Josefin Arnell & Aapo Nikkanen
Smile and be happy because things could be worse

In their exhibition Smile and be happy because things could be worse, artists Josefin Arnell and Aapo Nikkanen will turn Sorbus into a bathroom containing different levels of privacy and embarrassment, curtains, horse rosettes, perhaps some moisture, and a new video produced in Helsinki starring a vacuum cleaner and a child.

Josefin Arnell (SE) is an Amsterdam-based artist working with video, performance and installation. She graduated with her MA from Dirty Arts Department in Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam in 2014. She was a resident at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten Amsterdam between 2015-2016. Arnell holds an BA from Fashion Design, Beckmans College of Design, Stockholm from 2011. Arnell’s film Mothership goes to Brazil was screened at Sorbus earlier this year.

Aapo Nikkanen (FI) is an artist based in Paris. Nikkanen graduated with his MA from Fine Arts in Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam in 2013 after finishing his BFA-studies in Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design, Geneva, Switzerland (2011) and Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Tampere, Finland (2011). Since 2016 Nikkanen is part of a collective and a self-titled culture space The Community that works as a platform for art, fashion, design and publishing in Paris.

Sorbus interviewed Josefin and Aapo about their show via email:

SORBUS: We have been following both of your works individually until Sorbus bumped into a work online that you did together in Vilnus for CAC in 2016! (Before that you both studied in Amsterdam finishing your masters there.) How has it been now working together for a duo-show for Sorbus? Can you tell us what you’ll be bringing to Helsinki in November?

JOSEFIN: At CAC we made a bar installation called Pacemaker that included mermaids, pacemaker surgery TV, and a mix between toxifications, antioxidants, holy water and a fully functioning fountain of eternal youth. For the show at Sorbus we wanted to go from life-prolonging devices into more cybernetic insideables that are implanted inside the human body for other than medical reasons. This has not really happened and at the moment our shared ground is more a bathroom. We will present individual works relating to embarrassment, but also death and progression. I will present images from a shoot I did with teenage dancers on a residency I recently did in South Korea. Girls and boys covered in syrup that looks like blood. We also aim to make a video in Helsinki that illustrate a conversation I heard on Swedish radio about a family that realise that their children were screaming and talking with no respect towards the families artificial intelligence device.

AAPO: Yes the idea of insideables came as continuation from our presentation in Vilnius, however I guess we drifted a bit further from that towards our individual practices of the moment, which then led us to a bathroom I guess (lol). I will bring new works from an ongoing series that took the difference between cognitive and digital memory as the starting point. For one piece I have downloaded my full facebook chat history for example. I really love the story of the Swedish family, it summarises one future problem we will have with (even not so) smart / antropomorphic machines. You know Amazon tried to get it’s AI assistant Alexa free speech rights earlier this year in a murder trial.

S: At first glance, your practices feel somewhat different from each other. Josefin’s work, especially with HellFun, seems to imply a distinct relation to camp, and to John Waters transgressive films from the 70’s. Aapo’s work, on the other hand, feels to have an indirect relation to camp, but it seems to be hidden there. What do you think about this? How would you describe your relation to camp? Could this be one integrative approach between you or is this too far out? 😀

J: Yes I love John Waters, when I saw Pink Flamingos for the first time I was like aha it´s allowed to make works like this.

I never been busy with the term camp in itself. But I do share a lot of what I considering camp stands for, like challenging a norm build on cultural and social hierarchies, taste, knowledge, value and they way we perform.

In case of how our work relate to each other I don’t think Camp is our common ground. I think Aapo is often very fun, and we share a kind of dark humor.

A: I can see why you would bring up camp in relation to some of my pieces, but it’s not something that I really think about when I work tbh…more the dark humor like Josefin said. I also think that even if our output might be different our approach to making art and the process is very much the same.

