Diaspora

DiasporaBratislava1

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Installation of recin, porcelaine, metal and wood i vitrines. 2010

Sculpture and Objects, Bratislava 2010
Kunstnerforbundet, Oslo 2010
Sandefjord kunstforening, 2010

The installation Diaspora is a logical progression from her previous exhibitions that have interrogated cultural and sexual identities and investigated human emotions and psychology in both spatial and material terms. The scale and subject matter of her work has changed but the approach is consistent and her feeling for craft and materials is unaltered. Her new sculptures leads the viewer into a realm in which memory, fact and fiction can all be aligned into free associations; a place one reconnoitres to witness the birth of new ideas. It is a step into the zone of opaque realities; a twilight between art and the world outside the gallery. Conceptually her five part installation directs the viewer away from established knowledge and expectation. It is a journey into a different reality that she invites every visitor to make.

The ventriloquist, like the artist, can make an inanimate object appear to speak. Tyrmi’s sculptures speak in the languages of art, which is to say that they are visual signs from which one can encode meaning. Her installations are the vehicles for her communication with her public. They build contexts and evoke words. One could comfortably place two words on either side of the exhibitions’ title to extend its meaning. Such a trilogy of words build a context that rises like steam to blur reality. Cool logic condenses them into drops that fall and ripple the surface of what one thinks one knows.

The first word is ‘migration’. It encapsulates the movement of the different constellations of animals she has created. As most face in the same direction, their collective mass indicates this herd’s common destiny. Their fate is determined and they move towards a final, unknown and distant horizon but the power of all their movement is frozen and contained in a glass vitrine.

The second word ‘Diaspora’ is also the title for her exhibition. It not only means a movement away and dispersal in all directions. It is also a word that celebrates the retrospective gaze more than arrival. One wants to know more about where these creatures come from than their final destination. The notion of Diaspora inevitably makes the point of departure and the point of arrival oppositional forces. As in a magnet these forces keeps migratory movement and final destination in a kinetic loop, the one constantly propelling the other. The exhibition’s journey is never ending and uncertain. Location is impermanent and the aluminium surface the animals walk on disconnects them from any specific place.

The third word is ‘Chimera’. It describes a beast constructed from many different animal parts; a fiction that helped humanity to deal with its fear of the unknown. The gates and walls of the ancient city of Babel were decorated with sculptures of beast that had a cows body, a snakes head, a lions tail and Eagle talons for feet. The word bridges a mythical and ancient past to an ignominious present, synthesising the theories of Darwin with genetics. In more recent times ‘Chimera’ also describes a hope or a desire that is impossible to fulfil. Today, one cannot separate this word from the practice of genetic engineering on animals and plant life. ‘Chimera’ is a disturbing word that reaches across time, from the age of the Minotaur, to human cloning. From a time when animals where mythic gods, to a time when animals serve the myths of science. This word alone directs the journey of Tyrmi’s exhibition into a post-modern space where humans believe they are the creators of living organisms. Discrediting religious belief and notions of morality with contemporary theory and science, is a feature of the here and now.

The ripples Tyrmi’s chimeric animals set in motion are part of the stream of complex ideas that flow through art’s contemporary discourses. But she keeps her maverick sculptures at an arms length to them, by installing them inside vitrines, reminiscent of the sandboxes children play in at kindergarten. Her choice of installation connects her ideas of mass migration, genetic manipulation and cross cultural identity to early creativity. The kindergarten sandbox invites the child to imagine the world without constraints of social theory, religious or moral order. It encouraged the inquisitive mind to construct a view of the world; to make sense of it through the use of objects. But in the gallery these sandbox vitrines are placed slightly out of the reach of children and adults. The sculptures cannot be moved. They have been installed to move the mind and to set ideas in motion. They function as catalysts for thought and a sheath for human fears. The vitrines also suggest that ‘migration’, ‘Diaspora’ and ‘chimera’ are ideas that can be contained or controlled. Isolated behind glass but visible, her chimeric miniatures cannot contaminate anything. Their position in space has already been determined. They cannot be redirected and their destiny will not be altered. Not here, not now.
Three large vitrines contain the migrating herds. Two smaller vitrines contain specific and different assemblages. In one of them a gilded, bull-like chimera is encircled by a dark bronze herd of similar species. The herd appears to be chasing its tail in ritual idolatry of a leader who can take them nowhere. In the second, a small group of cedar wood sculptures appear to be lost, or unsure of their journey. Their materiality and uncertainty sets them apart as individuals who together sense the general direction all others in the installation are going but resist joining the journey blindly.

