Leah Oates: What is your background and what was your progression as an artist? Where there any creative types in your family? Did you know you where going to be an artist?
Kari Soinio: I remember my father editing 8mm home movies, cutting and glueing the filmstrips on our living room table to make holiday movies. It was the same table he used sometimes to dismantle the car engine. I was also very fascinated by his collection of slides from his days at sea. I can still remember images from the ports of Montevideo and Buenos Aires.
“I place myself nude in front of a camera. Often with a vague plan but usually without any sketches.”
Courtesy of Kari Soinio.
Kari Soinio: I remember my father editing 8mm home movies, cutting and gluing the filmstrips on our living room table to make holiday movies. It was the same table he used sometimes to dismantle the car engine. I was also very fascinated by his collection of slides from his days at sea. I can still remember images from the ports of Montevideo and Buenos Aires.
I started out by drawing on the bread wrapping paper from the bakery with my brother. Later on we were allowed to use the old 8 mm film camera our father didn’t use anymore. And we got simple point and shoot cameras around the age of seven. I was clearly a visual kid from the beginning and that was always encouraged.
I never thought of drawing as a serious art-making technique for myself. But once I got hold of a camera I started to use it right away for something that developed gradually into self expression.
During high school I was initially planning to be an architect. However, after seeing parents of friends in the job and after realizing that I am not cut for that kind of team work or ego, I just forgot about it and pretty soon began heading seriously towards photography. Soon after high school I made several trips around Europe by train and those experiences not only taught me a lot about the connection of one’s immediate environment and self-hood, but also that I was interested in landscapes and cities, beyond single buildings.
LO: Please explain the themes in your work as well as your working process. For instance, some artists are very methodical while others are more instinctive. Can you elaborate on this?
KS: I place myself nude in front of a camera. Often with a vague plan but usually without any sketches. I have tried more careful planning but it has never really worked for me. With the camera it is really easy to try things and I also love the unpredictability that follows from not looking through the viewfinder when taking a picture.
In terms of my themes, I want to look critically at masculinity. And to look at femininity in masculinity, to show ambiguous bodies with traits of both. I enjoy addressing masculine complacency and self-importance in my work. I have always felt a bit of an outsider in exclusive male camaraderie, I feel it is often quite comical. One thing in my images of men that I try to portray in a comical light, I hope, is the funny and vulnerable self-assuredness that a lot of men seem to need, that biceps bulging cockiness. The importance of physical power to a persons self-esteem and value has always baffles me.
I have dealt a lot with meanings of landscape and with ways of representing it. The problematics of and differences between a place and a landscape, and also the ways they are perceived and articulated, are at the core of my work.
In my recent project City of Ghosts I looked into the socio-economic meanings of the vertical city by manipulating the field of depth with a large format camera. Combining architectural photography and street photography with out of focus passers-by in the foreground gave me a unique way of looking at the city. And again in that work I couldn’t look through the lens when taking the actual picture. I enjoy that, and I have become quite good at not knowing what I am photographing.
LO: You are a Finnish artist who is currently living and working in NYC. How does the NY arts community and art scene seem similar and/or different than the Finnish arts scene? NY seems to be dominated by the market where as the Finnish art scene has more public funding etc. What do you think are the pros and cons of both?
KS: The market is great when it works. In a small and therefore less wealthy art scene, such as in Finland, the market cannot work that well. It simply cannot fund arts that well. There is less of accumulated wealth and also the culture is different in terms of buying art. So, public funding of arts is imperative.
Also, a small culture and a small language has to protect itself. No one will do it if we don’t do it ourselves. So, public funding of arts and culture in general is a matter of life and death for a small country.
In the art world, knowing people is everything. Although it is always difficult to be able to meet the people that count, in Finland as a smaller and actually more direct and less formal culture, it is easier to contact people, to get to talk to the curators, gallerists and museum directors themselves instead of numerous intermediaries. Whereas in NY the barriers are higher and and due to the sheer size of the arts community it is very dispersed. Then again, here in NY people are easy to communicate with and generally more open to new people.
In NYC, coming from Finland, I have a few handicaps such as a hands-on understanding of American culture and lack of local art education and all sorts of contacts that may come along with it, from fellow artists to teachers to curators etc. Also there are differences in the accustomed ways of communicating between cultures and not being able to use your own language makes it further complicated.
LO: What advice would you give a younger artists on how to mark success as an artist. Success seems to be marked by big galleries making big money. Do you think that there are other ways to mark success as an artist?
KS: To be able to make meaningful art and to be appreciated by people you value and by your peers can be one way to mark your success. Obviously to be able to show, to get your art out there is extremely important, but that can be achieved in so many ways.
Especially for a younger artist, non profit galleries and informal ways of getting your art public can be rewarding. Art is more about meaning than value.
LO: What shows and project are you working on and what do you have coming up in the future?
KS: I am just finishing a new show of male imagery that will be shown at Gallery Heino in Helsinki in May. I am also working on a project that continues and further develops my recent City of Ghosts project.
I am also looking into some basic elements of landscape and its relationship to maps, and what is visible in the place itself. Looking at the sky.