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Hitom, Here, Closer

We speak to Matti Kallioinen about his new solo exhibition, 'Hitom', at Galleri Steinsland Berliner in Stockholm; his first gallery exhibition in the city in a longer time. "At times I have felt like a misfit in the gallery scene, but with Steinsland Berliner I feel really at home", he says while adding; "My overall feeling about this exhibition is that of lowering my guard."

Photo credit: Knotan

C-P: You know, I still very fondly remember your participation in the group exhibition ’More than sound’ at Bonniers Konsthall. You showed a spatial and sonic sculptural installation of inflatable figurative shapes that were haunting and eerie and basically everything you rarely see in art. Later saw this body of work in a solo gallery exhibition of yours which felt even more compelling; as though moving the positions way beyond what is not just rarely, but frankly, ever seen in a gallery context in Stockholm. On that note, in what end did your road to art actually begin?

M.K: I have always been drawing. From early on I was inspired by psychedelic record sleeves in my parents' collection, people like The Fool and the outrageous collages that Calvin Schenkel made for Frank Zappa's 'Uncle Meat' and 'Burnt Weeny Sandwich' albums. As a kid of the seventies, I found myself sitting completely defenseless through Brecht's 'Caucasian Chalk circle' and Marie-Louise Ekman's 'Mamma pappa barn'; those were profoundly dark and confusing experiences, probably formative. Just as was Staffan Westerberg's existential puppetry. At about 10, I saw the sculpture 'Prinsessan Panik' by Kristina Abelli Elander in the entrance hall to a bathing house in my hometown Sundsvall. It had a power and directness that I had never seen in "museum art" until then. It was the first contemporary artwork I saw that was on my frequency. For the first time I realized that art objects could be emotionally overwhelming.

Photo credit: Knotan

C-P: You strike me by a far stretch as one of the most distinctive artists in Sweden and have been for long, with a practice that does not resembles anyone else’s. While your artistic breadth is vast there are characteristics that are very consistent. I think of your organic shapes that recur in sculptures and drawings that to me appear to relate to an auditory realm. What is the point of departure for these shapes? M.K: They evolved through many phases. I was fascinated with the way we seem to identify certain movements with certain mental states, even though the object moving might be nothing like ourselves, even a completely abstract shape. That's what led me to experiment with inflateability, taking up sewing. The shapes became recursively entangled with themselves as a way of making their movements more life-like, they almost had a self-conscious look to them, I thought. I spent much time exploring transitions between 2D and 3D shapes, for making those rather complex sewing patterns. My methods are all very hands on: Paper, scissors and scotch tape, no software or computers. About 3 years ago these methods led me down the rabbit hole of hyperbolic geometry. I ended up with a generative process where it's more like I "grow" sculptures than actually sculpt them. Once aware of it, you see hyperbolic geometry everywhere in nature: in flames, leaves, waves and fungi, in ears. It seemed Mother Nature had shared one of her favorite recipes with me. I felt deeply honored!

Photo credit: Mason Saltarrelli

C-P: You’re also noted for performance work and on that note there is the character Junior. Tell me about ”them”. M.K: Studying at Konstfack in the late 90's, I was making drawings, but became increasingly aware of spatial issues. The underlying question seemed to be "what kind of a room is this?". I saw the drawings as "radiators" rather than self-sufficient works of art. When I started to put myself into these environments it was like I added a battery, rather than a person. I would build myself into boxes and walls, staying close to floors and corners, to play down the presence of my actual person. 'Junior' was my graduation project from Konstfack, a room where my head was sticking up through a seemingly much too small box on the floor. Drawings and furniture would passively suggest participation of the viewer, as sketches of preferable situations, exchanges and rituals. I was there, but not there at the same time.

C-P: You mentioned John Waters in a past interview which is pleasing since he is in my eyes both a most underrated filmmaker but also a visual artist who has yet to really see his proper international due. Counting John in, who are some artists you feel a kinship with and would want to take a moment to shine light on? M.K: Yes, the 1970's John Waters films like 'Female Trouble', and 'Desperate Living', wow! And 'Cecil B Demented' from the 90's, perhaps his most underrated! Another great filmmaker was the Armenian Sergej Parajanov. Animators such as Bruce Bickford and Sally Cruikshank. The "Imagist" movement of the 1970's in Chicago, with groups like the Hairy Who, Bauhus artist Oskar Schlemmer and Judy Chicago. Composers Harry Partch and Meredith Monk. The Scottish psychedelic bard and storyteller Robin Williamson, and the dark visionary Exuma, the Obeah man from Bahamas. Folk art in general, folk art environments in particular. I am the "Mållgan" (the invisible friend) of underrated art. As soon as one of my darlings get their deserved recognition I will zoom out like Mållgan and find some other art that needs a friend...

Photo credit: Knotan

C-P: Before the fire and tragic accident at Grafikens Hus, one of the last exhibitions I saw there on the former premises was a lovely two-person exhibition joining your work with that of your partner, artist Lisa Jonasson. Apropos of kinships, your respective works appear to have some alignments with that of the other. Curious to ask in what ways - if any - sharing a life with another visual artist finds itself in your work? M.K: It does, deeply. We share a studio with a door in between, so we are pretty much together all around the clock. We are both very private and vulnerable in our process. I can only speak for myself, but I spy a lot on certain things in her process. Her way of safeguarding her concentration, how her compositions come about, her discipline in dividing time between work and other things. A thing we both had since birth is restlessness, a similar itching feeling. I see that in both our work. We also share an affinity for underground movements and outsider perspectives. And we are both pragmatic when it comes to the shamanistic side of art. We have evolved together since 2005, so there are things we "invent" in parallel, for example we both worked with curved surfaces a lot the last year. It's no coincidence.

Photo credit: Knotan

C-P: You just opened a solo exhibition with Gallery Steinsland Berliner in Stockholm which marks a new collaboration with the gallery - super exciting! I know you have ties with the gallery since from before and first worked with gallerist Jeanette Steinsland back at Allmänna Galleriet. The exhibition looks very ”magnum” and opulent in a satisfying way. What were the considerations going in presenting ’Hitom’ M.K: At times I have felt like a misfit in the gallery scene, but with GSB I feel really at home. Jeanette has been such a great and patient support for me since 2006. Exactly two years ago I decided to take a break from my process. I had had some stress related seizures that came across as deja vu feelings and false memories, it was scary. I took up gouache painting full time, as a partly terapeutic vacation from myself. I ended up doing gouaches for almost a year! After this I got back into growing hyperbolic sculptures, and continued a few previous work cycles that seemed to relate. They built up a wavelike rhythm together with the gouaches, as if all the lines and contours were modulations on the same basic frequency. When they were side by side, they fill the room with a thick ambience, like you almost could swim through it. They are present here in the room and in each other, but not fully present in themselves. "Hitom" is the opposite of "bortom" (beyond). My overall feeling about this exhibition is that of lowering my guard.

Photo credit: Knotan

C-P: What’s next in line for you this year in 2020 and the new decade? M.K: The next project in 2020 will be public work for a new school building here in Stockholm that Lisa and I are doing together. I will also pick up where I stopped before my gouache vacation. I have a half- finished installation with new inflatables that are quite different from the old ones. The new decade looks a bit dark for the arts, but let's hope we will be able to stand up together for artistic independence, against totalitarianism and commercialism.

Matti Kallioinen's 'Hitom' runs at Gallery Steinsland Berliner through February 15.


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