The opening encounter with Tyrmi’s installation leaves more questions than answers. Perhaps this is her intention - to make one become an engaged and open minded observer; a child discovering the world or inventing it with objects; an adult wrestling with notions of alterity, fraternity and liberty.

Tyrmi’s interest to experiment with animal effigies, originally made as toys or trinkets, led to their deconstruction and reassembly. Her growing collection of cows, goats, lions, dogs, sheep, moose, buffalo, pigs, polar bears, horses and donkeys etc. had their heads and limbs clinically severed and reconnected to other species. “Horsedogs”, ”pigsheep”, and “staglions” emerged along with a host of other nameless and yet to be named creatures. Tyrmi was not replicating Mary Shelly’s, Victor Frankenstein, who in her novel of 1818 searched for the elixir of life, as did so many alchemists centuries before him. Her interest lay in the construction of something new from material that had a given and recognisable identity. The result of her experiment is revealing. Trading their characteristics had not created new and novel identities. In a strange way each Chimera kept a primary identity that was signalled through the head. A dog’s head on a horse’s body made it a “dog-horse” and vice versa. Even the tiger’s head attached to the fore legs of a buffalo and the hind quarters of a horse creates a tiger-like chimeric identity and not a buffalo-tiger chimera. It reveals the way humans identify difference and comprehend diversity. Michelangelo believed that the face was a window to the soul. The spirit of a being was revealed in its features. Face and spirit are primary in the construction of human and animal identities. Characteristics play less of a role. The ignominious xenophobia of the twentieth century tried to reverse this natural reading of difference. Race, sex and class distinctions emphasise characteristics, not the spirit of humanity.

Tyrmi’s re-assembled toy animals were taken through processes of reproduction with the help of skilled craftsmen in the Peoples’ Republic of China, where they became exquisite, individual small sculptures in wood, bronze and porcelain or mass produced as plastic replicas in a variety of earthen grey colours.

Her choice of these different materials both heighten and diminish their status in contemporary culture and in mythology. Synthetic plastic is the material of mass production and (inexpensive) throw away goods. Bronze adds permanence and the cultural weight of ‘high’ art. Cedar wood shifts each chimeric animal into the category of a relic, attaching a sense of ancestry and respect. Porcelain’s delicate finish connects them to cultures of the far East and gold-plating, makes them into idols at the high end of myth and religious belief.

The animals made in plastic have subtle varieties of earth colours, that camouflage their inorganic materiality. The gleam of white porcelain gives her beasts an illusive and ghostlike quality as if they were things that once lived but now appear only as an apparition. The dark green and brown patinas of the bronzes give her beasts a spirituality and ritual weight. It signals that these sculptures have come into existence through their contact with the essential elements of air, earth, fire and water. The carefully sculpted individual Cedar wood chimeras convey a sense of unity and belonging through their material similarity. They become a group or family, with similar characteristics.

Stepping away from the vitrines one asks “Where are these many animals going and why?” “Are they simply wondering or are they driven by something that keeps them looking ahead not backward?” “Will they ever return to their original point of departure?” “Have they swapped their identities and in the process altered their status in the world?” and finally “Are they a reflection of any human reality?” A wealth of ideas and notions to upset conventions. There is an abundance of possible meanings here. There are no straight answers in the world of shifting realities.

The last of these questions is perhaps the most engaging and the answer to it is surely “yes!” Its a question which accepts the axiom that art mirrors life; that these works of art, as strange as they may appear, are in fact reflections of events in contemporary time. Tyrmi’s evocation of migration and Diaspora as immediate and tangible issues underline this connection to the here and now. It echoes the everyday television news and the parliamentary debates about the threat posed by legal and illegal immigration to notions of European cultural identities. Likewise Tyrmi’s construction of chimeras is metaphor for the changes of our attitudes to economics, politics and culture over the past decades. Once these fields of activity were singular entities with clearly defined characteristics. They have become synthesised, interrelated fields that graphed bits of themselves onto each other and today reach across the globe. “Cultural industries” or “multi-national” are chimeric terms of the later part of the 20th century. Finally there is an element of power play suggested by the installation’s structure. Movement is directed and choreographed by an unseen hand; an abstracted force. One is reminded of the forces prevalent in Western culture such as capitalism and religion. Powerful, everyday ideologies that shape the future of great masses of humanity both positively and negatively.

Gavin Jantjes
© Oslo
March 2010