Interview with Antti Laitinen

The Finish artist Antti Laitinen has recently visited Aarhus to install his solo exhibition Three Knots at Galleri Image. The exhibition includes recent video works and documentation that can be seen at Galleri Image now and until 23 February 2014.

Antti’s way of working includes performance, photography, video and installation.

Reoccurring themes in Antti’s practise is the need to do away with social norms, rules and expectations. With humour, irony, and by using nature as both setting and prop, Antti is distorting everyday events in the direction of the absurd, he encourages a critical reflection on whether the way we live is the most desirable.

Antti Laitinen was born in northern Finland in 1975. He completed his MFA at The Finnish Art Academy of Fine Arts in 2004, and in 2002 he completed his BA in Photography at The Turku Arts Academy, Finland.


Laitinen represented Finland at the Venice Biennale in 2013 with the new works Forest Square and Tree Reconstruction.

I had the privilege of meeting Antti during his stay in Aarhus and interview him.

Interview by Heidi-Anett Haugen, intern at Galleri Image.

1.  How did you start working with performance and video? Was it something you already showed interest in during your BA education in photography?

Antti Laitinen: It was kind of an accident when I started to make performance art. At the time I was studying photography at Turku Arts Academy in Finland, I made the work Sweat Work. With Sweat Work I documented the process of the work on how I made the work using my own sweat. I was told by somebody that it would also work as a performance, but at that time I didn’t know anything about performance. Once I tried to do the work live, I thought it worked, and I was asked to do it again, and later on I made some other performance works. But actually I never liked to do performances.


– You still don’t like to do performances?

Antti Laitinen: No, I don’t like to be in front of audiences and performe. I try to keep my production of performances low, and only make one or two performances each year. If people ask for more, I will say no. But sometimes I get an idea, and that it might work as a performance. I think it is not a good excuse not to do it as a performance, just because I don’t like to do it, so I just do it. Many times my performances are first a video work, and then I realise that this might also work as a performance. Many of my works are kind of performances on video, and that is what I most like doing.

– I have only seen documentation of the Sweat Work on the Internet, and there it looked like it was part of a white cube exhibition. What I have seen of your other works, they are performances outside in the nature, and not in a gallery setting.

Antti Laitinen: Yes, many times they are outside, but Sweat Work was my first performance, and how everything started.

-Do you feel there is a difference performing in a gallery with an audience, or outside in the nature?

Antti Laitinen:  In my work Voyage where the performance is to row the island I have made, the audience is very far away, and they are looking from a distance, so it is different. I think many times performance artists say that they like the contact with the audience, but I like to forget that there is an audience, and I don’t try to make contact with them.


– Maybe you feel there is a power in knowing that people are looking, or could you be just all alone? Is it important that the audience is there?

Antti Laitinen: I think I work better alone, without audience, so maybe that is the one reason I make the performances also on video.

– When you make videos, are you alone?

Antti Laitinen: I am alone, but if I need somebody to help with the camera, there is one person helping with that. For me it is better that there are less people around, because they are disturbing my work.

2. What work will you show at Three Knots at Galleri Image?

Antti Laitinen: It´s my Island, and the Bark Boat, Voyage and videos from my newest works I did in Venice, the Tree Reconstruction, and Forest Square.

The Voyage was kind of a performance where I first made the video work, when I am rowing the Island. After I made the Voyage video I got an invitation from London where they had an exhibition on a boat on the Thames, they were asking me for some work, and then I thought I have this kind of video that could work for their concept, and I just told them that it was also possible to do it live, because I realised that it might also work as a performance, and they liked the idea.

We decided that I could try to row through the center. We had to choose a certain time because the tide is so strong there. First it is going one way, and then it is turning, and we had to do it when it was turning. I was rowing maybe two kilometres, but when I started to come to the center the police came and stopped me in front of the MI5.

– Did the police become part of the work?

Antti Laitinen: When they stopped it, it was live, so it is a part of the work, and actually you can see the video on youtube as a video documentation.

