Minimalism meets social sculpture
In Jeppe Hein’s works the legacy of minimalist art linked into social encounters and experiences. Hein’s aesthetic, which recycles basic abstract forms, is occasionally like a machine rebellion in the spirit of Charlie Chaplin. As part of this revolt, viewers’ relationships with their surroundings transformed when they are faced with an invisible labyrinth or a moving wall. Hein’s art is a magic of the commonplace, in which a park bench goes into a knot or a text on the surface of a mirror tells viewers that their reflection can be seen in the mirror at that very moment. His works can be mechanical objects, and yet he also operates highly site specifically to create spaces and events. In Hein’s art humanism and humour join forces in a way that turns the worldview of modernism’s spare aesthetic into an ethos of flexible participation. His works cast a spell on everyday life, making it into a circus, and invite us to enter into a dialogue about the nature of artistic experience. Unexpectedness, fun and wit are also at the core of this contemporary-art approach, helping its social analysis and philosophical contemplation to seize our attention. The apparent spareness of Jeppe Hein’s imagery is revealed as being a fast-flowing torrent of meanings.
Juha-Heikki Tihinen, PhD
The selection process for the Ars Fennica award 2013 was an extraordinarily interesting and en-riching experience for me. Usually, the selection process for an art award is based on examining the artists’ portfolios or proposals. Instead, for Ars Fennica award it involved visiting the studios of all the short-listed artists, who were spread around different countries in the Nordic region. Al-though each visit was short, my travels enabled me to get to know each artist in person, and also to understand the cultural, social and environmental contexts they work in.
Nevertheless, the decision-making step was an extremely difficult one. All five short-listed artists have established strong artistic styles, which differ from one another as much as their careers do. All in all, any one of them could have been a award winner; the final choice had to depend on the meaning I personally gave to the award. The criterion that I chose obviously has nothing to do with the quality of their artistic endeavours. I decided to select the artist whose works investigate some-thing that I believe to be particularly significant at this moment in time, and which will consequently have an opportunity to be shared with the broader public in a solo show in Helsinki.
On this basis, I have decided to award the Ars Fennica award 2013 to the Danish artist Jeppe Hein. Hein is already widely recognized for his various sculptural and installation works shown at art in-stitutions and in large-scale international exhibitions, but also in outdoor public spaces; works such as: Appearing Rooms(2004), a randomly operated water pavilion; Changing Spaces(2003), a sort of moving wall; or Modified Social Benches(2005-), to name but a few. Many of his artworks take a minimalist form and are often mechanically activated by the visitor’s pres-ence; they create a surprising and disorientating situation. Humour and playfulness are recurrent themes in his work. Even if sometimes the unexpected element within his installations can blur the essence of his artistic undertakings, his primary interest lies in sparking questions about human behaviour, triggering simple doubts, and above all, examining human perceptions and feelings. I found it stimulating and logical that his recent works and projects tend to explore feelings of happi-ness and to express a sense of generosity. The works bring out the obvious fact that no one has any clear definition of these notions, and the point here is not to ask whether artworks can make people’s lives happier. Nevertheless, if art is something that should inspire us, enrich our minds, open us up to the complexities and mysteries of the world, and finally raise profound questions about our lives, and if “the very motion of our life is towards happiness”, as the Dalai Lama says, it seems quite meaningful to reconsider this notion by communicating and sharing experiences through art, particularly in this time of uncertainty. I hope that Jeppe Hein’s exhibition will offer one such precious opportunity.