26 Feb 2018

Interview

AN INTERVIEW BY ATHANASÍA AARNIOSUO

THE SHARED BRAIN OF HARRIE LIVEART

Harrie Liveart attempting to make fire by rubbing sticks together during the Residencies reflected symposium.

Harrie Liveart, the manifestation of the shared brain of Meri Linna and Saija Kassinen, stayed at HIAP’s Suomenlinna studio for a whole year. Their residency period ended in late 2018, and we met up to discuss the residency, the artists, and the life and times of Harrie Liveart.

Meri and Saija met while applying to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. During application week parties, they bumped into each other several times and immediately thought that their personalities clicked. The next week, they had already planned their first art piece. However, even though it was clearly love at first sight, it took them two years before they started working together. That first art piece is still waiting for the right moment to be realised.

Meri studied sculpture, while Saija studied time and space arts. They quickly started combining their skills in performance. During her degree year, Saija wrote her thesis about Harrie Liveart – who he is, where does he come from, where will he go. By that time, it was clear that Saija and Meri working together meant they had to work as one, as Harrie.

These days, after having worked together for years, Harrie’s personality has grown stronger. When working together, Saija and Meri often end up having ideas and doing things that neither would do individually – but Harrie does them. Harrie has his own agenda sometimes, it seems.

Harrie was born in 2010, that’s when his first work, “Intermission”, was exhibited at Kiasma. The time before that work Meri describes as being inside a womb, Harrie existed but was not born yet. The first moment of realisation came with “Intermission”, the idea that a symbiosis is much more than just working together. The works are born out of a collision of minds. When Saija and Meri come together as Harrie, their minds can achieve terrific things. Trust is of great importance. They both know and trust the other, and they have learned to be free within this third persona, Harrie.

Harrie’s ideas often stem from humorous conversations between Meri and Saija. Harrie tries the limits of the physical world, and makes art from and about silliness, playfulness and meaningful absurdity. An example of this, a work named “Daydreaming”, originated in an idea of a dance performance taking place entirely on water – the result was simpler, yet impressive. In the work, Meri and Saija are standing on water, as it would appear – as a matter of fact, they are standing on a platform that was sunk in Hietalahti body of water using a big crane, and they had a professional diver with them during the set up to make sure everything worked according to plan.

Harrie Liveart does not distinguish between silly and serious – everything can be looked at through funny glasses, and difficult issues are gentler to take in with a little humour. Humour is often a garnish, however, and the actual subject matter of the works lies a little deeper, under several layers. Meri says that the main purpose of Harrie’s works is to get his audience to think for themselves and offer them food for thought.

Harrie Liveart did just that in her performance at the Mänttä Art Festival in 2015. That was the first time that Harrie’s performance dealt with bigger issues than the relationship and communication between Meri and Saija. As part of the piece, called “Nomadic Nanostate”, Harrie Liveart employed their audience to work in the exhibition as volunteers, which in practice meant that they did not have to pay the entrance fee to the museum. The piece questioned the existing power structures within the art world, who pays for what, and who must suffer poverty for the art scene to be what it is. The Mänttä Art Festival was not happy about the piece, even though they had approved it originally. Harrie, however, felt that the criticism towards the unfair and capitalist nature of the art world was justified, the piece was a success, and he gained plenty of confidence to keep doing what he does.

Criticising unpaid labour within the artistic community is something both Meri and Saija feel strongly about. The amount of work artists put into their practice does in no way match the amount of money they are given as salary. Therefore, even though HIAP was such a great opportunity for Harrie Liveart – for the first time he had a home – almost half of the time spent at the residency was spent on extra jobs and grant applications, as their stay at HIAP consisted of a studio space but not a salary.

The rest of the time was spent on interesting projects. Harrie Liveart tried to make fire, for example. Either rubbing sticks together, or urinating into a pouch made of bubble wrap and then using it as a magnifying glass, Harrie is taking pleasure in a survival experience. Meri and Saija enjoyed the very long time they got to spend at HIAP. Ideas had a chance to develop, without being rushed by deadlines. The process is slower, and the ideas much more focused, in the end.

 

But where is Harrie Liveart now? I asked Saija and Meri to tell us a little more about the time after HIAP, their new projects, their grant from KONE Foundation and finally, which work do they think describes Harrie Liveart the best.

 

HARRIE LIVEART: The year in HIAP gave Harrie exactly what he wished for: a new direction for the future. Rich conversations led to a new exciting project idea and hard working with grant applications temporarily paid off and Harrie was granted a half a year start up salary for a bold initiative from KONE foundation.


Harrie begins his new cross-disciplinary long term project in a new home at an Artists’ house in Kruununhaka. The project “Collective Perversion – proposal for revaluation” dives into the problematics around clean drinking water through the toilet bowl. We are now at the stage of planning and research. We are investigating the complexities of our topic: waste handling of human fecal matter; exploring other organizations with related topics and ongoing solution oriented projects. During the half-year period, we are facilitating three different events/popup art exhibitions related to our topic in Sorbus gallery, Helsinki. We are also organizing a Nordic Seminar during the fall 2018 at the Nordic Art School in Kokkola with a topic of human waste and applied waste solutions. Harrie got also an invitation from Rejmyre Art Lab in Sweden for a month-long residency. We are collaborating in Rejmyre Art Lab’s long term project called Clean it up! where we are investigating composting options through the perspective of an earthworm.


Harrie is in front of new challenges also personally.  Beginning of the year 2018 Meri moved to Kokkola Finland where she started working part time as the Director of Study in the Nordic Art School, so she is commuting to Helsinki each month. Saija will be starting to work full time with Harrie’s project on March 2018. Harrie needs to find new dynamics between Meri and Saija, as most planning work will be done on distance.


So all the time we have together is going to be Harrie time!


Meri promised to take Saija on a vacation after the year. We wonder if Harrie will follow.


We think that this new project “Collective Perversion – proposal for revaluation” will definitely describe Harrie Liveart the best.

Interview and image: Athanasía Aarniosuo

Read more: http://harrieliveart.com