10 Jun 2021
FLIS HOLLAND: STORIES OF THREATS OR NEAR MISSES
Flis Holland is a Helsinki-based artist, originally from Great Britain. They worked in Triangle, New York for three months in 2019. The residency period followed their summer 2019 solo performance Gravity Doesn’t Keep You Down I Do, which was presented several times at Kosminen art space in Helsinki. The performance at Kosminen dealt with Flis’s most recent work as an artist – an exhibition in 2015 which had led to a breakdown – and it also dealt with their more distant past as an engineer specialising in asteroid defence systems. The second part involved an exposé of a case of sexual misconduct, a major reason why they left their engineering career.
Both good and bad things followed the exhibition. The performances were well received, but Flis was uncomfortable with how their popularity went hand-in-hand with showcasing their trauma. In their previous work, Flis has explored depression, trying to read its behaviours in new ways. In some people it may be a trauma response, but in others it may be a way to deal with the present-day or even suggest new ways to relate. Because of their interest in silences, and their dislike of depression being ‘explained’ by a single event in the past, Flis felt conflicted about their Kosminen piece.
Flis traveled to the US immediately after their performance at Kosminen for their residency, with plans to visit DC where the simulation of an asteroid strike had taken place a few months earlier. They liked the idea of having just missed it. But just prior to their trip they found out that the International Astronautical Congress, a major annual event for the space engineering community, would take place in DC during that same time.
The entire residency period ended up dominated by a feeling of unease, on one hand, as the thought of accidentally bumping into their ex-colleagues was so upsetting and, on the other hand, huge pressure not to waste the opportunity of a lifetime – that they should not only go to DC, but surely also attend the congress. While tied in knots and too anxious to leave the residency room, Flis started playing with an app on their phone. Asteroid Tracker AR is an augmented reality app which displays NASA’s data on Near Earth Asteroids and brings them into your home via a 3D model. This 3D model brought Flis’s past into their present-day, but with a new narrative: it didn’t hit the ground but spun slowly in mid-air, as it followed them around their apartment. Flis began spending a lot of time with the asteroid, which developed into a kind of intimacy.
From the residency, a video was born which was part of Titanic Gallery’s 2021 exhibition Gentle Gestures – Non-binary Conceptions of Difference curated by Camille Auer. The video is a guided tour of the group exhibition, broadcast on Instagram and filmed with Flis’s mobile phone while the Asteroid Tracker AR app is also active. It’s narrated in a deadpan style but full of slapstick comedy. The asteroid joins us in the gallery space, and Flis, as the guide, as well as the viewer have to look over it and move around it in order to see the artworks. The asteroid and the phone are also actors here, not just the human, and the performance shows the co-dependent relationship between the asteroid, the phone, and the artist.
Flis’s current work takes this new relationship further. In 2019, Flis participated in the Bioart Society’s field laboratory Field_Notes in Kilpisjärvi. Together with 35 other participants, they filed an iron meteorite to dust, stirred it into cream, and ate it. Shortly after ingesting the meteorite dust, Flis discovered tumours in their uterus, and their belly swelled rapidly. Flis deals with the mystery tumours, and their experience as a non-binary person within the medical system, in a video commission for Frame as part of its Rehearsing Hospitalities programme for spring 2021 (link below).
In the future, Flis is planning more online performances and remote access works. Due to the COVID pandemic, vast swathes of people are now getting a glimpse of some of the everyday experiences of chronically ill and disabled people. Being unable to attend in person was fixed as soon as able-bodied people needed it, and there has been rapid investment in new technologies. These new tools are not only making events more accessible but have led to new methods of presenting art work, and even of making it. Flis hopes that this attitude to accessibility will remain when the pandemic has gone.
Photos provided by the artist.