Exhibition viewable through the window at all hours.
In July Sorbus will present a solo exhibition by LM Salling in which the centre piece is a huge MIKI mouse sculpture. MIKI was shown in the MFA-graduation show of the Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts Helsinki in spring 2016 and will now continue its journey in a mythology searching for and formulating answers to complex yet common existential questions. We interviewed the artist and discussed symbolism of Mickey Mouse, religion and CIA’s MK-ULTRA project amongst other things.
SORBUS: The courageous and determined Mickey Mouse is a strong symbol for the American spirit. The mouse now presented in Sorbus appears more gloomy than it’s high-spirited cousin. A kind of interpretation could be that, with its ears cut off, the pathetic Miki challenges the ideals of bravery that we are used to seeing in Mickey. What do you think about this interpretation? Would you like to unfold your relationship towards the ideals of individual set by the society, or in this case by The Walt Disney Company?
LM SALLING: I honestly haven’t thought that long and hard about what Mickey represents as a symbol of a certain ideal.
I got this general aversion against ideals promoting a perfect life of good health, strong individuality, and emotional control. And I believe it’s highly destructive to strive towards these ideals. Both on a personal level but certainly also on a societal level. But ideals is not something I thought too much about when starting to use Mickey in my work. His characteristics and the things he stands for, it’s somehow inherent information that you just have to acknowledge as a luggage when choosing to work with Mickey. I’m more interested in looking behind the intension, breaking the character into as many components as possible, re-assembling everything and see what meaning there is to be found.
I was first attracted to use Mickey in my work because how much symbolic meaning, or symbolic potential, there’s attached to him. His (original) main colours, black and white, and the compositions of his face: 3 circles (with 3 ovals inside which each often got another oval inside). It gives me this direct link to religion and spirituality, which is almost always a part of my work and the way I generally like to think about things in life.
3 = the holy trinity, the corners of the triangle
Circle and oval = Everything, God, the universe, the soul, life<->death
Black and white = Duality, the soul and the flesh, God and the Devil, etc.
Then you start looking at what information is already out there. We already know what Disney and the media wants us to feel and think when faced with Mickey. Or it pretty easy to figure out. But what does other people make out of this character and what he has become to represent. That’s where the ears come in. There’s some conspiracy theory about Mickey Mouse being used by CIA in their mind-control project MK-ULTRA. Specifically his ears are thought to represent mind control: whenever you see a celebrity or whatever with a pair of mickey mouse ears, it apparently means that they are under the control of CIA and work as soldiers of propaganda. Britney Spears is an example of mind control going wrong.
So, what happens if you remove those ears from Mickey himself. The owner of this symbol of fucked up and evil intentions. Freeing someone from mind control must be a very effective way to break down a character and get a closer look at what’s actually going on behind the facade. Well, it’s just that “freeing” someone from a lifetime of mind control won’t bring them back to who they were before. They’re forever broken and lost in a chaotic world where lies and truths are deeply intertwined. And this is where we meet Miki.
S: In May the work was seen in Kuvat Kevän exhibition under the title Test Site 42. In the catalog for the show you had written the following poem:
Mickey, now without his ears,
crawling through the desert.
Freed from the mind control,
he is caught in a limbo
Between lies and truth.
Lost under the burning sun,
a vague idea of a golden head,
he will meet and face
both God and the Devil.
The Golden Head also appears in your older work in which you used it as a title for a sculpture in 2015. Regarding, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, number 42 is the ‘Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything’. Now the number in your title is 39 and Test site has turned into a Scene. The continuation of certain symbols and vague ideas is visible in your practise. Would be interesting to hear your thoughts about all of this. In other words, are you working on some wider entirety where the Golden Head and Miki are just a smaller substantives? How do you think this piece relates to your previous work?
LM: The Golden Head and Miki belongs to a continuously expanding body of work that has developed over the past 2-3 years. Test Site 42 is an umbrella title covering most of the works created in this period. Though the title only got formulated this spring when making my work for Kuvan Kevät, it quickly became clear that it was not a title fit for an individual work.
Test Site 42 is a platform for accumulating thoughts and ideas, knowledge, references, and material in general. A way to look at my current work could be to talk about as a type of mythology. A mythology searching for and formulating answers to common yet complex existential questions in somewhat absurd place. It draws from modern western culture, religion (esp. christianity), spirituality, pseudosciences, and home cooked conspiracy theories.
