The Inhospitable World

With sprawling words by Adam Avikainen
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Adam Avikainen, Virus Made, 2014. drawing

I have known Adam for a decade: to date, we have crossed paths in Como, Amsterdam, Milan, Rome, London, Auckland, Taipei, Shenzhen, and Berlin; worked on a few projects together; and exchanged too many e-mails to count. Over the years, Adam has developed the habit of writing two, maybe three letters a day, some days none, some others, more than three. The e-mails appear inconsequential, operating as a stream of consciousness generally not requiring a personal reply, yet they are the artist’s dispatch to say that he is alive and located somewhere around the globe. The missives, usually sent to me in copy with a group of other undisclosed recipients, are addressed to names such as jesus.christ, obama, edward.snowden, jeffrey.koons, buddha@buddha.buddha, allah@mecca.com—which I suspect means that Adam Avikainen’s name features on a series of blacklists ranging from the National Security Agency (NSA) to the editors of Frieze magazine. It makes me wonder how much spam, how many mail-server errors, or returned messages, Adam receives on his account, especially when he makes up the names for domains or tries to reach people that have migrated elsewhere, both on the Web and in real life.

Condensed version

 

Vasari 1
One cannot reflect on Adam’s practice without discussing Adam, his life’s episodes being the main source for his artistic narrative. I will follow a loose chronological canon to talk about works Adam has created in different locations, and will attempt to connect recurring threads and inspirations of his, produced from varying landscapes. The artist helps me in this journey with words and clues that he has planted both in virtual and in live conversations.

2004
Adam is wearing cheap, yellow plastic dishwashing gloves to protect him against stinging nettles, when, as a steadfast gardener, he pulls weeds from an abandoned silk factory in the centre of Como, Northern Italy. With the weeds, he gives form to two anthropomorphic sculptures, “a mating couple shooting thread into each other’s mouths,” and creates a myth in which characters are inspired by the natural elements of the lake’s region.

The relic of the factory where Adam was pulling weeds had acted as an informal shelter to Northern African immigrants, but has since been demolished. Before then, there was a parking lot in use prior to what would have been the inescapable erection of a mall. The developers found asbestos in the ground though, and had to stop digging. More than seven years have gone by, but the city council claims they have no money to finance the works, and the privatecompany that owned the land is bankrupt. The area is fenced off, and new weeds are growing.

“Many of whom I came from farmed. Memory is inherited. It only needs one generation … to be encoded … baby rodents react to adverse stimuli the same way that their parents jumped in the lab the first time the year before … both my parents fought in the Vietnam war … my grandfather fought in Japan … and on and on and on … I am trying to …”

2010
Tate Modern, London. Adam has been invited by FormContent for “No Soul for Sale, a Festival of Independents,” unfolding for a weekend in the Turbine Hall. He has arrived only a few hours earlier from Bern, where he took part in the second iteration of the group show “Animism” at the Swiss Kunsthalle. There is not enough time to go around the collections, so mainly he prepares his contribution by looking at reproductions of paintings on postcards in the museum’s bookshop. He meets and greets, at the convened spot, a group of ten people waiting for his tour and we walk together to the upper floors. Adam guides us through the galleries to a handful of paintings: “Bridget Riley’s Fall, Barnett Newmann’s Adam, and Jean Dubuffet’s The Tree of fluids.” He is proposing mating his own small-scale creations, which he has been carrying under his arm, with these three from the Tate’s collection. He sealed the joyful union by singing a song of his own invention and taking photos of the group with the Avikainen paintings in front of the original works. The invigilators—to my surprise—never interrupted Adam or asked us what on Earth was going on. Since then, without fail, every year in May, the artist has been sending an e-mail to participants of the tour to celebrate the anniversary of those nuptials and to recount what the paintings have been doing. After four years, I wonder how many e-mails have bounced back and forth, and how many births, weddings, journeys, and stories have engaged the participants.

Within Adam’s research, everything appears so disparate yet so inextricably connected; he has been creating an all encompassing ecosystem, a life-consuming fiction, which breaths through our cells, even as I write and you read this. The spores travel in the mail and online, and infest us with the Adam Avikainen’s disease. You are part of it too now. “Viruses made us (mitochondria).”

2012
Ginger Glacier
Adam has lived in Japan for a few years, following his residency at CCA Kitakyushu in 2009; he has experienced the aftermath of the great earthquake and tsunami of 2011 in the northeastern region of Sendai, and the constant threat of nuclear radiation in the air, water, and soil. As a survival strategy, the artist has started thinking about a pathogen that could make humans physically strong enough to endure the sun when, in five billion years, it becomes too powerful and, as a result, the oceans evaporate. The pathogen will gradually change men from within and transform the species into something that one can only imagine akin to He-Man, the cartoon hero.

