Janne Riikonen’s body of work is a visual study of Swedish graffiti culture. In his exhibition When Everything Comes Together, but Nothing Makes Sense, Riikonen explores the practice of being a graffiti artist, and their dedication to this high-risk, historically urban art movement.
Ever since the phenomena reached Sweden in the mid-1980s, thousands of graffiti artists have dedicated their lives to this art form—encountering respect from their own, relatively small communities, and rebuke from the broader society that commonly considers their work vandalism. Moreover, in relation to their colleagues, an individual painter’s reputation grows in tandem with the more daring, dedicated, and high-risk nature of their actions in unsanctioned spaces. The painting of trains, started in New York in the 1970s, is still seen as the most respected canvas in the community. The risk of getting caught is high, but the chase for glory and the spike of adrenaline keep devoted painters hooked.
Riikonen’s interest in urban graffiti culture started when he was a teenager—himself feeling especially drawn to the atmosphere of stigmatisation around graffiti in various environments and landscape. Riikonen has been photographing the Swedish graffiti scene since 2015 focusing on three essential thematics. The main focus is straightforward portraits, concentrating specifically on how these artists see their position within society. Leading next are the backgrounds, all places of entanglement or nostalgia—where they have been caught, injured, spent time as children, or merely walked with family. The dynamic imagery tells a story of dedication to one’s lifestyle and avocation, giving outsiders a chance to peek inside the world of graffiti. Photographs of public places where the illustrations have been washed off carry a third dimension to the exhibition. The pieces raise questions about the necessity of washing away graffiti as well as the inevitable subjectivity of the public city environment.
Graffiti artists tend to remain anonymous figures, generating both allure and distrust. Lately, societal attitudes towards the culture are changing, and the legislative stance has become more liberal than ever before—although typical public conversations about graffiti tend to focus on the costs of cleaning the work from public places. With the series of works, Riikonen aims to increase knowledge and understanding towards graffiti culture and to break the “young, alienated man from society” stereotype. The people portrayed remain anonymous, and are not identified by their moniker either. Thus, Riikonen seeks to emphasise an equal social status regardless of their hierarchical standing within the society.
Janne Riikonen (b. 1988) is a freelance photographer working in Stockholm, Sweden. He graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Central Sweden. In addition, Riikonen has founded the photo books publisher Kult Books. In his artistic practice, Riikonen is interested in questions related to justice, human rights, and global phenomena. Previous iterations of When Everything Comes Together, but Nothing Makes Sense was exhibited in Stockholm’s photography museum Fotografiska as part of the Fotografiska Talent 2018 exhibition, et al.. Personalia, a photo book of the project, will be published in August 2019. www.janneriikonen.com
When Everything Comes Together, but Nothing Makes Sense
Open: Tue-Fri 12-17, Sat-Sun 12-16
image: Janne Riikonen, portrait_18_75_01