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Riiko Sakkinen - Human Rights Damage Our Economy

By Leevi Haapala

Riiko Sakkinen’s (b. 1976) trademarks have become the A4-sized drawings that he installs on a skin-coloured wall accompanied by nonsense-texts in the manner of: Small Boys Units South Beach Diet. The drawings are associated with the modernist sensitive-man drawing tradition, from Andy Warhol to Martin Kippenberger, and right up to the genre of bad painting of the 1990s. Subjects are found on food packages, in adverts, in menus and in the range of choices at ice-cream bars. Sakkinen’s artist image or media persona is equally much a product as the drawings are. His other main media is provocation, and he is known for his media performances in newspaper columns, as an acerbic art agitator, and as a columnist making global observations. In the T-shirt shop he has made for the exhibition he proclaims his slogan: Human Rights Damage Our Economy. The text has been printed in English, Spanish and Chinese on T-shirts of various colours. The T-shirts are being sold at the exhibition for 200 HKD. He exploits the image of Hong Kong as a place for cheap manufacture. At the same time, the work as an actualised situation opens up the multidimensionality of the image with regard to its production, display site and conceptual frame of reference.

Questions and Answers

1. The theme of the exhibition is Serendipity. The dictionary definition of this is “to make discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things not in quest of.” Examples of discoveries made through serendipity vary from penicillin to Post-it Notes. How does this apply to your own working methods, or figure as a part of your creative process? Would you name a situation or moment in which you have found something “serendipitously”, and what was it?
Unfortunately, “serendipity” is not a part of my vocabulary, but my work is about “serene pity”. China violates human rights in a very serene way. It has serendipitously created a monster out of the worst of hard-core socialism and the worst of super-capitalism. The result is a total lack of freedom and a total lack of social security.

2. How do you relate serendipity to your work/s of art in the exhibition? And would you briefly describe the basic idea behind your work on display?
In Hong Kong I showed and sold limited-edition T-shirts with the slogan HUMAN RIGHTS DAMAGE OUR ECONOMY, which is printed in English, simplified Chinese and Spanish, the three biggest languages in the world. The T-shirts were made of 100% heavy-duty cotton by child labour in an authentic sweatshop in the Shenzen special economic zone, People’s Republic of China.

3. Have you made any serendipitous discoveries during your stay in Hong Kong? If so, please name one!
On Sunday I had dim sum with my Hong Kong friend’s family in the top-floor restaurant of a five-star hotel. I was nervous about not knowing which pair of chopsticks was for catching the shrimp dumplings on the revolving table, and which pair was for transferring them from the plate to my mouth. My friend’s aunts, uncles and matriarchal grandmother watched my efforts curiously, but they didn’t say anything. Actually, they didn’t speak to me during the one-and-half-hour meal. They didn’t ask me where I come from. Or do we have polar bears or icebergs in Finland? They didn’t ask if I have children or if I like golf. Or if I support human rights or prefer unlimited economic growth. We Finns have a reputation for not speaking too much, but the Hong Kong people don’t speak at all. Listen to Mong Kok: It’s colourful, crowded and silent.

Leevi Haapala is Helsinki based curator and researcher in contemporary art.

Originally published in the catalog Serendipity, 2006

James Casey
Mary Katherine Matalon
Julian Satterthwaite
Raúl Zamudio
Orlando Fernández
Leevi Haapala
Michael Anderson
Timo Valjakka