Creative Conversations: Terike Haapoja

Terike Haapoja's work is deeply rooted in a desire to connect to and communicate with the world. Photo: Liisa Jokinen

Artist Terike Haapoja stayed in New York after a FCINY residency program in 2014, because she wanted to expand her thinking, find new challenges and develop new ambitions.

How is New York different from Helsinki? 

New York is intellectually inspiring and challenging. It has really vibrant activist, art and academic scenes. Helsinki (a city that I love and has a great art scene also) is a smaller community, and therefore it’s harder to find people who are working on similar questions and who can challenge you to push your thinking forward. In New York there is lot of discourse, and things are widely debated. New York challenges my thinking and feeds my ambition. 

You have worked a lot on environmental issues, social and climate justice, and the rights of non-humans. What planted the seed for the political aspect of your art? 

I am a very traditional artist in the sense that my art explores existential questions: how to be an live with others and the relationship between the external and internal worlds. Instead of giving straightforward answers, my art investigates reality. 

Does your art have a goal? 

I guess my work is deeply rooted in a desire to connect to and communicate with the world. That is where my need to be politically awake was born. When it comes to the art world, I have always been an artist who builds her own system and waits for others to join. For me, the most important thing is to change the structures. That is why I was involved in Checkpoint Helsinki, a contemporary art institution without a fixed venue. There is space  for something similar here in New York, too. 

Terike Haapoja, Entropy, 2004. Still from video. The video installation Entropy shows in life size the cooling down of a horse’s body after its death, recorded with an infrared camera. Courtesy the artist

How has working and living in the US during the Trump Administration changed your thinking about environmental and social issues? 

One of the things I very much enjoy here is that people are active, energetic, their reactions are immediate, and resistance is strong. Almost everybody I know is building some kind of resistance. The universities are rebuilding their curricula in order to better resist the current forces, to protect undocumented immigrants etc. Being in the US keeps me very connected to the bigger political and social issues. This is so urgent – but it is the same almost everywhere.

Where can we see your art next? 

I am preparing for a big solo show in the Chronus Art Center in Shanghai, opening in June. The exhibition consists of the Closed Circuit – Open Duration exhibition last shown at the Venice Biennale in 2013.  My collaboration with Laura Gustafsson, The Museum of Nonhumanity will be on show in Italy and Norway this summer, and our video work Embrace Your Empathy will be in Sao Paolo, Brazil. In the fall I'm going to launch a new series of photographic works in Berlin. 

Do you miss anything from Finland? 

Finland is a country of low hierarchies, and it's easier to make things happen and be part of decision making processes. I do miss working with people I've known for 20, 25 years. Also, as an artist I need a lot of time to just be and think. That is very central to my art-making.  In New York it is a bit more difficult to find time and space for that. There is so much information overdose. You have to construct a place where you can hear your own thoughts. It is like a garden that you have to protect, a place where new little ideas can sprout. Visiting Finland, where nature is so present,  is necessary for me for maintaining a connection to that place.  

Interview by Liisa Jokinen

Terike Haapoja, History of Others: Museum of Nonhumanity, 2016. Installation view (detail). The museum presents the history of the distinction between humans and animals, and how this boundary has been used as for oppression against human and nonhuman beings. Courtesy the artist