Recently, the name of Jaakko Pallasvuo started to show up on a regular basis in my visual feed: after having discovered his video work Picasso in a group exhibition entitled Zombie Routine in Paris, I ended up spending a considerable amount of time looking at his videos on Youtube. Even though he seemed to be a mouse-click away, I couldn’t quite put my finger on him, with his highly conversing body of work. In the hope of understanding him better, I proposed an interview: among many topics, we had an exchange about the importance of fast Wi-Fi, his past as a browser and conditionality of today’s art system.
I. In the video Icarus, you introduce a self-reflective approach concerning artist’s personal achievements, together with narcissism and insecurity in today’s art world. In the opening sequence of the video, The Lament for Icarus by Herbert Draper is featured, a well-known allegory for epic failure. How do you position yourself in the art world, would you like to consider yourself as an outsider or an insider?
It would be weird to position myself as an outsider since I do make my living via the art system. It’s a mixed bag though, being kind of inside doesn’t guarantee total access. I think both inside and outside only exist as idealisations and any actual relation to various art worlds happens on a grainy spectrum.
There are several tiers and forms of exclusion, which I get to witness from both sides, depending on the circumstances. I feel very connected to, and aware of, art as an idea and a historical lineage, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into recognition or feelings of social inclusion. On the other hand I don’t feel like an outcast either, at least not as much as before.
Images: Courtesy of the artist & Future Gallery, Berlin
II. The notion of artistic identity is often questioned in your work, through a semi-disguised self-presentation. The viewer gets easily confused, not being sure whether it’s actually you reciting with a flat voice, or if it’s more about staging with actors and mise-en-scène. Using Internet as a platform for work or for self-promotional ends: where is the fine line?
I guess self-promotion is work too. I don’t know if that’s what I’m doing though. There are contradictory desires in the work. I want to obscure myself and still communicate about my lived experience. I want to link up to something common and shared: a sense of the present moment in a cultural/historical/technological sense.
I don’t think the work has to be pinned to me as a biological entity. I’d rather have it floating around in a shared rhizome of human confusion and contemplation. To me it’s maybe not that important who speaks in the work. No fine lines drawn. It’s double exposure, or triple: I write a text that is read aloud by another and acted out by a third. Somehow this makes up one person within the realm of the work. “I contain multitudes”, etc.
III. In the art world, the circulation of trends has become breathtaking: styles become obsolete at speed we’ve never seen before. At the same time, artist’s role is shifting more and more towards practicing a global critique of visual culture itself. How do you position yourself within this paradox, simultaneously having to anticipate and react when facing the upcoming, whilst maintaining a critical state-of-mind?
I don’t think reacting is something you necessarily have to do, although the pressure is definitely there. One option is to stand still and watch everything move away and then come back around to where you already were. I personally like jumping on trends though. Rapid changes in style make me enthusiastic. I like the idea of ‘seasons’ in art, much like fashion. I know that this doesn’t work for most artists. There are a lot of downsides to how images circulate and are retired in the current system.
Maybe making work just resembles surfing now. Recognizing waves of cultural intensity is the medium. On the other hand I find myself dreaming about high modernism. Picasso feels like a relevant model: ever-shifting but singular, hands-on.
Images: Courtesy of the artist & Future Gallery, Berlin
IV. You feverishly document your surroundings, with miscellaneous visual stimuli: when I was looking at your work, I had figures from Picasso to Särestöniemi flickering through my mind. You currently live between Helsinki and Berlin, at the same time travelling non-stop. Where do you feel at home?
My idea of home has become more fluid over time. I feel at home when I have fast Wi-Fi.
I have a higher chance of feeling at home in Helsinki or Berlin than in other cities, because I’ve invested more time in them. I feel at home in Finland because of the language.
I don’t really feel at home in the UK, but there is a home or a summer house at least for me in the English language. I might feel at home when I meet my art worker peers in random locations (Istanbul, Bologna, Madrid), and we fall into shared patterns.
I haven’t felt very at-home for several years though, which is part of the reason I’m spending more time in Helsinki. I find the city frustrating, but I still think it’s the best chance I’ve got for a feeling of home that would be more sustainable and linear than the pockets of home that are scattered across Europe. Hard to say though.
V. When looking through your Instagram, I got the impression that you’re currently focusing mostly on sculpture and drawings, the series entitled Energy Objects being a good example of this. Do you feel like returning from immateriality towards materiality, reappropriating the notions of source and authenticity?
I don’t think there is an immaterial artform (even an idea has to be spoken or written down at least). The digital has its materiality, being physically constructed out of rare earth minerals, copper and electricity. Everything on the planet emerges from what was already there.
Of course the ceramic objects and drawings I make have a materiality that is more immediate in a way. The relation between gesture and form is direct and sophisticated, like high speed rendering without clumsy software interfaces. I don’t know if the term authenticity is useful to me in this instance. I would go for tangibility and immediacy.
Courtesy of the artist & Future Gallery, Berlin
VI. In an interview for DIS Magazine the artist Rafaël Rozendaal talked about the mutation of art economy with the Internet age: for him, it used to be like a Super Mario game, when picking up the coins and trying to reach the next level – now the network seems much more accessible. For me, your video Reverse Engineering (2013) echoes more or less the same theme. Do you think that the traditional role of the artist has transformed, now having the option to exercise solitary browsing at home?
It’s very hard for me to say. I’ve been browsing longer than I’ve been an artist. I started uploading stuff that I’d made when I was 15 or 16. My art education happened after that, so the chronology is kind of reversed. My speculation would be that it has changed, and I know that the type of path I’ve taken in the art system would not have been possible even a decade ago, not exactly.
I think there are a lot of remnants of older modes of doing that are very present though. People stress themselves out traveling to biennials in random inconvenient locations. Being physically present at art world events actually seems to have even higher importance now, maybe because the web is so oversaturated with information that only ‘real’ presence has any impact.
VII. You often use language as an instrument in your work, for example in Dispersion (2014) and The King and I (2014). Do you think that the highest peak with the image flow has already been reached: should we return to language and learn to read and listen again?
I don’t see images and language in opposition. We don’t have to return and we don’t have to choose. I employ text because it can do things images can’t and vice versa. I guess I strive for impact, and whatever gets me there is employable. I think images won’t peak in any discernible way. Images are more like a moss-like growth on the earth that already covers everything.
VIII. What are your current and upcoming projects?
I’m painting paintings that I want to exhibit at a public hospital and at a café in Helsinki.
I’m also planning a new video that’s set in 1960’s Finland and is about folk music and will look like a particularly gauche Instagram filter.