“It all begins two years ago in the Japanese village of Kamiyama. Adam meets Mr S., who owns the local hardware store; in the middle of summer he has the habit of climbing the nearby mountain to chip ice from the glacier atop so he can chill his sweet potato liquor. Shortly thereafter, Adam is introduced to K.; he moved back to his hometown after having worked in Tokyo for a Michelin star restaurant and now he serves five course meals at his mother’s cafe. The first time Adam ate there, he tasted a shaved ice dessert with essence of ginger. That is how the Ginger Glacier epic was born: with a good alliteration, chance encounters and wordplays jotted in notebooks. …

Adam thinks about survival and imagines the possibility of a natural pathogen or mutagen: for a while now he has been researching the natural properties of plants and rhizomes as a way of securing a future for our species. The choice to employ natural pigments in the making of the dye, such as turmeric, ginger, beets, oil of oregano, mixed with Auckland water and drawn on Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing (3M) paper, becomes crucial.

The pigments’ molecules on the scrolls mimic the landscape: valleys, volcanoes, gulfs, creeks, as in a topographic map. The large-scale paintings are like organic beings, they whisper to us their story and at the same time they expose the viewer to the mutagen.”

I wrote this in 2012 when Adam showed at Artspace in Auckland, New Zealand. He executed the paintings in the gallery, first working on the scrolls on the ground and, once dried, hanging them on the walls. The show had an audio recording with the artist’s voice telling the early history of the Ginger Glacier, an epic he had been composing for months. Following Adam’s suggestion for the public program of the exhibition, there was a screening of The Secret Lives of Plants, a 1979 documentary with a soundtrack recorded by Stevie Wonder. The film transposes the theories expressed in Peter Tompkins’ and Christopher Bird’s 1973 book of the same title, which imagines plants to be sentient and emotionally linked to man. Geographically disparate examples are given–half-scientific, half-spiritual–to prove the connection between the two realms.

The Ginger Glacier narrative has continued to grow and Adam’s holistic creation has expanded in Taiwan, where he spent a few months in 2012, preparing his contribution for the “Taipei Biennale”. Here, the artist lists the ingredients constituting the work:

“Ingredients in the G. Glacier’s skin pigments: -The juice of 1001 Taiwanese plants. -The rain of 5 typhoons and 23 smaller storms. -Taipei smog. -The rust from a roof. -The mud from a former chicken farm. -Snail mucous. -Caterpillar excrement. -Dead toad family. -Cobra cum. -Synthetic tattoo inks acquired from a futures investor. -Remnants from the micro-orgasms. -Ash -Charcoal -Betel nut extract. -Ginger serum. -Curry powder. -Glue. -Ayurvedic soap. -Wild luwak Sumatran coffee grounds. These were allowed to ferment on the fabric for 8 weeks en plein air. 20 meters × 6 meters, 2012 + / – 5,000,000,000 years.”

The new atmospheric qualities and geographical location had a strong impact on the work, its raw ingredients, and its palette. The pinks and the yellows of New Zealand became grays and blacks of rain and monsoon in Taiwan. Adam moved to Southern China next, working in 2013 for the Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT) in Shenzhen, where he prepared a site-specific piece for the first stop of “Animism” in Asia, using mangoes and ink as the main ingredients.

The Taipei work traveled to Shenzhen and then to Seoul, where it was transformed and dismantled. A portion was sent to Beirut to be part of an exhibition there, but it was delayed at customs, and never made it to the gallery. The rest of the work is in a dump in Korea because transport would have been to expensive and proved too difficult considering the deterioration of materials, the volume of the paintings, and their fluctuating value.

“Dear All,
I hate to cause so much trouble with what was a mango
bar painting and a fictional ink form … a true idiot
newborn, stumbling through the ether with synthetic
smarts.

Now, as fiction (as it is intended to do) inspires
physical realms, I advise you all to distance yourself
from the painting.
The more attention you pay it, the more powerful
and unpredictable it shall become.
YOU DO NOT WANT it to consume you.
Forget it. Move on. Eat fruits. Kiss your families.
Let me, Adam, its creator, deal with it, mold it,
caress it and push it back into the psycho-void.
Three Cheers and Free Beers,
Adam”

This is from an e-mail Adam circulated on March 4, 2014 after he received communication from the gallery in Beirut that, despite their efforts, they couldn’t clear the work from customs. Apparently, the head of Lebanese Customs Googled “Adam Avikainen” and found a website that claimed his work was worth 25,000 dollars. Adam sent the exhibition space, Ashkal Alwan, instructions to execute a new work, incorporating the mishap in it.

