Hannu Karjalainen Cold Light 11.9.–1.11.2020

What are the exhibition’s main themes, questions, and deliberations?

Through my exhibition Cold Light, I contemplate people’s interdependencies not only with each other but also with other life forms. The body of work raises questions about, among other things, individualism, the promise of eternal growth in the capitalist economy, and the future prospects of humanity. I am interested in how consumer choices, the work we do, the products we buy and use affect humans and other species, not only in our own neighbourhood but also on the other side of the world. Our lives are paced by a smart device that may contain metals collected by Bolivian child workers and probably Congolese cobalt. It’s manufactured by Chinese factory workers and designed by a Californian or, say, Espoo-based engineer.

During my working process, in my mind there has been a quote from Albert Einstein that I came across recently:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” (Albert Einstein kirjeessään 12.5.1950)


What is the exhibition like? Where are the photographs taken?

The exhibition on view at Hippolyte Korjaamo comprises photographic works and a video. The viewer will come across both new works and images from the series Daemon completed earlier in 2020. Some of the photographs are on display as inkjet prints, some have been cut to a more unconventional shape with a laser cutter. In these works, a two-dimensional photograph approaches a three-dimensional object.

My new video work, A Strange Luminescence (2020), will be premiered at Hippolyte Korjaamo. The title of the work is quoted from W.G. From Sebald’s novel The Rings of Saturn (1995), in which the narrator compares humanity to the destructive power of fire in the context of 19th century industrialization. The narrator calls civilization a ‘strange luminescence’. Luminescence is a physical phenomenon in which light is emitted without the release of thermal energy—that is, cold light.

The exhibition’s photographic works are based on materials and rubbish found on the shores of Baltic Sea. The images are created and processed via a flatbed scanner making use of a variety of experimental scanning techniques. In the series Confiscated Dreams I have used broken smart phones as materials. The title of the series could refer, for example, to how global capitalism denies the possibility of dreaming from people at the lowest lever of the social order, such as those involved in the manufacturing the equipment. On the other hand, the title could refer to how our smart devices seem to know our dreams better than we do.


Who are you as an artist? Tell briefly about your artistic practice and your relationship to photography.

Through my work, I try to make sense of our ever more insane world and communicate my findings to other people. At the moment, in particular, the issues of climate crisis and the global consequences of various butterfly effects are constantly on my mind. In these circumstances, what is the role of art and the responsibility of the artist? The natural way for me to process things is to look at them through the camera lens, as an image, or to make things happen in front of the camera. Using different filming and presentation techniques, or combining unrelated images with each other, my goal is to get the viewer to see familiar things or phenomena in a new light.

Hannu Karjalainen is a visual artist, photographer, filmmaker and composer based in Helsinki, Finland. Karjalainen is noted for his video installation work, photography, and sound art that have been exhibited widely internationally, including UMMA University of Michigan Museum of Art, International Biennale of Photography Bogota, Scandinavia House New York, Fotogalleriet Oslo and Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Helsinki. www.hannukarjalainen.com


Hannu Karjalainen
Cold Light
Hippolyte Korjaamo
Korjaamo Culture Factory (Töölönkatu 51 a-b, 00250 Helsinki)
Open during Korjaamo opening hours: Tue 11-14, Wed-Thu 11-21, Fri 11-23, Sat 15-23

image: Hannu Karjalainen, still image from video work
A Strange Luminescene, 2020