Art and Science collide in the works of Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen collective
Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen is a multidisciplinary art collective comprised of visual artist Felicia Honkasalo, visual artist and musician Akuliina Niemi and dramaturge Sinna Virtanen. The collective will spend July–December 2019 in residency at the ISCP, supported by the Alfred Kordelin Foundation.
Utilizing different media and materials, the collective’s final artworks are often hybrids of theatre, music and the visual arts. The artists describe themselves as operating on the borderline of art, history and science, and see their works as a mycelium that spreads freely and meanders into different directions.
“Our methodology is to create large scale installations resulting from a merging of our different artistic backgrounds. We all bring our individual tools to the working process, and the final art pieces are kind of polyphonic summaries of the whole process. We don’t want to predetermine the form of our art, but rather think that by concentrating on the process, the work will be conceived through the media best suited for it. In the end, one part of the work can be a performance, other an exhibition.”
The collective’s practice is research-based, often working closely with experts from various scientific disciplines. They have, for example, collaborated with paleontologists, physicists, archaeologists and microsurgeons. Recently they also worked together with the Finnish Defence Forces to film combat divers training in the Baltic Sea.
”We are intrigued by the history of medicine and how medical services have been associated with the military and trauma since the days of Ancient Greece. We just interviewed a medical doctor who has done research on the Lazarus syndrome, a phenomenon where a person wakes up from death for a while after their vital functions have ceased. Poetic boundaries and liminal places fascinate us, and this leads us to strange, disorientating questions about life and death, body and mind. What is the difference between what gives life and what destroys life? This thought experiment works as a kind of allegory for our epoc, the Anthropocene, where we humans are destroying the only life known of in the universe. That’s also why we initially got interested in collaborating with the Defence Forces who frequently deal with question of trauma and the destruction of life.”
Another project Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen are currently working on is a sound piece, a sort of requiem for decaying radioactive matter, recorded in a 435 meter deep nuclear fuel repository, called Onkalo (which means cavity) in the vicinity of Olkiluoto Power Plant. The project originally came to life when a piece of stone from the first ever atomic bomb test, the Trinity nuclear test, ended up at the collective’s studio. That sparked the trio to start pondering the invisible and alien aspects of radioactivity.
”We want to explore radioactivity as a phenomenon. It is something that is very hard to comprehend – invisible, but everywhere. We are also very curious about the huge time scales it presents. Nuclear waste which is buried in the Onkalo, for example, has a half-life of hundreds of thousands of years.”
During their residency the collective is planning to travel to Alamogordo, New Mexico, where the Trinity test site remains, in order to do more research on the subject. But the artists will not neglect the medical field either. Taking advantage of New York’s academic resources – visiting libraries and arranging interviews with leading medical researchers – the trio is also planning to work on a project investigating the ethical and political questions that are manifested when the material of the human body crosses the actual human-nonhuman border. What are you when you are a chimera, a cyborg or a hybrid?