Plan B–A type of birth control. The Morning after

the CSI-DNR investigation

Plan A – Stuck in the airtube
Plan O – 333

Fade.
A man sits behind a desk composed of charcoal. Rather,
he leans on it, or it leans on him. They need each other.
For He is Agent BOA. The constrictor.
When he inhales the smoke from the smoldering desk,
this is when the blurring of the camera’s field of vision
occurs … upon inhalation, as opposed to exhalation.
(Olympus of Japan makes a grand respiratory camera
available on AMAZON for those interested in oxygen
malabsorption techniques). For Agent BOA, some of his
blood passed into his mother’s stream whilst he was
still attached, and she developed antibodies against him,
rendering him incapable of complete breath … taking,
never giving gas to the plants that were burned and
pressed to compose his torso and testicles and tonsils.
And as a result, he possesses all the blood types of
all the primates on Earth and its rusted fruit satellites
warping time, but not space.
A woman glides into the chalk room.
She lays three black snowballs on Agent BOA’s bed sheet
(stapled to his wonderfully spicy radish-nipples and
wrapped around his desk/coal filter/viscera).
‘This is a bribe.’
‘This is a power trip.’

‘This is me pleading.’
‘This is me stalling.’
‘This is me leaving.’
‘…’
The door closes and the slight wave of sound spit from the
creaking hinge cracks a splinter of charcoal from Agent
BOA’s left eye and tumbles from his smoked, leather chin.
Black Lights Crash.
Pan to a bowl of ancient fruit illuminated by the dying
embers.
A single ant crawls over the fruit, dragging herself drunk
on fermented inky-nectar.
Agent BOA reaches out a calcified toe and rubs it against
her sticky left breast.
‘The antibodies are beginning to attract.’
Curtain. (White Bed Sheet)
Anselm Franke w/ Adam Avikainen

 

Storyboard
The screenplay, in cinematic terms “storyboard,” is a format Adam employs often; through it, the artist’s attention to tones, idioms, and rhythm are better articulated. His body of paintings is the manifestation of an epic narrative, which manages to weave pictorial language and spoken words together, like Giotto’s frescoes in Medieval Italian churches that tell stories from the Bible through images and colors rather than words, so the illiterates would also be able to follow them.

At the time of our first meeting in 2005, Avikainen was working on a piece called WARDIAN CASES (2006) which comprises nineteen paintings (or storyboards) as well as written acts or chapters. These physical components were only the beginning, I soon learned. Each painting represented approximately five minutes of cinematic time and could be read individually or as a series of scenes. The ultimate intent was for someone to interpret the paintings and the accompanying narrative as the basis of the film, then for another person to reinterpret this work of cinema into a television series, and after that for yet another person to develop a sporting event based on the TV episode and finally to, in his own words, ‘have someone name their firstborn daughter after the world champion of that sport'”2

I witnessed the announced birth in a group show at Monitor Gallery in Rome in 2010: every forty minutes a sound piece with the artist’s voice was inviting the daughter to “come out and play.” A selection of paintings from WARDIAN CASES was also on show, and the parts of the script precisely referring to them, were laminated and available for consultation next to those large-scale works. The story keeps spinning; clues resurface in different works and places.

As a reader, a viewer, or listener to Adam’s works, it is important to embrace relativism, to surrender to the feeling of never grasping the whole. Adam constantly leaves breadcrumbs and connects recurring threads through his
projects. He is a mythmaker, a baffling and exuberant language-inventor, and although it’s easy to get lost in his narration, Adam certainly has a plan:

“… an infinite circle composed of smaller and smaller twirls and swirls tighter and tighter and then you wake up somewhere else from lack of circulation.”

When I was little, my dad used to read me tales. At home, we had a collection of books of fables, from France, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Italy, and Africa. Often transcribed from oral sources, I remember them as gruesome, filled with blood and violence, so much so that they had the power of disturbing my sleep. I can’t help but think of those foreign, yet, similar plots, the clash between heroes and villains, the roles magic and loss played, and think of Adam and his imagination.

In his poems, Mountains, Oceans, Planets constitute the artist’s cosmogony and, as characters, have contributed through the years to the fabrication of a serialized science fiction novel. In the way Adam structures his stories, at least two traits could be derived from Vladimir Propp’s 1928 Study of Folktales: 1. Indeterminacy: space and time are never specified, suggesting a sense of remoteness. 2. Unlikelihood: the facts that are presented are often improbable or devoid of any grounding in an ordinary reality. 3

In this sense, even throuh departing from specific events and circumstances of life, the artist’s stories acquire a universal quality.

Furthermore, there seems to be a conspicuous contamination in his work, beautifully and respectfully mingling Western thought with Eastern influences and forms. Adam’s encounter with Japan, in particular, has been very influential in the development of his work, and inspirations come from a curious and open approach to different disciplines. For instance Kabuki, 4 a very popular form of Japanese theater predicated on the mix of music, drama, and dance, could be seen in the attentive way in which Adam uses words and brushstrokes, all of which hint at a dynamic, at times destructive, yet always transformative, force.

