Dark Days, Bright Nights featured in Kansas City Star

Dark Days, Bright Nights featured in Kansas City Star

Around the Museum

BY JON NICCUM

Special to The Star

 

Because an expanse of Finland lies north of the Arctic Circle, the sun never sets for 60 days in the summer. Likewise, it never rises for 60 days in the winter. 

Understandably, this surreal phenomenon has quite an effect on the population. 

“The basic thing in the midsummer is that when people are sitting and chatting outdoors they don’t even notice the night and, oops, accidentally they’ve been sitting there until the morning because of the light being so strong,” says Helsinki native Anna Tuori. “But in the winter, (we) just like to sleep.” 

Tuori is one of 13 Finnish artists in “Dark Days, Bright Nights: Contemporary Paintings From Finland,” the new exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. “Dark Days” features 42 pieces, which include paintings, sculptures and projected video installations. 

“In my painting, light and darkness are not divided,” says Tuori, who will join fellow artists Vesa-Pekka Rannikko and father/daughter Jarmo and Rauha Mäkilä to attend the opening and exhibition-related events.

“Darkness can be painted with light colors and the other way around. The themes of my work are often dealing with the loss of a feeling of security and the fantasy of integrity.” 

Tuori’s oil paintings were the first Finnish creations that caught the attention of Kemper executive director Barbara O’Brien. She was weaving through a maze of galleries at the Armory Show, an international fair in New York City, when she stumbled upon the artist’s work. 

“Like tableaux in a snow globe, Tuori’s painted narratives seemed to exist between waking and dreaming,” O’Brien says.

During the next three years, O’Brien made treks to Finland to further study the Nordic art scene. 

“I had the great privilege of being invited into the studios of nearly every artist and selected each work of art while standing in front of the paintings,” says O’Brien, who curated “Dark Days.” 

The exhibition includes the unsettling political work of Jarmo Mäkilä, the “classical presentation of the human figure meets modern tenets of abstraction” found in pieces by Reima Nevalainen and the graffiti, tattoos and hardcore punk influences revealed by Jani Hanninen. 

O’Brien says the work that might most surprise visitors is Rannikko’s “Canary,” inspired by early 20th century scientists who attempted to create the first genetically modified bird: a red canary. Tucked into the corner of the gallery are overlapping, translucent projections of these birds culled from breeder websites. Viewers are sequestered by mountain climbing ropes imbedded in the walls with carabiner loops. 

Few of the collaborating artists have been to Kansas City. Such is the case with Mari Rantanen. She splits her time between Finland, Sweden and New York, where she originally traveled on a Fulbright scholarship in 1982.

“For me light is the same as color, and it is definitely one of the central themes in my work,” says Rantanen, whose paintings were displayed locally in 1987 at a Kansas City Art Institute show called “Drawn Out.” 

Rantanen grew up in the southern Finnish town of Espoo (near Helsinki), so she never experienced the total darkness of the polar night. 

“It sure was dark enough … and it is simply depressing,” she says. “But the summer nights, I just love them: the energy, the light changing color, the atmosphere, reading a book in the middle of the night without having the lights on or jumping into the lake swimming.”

The artists hope the exhibition can introduce aspects of their culture to Americans, who are probably unfamiliar with the Scandinavian country. Any chance to make a connection is appreciated since it’s not always available.

“We don’t have a tradition of small talk,” Tuori says. “Many people are just quiet if they have nothing special to say. In Finland that is super normal.” 

No worries. “Dark Days, Bright Nights” will let this captivating artwork speak for itself.

 

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