S: Yes, the term camp is quite troubled. It easily carries too much retro connotations, even though camp is not about that. But, there are similarities between camp and (dark) humour; both could be seen as tool for challenging norms. As the term humour derives from Latin meaning “body fluids” it seems quite reasonable that you are now working on a bathroom exhibition 😀

This story about Swedish kids made us think about the connection between embarrassment and the all-hearing AI that is looking and listening back from pretty much all the smart machines we have at home and carry around. It’s dangerous when people doesn’t understand and see the function of the algorithm they are interacting with. Feels that the threesome of embarrassment, death and progression is coming from the reality of accelerating technological progress and mental issues. How do you see this connection?

A:  >latin definition of humour 😀

I had a google phone before and at some point I noticed that it had saved all my trips for six months to some Google website…all my movements (metro, walk, bike etc) were timestamped and recorded to a site that was on Google’s server. In this case it was exactly the question of knowledge of such “feature” – it was automatically enabled when I turned on the phone, but in no occasion was I informed that this was happening – I found out about it by pure coincidence. I bet that 90% of people never found out. But at the same time google maps was giving me great suggestions and advice and hell yes I will try that restaurant. In the court case involving Alexa, Amazon argued that if all the data would be given to the court, it would reveal much more in combination than a one isolated record.

While I’m sure Amazon makes a fair point, I am also disturbed by that it’s of course OK for Amazon to use this data for their gain, but when it’s given to the state it becomes a privacy question.

So to start with, we have a long overdue question of privacy contra benefits, which in my mind is the first problem to solve because both the data is racking up and algorithms are getting better exponentially.

And then in addition we’re starting to see different kinds of social changes when the thinking machines become more commonplace and anthropomorphic. Only few years ago the biggest trend was the fear of singularity and an AI that will make all humans slaves, but I’m really not sure if us treating machines as slaves will be a good option neither. And just look at how mad people get now when they have a bad 4G.

Kevin Kelly described the near future as a combination of heartbreak, conflict, and confusion in addition to incredible benefits, and I think you’re both right.

Btw I am already embarrassed of one piece I’m showing, like I think it’s a great work but I hope my parents aren’t coming.

J: I did not know the etymology of humor is connected to moisture, It makes sense, you can pee your pants, drool or loose other fluids when you laugh too much.

Embrace your embarrassment, it’s important, sharing your uncomfortableness makes you more human and people feel connected to you and want to do the same. When not letting it out, embarrassment is toxic and make people repress all kinds horribleness and it becomes shame #metoo can hopefully slaughtering some walls of this shame.

Yes the smarter technology and the algorithms are getting, the smaller humans feel because we can never keep it up and need to cling on what we can control, like Bosse the cat. Yes totally embarrassment or shame is very linked with progression, or rather the desire of progression that turns to perfectionism that is constantly splashed onto you. I guess you can say progression feeds from the fear of death. It’s a structure problem that everyone is depressed or have some sort of mental issue, but it’s projected as an individual burden. It’s super scary, but the most scary is that it feels like everyone knows this but have just given in, it has become too big to hassle away from so the only thing you can do it to play along with it.

S: About a year ago, Henna from Sorbus visited Josefin’s installation What is the methadology of metabolism at the Rijksakademie Open. In the installation, the visitor was surrounded by a sweet, weirdly familiar smell of something reminiscent to the vague memory of strawberry cider-watermelon puke that was later recognized as the smell of caramel. The work was dealing with a.o. physical and mental cleansing rituals while having the act of puking, vomiting in the centre of the installation. In the description of the work the word ‘internal sculpture’ is being brought up and that brings us back to thinking of cybernetic insideables as maybe another form of an internal sculpture?

The idea about cybernetic insideables without designated medical purpose also brings up the thought of body modification in the form of subdermal implants pocketed underneath the skin versus biohackers. Even adopted former street cat Bosse that now has a radio-frequency identification (RFID) implant chip inserted between his shoulder blades containing his ID-number linked to an external database (national pet recovery database) so that he will never get lost again.

Is this something you mean by cybernetic insideables? Or are we actually talking about something closer to body art?