Calliope 5
This is the story of a cycle of paintings commissioned for
a summer theater in the Japanese countryside. The artist
recounts the gestation of his painting of a double-sided epic
and the conditions imposed upon his labor. The resulting
screens descend from personal experiences of natural catastrophes
in Italy and in Japan, which had led to the making
of Tectonic lasagne (2009) and Typhoon curry (2010). Adam
stresses that the paintings are alive, thus their performanceis not confined to the stage. The artist has taken the works on tour to a series of places to invite interaction with people and landscapes: a snowy field, a council hall, a classroom with cookers, a bridge over a stream, a traditional Japanese home, the wall of a country road bordering with a factory, and a supermarket, where the screens were placed behind magazines.

“points.
-for centuries, artists would travel around the islands
[of Japan] and trade labor for food and lodging.
-they painted scenes on paper screens that would
take part in karakuri performances.
-the paintings are alive. They are the characters.
Rural entertainment.
-they told stories of soap operas in misty heavens
and demon monkey riots
-for the hundredth anniversary of something, i was
commissioned to make some for the first time since
the war.
-my two-sided work depicted two recipes from a
cookbook i was writing in my isolated cabin inspired
by two meals i had before natural disasters … an
earthquake near Rome, Easter, 2009 … i had lasagne
the night before at my gallerist’s parents’ home … the
seismic waves of the shifting plates mimicked the noodles
jumping in my stomach on the 4th floor ‘techtonic lasagne’
… the next year … it rained for 4 days straight …
i asked some village elders if i should be concerned about
the river licking away my doorstep … they said the river
has never flooded in their lifetime (60-70 years) …
i awoke at 4 am to the sound of brilliant white noise …
asdfasdfsafasfasssssssss … jump up … brush teeth …
throw toothbrush mid-stroke … silly way to die with mint breath … put laptop in backpack and bike on shoulder and walk across the highway with trees floating down the asphalt from the lumberyard neighbor … a truck is on fire? … walk about 100 meters up the mountain and taste last night’s curry dinner on my morning breath with peppermint flavor crystals stuckto my lips … ‘typhoon curry.’ -before the living recipes were put into storage after their annual spring performance at the sakura theater … i drove them around town for some fresh air and small talk …”

Snail

Adam is antilinear, as rhizomatic as one can get. His life is a history of survival, which feeds the kitting out of his art. He has been moving and making work across three continents: from his mom’s womb in Minnesota, to Europe where his ancestors are from, to Asia where he spent time caring for his epic, his body, and soul, going to hot springs. He is now back temporarily in Europe, doing personal research in a Berlin infested by the 2014 soccer World Cup matches happening in Brazil.“I have been moving since 1996. Foraging for who knows what. I have never been to Disneyland. But, will go in 2014 or 2015, probably the version in Tokyo or Hong Kong.

… I was led to Berlin with the promise of an exhibition at a house showcasing world cultures … the building is called an oyster … I can’t hang things on the wall … it is historical.

They gave me some money … it is never enough … I am in survival mode … my poems are paying for themselves.”

2014, July

I am meeting Adam in the foyer of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW): he is waiting for me, looking out to the pond in front of the building where a Henry Moore sculpture lies. It’s a muggy morning and a mosquito finds my neck moments later.

We have a coffee by the river at the back of the building, which is close to a stop for boats taking tourists on a cruise. Adam recalls his first job in Chicago, working on boats similar to these, on which he had to call out into a microphone, names of buildings that he couldn’t yet match to the skyline of a city that was completely new to him.

Talking to Adam is an immersive experience, he takes you on a 360-degree journey that is geographical, chronological, linguistic, autobiographical, visual, olfactory, but that always departs from the observation of his immediate environment, and from there, expands organically and synchronically.

Adam pins his badge to the neck of his T-shirt, the badge bears his name and the dates he will be an artist-in-residence at HKW: April to October 2014. I follow him, and we wander through a corridor with many doors that Adam tells me are offices; after a few corners we come to three large rolls of canvas stacked horizontally on one side, between the floor and the wall, a handwritten note: “Adam Avikainen” sits precariously atop them. Adam picks up the top roll and hoists it onto his left shoulder, it must measure approximately three meters in length. Taking the canvas outside requires some balance; we pass through cramped corridors and two glass doors and get to the left side of building, in a green area, adjacent to the exhibition space where the work will be shown in October. Adam unrolls the long canvas on the grass, it is still mainly white but I can see some red pencil tracings, it looks like sanguigna, the red charcoal used by Renaissance painters to prepare the scenes to be executed. The artist has been working outdoors, but he needs to bring the work inside at the end of each day since World Cup soccer matches are screened in the building; temporary metal fences have been placed to contain the soccer fans, but you never know. A strange concrete trapezoid with five irregular sides and three round holes piercing the front through to the back is there too, it looks a bit as if a flying saucer has landed and been abandoned on the less exposed side of the building.

