will be the aforementioned animation Gliders,which is virtually an autobiography. A tale of a squirrel family takes place: the father tries to teach his son that it is necessary to learn how to imitate the art of flying, that is, how to be a flying squirrel, which is a family tradition inherited for years, in order to preserve their habitation and the forest in which both live. However, the son would rather do something else – rock-and-roll, skateboarding and art. I think this film illuminates Kasitonni’s personality and his philosophy of life, in which next to ardency and zest to stand for your own, the spirit of rebellion holds great importance as well.