A: I didn’t see Josefin’s Rijks Open, but also Josefin didn’t tell me about the smell – I have what must be the exact same caramel smell in my studio !! It’s disgusting !! At some point I had an idea to make a smell piece with the perfume of sawdust, which I then ordered from this niché-perfumes site and for some reason they also send me the caramel one. The sawdust one didn’t smell anything like sawdust, after which I talked with a perfumist who said it’s not possible to reproduce the smell of sawdust unless you’re very rich. Then I thought of oil but someone told me (quite reasonably) that it’s probably not very safe. At this point my diffuser also broke so I thought maybe it’s not meant to be. But I’m very happy that Josefin did this piece because I didn’t dare to try the caramel one, and when it’s a friend you’re happy and proud, but when it’s someone else you’re kinda, fuck, why didn’t I do that? Also knowing the smell it makes a lot of sense in regards to her work.

This didn’t answer the question at all, did it? Well maybe it answered the question 2.

J: 🙂 The smell was special mixture designed for me from a dear friend that I smeared on casted sugar sculptures in the shape of throwing stars. It had raspberry notes inside for example. Smell adds another layer of embodiment. I had a perfume brand for a very short while once long time ago. You should do a sawdust work anyhow Aapo, just saw a lot all the time to keep the smell, like live perfume.

After all I’m mostly hooked on the therapeutic orientation of insideables, subdermal implants to ornament your body without any function feels very out dated? like Lady gaga putting in a chicken bone or Orlan´s forehead bones or these donuts foreheads. Hehe. Activating puking is about mastering your body by control, in the video I made we are forcing constant laughing which release endorphins and tricked the mind to enjoy the puking much more. Internal sculpturing relating to this installation work was literally me eating special fossils as a way of consuming history, or that was the more poetic description of it. I relate to the intestine as a brain and during that time I needed to clean my intestines and the powder scrubs your inner walls, I’m very inspired by intestines because they are so smart and sensible. A horse needs to run everyday otherwise the 20+ meters intestines tangles up like a yarn ball and the horse dies. I’m very curious to that day when we can find new ways to communicate with our and also perhaps with others intestines in new ways. There is poop transplants but we are still missing super smart gadgets there. Like what if we could swallow a friendly cybernetic tapeworm to lick up bad bacteria. Poor Bosse being a target for humans control obsession, controlling your cat or controlling your intestines.

A: Yes I want some super smart insideables too, but I’m not sure if I could ever afford them? My initial interest came from seeing a sperm switch implant that looked like it had been done in East Germany, which made me ashamed, mad and sad that this is the level of (envisioned) contraception for men, but it made me look up more of the subject. I found out that that Motorola is developing neck implant to improve cell phone reception and Nokia something that seems like a vibrating tattoo. In reality it’s very hard to say where the development of these kinds of things is going since it’s all being done behind closed doors.

S: Josefin, you have previously studied fashion and on your website you ‘define your presentations like a fashion designer shaping a collection’ in terms of making a series of interconnected works that together create a greater whole. And Aapo, you are co-organising an artspace in Paris that functions in the field of art, design and fashion. How do you see this connection between fashion/design and art in general: do you feel that as an artist this has a big role in your work? If so, are there any particular designers that you follow that you feel have an influence on your work (at the moment or in general)?

A: After the show in Sorbus I will start a new project that deals with the grey area between art and design, as well as thinks how could art be both freely distributed on- and offline. I have become very interested in a possible utilitarian function of art, and for sure being part of The Community has broaden my scope of what a creative practice can be.

In regards to my upcoming project I am trying to imagine something in the lines of what would happen if Isamu Noguchi and Aaron Curry decided to make together a piece that  should have both an utilitarian function and sculptural (non)function, or what would a lamp made by Giacometti look like if it were made today, and how can I contribute to these lineages?

If I should list one thing that’s not maybe that known abroad, I’d say I’m a fan of Innolux and finnish lamp design in general, it’s something I’ve been lucky to live with in some form through all my life.