Adam plucks some clover from the grass and in doing so introduces the ingredients for the paintings he is making; honey made from clover that is sold in the museum’s shop and green copper-based pigment that he promptly extracts from his backpack. For the third ingredient, he takes me to the roof terrace via an external stone staircase; up there, he shows me plastic pockets filled with soil where different types of mint are growing: apple mint, sharp mint, menthol mint …

The vantage point gives us a better sense of the site and I can take a closer look at the “Pregnant Oyster” (Schwangere Auster is apparently the name give to the building by Berliners), the glass dome of the Reichstag (Parliament), and the green forest of the Tiergarten on the other side. I realise that the offices where Chancellor Angela Merkel works are extremely close, which explains why Adam has been photographing police personnel, who presumably patrol the area daily. From the roof, Adam points at a few outdoor spaces he had asked permission to adopt as his studio, but failed to get approval to use, due to institutional complications. When looking for more information about the history of the building, I stumble on this sentence: “In Stubbins’ view”—the American architect responsible for HKW—“the roof upheld the promise that there would be no restrictions on the freedom of intellectual work.”6 From the bell-tower nearby, a symphony of sound begins, providing an eerie background noise to Adam’s storytelling.

Endurance Dreaming

“… that’s how I try to work … that was a defining moment … endurance dreaming … do it long enough and the group will leave you behind for the sake of progress … there you can continue to create.”

The impression that Adam’s work is cyclical, is confirmed when he remembers how Ginger Glacier sprouted from a presentation in Berlin in 2011. A full-time English teacher in Japan at the time, Adam is invited to participate in the ABC fair, themed around painting. He had seriously been considering quitting art, this commission, though, urges him to make work again and create a new epic. During time off from teaching, he writes and draws sitting at his desk in his tiny Tokyo apartment, and during longer school breaks, goes to the countryside to paint. There he makes small-size works, inspired by the Japanese watercolor tradition, which illustrate some of the stories he has been composing. A collector eventually buys one painting at the fair in Berlin, the spores of the Ginger Glacier start to circulate.

These days Adam calls Japan home, but the journey to get to that realization has been somewhat eventful. Adam was born and raised in Shakopee, Minnesota. He changed majors three times, first he wanted to do film studies at the University of Southern California, but the competitive environment led him first to film theory and then to creative writing. He eventually dropped out of school in Los Angeles and planned to move to Chicago. A day before going to Michigan, he received a phone call from someone claiming to be from Asymmetrical Productions, David Lynch’s film company in LA. Adam thought it was a phone prank from his goofy friends, yet two weeks prior he had sent them a package containing a five-minute trailer for a film into which he had being squeezing all his energy and ideas. On the line, Mark, Lynch’s assistant was expressing their appreciation and interest in the trailer and inviting Adam to let them know when he would next be in LA. In those days, pre-internet and pre-mobiles, Adam was only able to give him his parents’ landline in Minnesota as a point of contact. He did leave the next day for Chicago where he navigated through a series of odd jobs, from boat valet to bar man. Adam didn’t pursue the lead any further and it is unclear whether Asymmetrical Productions did ever try to get in touch with him again.

Eventually Adam went back to Minnesota for his video studies and he was accepted to the University of Helsinki for his MFA. Once in Europe, he had opportunities to make and exhibit work, and subsequently he was accepted to De Ateliers in Amsterdam. There, his video camera was stolen, and since he had at his disposal a big studio, he started to paint, or better, to tell his stories through the painting medium. The scale of the works increased and led to the series WARDIAN CASES, which he exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum.

The story picks up where it left off, in Japan, with Adam trying to make a living and earn some money to pay off his debt, endeavors that take him off the art trajectory once again. In those surroundings though, Adam learns the importance of cultivating a craft with devotion, and starts to realize that mastering a technique might consume seventy years of one’s life. Adam settles in Kamiyama, in a community of farmers and lumberers with whom he enjoys exchanging stories; his are mostly about art, theirs about the rural cycles.

Adam has a predilection for Lynch’s 1990s TV series Twin Peaks and a soft spot for the character of Special Agent Cooper. He sees some resemblances in the setting of the series—a town with a lumber factory and a tourist resort—to his Japanese counterpart, and some common traits that he sees as linking him to FBI Agent Cooper and his analytical yet eccentric ways. To some extent, they are both detectives investigating a mystery. Due to job requirements, thrown every time into a new place, they hold on to a strict routine of survival. They realize that, at times, rather than interacting with the locals, what is necessary is retreating to one’s mind or imagination.

Back to Berlin in 2014, constantly Adam is asked where he is from. People are curious to learn which team he supports in the World Cup, and he becomes increasingly frustrated by the harshness poured on him every time he says he is from the United States; everyone seems to have an opinion about his birth country that they want to share. He is starting to consider telling people he is Canadian.