– What is your interest and fascination in islands?

Antti Laitinen: I think it started in the beginning of 2007; I got the idea that I could move away from Finland. I moved to Berlin, and stayed there for 5 months.

Right after I moved to Berlin I was taking a bath, and I am quite tall so I had to sit in the bathtub so my knees came above the water line. And I thought okay, that looks like islands, and then I started to think: can I call it islands? Or where is the limit? How small can an island be? What is the description of an island; everything which is coming from the bottom of the water and going above the water line, is that an island? And then I thought, okay it is kind of a nice idea to try to build an island for myself. I was in Berlin and it was wintertime. I realised it would take a long time to build an island because I don’t like to use any machines. Then I thought that maybe I could go back to Finland and build it there. My parents have a summerhouse in the north of Finland, I could try to build an island there. I started to wait for the summer to come. In the end of May I moved back to Finland, and went to my parents summerhouse. The whole summer I was building the island there.


– Could you use someone else in your work? Could you build the island, and ask someone else to do the performance?

Antti Laitinen: I think it is different using somebody else, and at the moment I like to be there myself. I think it is quite different to be a director and have somebody you tell what to do, and my works are not working like that. But I think in some day I could use somebody else but then the work has to be a little bit different.

– When you do your works, and when you performe, do you think about how to behave, or what kind of mindset you should have. Should you be focused on what you do?

Antti Laitinen: I don’t try to act at all. What I try to do is just doing what I do, and just doing that and nothing else. I focus on what I do.

3. In your work Bare Necessities (2002) and Sweat Work (2004) you performed naked. Do you see the nakedness as something natural, or getting closer to something real?

Antti Laitinen: I think it is natural, and these works are not working if I have clothes on. In Sweat Work I am making the pictures using my sweat, and of course I have to take of my clothes, because otherwise the sweat doesn’t stick on the paper. Bare Necessities was about going out in nature, without anything.


– When you first made Sweat Work, did you first show the picture made with the sweat, or a video documentation of the process?

Antti Laitinen: There were the photos and a photo series showing the process: when I am running, taking of my clothes, and going to lie down on the photo paper.

– Was it for you a big difference to do it live? Or did you feel this is just how it should be done?

Antti Laitinen: It wasn’t so much different, because after you have run a long time you are quite tired and then you don’t realise what is happening around you. The fact that the performance was so physical was a good way to make it. It helped me to forget the audience.

4.  The process of your works are important, but how do you know when a work is finished, what do you look for in the end?

Antti Laitinen: I think at some point you have to decide it is ready, and for some works it is quite easy. Many times my idea is very clear when I start to make work, I can see the result, and when I am there, I know. All my works are idea based. Before I start to make some new work I try to make it as ready as I can in my head, and then I just do it. During the process I don’t go other ways.


– How is your process? Do you keep the thoughts you have in your head, or do you draw and write, and talk to people about your ideas?

Antti Laitinen: I don’t write and I don’t draw, but I am thinking a lot, on how it might work, and sometimes I like to talk to people about my ideas, because when I am talking, I am maybe realising something about how it should work. Sometimes some projects take years to think about. I have an idea, but many times it needs something extra. I keep the idea and try to think what extra it needs. Sometimes it is easy, and it doesn’t take a long time before I get the idea, and other works take more time.

Before I start the process, after the thinking, I know what it should be in the end, but sometime, like with Bark Boat, I had two different kinds of endings. I knew it was possible that I could sink after just two kilometres. Or that I would not sink, and somehow manage to go there, but I think the other ending could be that I sink, and that would be the end of the video. Both endings might work. So it is possible I have two ideas on how it can work. In many works I think it is like I know it, and there is only one goal. Sometimes I have to change the techniques, but I know where I will go.

5. In the press release for Three Knots at Galleri Image it says: “Among other things he criticises the Finnish notion that the harder you work, the more you are worth”.  Your works demand hard work, and I am wondering if it is true that you try to criticise this Finnish notion?

