F2F: New Media Art From Finland / LA Weekly 09/2000

Finland has become lately famous as the most wired country in the world. No place is more thoroughly digitalized, and cyber-communication (think Nokia) is an even bigger growth industry there than here. So you'd expect Finnish artists to be responding to, even seizing, the new means of production. And, given the legendary stoicism of Scandinavians - and Scandinavia-adjacents like the Finns - you'd expect the resulting artwork to be comparatively un-showy. Indeed, for all its bells and whistles, its cybertaining bounce and variety, its clever exploitation of the new magic, the work displayed in "F2F" has a modest, pleasant, even reassuring infra-spectacularity to it. (In Hollywood terms, we're talking indie spirit.) Not trying to overwhelm, the installations engage us not just because they depend on our interaction, but because they do their thing at eye level, figuratively speaking. Nothing daunts or overawes, although Heidi Tikka's interactive baby - a virtual infant giggling, crying and doing very alert baby things - projected onto a hand-held swaddling cloth wows most viewers (and spooks the rest). Rather, the stories and games, images and structures, parables and parodies advanced by the nine installations (a tenth, Laura Beloff and Maex Decker's evidently ambitious HAME/[a dress], wasn't working in the show's first week - hey, 90 percent operational ain't bad for cyber-art) all set their stages and lay out their gimmicks simply and directly. The tale-telling runs from Andy Best and Merja Puustinen's sci-fi IceBorg to the interior urban realism of Teijo Pellinen's Aquarium (excerpted from Finland's first interactive TV show); the polemics range gently from Marita Liulia's SOB, a feminist fable about masculine drives and fears, to the knowingly cartoony future-predicting of Kristian Simolin's hit2Morrow and the antiwar shadowbox of The Battle Over Indifferent Minds by Hanna Haaslahti; the satire is found in Tuomo Tammenpaa's Need, a wicked masquerade of contemporary packaging and marketing (right down to the faux-Pokemon collectible cards); pure spectacle resides in the resolutely low-key phosphenes-on-screen mirror++ of Juha Huuskonen; and for pure poetry - pure language, pure alphabetism, even - there's the sculpture-projections of letters grafted onto one another by Leena Saarto. Certain of these works, of course, have online components, or at least documentation; their URLs are listed below. At UCLA's New Wight Gallery, 1100 Dickson Art Center, NE corner of the campus, near Sunset Blvd. & Hilgard Ave.; thru Oct. 6. (310) 825-9007. Need at www.needweb.org, IceBorg at www.iceborg.com, SOB at www.medeia.com, Aquarium at www.akvaario.net, mirror++ at http://katastro.fi/~juhuu, HAME [a dress] at http://jomasounds.firstfloor.org/lady/hame.html.

- Peter Frank