Crime Scene

In his latest works, CSI, there are references to the American crime drama TV series Crime Scene Investigation, which Adam watches with his dad when back in Minnesota. The second part of the title better articulates the field of interest in which the artist is engaging: the Department of Natural Resources. In Berlin, Adam is collecting evidence, scientific and sociological data, and connecting dots in time and space.

“I have been thinking about stem cells and their potential of universal creation. …. Yes, that is what I am investigating. Projective perceptions. How to create a future, where there will be no heads? Origins of what makes cats curious.

Two-headed puppy just looked at a dog brain on a marble slab in the coroner’s office. Mahogany tobacco pipe drilled into the frontal lobe. The dual-puppy brain creature thought it looked odd … a different color maybe … too slimy.

How can one imagine what it has never experienced?”

For his show at HKW, Adam is planning to exhibit the cycle of paintings that he made in Seoul, which have already been shipped to Berlin.

The palette for CSI:DNR Seoul has orange/reddish tones, they are iron-based, inspired by rust puddles, and the metalworking district Adam found himself working from, alongside blue-collar workers, alcoholism, and prostitution.

From the “Oyster,” he is working on three new large-scale paintings employing honey, mint, and green ink. His intention for CSI Department of Natural Resources is that they are more clinical, and less water- and weather-prone than in previous projects. He has been writing 333 letters, which will be on display using recycled X-ray machines, functioning as light boxes in the space, containing 111 letters each, and posters and photos he has been gathering in the past months. Adam is thinking of letting light filter into the exhibition space by pulling the curtains on the window-side of the room. This gesture will also reveal the outdoor working area where the new paintings have come to life, and expose the mysterious concrete sculpture with three holes; both portals to other worlds.

“… they are letters to humans trying to raise awareness and funding for our investigative agency AND the creation of a ghost heart for the ginger glacier.”

The number 333 is not arbitrary; Adam claims it is his lucky number and it references the moment when, as a kid, he became aware of time. One day, coming home from school, he started noticing that the time on the clock would mark 3:33, and it was the same on the following days.

Adam is convinced of the importance of viewing things from multiple perspectives, and in order to do so, believes that one needs at least three points. What he has been trying to do with his work is to offer that third- or fourth-dimension, which makes us aware of the other layers too. His artistic production could be seen as a constantly spinning triangle, with photography, painting, and cinema at each corner. At film school—the same one attended by George Lucas, the inventor of the Star Wars trilogy—he learnt about the Aristotelian narrative structure requiring a beginning, middle, and end.

Adam has created three diseases: Shoga Hyoga : Ginger Glacier, Shika Suika : Deer Watermelon, Kaki Kuchi : Oyster/Persimmon Mouth/Gate. So far, he has been concentrating on the plot of the first, but we can expect he will return to the others, now as dormant as volcanoes, in the future. Each project in this sense is a continuation of what he has done previously and departs from what is available in each place and situation.

Micro-mining

I would like to be an omniscient narrator, Ishmael in Moby Dick, or be able to channel the authoritative voice of BBC documentary presenter David Attenborough, but in all honesty, I can only rely on the partial fragments Adam has offered in the shape of drawings, manipulated digital photographs, encoded e-mails with cryptic subject lines, and YouTube links.

Lately, when I am not online, Adam has been leaving on my page silent videos of himself sat in front of the computer camera, like a guardian who has no knowledge that he is being spied on, rolling eyes, open mouthed, as if about to say or do something that instead doesn’t eventuate. It’s a piece of the puzzle I haven’t been able to decipher yet.

In a recent e-mail, Adam embedded a video of a BBC documentary Mining the Moon for Helium. I started watching it and followed the interviews with astronauts involved in the Apollo missions to the Moon in the late 1960s and ’70s, which the Vietnam War and civil unrest across the United States interrupted. The film essay fast-forwards to a plan announced at NASA, in 2004, by the then-American President George W. Bush, endorsing the research aimed at spending longer periods of time or even settling on the Moon by 2020. The point the report is making is that helium has been found in abundance in the lunar rocks that have been collected in previous missions and that the possibility of substituting hydrogen in the reaction with helium 3 to trigger nuclear fusion is extremely appealing to many nations, corporations, and entrepreneurs, which are rushing to prepare to mine the Moon. In this scenario, the documentary introduces some strange types, one being Dennis Hope, an American entrepreneur who, taking advantage of the fact that no law yet covers intergalactic copyright, has created an uncanny niche in the real estate market: his company Lunar Embassy sells to whomever is interested in land lots on the Moon. Lots are assigned by a method whereby Hope points to the map of one side of the Earth’s Satellite  with his eyes closed. The portions have geometric shapes and don’t really take into account any geographical consideration. Unwittingly, Hope follows in the footsteps of the colonizers who had divided the world centuries earlier.

