We sat down with Heini Merkkiniemi from Pertti’s Choice for an interview as part of our exhibition Imagine Everyday! Outsider Art Finland. In our interview with her we discussed the concept of outsider art as well as its importance in the contemporary art field.
What inspired you to join Pertti’s Choice?
Pertti’s Choice is an outsider art production house founded by the members of the punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (PKN). PKN has paved the way for other outsider artists for example by representing Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015. When the band retired, the members Sami, Kari, Toni, and Pertti decided to set up a shop. Their wish was to open doors for other outsider artists and help them reach their dreams just like they have. Their desire to help others is really inspiring.
We have a long history together that started when I taught the band members to play instruments. Now, 20 years later, they are my bosses in Pertti’s Choice. I especially like how we make decisions together. Sometimes the road is long but it doesn’t matter, equal participation for all is the most important thing. This is our way to develop new sustainable models for the cultural sector that others can adopt as well.
Could you describe the concept of Outsider Art?
Outsider Art features art created outside the art establishment and on the margins of society: art made by self-taught artists and by different minority groups such as people with special needs. In Finland we have an active and multidisciplinary Outsider Art scene and new events that have gained popularity over the past few years. In addition to the visual art scene, we exhibit and showcase performances, films, music, literature, and multimedia arts. We also have unique outsider art environments like Veijo Rönkkönen Statue Park and Enni Id’s Artist Home in Padasjoki. These hard-to-get locations are accessible through our VR-exhibition called Inside Outside Finland that can be experienced during various events that we take part in. Virtual reality provides immersive experiences and a sustainable way of cultural travelling.
Outsider artists need individual support and equal access to professional networks. It is important to work closely with artists and art studios and develop new agency collaborations to connect outsider arts and the mainstream audiences. It is also important to support internationalisation of outsider artists. With the Outsider Art Finland network we have created new online platforms for exhibiting Finnish outsider arts and have active collaborations with our international partners. In Europe we are connected to partners in the European Outsider Art Association (EOA).
Can you tell us about a particular artist that you have worked with who embodies the spirit of Outsider Art?
One of the best known artists is Kalevi Helvetti, a founding member of Pertti’s Choice, who is the only Finnish artist to have exhibited at the Outsider Art Fair in New York. He is a multidisciplinary artist who has the ability to jump from one art form to another resulting in something very human. Kalevi creates performances, films, visual art, and writes poetry. He also has a past in music, as he played in the band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. Kalevi has lived a tough life but he has still achieved great things. It has been an honour to follow his career for twenty years. Fear is a central theme in Kalevi’s art and it stems from his childhood experiences. I admire how he deals with it: with dark humour. His portraits are very popular in Finland and I’m excited to see what Parisians think of them.
How have your exhibitions been received by visitors and how do you hope to impact people’s perception of art?
Outsider Art is appreciated for its expressive power and relevance. Often there is something very primal about it. The visitors like the way the artist’s look at the world from a different point of view: it is fresh and often fun. The public appreciates that outsider artists are visible in their own field.
Our exhibitions are curated inclusively: it is a model that we develop together with our networking partners, the Autism Foundation in Finland, the artists, and mentors. We want to bring to light positive examples and show that people with special needs can participate when they are given the chance. Everything starts from the artists’ own dreams and wishes. Together we can contribute to the employment of the artists by creating different kinds of jobs such as curating, event producing, and making exhibition guides. The public appreciates that the arts are socially sustainable and offer opportunities for different people to showcase their skills.
In your opinion, what role does Outsider Art play in the contemporary art world, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Outsider Art has its own international market that includes artists, galleries, events, festivals, and fairs. The scene is alive and evolving as a new generation with their own powerful voice is emerging.
Outsider Art is booming right now, but in Finland the large public is still discovering it. Thus it is very important to raise awareness of the sector in collaboration with the traditional art scene. This exhibition with Sofía Lanusse and Institut finlandais is a great example of that.
With the Outsider Art Finland network we promote equal opportunities for artists by bringing together the outsiders and insiders of the arts through mentoring, c,o-productions, and events. This has been very meaningful for all stakeholders.
We are in need of new inclusive platforms and working models to open doors for diversity. Outsider Art Festival (OAF), produced by Pertti’s Choice, offers a new platform for outsider artists to exhibit their works and come together with a large network of art organisations, art professionals, and cultural venues. OAF is organised as part of the Helsinki Festival which is the largest multidisciplinary art festival in the Nordic countries. These kinds of collaborations enable outsider artists to reach new audiences each year.
What advice would you give to artists who feel that their work does not fit into the traditional art scene and are looking for ways to showcase their creations?
I encourage all artists from all backgrounds to continue creating art. There is space and an audience for everyone. I hope that the people close to the artist encourage them to reach their dreams. The artists in the Paris exhibition are a good example of making that happen! People should talk openly about their dreams, you never know when someone wants to make them a reality. Imagine Everyday!