In his first solo exhibition in Finland, Estonian artist Holger Loodus (b. 1970) continues to explore the topic of uncomfortable travel by amalgamating three seemingly unrelated events: the conquest of the North Pole, the shamanistic myth making of artist Joseph Beuys, and the wave of refugee immigration in the Arctic area. Bringing together Loodus’s main media, painting and kinetic installations, the show hints at complex connections between truth and falsehood, reality and fiction.
Journey to the End of the World joins together romanticism, modernism and globalisation by exploring events and people that have actively contributed to the construction and reinforcement of the myth of unboundedness of humanity and the human mind. Romantic heroism and the solid modernist belief in humanity become entwined with exploration, colonialism, refugeeism as well as the personal lives of the show’s protagonists and their interpretations.
With a measure of artistic freedom, the mutoscope and stereoscopes built by Loodus tell the story of black explorer Matthew Henson (1866–1955), who was the first person to reach the North Pole in 1909, just ahead of Robert Peary. Prior to the expedition, the Arctic region – “the end of the world” – was described as Paradise on Earth, the cradle of the human race that cultures allude to in myths. The freezing, wind-torn reality encountered by Henson and Peary was quite different. The spirit of the age meant that the conquest was credited to white-skinned Peary, and it also affected the explorers’ attitude towards the local Inuit population.
Constructed of a bicycle, felt and wax, Arctic explorer (2017) takes its cue from the work of German artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986), whose art was based on a myth he built around his personal history. According to Beuys, he was shot down over the Crimea when he was serving in the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War, and was rescued by nomadic Tartars. They protected the injured pilot from the cold by wrapping him layers of wax and felt, materials that would subsequently become key materials in the artist’s work. Beuys wanted to eliminate the boundary between art and non-art, and later critics have considered Beuys’s art more significant than the factuality of events.
Arctic explorer also alludes to events at a border post between Russia and Norway in autumn 2015. A group of resourceful refugees arrived at the border station on account of stories they had heard, that people living near the border were allowed to cross without a visa if they did it using some form of transportation. The bicycle offered a neat solution, and when the media heard about the event, they gave mythic proportions to the wave of refugees. Estimates of the number of hopeful asylum seekers who pedalled towards Norway varied between 5,500 and 10,800. But what happened next? What was it like in Paradise? In his exhibition, Loodus offers us one of these stories for interpretation.
Thanks: Tamara Luuk, Kaie & Rein Loodus, Sander Põldsaar, Märt Vaidla, Tarvo Porroson, Tanel Paliale, Eesti Kultuurkapital and the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.