In preparation for the project, Adam has been reading scientific journals and researching new technologies, industrial mass productions in Asia, and pharmaceutical companies in Europe. In doing so, he has managed to find “sauna designers based in Minnesota with branches in Germany, thus connecting things and places through his own life story. He continues: “Develop perspiration collection apparatus to mine elements from human sweat … especially cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic. Micro-mining.” 

His latest e-mails contain reference to drones, fasting, and Ramadan. A while back, there were a few Edward Snowden mentions, and the whistleblower’s name is still cc-ed in some correspondence. Adam always demonstrates an acute awareness of what is happening around him and has an uncanny way of metamorphosing 7 these observations into the construction of his narrative.

Perhaps in the paintings, letters, and images on display you will distinguish threads spun by a foreigner, an outsider. Perhaps you will get glimpses of his labor between continents, struggling between visa and money issues, yet you will be able to find Adam’s antidote, the harmony he seeks in the things of the world, his innate optimism, his unrelenting humanity. An artist who believes his job is to think of another future, because “we refuse to exist as we are now.”

 

“Like the legend of the Phoenix,
All ends with beginnings.
What keeps the planets spinning,
The force from the beginning.
We’ve come too far
To give up who we are,
So let’s raise the bar
And our cups to the stars.”8

Caterina Riva, 2014


 

  1. “Giorgio Vasari (Italian: [ˈdʒordʒo vaˈzari]; 30 July 1511–27 June 1574) was an Italian painter, architect, writer and historian, most famous today for his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, considered the ideological foundation of art-historical writing.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_Vasari
  2. Maxine Kopsa, “Psychophic Spiritual Realism,” Metropolis M (April–May 2008), See: http://metropolism.com/magazine/2008-no2/psychofysisch-spiritueel-realism/

3.“Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp (Russian: Владимир Яковлевич Пропп; 29 April [O. S. 17 April] 1895–22 August 1970) was a Soviet folklorist and scholar who analyzed the basic plot components of Russian folk tales to identify their simplest irreducible narrative elements.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Propp

4.“Kabuki (歌舞伎?) is a classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theater is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. Since the word kabuki is believed to derive from the verb kabuku, meaning ‘to lean’ or ‘to be out of the ordinary,’ Kabuki can be interpreted as ‘avant-garde’ or ‘bizarre’ theater.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabuki

  1. “In Greek mythology, Calliope (/ˈlaɪ.əpiː/ kə-ly-ə-pee; Ancient Greek: Καλλιόπη, Kalliopē ‘beautiful-voiced’) was the muse of epic poetry, daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, and is believed to be Homer’s muse for the Iliad and the Odyssey.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calliope
  2. See: http://www.hkw.de/en/hkw/gebauede/gebaeude.php
  3. “The Metamorphoses (Latin: Metamorphōseōn libri: “Books of Transformations”) is a Latin narrative poem by the Roman poet Ovid, considered his magnum opus. Comprising fifteen books and over 250 myths, the poem chronicles the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar within a loose mythico-historical framework. … Although meeting the criteria for an epic, the poem defies simple genre classification by its use of varying themes and tones.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metamorphoses
  4. These are the first two stanzas from the song “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams  “Daft Punk” (ft Pharrell Williams) Get Lucky, 2013. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NV6Rdv1a3I&feature=kp , from an e-mail from the artist to the author.


 

 

As a reader, a viewer, or listener to Adam Avikainen’s works, it is important to embrace relativism, to surrender to the feeling of never grasping the whole.

 

Talking to Adam Avikainen is an immersive experience, he takes you on a 360-degree journey that is geographical, chronological, linguistic, autobiographical, visual, olfactory, but that always departs from the observation of his immediate environment, and from there, expands organically and synchronically.

Adam pins his badge to the neck of his T-shirt, the badge bears his name and the dates he will be an artist-in-residence at HKW: April to October 2014. I follow him, and we wander through a corridor with many doors that Adam tells me are offices; after a few corners we come to three large rolls of canvas stacked horizontally on one side, between the floor and the wall, a handwritten note: “Adam Avikainen” sits precariously atop them. Adam picks up the top roll and hoists it onto his left shoulder, it must measure approximately three meters in length. Taking the canvas outside requires some balance; we pass through cramped corridors and two glass doors and get to the left side of building, in a green area, adjacent to the exhibition space where the work will be shown in October. Adam unrolls the long canvas on the grass, it is still mainly white but I can see some red pencil tracings, it looks like sanguigna, the red charcoal used by Renaissance painters to prepare the scenes to be executed. The artist has been working outdoors, but he needs to bring the work inside at the end of each day since World Cup soccer matches are screened in the building; temporary metal fences have been placed to contain the soccer fans, but you never know. A strange concrete trapezoid with five irregular sides and three round holes piercing the front through to the back is there too, it looks a bit as if a flying saucer has landed and been abandoned on the less exposed side of the building.

