The Bower imports two Finns conversant in the global economy
San Antonio artists have been brandishing their passports like mad this year. In Paris, there were exhibitions featuring Dario Robleto, Joey Fauerso, Lloyd Walsh, James Smolleck, Vincent Valdez, and Chris Sauter, while Riley Robinson held a residency in Norway and exhibited at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Finland.
So it's only fair trade that we get to borrow two engaging Finnish artists, Jani Leinonen and Riiko Sakkinen, who earned their MFAs at the Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki in 2002. That same year, they collaborated at the Helsinki City Art Museum with the exhibition Jani Leinonen vs. Riiko Sakknen. Fauerso, co-founder of the Bower art space, met them while visiting studios in Helsinki with Laurence Miller, founder of Austin's Fluent-Collaborative. They invited the artists to install simultaneous exhibitions of their work in Texas.
At the Bower, the exhibition's windows announce Earn Money Without a Job in pink paint while the enticement's mascot, the scrubbing bubble, joyously scrubs away. The title is apropos of our ongoing economic slump. As Bower co-director Michael Velliquette and I stood on the steps of the South St. Mary's Street gallery, a man, seeing the sign, yelled at us asking if it was for real - as if we were really on break from a meeting teaching us how to quit our jobs and make money. Ironically, there were people at the opening talking about how they recently had.
Sakkinen's drawings cover another wall, pinned randomly and drawn with the loose, peripatetic style of a casual observer. Many are drawn on hotel stationary, suggesting he is a displaced voyeur. Their subjects are cartoon characters, advertisements, and superheroes with upbeat, "can do" personalities, like the scrubbing bubble. Sakkinen's handwritten texts, however, contain darker sound-bites about politics and money such as "I'll do it for money." A weird and cuddly teddy bear creature sits on a log, eating french fries and ketchup from a European-styled paper cone. His bubble reads, "Do you remember the Cold War?" None of these are completely self-explanatory and they are eerie for what they don't say as much as what they do. A list of all the prostitutes in his neighborhood gives his voice a countercultural credibility.
Uniformity in consumer goods is also a theme for Sakkinen, whose drawings are on paper of equal size. On pedestals he displays two identical Styrofoam hamburger containers with over-painting - one from McDonald's and one from Burger King. Similarly, countries in the European Union are using uniform currency and a prescribed set of economic and environmental conditions. What is won and lost in the name of economic development raises questions about loss of culture that comes with what advertising calls the "good life." To illustrate this conundrum, the artist displays a handwritten chart breaking down the time in minutes it takes a worker in various countries to earn enough money for a Big Mac.
Leinonen also dances with consumerism. He has formed the Jani Leinonen Corporation whose mission centers on loyalty to his audience and "the world of brilliant ideas." He offers catalogs whose nostalgic covers show '70s housewives with Dorothy Hamill hairdos. These lie beneath a telephone sign that reads "order" in Finnish. The artist's real number is written underneath and he is standing by to take your orders for paintings of household goods or models in briefs. Leinonen, who once exhibited his underwear ad paintings at bus stops, often creates opportunities for art to collide with market economy.
For Fluent-Collaborative in Austin, the two artists worked with L.A.-based poet Neil Fauerso to create a poster they pasted up around Austin. The Finnish title reads "Boz Ulu Delgin itwafs q yepum" and Fauerso's english text is too fantastic to be anything but art, despite its image of women showing off a new car. Look for it around the city. •