Antti Laitinen: I have probably said it when I made the Sweat Work and the Three Stones work, and maybe these works were like that, and based on that work ethic. In the work Three Stones I was digging three holes, the first I was digging in 7 minutes, the second one in 7 hours, and the third one in 7 days. And at each time I took the stone that was of the bottom of the hole at that moment. The result is more important then the time that is being used. I don’t know if it is a criticism, because I am doing the same myself, the harder you work, the more you are worth. I notice also in myself that when you are doing something physically demanding and you are sweating, you know this is the real and hard work. How I got the Sweat Work idea, is that sweat is kind of the meter of work, and then it was nice to use the work as sweat. So criticism is maybe not the right word, maybe it is the questioning. I enjoy doing something very laborious and to sweat a lot.


6.  You use nature as material in your works, and create environments. Is this use of material a power relation you wish to overcome, cultivate and control or do you wish to become a part of it? Why do you work with nature?

Antti Laitienen: I also think about why so many of my works are happening in nature, and I never decided that it has to be like that. I am from the countryside, so maybe that is one reason. For a long time I didn’t have a studio at all, and I was just making most of my works in my head, and it was so easy to go into nature, and just make the work happen. I was using the nature like a big studio. It is kind of a big playground, and you can do bigger works there. There was a lot of space and there were a lot of material I could use. A lot of my works are happening in nature, I don’t think of myself as a nature artist, the works are telling about other ideas. They are not necessarily telling about the nature. Like in the Forest Square work I was taking apart a piece of forest. It could also have been a building, or something like that, but I was using the nature as material, and I enjoy to be in nature. I can also work in urban environments, but for some reason my ideas takes place in nature.



7.  In your work Sweat Work (2004) you ran on a running wheel until you were sweating. Then you lay down on photo paper on which the sweat of your body created a faint figure. You lifted the paper, put it on the wall and made a new picture everyday for two weeks. The pictures kept darkening on the wall, and after two weeks the first figures had almost disappeared. In Sweat Work I see references to Yves Klein and Ana Mendieta. I am wondering if you consciously want to make these references. Do you want to point at them, to make the viewer conscious about the reference. Do you want in some way to honour or show respect to the art history, or do you want to make fun of it?

Antti Laitinen: I don’t know so much about art history, and these are quite early works, at that time I did not know about Yves Klein and Ana Mendieta, but I think now a days it is possible that there is some references in my works. Forest Square looks a little bit like Mondrians work. When I started to make Forest Square I was thinking that it would be nice to make it some kind of Mondrian like.


I still don’t know that much about art history. I don’t read much art history, and I have not studied art history. In the beginning when I made the Sweat Work I didn’t know anything about performance and art history, but maybe the references are more there now, than in the beginning.

8. Are there any art projects, initiatives or galleries driven by artists in Finland you would like the world to know about?

Antti Laitinen: I think there is some, but not that many. In north of Finland there is Mustarinda, a kind of artist community, and a residency run by a few artists. They have residency programs and exhibitions there.

–       Have you been there?

Antti Laitienen: No, it is so far away. They have invited me but it is in the middle of the forest, I should go there some day.

In Helsinki there are some artists running galleries, like Huuto and Sic. I think there could be more galleries driven by artists in Finland.

Thank you for the interview, we are looking so much forward to seing your exhibition at Galleri Image. 

Pictures chronological from the top:

1. Voyage, 2008, by Antti Laitinen

2. Antti Laitinen

3. Sweat Work, 2004, by Antti Laitinen

4. Voyage, 2008, by Antti Laitinen

5. It´s My Island, 2007, by Antti Laitinen

6. Bare Necessities, 2002, by Antti Laitinen

7. Tree Reconstruction, 2013, by Antti Laitinen

8. Three Stones, 2004, by Antti Laitinen

9 & 10. Forest Square, 2013, by Antti Laitinen

11. Forest Square, 2013, by Antti Laitinen

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