Notes on Heidi Hankaniemi
La Cerveza y la Furia/ Tiempodehoy
1. HEIDI Hankaniemi is an inventor of narratives. Most of her works are windows and bridges to a perhaps, to a maybe, to a life which could become, and perhaps was. This Finnish artist (Ekenäs) has a Woolfian gift for exposing human tremor and the transcendental in that which appears damaged and on the outskirts of the strictly historical and grand, but which decisively shapes our social and collective experience. Hankaniemi attributes new identities to bodies, objects and spaces immersed in routine and triviality. Because there is nothing more essential than that which is presumed to exist only as A Possibility. Knowing that everything which appears mirrors the essence of the universe, Hankaniemi toys with this notion and makes visible the finity of the eternal, and eternity of the finite.
2. IN Playing House, a collection of fabrics and embroidery, Hankaniemi presents us with a series of observations ranging from the elegiac to the jolly, about the silent chores of a Housewife. Julia Domenech, Art Historian and an expert on the work of Hankaniemi, writes: “Playing House is an ironic look on how we interpret the role of a housewife. The nineteenth-century “Cult of domesticity”, “Angel in the house” by Coventry Patmore, are transformed into a disturbing series of common objects embroidered with words, phrases and ideas that transform their essence [...] The embroidery is no longer an end in itself but has become an aesthetic bracket, a medium with which to re-write objects, spaces and bodies into an aesthetic discourse which analyzes the complexity of our relationship with reality”.
Playing House could be seen consecutively at two galleries in Madrid: Espacio Valverde and Espacio de las Aquas.
3. HANKANIEMI resides in New York, where she is currently working on Bones, a fascinating project whose genesis the artist herself describes to me. “I found a folder of architects’ discarded blueprints on a street in Chelsea. They are for a giant building complex which was to be built in Brooklyn, for 400 families, 4 years ago. It was never built and the land is empty and abandoned. I’m conducting pseudoscientific research in order to reconstruct what the life could have been like, in the building, had it existed. Right now I’m studying the ghostlike structures of the maps, trying to find evidence of a possible life; traces of a hope, of an ambition…”
4. ARCHAEOLOGIST of great hopes and of urban projects which don't always triumph, Hankaniemi purges and refines materials and textures until she finds a valid formula to suggest that non-existent events existed, ghostly events which wait in memory to be exposed to human life through art. Hankaniemi merges Being with Nothingness. It is difficult to know if her works are nurtured more by the former or the latter.
5. HANKANIEMI also recreates events that actually possessed a reality, a space, a time, a death. But here she is not limited to a simple reconstruction of a lost world. Hankaniemi dramatizes it and partially fables it. Professor Domenech writes in this regard: “These narratives sometimes only exist in distant memory, which the artist enters dissecting thoughts and images in process…. In the Metro series (2006-), the artist, like a modern flâneuse, pierces the hidden pulse of the cities."
6. There are three ways to summarize the unique and haunting work of Heidi Hankaniemi:
a) Playful and comedic praise of remnants of the yesterday.
b) Doubt and uncertainty about the trustworthiness of material and space.
c) A melancholic and sarcastic tribute to a history almost lost. But only almost.
by Dr. Julia Domenech, Madrid
Playing House is the Finnish artist Heidi Hankaniemi's (Ekenäs) first solo exhibition in Spain. It's in the words of the artist "… an ironic interpretation of how to play the role of a housewife." Based on ideas of the nineteenth-century "Cult of Domesticity" and "The angel in the house" by Coventry Patmore, the exhibition consists of a series of somewhat unsettling household objects that have been embroidered with verses, phrases and ideas that transform their essence.
Through Hankaniemi, with a strong background in the theory and practice of Conceptual Art (Hons. Central St. Martin's), the references to fabric and embroidery exceed the definition of (Rozsika) Parker's, to a practice that involves style, iconography, social function etc.
This is to say, that after the Feminist Essentialists reclaimed the "fabric" in the seventies, and its re-appropriation by conceptual artists like Rosemarie Trockel in the eighties, and Louise Bourgeois, to whom Femme Maison (a tiny homage to Louise) is dedicated- embroidery is no longer an end in itself but has become a more aesthetic bracket, a medium with which to re-write objects, spaces and bodies into an aesthetic discourse which analyzes the complexity of our relationship with reality.
Ideas of repetition, as in Go to sleep mantra, visually resemble Osvaldo Salerno's blanket shroud La Pileta (1997) and remind us of the insistent character of this medium (sewing). One must see this as an ironic take on Freud's writings on female hysteria and embroidery. As we we lose ourselves in a blatant scrutiny of this collection of cloths, the intimate objects of others, the artist interrupts us by mixing in personal objects with others that aren't, while continuing to feed us fragments of their possible narratives. As is the case with the baby shoes for An ode to Hemingway's six-word novel (based on his short story: "For sale: baby shoes never worn").
The topic of identity is clearly a continuing reference in the work of Hankaniemi, not only in Playing House but also in the embroidery sewn surgically onto the body, Skin (2006). Embroideries that define who we are and make visible parts of our body: a clinical and manual Body Art.
The domestic narrative is not only conveyed through objects but also through the Spaces that surround us, the spaces that we have lived in. These narratives sometimes exist only in distant memory, which the artist enters dissecting thoughts and images in process; references to Ibsen's Doll's house are undeniable. Hence, the notion of space is another of Hankaniemi's concerns, for instance in the Metro series (2006-), the artist, like a modern flâneuse, pierces the hidden pulse of the cities.
Surroundings, the body, objects, are what Hankaniemi chisels at, outlining a critical and ironic perspective on who we are, on the passing of time, on our desires, our shortcomings..."