SYSTEMATICALLY CONDITIONED


“The world is falling apart. This is the feeling we get watching television and reading newspapers. Has this anxiety always been with us? In some ways we have come so far, yet we are still plagued by the problems of inequality, poverty, environmental damage and war. As the population grows, so does the competition for resources. This further increases anxiety, creating the fear of being left behind. Idealism is replaced by pragmatism, under the shadow of economic rationalism.

This is the society that we have collectively created. It is a complex structure of conflicting wills and ideals, hopes and aspirations. In this struggle we must constantly choose. What do we stand for? Who do we support, directly or indirectly? Our individual choices shape the world. Any individual could easily find themselves in the same position as any other, dependant upon their circumstances. We are all essentially the same. In the end it is up to everyone on an individual level to help make a more just, peaceful world. Choose what you do carefully.
The current systems that we have are clearly failing. They are failing the majority of people on the planet and the planet itself. The system creates wealth for the few and by it's nature is self perpetuating, maintaining the status quo. The ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor can only be detrimental for society. Social unrest, crime, poverty, alienation and other damaging consequences are the inevitable results.
Every aspect of society is regulated like never before (except strangely enough, the financial sector?). Our personal freedoms and privacy are gradually eroded. Everything is owned. The bureaucracy alienates the vulnerable, which contributes to the increase in radicalization. What are the options of the desperate, but to lash out? The bureaucracy (including not only government, but bankers and other corporate entities) is a faceless force, where no individual is accountable. The individual is lost in their role. It is ultimately the rule of nobody.
We have the technology and intelligence to create a peaceful, sustainable future, for everyone, but this does involve changing our ways. We all know this intuitively and our failure to act responsibly becomes a source of anxiety. In an increasingly abstract world, we need to recognize what is really important and live in accordance with our true biological selves. Educating the population to look inwards, leads to responsible being for all. We have it good in Australia. Why not set an example for the rest of the world?


Office – The Aesthetics of Bureaucracy

Office is a series of works that deal with our relationships to institutions, as well as the dominance of economic factors, in our decision-making processes. It is a response to the pressures of modern working life and the impacts of globalisation. The systems that we have constructed are clearly not working; a system that is based on greed and self-interest is doomed to fail. I present these works as a vision of the time we are living in. It is an account of our beliefs, as based on our actions (or apathy) and some of the consequences of these.
The works are shown as an installation in which the paintings, sculptures and video works all complement each other. I have the idea of recreating a derelict office space with the paintings on the walls and the video Another Day set up as an artificial window (so it looks like the action happens in the next room). The Boxed video would play from a monitor placed in the trash. The basic premise is that that the systems (or bureaucracy) that we have inherited, makes it too easy to just do what has always been done. This has produced an out-of-control consumerist culture, with its environmental destruction and inequality, that is almost unstoppable. These rigid systems must be reconstructed from the ground up.


