Jukka Korkeila and Mika Hannula
Oneness of Purpose
Mika Hannula: The image on the invitation to the exhibition has a fluttering flag that combines two symbols, two different worlds. What are they and what do they mean to you?
Jukka Korkeila: To begin this debate, I would like to consider and highlight the differences and similarities that exist between us. You look at the art world through a theoretical kaleidoscope. What kind of image does it construct of the reality that the works in the exhibition represent? Do we have a common view of what we are trying to observe from different positions? What can we, each of us, do by writing down our observations of the reality in the paintings? Are we talking about the same thing?
Paintings have a material nature and thus a maternal connection to the earth. The painting rises from the ground. All the materials needed for painting are bound to the earth. Flax grows in the field and wedges are made of wood that has been nourished by the soil, as well as sun and water. I have a connection to the world of materials through the practice of painting. The mental and practical distance between us comes down to two distinct approaches which penetrate our thoughts and actions. We talk and write about the works in this exhibition and we’re tied to verbal communication, even though we’re dealing with an object that opens up through visual perception. Will we find something tangible together in this way, or should the works in this exhibition only be viewed?
To return to your question: we live in a world full of symbols and meanings. These include an orthodox cross and a rainbow flag, for instance, both of which carry their own meanings. These meanings are understood to be bound to each other as exclusive and limiting, but why is this and should it be so?
I well understand the way that LGBTQI people have been offended and withdrawn their faith because their love is not recognized by the Orthodox Church, for instance, at least with regards to the so-called blessing of gay couples which has not yet come to pass, never mind an actual wedding. Inside the church there is a grey scale that is invisible to outsiders, however, just as there is within Finnish society, with regards to different degrees of support and opposition.
However, I think this is a bigger issue that goes beyond instances when I’ve been personally offended or taken knocks to my ego. It’s about finding a spiritual home and the eternal life of the soul that transcends problems concerning the body or binary and non-binary gender issues. The soul itself has no sex, only the experience of sexuality in the body. It is also about being humble. Who is willing to humble theirself and surrender their will? Am I ready for that?
Pope Francis is a good example of how the world’s largest congregation can reach out to the LGBTQI community and its Catholic members. The Orthodox Church as a whole would also need an open debate on homosexuality, and perhaps we are gradually getting ready for this.
My intention was to combine two symbols, the Orthodox Cross and the Rainbow Flag which, even though they both preach love and tolerance in their own way, appear to be poles apart. The majority of the LGBTQI community perceive religious members of their community primarily as troublesome and marginalized problem cases. The LGBTQI community within the Orthodox Church, on the other hand, is a largely invisible minority that does not even statistically exist within the Church as a whole. My purpose is to reduce anxiety and heal wounds in both camps, and to open up a constructive and loving discussion about things that concern us all: we are all holistic blends – none of us are purely gay or heterosexual, or male or female, but rather combinations of different qualities that create the diversity that is born of all the different options.
Symbolically and mystically, the Orthodox Cross (the Life-creating Cross) is the “prism” through which the passing light (the source of which is God) gives birth to a rainbow, a symbol of the diversity and beauty of life. If we look at the diffusion of white light in the prism into different optical wavelengths, and think of the process in reverse, then we can think of the way that everything is gathered together in a single starting point, or that God is both the escape point and source of light, where everything begins and ends. This is what “Oneness of Purpose” means. The flag thus contains two symbols and a redefinition of each symbol: the refractive prism of light and its reflection from infinity to finite, from the other side to this side and back again. Spiritually, the passage of light is a cyclic process in which light does not disappear, but returns to whence it came; to God. Lux aeterna.
MH: Can you explain a little more and give some background to the title of the exhibition, Oneness of Purpose?
JK: Oneness of Purpose is related to the idea of a network that joins all of humanity, and within that network we are all part of and connected to each other. We are each other’s brothers and sisters. We are drops in an ocean whereby we are connected to the original energy from whence we are born, which in our culture is called God.
MH: What do you think is the meaning or role of painting within this oneness? Is it a glue, a critic or a questioner?
JK: Painting is a form of immediate and direct expression that can react instantly to new horizons that have been opened up by inspiration. A painting includes different mental and physical spaces and times, and it has a much more direct connection to the human subconscious and, consequently, to the collective subconscious than other, more technological instruments. Paintings act as a chain of thoughts and the glue that connects them.
MH: Let’s delve into the details; your paintings. Specifically, one called Äärioikeiston nousu ja tuho, or The rise and destruction of the far right. At what stage in the working process has this come into being, and what might you say is happening, also with respect to the title?
