Creative Conversations: Erkka Nissinen

The work of Erkka Nissinen is characterized by absurdity, humor and deliberate clumsiness. Photo Liisa Jokinen

Erkka Nissinen represents Finland at the 57th Venice Biennale together with English artist Nathaniel Mellors. Their absurdist video installation, “The Aalto Natives,” explores nationalism and creation myths. Now Nissinen lives in New York, and plans to make a Christmas movie next.

You have studied in Helsinki and London and, after graduation in 2001, lived on and off in Hong Kong and in Amsterdam in 2007 and 2008. Since 2012, you have lived mostly in New York. Why New York now?

My wife came here to take part in an art exchange program, and we decided to stay here with our son. It was time for a change, and I also quite like New York. This seems to be the center of the art world. My friends are artists from various countries, and, at some point, they all come here.

Could you do your art anywhere in the world?

Yeah, I don’t see that the place matters for me. I could live at the North Pole as well. It is more about practical matters. In the US, it is easy to find amateur actors and professional cameramen and film people for my videos—I like clumsiness and bad acting.

You represent Finland at the 57th Venice Biennale together with Nathaniel Mellors. Your work explores stereotypes of Finnishness and nationalism. Has living abroad and in New York changed the way you see Finland?

No. I like Finland politically very much. I guess I am a big supporter of left-leaning social democracy. I could have a much more comfortable life and better quality of life in Finland because of the public services. Here not much is free.

What does national identity mean to you?

Nothing much. I don’t know if I have one. When I go to Finland, I feel at home. In New York, I still feel I am abroad.

Humor, absurd and parody, are important parts of your work. Why is that?

For some reason, I’m naturally drawn to dark comedy and bodily humor. One reason why I like to make humorous works is that, when my art makes people laugh, I can see that it works; my art has a function.

Where do you get ideas for your works?

Some artists get a grand idea that they execute. But I’m not interested in clear, grand ideas. I prefer making art works with multiple levels and meanings. I am also quite confused when I see my own work. I start wondering why did I make certain choices? I read, watch films, draw, and write often. With Nathaniel, we used to chat on the phone every day, just discussing everyday things and then ideas would just pop up. Usually jokes. Now we call each other every other day.

What are you working on now?

After Venice, our installation will be on display at the Cobra Museum in Amsterdam and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki in spring 2018. Then I’m probably making a Christmas movie with Nathaniel. He likes Christmas very much, and I, as a Finn, am a natural authority on Christmas.

Interview by Liisa Jokinen