White Works

The “white” paintings in this exhibition take as their subject matter, the forms, graphs and tables of the office, in particular those of the economic and social welfare systems. Several paintings in the exhibition are iconoclastic works that aim to challenge our belief in the current system.
I propose that there is a direct link between the economical design (or form) of the form, and that of the reduced aesthetic of minimal art. Bureaucracy has a language or aesthetic of its own, and this is linked to its specific function of control. Bureaucracy is the barrier between the system and the people. It works as a kind of filter, leaving undesirables on the outside. It serves to maintain the status quo i.e. to keep the power with the already powerful. The formalist reduction in minimal art can be compared to the drive towards efficiency, which is an ideal attribute in today’s society.
The aesthetic of bureaucracy is very economical. The forms consist mostly of lines, grids and boxes providing small spaces for data input. The grid makes an appearance, as one of the most common human methods of organizing information. The box is also prominent and it becomes an important symbolic form, associated with confinement. The box and cube are traditional forms that have left their mark in the history of minimalist art.
These works can be seen as a continuation of the minimal art tradition but with the addition of another layer of meaning i.e. the political, symbolic attack, on the icons of a flawed, economic system. This makes it quite clear that my art cannot be described as being modernist.
These works involve a painting process in which the system is first recreated and then destroyed, wiped away, covered and ultimately denied by the marks of the painter. This process is visible to the viewer who can discern the struggle between two different worlds, that must, never the less, coexist (i.e. that of the rigid system and the free individual). The statistics depicted in the graphs and tables are taken directly from the financial section of Finland’s largest daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. For example in the work Values, the Nordic stock exchange data, was carefully copied and then painted over and wiped away, to the point of being almost unrecognizable. However, the columns and rows of numbers remain partially visible beneath the dense expressionistic marks. Two different systems collide. These economic forces shape our lives but the specific details, such as the meaning of the particular values, remain abstract, to all but financial analysts.
The paintings are a reflection of societies misplaced trust in a system that only serves the interests of a privileged few. It has become so widely accepted, that the current neo liberal model is the only viable system, that there is no mention of any change. The present system allows for an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, which can be seen even in the social democratic countries, such as Finland.
Work is a large (140cm x 195cm) painting of an unemployment benefits form. This is the form provided by Kela (the Finnish social security office), that keeps track of an unemployed persons activity. It must be filled in and returned each month to receive benefits. While being an aid to the individual, it is simultaneously a form of control. The form is first meticulously copied in a very mechanical manner, but then this form is filled in with vibrant brushstrokes. Humans have constructed these systems, and as such, they are innately imperfect.
The institution carefully constructs the ways in which it deals with people (or nowadays customers). All contact is pre determined and the form is the tool it uses to control what information it wants and how it is to be received. There is absolutely no room for expression, only boxes, numbers and lines. There is a subtle dehumanization at work here that is brought to light in the piece Self- portrait (as a waiting number). This is a simple light box that displays a copy of the waiting line number of a typical bureaucratic office. At that particular moment, the person’s identity is transformed to a number within the system.
A4 is a small painting (dimensions 21cm x 29.7cm) the size of a sheet of A4 paper. It is the physical materialization of a spatial concept, a standard size or format. This simple painting highlights the aesthetic of bureaucracy, as one of limiting and controlling. The surface is coolly painted with a smooth, reflective white finish. Is there an emptying or wiping out of something, or is it a space of possibilities, even hope? Could it be a Nietzschean call for a revaluation of all values? Or is it simply a still life painting or sculpture of an A4 sheet of paper?

Grey Matters

Several works (mostly the reliefs) make use of construction mortar. The mortar is applied onto objects typically found in the office environment, including the business suits of office workers. The resulting concrete-like grey, gives the works a sense of melancholia, of something lost. In Institute, the objects become reminiscent of an archaeological dig, exposing the ruins of a past doomed civilisation (or concrete jungle). These works, much like the systems they represent, look strong and invincible but are in fact quite fragile.
The colour grey (between black and white) also refers to the homogenisation effect that can be seen with the introduction of any system. There is a blending of values that results in the elimination of wide deviations from the average. The European Union is a good example, of where traditional, local methods of production must conform to EU directives, often to the detriment of the product. Unique flavours are not accepted and the result is a bland porridge.
In Grey ties a masculine symbol of capitalism, the necktie, is transformed into a work of art. The tie is a constricting, essentially useless item of clothing that is used in the business world and government agencies. The tie has associations with ideas of professionalism, power, commitment to work and the loss of the individual within the system. There is a loss of personal responsibility that comes with the wearing of a tie or uniform. The individual becomes a tool for the interests of another. They are not held personally responsible for any decisions made and can hide behind their role within the institution. This distancing of personal responsibility is what allows a new chief executive officer to dismiss hundreds of workers, which incidentally often causes a rise in the company’s stock value.


