Mikko Paakkola: That ordinary artist
  • Artist Mikko Paakkola's guest blog post of September 2016: "I have thought of art as an axiom of internationalism, since I have experienced art as a means to reach the very core of humanity, a core that does not recognise national borders. What a wonderful instrument the European Union offers to achieve this."
15 September 2016

Photo:  Office d’Art Contemporain, Bruxelles / Matyas Matyas


I am an aging Finnish painter, committed to my vocation and a stereotype of my field. With age I have found myself a suitable hobby: fucking around on Facebook. It is the home of a new subspecies of know-it-alls and suits, besides my age, my character too. And, to some extent my profession.

Being an artist is lonely work. Mainly, it involves dealing with yourself by yourself. And as much as you would like to believe that in your artist’s studio you can smash the world to smithereens or magically turn it into a rose garden, the world outside your workshop just stands still, in one piece behind the window, unchanged.

That is why social media is such an excellent tool. The artist can leave his workshop without leaving it. The rest of world is suddenly right there. For an artist who does not leave his sanctuary to brag about his brilliance with his works–yes, his brilliance, for deep down every single artist is brilliant – he leaves it feeling frustrated, nervous and anxious. This has a snowballing effect. Rimbaud took a bullet from Verlaine, and Frederik was punched square in the face in the artist’s restaurant Kosmos with the retort “few of us are made of iron”. Many others had beer poured on their heads.  Now, Facebook offers another degree of reality and even a bar brawl can take place on social media. There I look for different snippets of discussions that I latch onto with a devilish eye. I provoke. Particular treats are the political economy, immigration and Europe. And art.

My hobby demands some effort and also, in fact, some familiarity with the subject, since a successful know-it-all requires both knowledge and savoir-faire. At its best, it allows you to toy with your opponent who tosses and turns in a surge of emotion. Then, while the forum is brewing its revenge, you can increase your own knowledge on the subject. And strike deeper.

Usually I find it easy to smile. Until this goddamn Brexit came about, and I made the mistake of making fun of the populist factions of my own field by raising the flag of a united Europe and a common currency. I repeat: the populist factions of my own field. Surprisingly, nationalism and Euroscepticism find ground not only among the True Finns who rebuke postmodern fake art: but among the very producers of postmodern fake art.

Then it rained down on me: “How could you, Mikko Paakkola, an ordinary artist, take the side of the elite and defend the European Union and the euro?” A bull’s eye and complete rubbish.

An ordinary artist. Goddamnit, not a single true artist is ordinary. We are a gift of the gods, a bottomless chalice of poetry and the dawn after a sleepless night. We make your nightmares come true and turn your reality into a nightmare, and when you sink into the swamp, we are the will-o’-the-wisp at the height of your nostrils. We are the heroes Väinämöinen and Joukahainen, the candle of the heavens and that rocket engine that does not know where it is headed. This kind of being. Quite far from ordinary.

An ordinary artist. You cannot sink any lower than that. An ordinary artist is the hard core of mediocrity and the height of platitude. An ordinary artist does not aspire to virtuosity and does not succumb to decadence. His creations aim for the average and to stand out is a sin. The ordinary artist draws correctly and plays the right notes, he does as his teachers say and what the audience asks, and leaves behind only the wish that life were somewhere else. Quite far from the gods. So that kind of being.

And this is where Brexit led me.

I have had some kind of ordinary Finnish artist’s warped perception. I have thought of art as an axiom of internationalism, since I have experienced art as a means to reach the very core of humanity, a core that does not recognise national borders. What a wonderful instrument the European Union offers to achieve this.  It is a message that was shared by the British artist community who, with Anish Kapoor as a mouth piece, noticed how Brexit served to replace openness and tolerance with narrow-minded hard-heartedness. But a Finnish artist is not a British one.

Euroscepticism nestled itself into our artist community before our joining of the European Union, this I remember from the background discussions. As a reason, I have to offer but a handful of assumptions: One of these is the fear of losing funding. Another is related to international competition, and perhaps in the background there looms a concern for the independence of cultural politics and the welfare society.

All of these are entirely topical concerns. Still, one can respond to them: funding, just like value added tax and social politics are determined on a national level and international competition should be seen more as an opportunity than as a threat – even if Anselm Kiefer, Ai Weiwei and other millionaire artists take over our exhibition rooms. We can fill other rooms elsewhere and even so, the true elite would be more within reach with open rather than closed borders. Perhaps the worry about Europe is really a worry about the position of the local elite and the artist community’s concern has really been a concern about the disappearance of this elite.

My own point of view departs from the grassroots, far away from any elite. It is also influenced by the economic recession of the 1990s in Finland preceded by the Accession Treaty. That was done to Finland by Finnish bankers, who gained access to Wall Street when the financial markets were liberated. The Finnish mark was devalued, the banks crashed and unemployment exploded. And all this was patched by driving down the social sector and the Nordic model of the welfare state. That was accomplished by Finnish politicians, all by themselves. Of this they have a long history. Actual budgetary discipline and the glory of an independent currency were already experienced in the famine years of the 1860s. Cold and frost and our own Finnish mark killed 150 000 of our nationals. Thanks to the local elite.

My perspective is also influenced by my background. I studied and worked as an artist before Finland’s membership of the EU. And that meant visas, tolls, queues, border controls, residence permits, banking arrangements, forwarding charges, currency exchange, and all those other things that I do not long for. Neither do many others, I believe. Such things are simply unaffordable for us ordinary artists.


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Mikko Paakkola

Mikko Paakkola is Finnish painter who lives and works in Turku. After completing his studies at the Arts Academy in Turku, he studied in Paris at l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts from 1988 to 1990 and lived in Brussels from 1996 to 2006. His works have been exhibited in galleries in Finland, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

In the autumn of 2016, the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux will be supporting an exhibition of Finnish graphic art, curated by the Belgian Jean-Marie Uyttersprot, that will be realised in Helsinki’s Galleria Rankka, which is represented by Paakkola.

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