ARS 06

Unlike the Technicolor world in The Wizard of Oz, where good ultimately outweighs evil, ARS 06 (“Sense of the Real”), the seventh in a series of international exhibitions held in Helsinki since 1961, has given way to the dark side. The sometimes surreal fantasy worlds in many of the artworks presented appear as a mere backdrop for the harsher realities of the present and future, allowing the viewer a false sense of security. Although thematically the link between the one hundred artworks by forty artists has to do with, according to a wall text, “what art says about the world and humanity,” the emotional aspects of destruction, isolation, and plain old creepiness have an overwhelming power throughout.

The inclusion of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s sculpture Sex I, 2003, and their “Disasters of War” etchings, 1999, seems to set a tone by which the other works can be measured, drawing the audience in while a horrified fascination takes over. A similar sensation, with an added touch of repulsion, can be found in the contributions from Berlinde de Bruyckere, whose wax and epoxy male figures Jelle Luipaard I and Jelle Luipaard II, both 2004–2005, are suspended from rusted iron construction beams, recalling the crucifixion while taking the human form to extremes of distortion. Kent Henricksen’s work uses eighteenth-century-style tapestry fabrics patterned with scenes of repose and flirtation, “redrawing” them with impeccable embroidery. By disguising the figures with hoods, innocence becomes oppressor and oppressed in a sadomasochistic tableau.

Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz’s “12 Works from the Series Traveler,” 2004–2005, depicts fairy-tale images from city dwellers’ nightmares of the woods—being lost, frozen, attacked by men in overalls, etc.—in shakable snow globes. Last Riot #1-2, 2005, a huge digital painting by the Russian cooperative AES+F, pits images of heaven against hell in the manner of a battle scene in a nineteenth-century academic painting, with the main characters depicted as trendy, idealized youths in modern dress playing with the tools of war.

On the lighter side, Shu-Min Lin’s Inner Force, 2005, calls for viewers to don a bizarre metal cap, giving them the responsibility to alter the video projected on the installation’s platform floor, showing lily pads and swimming carp whose movements are determined by one’s brain waves, scanned in real time by the EEG headgear. A highlight of the exhibition is Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen’s The 1st Complaints Choir of Birmingham, 2004—a conceptual piece turned performance turned eight-minute video. A song whose lyrics have been culled from complaints collected in the English city—“Why does my computer take so long?” “Why is the beer so expensive in town?” and so on—with a refrain of “I want my money back” is performed at four different locations by a choir recruited via advertising. The performers grow into their role as they go, ending up suitably boisterous as they sing the last verse in a local pub. Visually and spiritually, the work leaves you with a sense of community and the feeling that all is not lost—and that there’s no place like home.

Amy Simon