Moving Image

My video works usually have a limited narrative and aim at expressing an idea or mood in its most essential form. They aim at having the immediacy of a painting. As in the punk tradition, all the fat is trimmed.
Another Day….. is a video loop that refers to the saying “another day, another dollar”. This is a few seconds of found you tube footage, that has been digitally manipulated. The video aims to have a very painterly quality. It shows a moment of pure frustration and anger caught on security cameras, where an office employee destroys his workstation with a sledgehammer (who hasn't experienced this kind of frustration?). The slowing down of the image adds a dramatic edge. The destruction is then undone by reversing the video back to the beginning. The process of destruction and reconstruction is repeated endlessly. The video expresses the pressures of today’s working environment where intense competition and stress can lead to extreme actions. Some people have too much work and some have too little.
Boxed is a video installation consisting of a television dumped in a cardboard box and left abandoned to a corner. On the screen a frustrated baby worker attempts to free itself from the box it has been placed in. There is little chance of success as his box is within a larger box (the television or “idiot box”), which again is in another box. The gallery space itself can also be seen as still another box. Economic forces bind art in the same way it binds everything else. The scene takes place in an office that has been completely destroyed. Within this apocalyptic vision, a monitor displays the act of destruction as recorded by surveillance cameras (as seen in Another day…). There is a play of space where one video plays within another video.
Boxed can also be seen as a concern for the shortening or loss of childhood in today’s world. Training for working life and a good job starts earlier and earlier. Kids are often under a great deal of pressure, as they compete against others within the education system. This begins at an earlier and earlier age. Increasingly, out of fear, we train (educate?) our young to become tools for those in power.
New European is a few seconds of video shot in front of a metro entrance of Helsinki’s Central Railway Station. It depicts the lonely figure of a man begging. The beggar is situated as a life size projection with the background taken away. It is a cold winters day and it is snowing. He is completely isolated and removed from his surroundings. On the streets any people do their best to ignore the gaze of beggars, however this beggar is impossible to ignore. His gaze seems to follow the viewer as they walk towards the centre of the room. The viewer is made to feel complicit in the situation. In the darkened room the stars of the European Union flag slowly appear, as the viewer’s eyes adjust to the darkness. The streets of Helsinki are in effect, the office of this beggar. The work can be considered as a video portrait.


Systems under fire

This exhibition makes it clear that bureaucratization has reached a stage of being out of control. As Max Weber points out in his studies, bureaucracy puts us in an iron cage, which limits individual freedom and potential, instead of a “technological utopia” that should set us free. It is the way of the institution, where we do not have a choice anymore.
Humans have an instinctive desire for order and systems. This arises out of our need to organize and understand the world we live in. In our modern cities this has lead to us living lives that are completely alien to our true nature as biological beings. We are provided with our basic survival needs without any regard to the complexities of how this is achieved. This ignorance has lead to sweat shops and environmental problems in far away places. Systems should be made transparent, flexible and held accountable.
The ways in which we assess the success of our societies also has its problems. As an example the gross domestic product, which is a key indicator of economic health, actually rises with every diagnosis of cancer. Also when workers are retrenched company stocks inevitably rise. Clearly what is good for the economy is not necessarily what is good for the people. Through art I would like to take a stand and hopefully show that the very structure of how we do things needs to be questioned. The bureaucratic systems need more flexibility and the emphasis in our lives on making money must be questioned. My art is a battle against things that bind and trap. Against the box, barriers, alienation and even logic.


Final Thoughts

One of the most important tasks of art is to provide a space for the development of new values. Art must respond to and reflect on the society we live in. It should challenge our actions and values. Art can have a real impact on society, when concepts become internalised through emotions. Central to my art is a quest for individual freedom. This is a reaction against the increasing rise of the police state that is being experienced throughout the world, as countries adopt a heavy-handed neoliberal approach. I mean this in the sense of every aspect of our lives, being legislated or controlled in some way. I see art as a process and space for taking back some of this freedom. The system we have constructed seems to have taken on a life of its own and escaped from our hands. It is an autonomous giant, leading us towards a future of environmental and social crisis. It is up to us to get back into the drivers seat.

Eric Hynynen Contemporary art Perth, Australia, Helsinki Finland