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Artist's Space: Riiko Sakkinen - Hey Guys, I'm In Austin Tonight

By Mary Katherine Matalon

As Claire mentioned in this issue’s From the Editor, the drawings Riiko chose for this Artist’s Space sparked many conversations—conversations about the function of art, censorship and the role of subversive content. The interview between Mary Katherine, testsite coordinator, and Riiko Sakkinen below touches on many of the points raised in these conversations.

Mary Katherine Matalon: Tell me a little bit about the body of work you have chosen to show in the Artist’s Space?

Riiko Sakkinen: I chose some of my latest drawings from the past two months. Yesterday, I did "Hey Guys, I'm in Austin Tonight" especially for …might be good —the text is from an internet ad of an Austin based prostitute. The telephone number is genuine. Give her a call, she looked really nice in the photos!

I was just working with "I Love Mexican Food But I Hate Mexican Immigrants." I created the piece for a show called Spectacular curated by Raul Zamudio in EDS Galeria's booth at Femaco Art Fair. Raul wanted me to do something site sensitive. And I think it works even better for the Texan public, in the same geopolitical area.

I’ve also chosen to show some other drawings dealing with America. I didn’t create these drawings specifically for …might be good; it is just that America is a theme that is difficult to avoid. The United States is globally important, but actually I'd like to give it less weight. For example, the Spanish newspapers write several pages about Obama and Clinton every day. It's not even the elections but some strange process to decide who are going to be the candidates. I deny being interested. I don't give a damn who wins.

MKM: Everyone at Fluent~Collaborative has been debating whether or not it is appropriate for us to show a drawing with an actual prostitute’s number on it. You mentioned that another curator was uncomfortable with showing a painting of yours that also had a prostitute’s number on it. Where did this happen? Why do you think he was uncomfortable with it?

RS: That happened in Finland. The Nordic countries are famous for being sexually liberal but they are very tough—both legally and morally—on prostitution. Maybe it's because feminism had a strong impact in the society very early and people still maintain the attitudes of old school feminism. I compare that to Spain, where the original feminism never happened (Franco and Catholic Church's dictatorship) and the progressive women and men seem to be more open and less dogmatic post-feminists.

MKM: Can you tell me a little bit about your overall approach to making art?

RS: Can I quote Picasso? "Art is not made to decorate rooms. It is an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy." But actually I don't mind if somebody decorates his room with my art. I want to have my subversion in the rooms of rich collectors who buy critical art because it's fashionable and then change their thinking.

MKM: Do you think the collectors realize the subversive content of your work or is their obliviousness part of the point?

RS: Subversive: Seditious, insurgent, in opposition to a civil authority or government. Making uncomfortable things visible is rebellious. I think many collectors buy art that is ideologically against their businesses. I bet there are Texan millionaires with a Santiago Sierra on their wall. They think it's cool to decorate with subversion but maybe if they are not that careful, their collection changes their way of thinking. Maybe this sounds like bullshit but I have to justify to myself why I want to play a part in the luxury branded goods market = art. I don’t know if the king’s jester can be a true rebel…

MKM: Can you talk a little bit about exhibitions you’ve been in or projects you’ve done since your testsite?

RS: I traveled to China and Japan. I participated in a group show at 1a Space in Hong Kong a couple years ago and stayed there few weeks. I went also to Shenzen where my friend has a huge textile factory. It was amazing to see from where our clothes (or anything else) come from. And the dormitories and karaoke boxes of the workers. A girl asked her friend to take a photo of her and me; she had never seen anybody so white. Then I did a residency a year ago in Tokyo. I found so much material there that I'm still working with it. My wife says that I should come back from Asia and work more with local themes.

MKM: Why does your wife want you to work with more local themes?

RS: I can use the rich Asian commercial culture images but I can't really say anything profound about their cultures; I can only comment about the aspects of these cultures that are related to global economics or politics. My wife thinks, and I agree, that I can go much deeper with the material related more directly to Spain where I read the newspaper and watch the TV. But my market is global—I barely ever show work in Spain.

MKM: Your work provoked a strong response in the Fluent~Collaborative staff and definitely prompted a lot of discussion. Some of us, quite frankly, were initially a bit offended by the work. Why do you think this is? Do you think your work provokes strong responses in a lot of people?

RS: I think my work might have an impact in America. Americans can be quite sensitive—and their political correctness is a bit funny from my European point of view. Some people have said me that my work has changed their entire everyday routines; buying groceries in the supermarket is never the same innocent thing anymore.

MKM: I can see what they mean—a lot of your drawings for this artist’s space seem to be playing with advertisements or the packaging for food. Why have you focused on this?

RS: They say that the biggest businesses in the world are drugs, weapons and prostitution. I think food is more important. I know many people who don’t take drugs, don’t have a gun and don’t pay for sex, but I don’t know anybody who doesn’t buy food. Even most of the poorest people in the world sometimes buy something to eat. Kids use ketchup as fake blood. And I always pair it with mustard gas.

Mary Katherine Matalon is the coordinator of Testsite, Austin, Texas.

Originally published in ...might be good #96, Accoutrements of Bourgeois U.S. Comfort, 4 April 2008.


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