Exhibition view Narratio 21 sept - 27 oct- 2013 Norrtälje Konsthall
Installation view: Grandmother´s lot , 2012 - 2013 , papier-maché, wood, false hair. linen fabric, steel, concrete, rope, 192x122x230 cm.
Two things happen at the same time when I walk around Helena Mutanen’s Narratio exhibition: The first is, of course, that I start looking and reading, this in turn sets in motion things inside myself, memories are awoken, associations arise, questions occur.
When I see Abandoned Island – the photographs on the right as you come in – I immediately think: I’ve been in a forest like that. Core – in the room to the right – evokes a purely physical sensation, you feel it in your chest, as a chaffing between your ribs, as a shortness of breath, as a pain, as something you can’t get away from.
The installation Grandmother’s Lot – in which my maternal grandmother’s plait hangs in the kitchen window in Kaunisvaara in Tornionlaakso Valley. My grandmother, born in 1900, still had her long, very fine hair well into the 1970s, I remember how she sat on the edge of the bed in the evening, plaiting it; my grandmother was very small and it was a thin, thin plait, but that is precisely how big it is in my memory, and it was there in the kitchen.
I make further associations. I look at something lying beneath the window, on the planking floor or the bridge. I see brains connected together with rope. I think about memories, about how we each individually carry our own memories, and how we carry them together with others with whom we are connected. Or perhaps even bound up with, how we take these memories further, how they are transformed on the way, like in Chinese whispers, in which the meaning that was whispered first has become a totally different one by the time it is finally spoken aloud. I think of how we hold onto the memories we need, and get rid of those we do not need. How life changes and, suddenly, we still need those memories, those narratives. In the three films that are being shown in the innermost room Helena Mutanen’s mother retells, re-creates, events from her own, her parents’ and her paternal grandmother’s life, we get to go along with her, back to the second half of the 19th century, we get to listen to the memories and, in that same instant, they become our memories, too; we can lay our own brains there on the planking floor, lump them together with the other brains.
That, as I said, is one of the things that happens inside me. I begin to remember, I begin to make associations. From this I take on board the parts in which I can recognise something. I am perplexed by those that raise questions.
Photo Serie: Övergiven Ö / Abandoned Island, 2013, 36 x 28 cm
The other thing that happens, at exactly the same time, is that I begin to think about artistic creation itself, about the artistic process itself. Back to Abandoned Island, four photographs. I look at them. My interpretation of this is that these are old photographs and recently taken photographs; my interpretation of this is that the old ones are blurred and the new ones are sharp. I think: Memory is blurred, but memories are sharp. Consequently: Memory is blurred, but images of memory are sharp.
Memory is clearly totally inescapable in a creative work. Memory contains everything; everything we have been involved in, everything we have experienced, seen and thought, right from the beginning until now; from birth right up to the things we have seen just a couple of seconds ago, and which are now there in our memories. It is this that, as an artist, one has to dip into, consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly.
Pendant, 2013, wood, acrylic paint, acrystal, iron, 260x110x80 cm.
There is an exercise that I often do on writing courses. You start by putting pen to paper and writing: I remember. And then you write something that you remember, something far back in time, or right now. Then you write as much, at as much length, as you want or can, until you are satisfied. When this is exhausted, you again write: I remember and grab onto the next memory that pops up. I usually call this fishing in the well of memory. The formulation I remember is the baited hook that you lower into the well of memory, and then you see what you will get out of there, what will attach itself to your hook. This writing exercise was, naturally, the first thing I thought of when I entered the konsthall and saw the Fisherman installation at the entrance. Hooks hanging on a branch over some water; and what do we find on the tree trunk to which the hooks are connected if not a brain, the place where the whole of our life is found gathered together? As to what impulses lie behind the work in Helena Mutanen’s case I, naturally, have no idea, but it immediately took me onto the track of the memory fisher.
Not all our memories are crystal clear, many are, of course, entirely forgotten or buried, and some of them are there only as blurred images, like a fragrance, like an atmosphere, a feeling, a fear. But when we, nevertheless, set about formulating them, in words or images or shapes, they immediately acquire contours, become sharp. The memory is blurred, but the image of the memory is sharp. It is the artistic process that makes it sharp, which gives it depth, or which diverges from the memory itself, which goes its own way; a new, a totally different, perhaps even a truer way. The artistic process makes art out of material, gives us a new access to reality, gives us a new access to unreality.
‘Sharp’ is also a term, a formulation that comes to me when I walk around Helena Mutanen’s exhibition. ‘Stability’ is another. ‘Carefully considered’ a third. And I think there is something in the exactness, for example, in the distance between these two tree trunks and in the length of the line, further marked off by a clothes peg, which opens up my own channels of association. The way that all the works stand and hang so steadily and stably, gives me a chance to go into them and investigate them, using what is there in myself.
Opening speech at the Narratio exhibition, Norrtälje konsthall, 21 September 2013
Katarina Kieri, author