JK: Perhaps this painting contains some kind of animal-like human or human-like animal. It harbours an animal rage and an ecstasy of self-destruction, and a naked sense of how life sometimes drives a person in the wrong direction. Man is once again his own worst enemy. Rise and destruction is set just before the moment of orgasm, which precedes the inevitable collapse. The forbidden fruit is everywhere, all the time: this is the rise and fall in a single image.
Last summer, together with the actor and director Markus Karger, we organized an extensive exhibition called In Situ in Oberhessen, Germany. Supporters of the nationalist populist AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) party organized and agitated against the exhibition on social media, mainly on Facebook, and this is related to the painting and its theme. The agitation culminated in a hate speech resembling Nazi rhetoric from Germany in the 1930s and 1940s which was specifically intended to harm the exhibition, its artists and its supporters.
However, the opposite happened: their attack on us backfired because the exhibition only gained more attention – they shot themselves in the foot. Those AfD members and their sympathizers seem to regard contemporary art and artists as their enemies. As an interesting example, I can tell you that an exhibition venue in a nearby small town in Oberhessen had an exhibition where Max Weinberg, a German Jew from Frankfurt am Main, was invited to hold an exhibition. He’s close to one hundred years old, a still-surviving artist whose family was destroyed in concentration camps by Germans during World War II. One local couple, both of them doctors, declared that they would not be attending the exhibition because it was showing the work of a Jewish artist!
The painting, though, was actually completed before this exhibition-related incident. The rise and destruction of the far right is accompanied by a hope for a wave of movements that would pull the rug from under the whole movement. This time has polarized and politicized us. We must once again choose which side we’re standing on and demonstrate to others what we think. It is our duty to fight the evil that within us, in the world, and in other people.
Through the In Situ exhibition we also got to experience the culmination of the so-called free commercial press: German journalist Jessica Sobetzko from Bild Zeitung wrote a “sensational and scandalous story” without even seeing the exhibition. The story was titled: “Schirmherrin von Penisschau, Minister of European Affairs - Hochkultur in Hirzenhain” (Minister for Europe, Patron of the Penis - High Culture in Hirzenhain). The story focuses on the same paintings and installations that are featured in this exhibition. The story was full of ambiguity, exaggeration and misrepresentation. This is also a kind of heteronormative and patriarchal penis phobia, a horror that permeates German society. The penis is a big taboo in German society.
MH: That’s a rough, tough game. Did those reactions and attacks come as a surprise?
JK: The total intolerance of the people who attacked us came as a surprise. We expected some resistance, but not this kind of anger without any respect for us or our work. All the attacks took place on social media platforms, without any of these “critical individuals” having even seen the exhibition. Knee-jerk reactions and judgments based on a fragment of an unknown entity were typical. The feedback we received from visitors to the show was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging.
MH: Let’s return to the Oneness of Purpose exhibition, which features an installation that fills an entire room and is made with a thin gold glossy foil. Where did this idea come from and what does the material symbolize for you?
JK: Everything starts with light. Light can be divided into two different categories and concepts: created and non-created light. Created physical light surrounds us during the day and we can experience it with our senses: we can’t experience non- created light with our physical senses, however, but rather we can see it with the “soul’s eyes.” Non- created light also refers to the so-called morning of the eveningless day, a person’s last day when the eyes of the soul and the gates to the afterlife open. The gold in the icons and in this installation symbolize non-created light.
The installation and the rest of the gallery space is about unifying and juxtaposing the idea of this side and the other side, and it’s linked to a series of works which I began with the I don’t belong to myself exhibition which was held in this same gallery space in 2011. I’m now in a totally different situation than I was back then in autumn 2011. This side is being in the world: it’s where I exist and flow as the world flows into me. The part that symbolizes the other side in the exhibition (the gold foil installation) is again some kind of spiritual projection of what it feels like to step inside an Easter egg, inside the Resurrection (the Easter egg is the symbol of the Resurrection). I understand the resurrection as the soul’s detachment from the body, and the golden light symbolizes the continuation of life after death. The lack, or marginalisation, of colour in the paintings inside the installation acts as a colour contrast to the other paintings in the exhibition and draws a diffuse line between this side and the other side. It is the difference between these two states, where a person is still one with their Creator, all other people and the world.
MH: So it’s all about light and power, freedom and movement?
JK: Yes, it’s about the free will and movement of a person, which occurs at an internal level, and the light and power that surrounds us throughout our lives.
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