Fashion I follow through a fixed lense…which means that my general knowledge may not be that great, but rather seeing fashion as an exit strategy from fast consuming and instead trying to find garments that last long but also look good and in the best case have a third layer to them. But I also buy things from Uniqlo and wear Nike sneakers so I’m not trying to be no Jesus here.

In terms of designers I am a big fan of the conceptual ideas of likes of MM (such an obvious answer), although I don’t own any of their clothes.

I think fashion is really tricky because it’s filled with a lot of bullshit, and those great universal creative ideas can easily get buried and lost under a thick layer of marketing and hype. In terms of fashion I’m privileged that through The Community I’ve met people who are more deeply invested to that world and can introduce me to interesting things and people that I would not find myself.

J: That’s interesting, the utilitarian function of art, one of the reason I stopped fashion was because I just did very nonfunctional showpieces which kind of loses the whole point of doing fashion. At the same time I was also part of some sort of alternative fashion scene wanting to fight the system, but it felt so hopeless. It was a kind of dramatic decision to stop fashion, cos It burned me out, it literally made me crazy. I still have some trauma with it and it took me a while to start allow enjoying fashion again. I play with it a lot in my work for sure. Art is too, but high-end fashion is such an extreme privilege and the consuming industry around it is so awful, ok I will not even go there now. But then fashion plays on such strong desires that it even smears out your guilt. As distraction I can online search for discount high-end fashion pieces for hours, and this summer I bought my most expensive dress on 94% discount in Milan, it felt amazing, I can still imagine how the silk feels on my skin.

Actually my installation What is the methodology of metabolism (that you mentioned before) came out of a concussion caused by a stupid stumble over caused by my very heavy boots (that I ordered from Finland btw). Cos of pain and tiredness, I had to change my direction in my work and for several months and I was forced to take an extreme chill and a break from all kinds of screens, it was frustrating, that was when I was like ok I can not consume anything else then what I put inside my body, so I got obsessed with cleaning my intestines.

Yes I see my work as in seasons or collections, because I find it hard to relate to single pieces work, which is kind of what I’m doing for the Sorbus show though, so let’s see how that goes. I learned a lot of methods of thinking and developing in fashion, a kind of collage making that I have continue to develop today, but now I’m more applying it to performance or video making. I feel like my video editing for example is very similar approach to the way I used to do textile patch working.

Now I did not answer the question of the connection of art and fashion in general…


Josefin Arnell & Aapo Nikkanen – Smile and be happy because things could be worse

Näyttelyssään ‘Smile and be happy because things could be worse’ taiteilijat Josefin Arnellin ja Aapo Nikkanen muuttavat Sorbuksen kylpyhuoneeksi. Näyttely tarkastelee häpeää, yksityisyyttä, kuolemaa ja teknologista kehitystä ja sisältää mm. suihkuverhoja, hevosten ruusukkeita, mahdollisesti jonkin verran kosteutta sekä uuden Helsingissä kuvatun videoteoksen, jossa esiintyy pölynimuri ja lapsi.

Josefin Arnell (SE) asuu Amsterdamissa ja työskentelee usein videon, performanssin ja installaation keinoin. Hän valmistui maisteriksi Amsterdamissa sijaitsevan Sandberg Instituutin Dirty Arts-laitokselta vuonna 2014. Hän oli residenssissä Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunstenissa vuosina 2015-2016. Arnellilla on kandidaatin tutkinto Tukholmalaisen Beckmans College of Desiginsta vuodelta 2011. Arnellin videoteos Mothership goes to Brazil nähtiin Sorbuksessa aiemmin tänä vuonna.

Aapo Nikkanen on Pariisissa asuva kuvataiteilija. Nikkanen valmistui maisteriksi Amsterdamissa sijaitsevan Sandberg Instituutista vuonna 2013. Hänellä on kandidaatin tutkinto Haute Ecole d’Art et de Designista Genevestä sekä hän on opiskellut Tampereen ammattikorkeakoulussa. Nikkanen on jäsen The Community kollektiivissa, joka pyörittäää muotia, taidetta ja julkaisutoimintaa yhdistelevää kulttuuritilaa Pariisissa.