The title Miki: Scene 39 comes from this idea of a continuous story line. The scene we see in Sorbus is nr. 39. Not that the scene leading up to that moment has taken place. Following a chronological storyline is boring and gives the impression that I know where it started and where it ends. If I knew that, I wouldn’t have a desire to start telling the story in the first place.
S: When looking at Mickey with its ears removed, the immediate link to religion that comes to my mind is the one of voodoo, as depicted in popular culture. In an article Haitian Vodou and voodoo: Imagined religion and popular culture (Harvard University publication, 2012), the scholar Adam McGee writes that the western idea of Vodou, voodoo with a small ‘V’ is a religion that “does not exist except in the imaginations of millions of people who have been exposed to American popular culture”. This idea is somehow very interesting in relation to your work.
It feels that as artists we have the possibility to make what seems, endless variations of different materials and connotations that come with the symbolic value of the form and materials used in the work. For the work that you will exhibit at Sorbus, Mickey will now be presented with wall paintings that were not yet part of your MFA-show. Since we couldn’t get enough of MIKI, we wanted to extend its public existence to Vaasankatu for a second chapter. Could you tell us something about your thoughts behind adding the painting(s) around Mickey?
LM: Interesting point about the voodoo. I’m a bit careful using cultural appropriation in my work. I’ve used concepts from Judaism (Nefesh, the idea of a black spot next to your heart representing the animal soul of man) and from asian religions (ideas/concepts like zen and yin yang). Taking from Judaism seems quite relevant/obvious because of it’s presence in western society (esp. in usa) and it’s strong influence on christianity, which has always played an important role in my praxis. And teachings originating from buddhism, striving towards humbleness and inner peace, seems like universally relevant / applicable, and is is quite visible in contemporary western culture. If not the teaching, then the merch 😛
Choosing having Miki accompanied by painting/drawings seems really natural. I draw a lot. Though, I’ve rarely used any of my drawing directly in my work. They usually stay in my notebooks as idea generators and sketches for other works. But after I drew the first Mickey Mouse “offspring”, new characters and symbols soon followed and started to exist as more than just sketches and slightly random doodles. The marks on the walls in Sorbus might not present themselves as acting characters at first glance, but if you pay a bit more attention, look closely…
Actually the idea for adding the drawings first introduced itself when doing some random photoshopping involving a picture of Miki from the kuvan kevät show and a picture of what seemed to be a room in an abandoned building, full of these taggings and drawings on the wall. It appeared that the room and Miki could originate from the same corner of the universe. I didn’t have to be this situation of Miki awkwardly hanging out with all his troubles in some alienating space. The space in which a work is placed, inarguably becomes a contributing factor to what the work ends up saying. The space should always be taken into account. Especially when you do these emotionally loaded works with a good layer of symbolism attached to it.
The drawing also leads back to my interest in the creation of myths and memories. And the interrelation of those two. Cave paintings and carvings, they tell a story which meaning we can only make guesses/assumptions about. We might come close, but a full understanding is unachievable. Which of course only make them that much more intriguing! They really add to the point that we truly are just tiny insignificant dots in the history of time and such. And we’ll never come close to see the full picture. Like, truly full.
Näyttely nähtävillä vuorokauden ympäri ikkunan läpi
Heinäkuussa Sorbuksessa on esillä LM Sallingin yksityisnäyttely, jonka pääosassa on jättiläismäinen MIKI-hiiri veistos. MIKI oli esillä kuvataideakatemian lopputyönäyttelyssä keväällä 2016 ja jatkaa nyt matkaansa mytologiassa joka etsii ja muotoilee vastauksia monimutkaisiin mutta meitä kaikkia koskeviin eksistentiaalisiin kysymyksiin. Haastattelimme LM Sallingia heinäkuussa 2016, ja keskustelimme mm. Mikki Hiiren symboliikasta, uskonnosta ja CIA:n MK-ULTRA -projektista. Haastattelu luettavissa tiedotteen englanninkielisessä osiossa.
Mikki, nyt korvattomana,
ryömii erämaan halki.
hän on juuttunut valheiden ja totuuden väliseen
Eksyksissä polttavan auringon alla,
vimmaisesti etsimässä epämääräistä mielikuvaa
hän kohtaa Jumalan ja Saatanan.