By Jani Leinonen
I was 19 when I read from a newspaper in Helsinki that an art student had fooled a journalist from that same newspaper by impersonating the world-famous artist Tal R in a press conference. The newspaper attacked the student with all its literary power and told the readers how morally wrong it was to cheat and lie. The student had with a simple, almost silly, act undermined the authority of Finland´s biggest newspaper. The control and power of the huge media house was stolen and put it in the hands of a young and prudent student. That student was Riiko Sakkinen.
Even though Riiko will never agree with me, his whole artistic strategy was defined in that one simple gesture of identity theft. Like Andy Warhol, Sakkinen steals images from contemporary super and hyper markets, advertisements of all sorts and the overwhelming stream of media imagery. But, unlike Warhol, there seems to be nothing random about Sakkinen’s art. Every detail of his images is full of geopolitical, sociological and ideological meaning. Meaning that is not given by the artist but rather revealed by him. With these revelations Sakkinen unveils capitalist conspiracies and ideological warfare of everyday and in trivial consumer products and markets from döner kebab to AK-47 assault riffles, prostitution to Hello Kitty bags and Don Limpio washing powder. Sakkinen makes our daily loaf of bread an amazing adventure into the world of hidden meanings, corporate politics and personal stories of an illegal Nigerian immigrant harvesting the oats in Spanish farm of a multinational food corporation.
However, one thing troubles me with Sakkinen´s work. His art does not follow the commercial logic all the way to the level of his explicit model products. A true product reveals everything and more about itself. Cereal boxes contain not just nutritional facts, but explicit lists of all ingredients, calories, sugars, fats and even all the unhealthy additives. They also include even more, super, tasty, crunchy, frosted, winning promises of taste, health and happiness. Before talking to Riiko Sakkinen and visiting his website I only knew a fraction of how much each work of his can offer me. I did not know how much each of them contains secret knowledge. Knowledge that is integral to consumers, or citizens, like us understanding the world around us.
Every single one of his drawings tell me about the world that is hidden beneath the one in which we live our everyday lives. Behind the facades of Freedom, Affluence, Security and Happiness. When I studied together with Riiko in art school, while the rest of us were reading porn magazines hidden between the Communist Manifesto, Sakkinen was reading Communist Manifesto inside a porn magazine. That was Riiko´s facade.
Jani Leinonen is a visual artist living in Helsinki. He studied in the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts together with Riiko Sakkinen and they have since then collaborated in several projects including the exhibition "Jani and Riiko's Free World" at Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki, in 2009.
Originally published in the catalog "Riiko Sakkinen Image Club", 2010.