Over the years, Adam has developed the habit of writing two, maybe three letters a day, some days none, some others, more than three. The e-mails appear inconsequential, operating as a stream of consciousness generally not requiring a personal reply, yet they are the artist’s dispatch to say that he is alive and located somewhere around the globe. His latest e-mails contain reference to drones, fasting, and Ramadan. Adam always demonstrates an acute awareness of what is happening around him and has an uncanny way of metamorphosing these observations into the construction of his narrative.

Adam  Avikainen’s life is a history of survival, which feeds the kitting out of his art. He has been moving and making work across three continents: from his mom’s womb in Minnesota, to Europe where his ancestors are from, to Asia where he spent time caring for his epic, his body, and soul, going to hot springs. He is now back temporarily in Europe, doing forensic research in Berlin.

Avikainen’s body of paintings is the manifestation of an epic narrative, which manages to weave pictorial language and spoken words together. In his poems, Mountains, Oceans, Planets constitute the artist’s cosmogony and, as characters, have contributed through the years to the fabrication of a serialised science fiction novel. Within Adam’s research, everything appears so disparate yet so inextricably connected; he has been creating an all-encompassing ecosystem, a life-consuming fiction, which breaths through our cells, even as I write and you read this:

“Adam thinks about survival and imagines the possibility of a natural pathogen or mutagen: for a while now he has been researching the natural properties of plants and rhizomes as a way of securing a future for our species. (…)

The pigments’ molecules on the scrolls mimic the landscape: valleys, volcanoes, gulfs, creeks, as in a topographic map. The large-scale paintings are like organic beings, they whisper to us their story and at the same time they expose the viewer to the mutagen.”

The epic of the Ginger Glacier consolidated in 2012 after Adam had lived in Japan for a few years and experienced the aftermath of the great earthquake and tsunami of 2011 in the northeastern region of Sendai, and the constant threat of nuclear radiation in the air, water, and soil. As a survival strategy, the artist started thinking about a pathogen that could make humans physically strong enough to endure the sun when, in five billion years, it becomes too powerful and, as a result, the oceans evaporate. The Ginger Glacier was presented in Auckland, New Zealand and mutated in Taipei, Taiwan. It also travelled to Shenzhen and then to Seoul, where it was transformed and dismantled. A portion was sent to Beirut to be part of an exhibition there, but it was delayed at customs, and never made it to the gallery. The rest of the work is in a dump in Korea because transport would have been too expensive and proved too difficult considering the deterioration of materials, the volume of the paintings, and their fluctuating value.

The impression that Adam’s work is cyclical, is confirmed when the artist recalls how Ginger Glacier sprouted from a presentation in Berlin in 2011. A full-time English teacher in Japan at the time, Adam is invited to participate in the ABC fair, themed around painting. He had seriously been considering quitting art, this commission, though, urges him to make work again and create a new epic. During time off from teaching, he writes and draws sitting at his desk in his tiny Tokyo apartment, and during longer school breaks, goes to the countryside to paint. There he makes small-size works, inspired by the Japanese watercolor tradition, which illustrate some of the stories he has been composing. A collector eventually buys one painting at the fair in Berlin, the spores of the Ginger Glacier start to circulate.

In his latest works, Csi, there are references to the American crime drama TV series Crime Scene Investigation. The second part of the title better articulates the field of interest in which the artist is engaging: the Department of Natural Resources. In preparation for the project in Berlin, Adam has been reading scientific journals and researching new technologies, industrial mass productions in Asia, and pharmaceutical companies in Europe. In doing so, he has managed to find “sauna designers based in Minnesota with branches in Germany,” thus connecting things and places through his own life story. For his show at HKW, he is making new work but is also planning to exhibit the cycle of paintings that he made in Seoul, which have already been shipped to Berlin.

The palette for Csi:DNR Seoul 01575-1938405 has orange/reddish tones, they are iron-based, inspired by rust puddles and the metal-working district Adam found himself working from, alongside blue-collar workers, alcoholism, and prostitution. From the “Oyster,” he is working on three new large-scale paintings employing honey, mint, and green ink. His intention for Csi:DNR Berlin is be more clinical, and less water- and weather-prone than in previous projects. He has been writing 333 letters, which will be on display using recycled X-ray machines, functioning as light boxes in the space, containing 111 letters each, and posters and photos he has been gathering in the past months. Adam is thinking of letting light filter into the exhibition space by pulling the curtains on the window-side of the room. This gesture will also reveal the outdoor working area where the new paintings have come to life, and expose the mysterious concrete sculpture with three holes; both portals to other worlds.

Adam is convinced of the importance of viewing things from multiple perspectives, and in order to do so, believes that one needs at least three points. What he has been trying to do with his work is to offer that third- or fourth-dimension, which makes us aware of the other layers too.

Caterina Riva, 2014

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