Sue Scott Gallery

Artist Who Caught Our Eye: Kirsi Mikkola

Sebastian Frenzel
Monopol Magazine, October 2010

(translated from German)

The smallest picture in Kirsi Mikkola’s exhibition was given the largest space. It hangs just to the right in a corner, the joining walls could have easily held other work, but they were left blank. There is no trace of coyness in this decision. Rather, the message of these compact and energetic abstractions seems to be: Stay back! Go look at something else! I’ve got nothing to say to you!

That used to be different, though. Since the beginning of the 90’s, Mikkola, born in Helsinki in 1959, still worked objectively “because I was angry, because I had to fight against the world, so Figuration had a great appeal to me.” Back then she created cartoon-like sculptures. Buxom figures. Fingers in sexual organs. Fat-bellied men, standing in line to climb into a gigantic behind. Her work, which reminds of the feminist offerings of Nicole Eisenmann or Sarah Lucas, has also been very well received.

Mikkola exhibited in galleries in Berlin (she received her degree from the Universitaet der Kuenste, in Berlin, in 1991), Los Angeles, New York and in the Museum of Art in Malmo, Sweden and she could have kept this up without a problem. In the mid 1990’s, however, she decided to draw the line. And now, for the first time in 14 years, Mikkola is exhibiting again; a type of second debut, the new work from a not-quite-so-new artist. “The pictures have to guarantee that the whole recessed activity has been worth it,” she said.

Why did Mikkola withdraw back then? She said she felt constrained. The pats on the back, the cliquish atmosphere, and the demands of others all weighed down on her - but especially the high demands she set for herself. She actually always wanted to work abstractly, but found it difficult to create something original in the field after artists “like Klee or Nolde.”

During her time on the sideline, Mikkola did not stop making art; she discards, she creates, begins again, a relentless questioning. “You have to work against yourself, against your own assumptions; you have to achieve something beyond yourself,” says Mikkola. “I had to free the work from myself, only then could it really be abstract. I find the work to be much more interesting than myself.”

This liberation is noticeable in her art, in its balance and discretion. Mikkola found her own form of abstract painting in which she paints paper, then cuts it and collages it back together. Forgoing brushstrokes, she layers countless strips of paper next to and on top of each other until it forms a thickly woven, relief style surface. Through this she can avoid the act of painting, thepredetermined interaction of brush, paint, canvas; since “a canvas always appears so sedimentary.”

Her work slouches just slightly on the wall. From a distance, one could assume it to be a painting. Viewed a bit closer, it appears to be a poorly hung poster. Stepping even closer, one recognizes the extremely delicate structure. As if to further intensify the contrast, four smaller works are presented as exceptions, fully framed and giving off a bawdy aura: Do you like it better this way?

Mikkola keeps everything in balance. She drags her work down, without delivering the pretentions of Arte povera. One enjoys the exchange between actual and symbolic depth, the interaction of inherently ugly colors, the painterly gestures that work like art history quotes and the power that never becomes authoritarian. In the end, the work completely defies understanding and remains unburdened by pretentions of “Art.” No message, no aesthetic spectacle, instead, revocation as a sign of respect. Political art can strive to look like this.

Sebastian Frenzel

Kirsi Mikkola is represented by the Carlier Gebauer Gallery, Berlin, Germany. Her exhibition “Dark Core Breathing” can be seen there until October 23.


Above: “Untitled”, 2009, Drawing, 280 x 270 cm. Middle: “Langlauf”, 2007, Collage,
405 x 280 cm. Bottom Left: “Nottemia”, 2010, Drawing, 38 x 45 cm. Bottom Right, “Cirquit”, 2009, Drawing, 45 x 38 cm.