Experiencing human sound (interview) – The Finnish Cultural Foundation, SKR

Sound artist Jaakko Autio likes to make the unseen visible. He is creating his new in-stallation near the Russian border in Narva, Estonia.

Human relations, familiarity versus strangeness, localness, and everyday culture are themes that turn into immersive sound installations in the hands of Jaakko Autio. He wants to take his art among people, which is where it originates from.

Autio spent a big part of his childhood in Senegal, Africa, where his family moved to because of his parents’ work. That’s where Autio learned what the local saying “I am because you are” means.

– In Senegal everything is about mutual relations, and the idea of privacy differs from the western one. I got to know local music and culture that has been refined throughout centuries, and which brings people together. I witnessed how important it is to throw oneself out there and to become visible, he says.

When Autio was 11 years old, the family moved to Ylivieska, a town of about 15 000 inhabitants in the Northern Ostrobothnia region in Finland. Autio found it hard to adapt. He had never worn socks or brushed his hair and spoke Finnish with a French accent. Now Autio thinks that his sense of foreignness has turned into a strength, which he taps into when making art.

– If you move from Senegal to Ylivieska when you are eleven years old, you have no other option but to try and figure out how you can discover a meaningful life. My destiny was to become a citizen of two countries, and because of it I now find it easy to travel. I have learned to recognise when the fear comes from within, when to let go and when not, he says.

Art maker and social anthropologist

Autio worked in theatre before he started to make art on his own terms. As a sound artist he considers himself to be a storyteller and a people gatherer. Autio rarely makes himself seen but prefers using other people’s voices in his installations.

– I’m like a social anthropologist who spots something precious in the existing culture and makes it visible. It was my parents’ job to solve everyday problems; I’m interested in what happens when the basic needs are met. I’m feel better and drift less when I take this opportunity, he says.

While sound is Autio’s preferred art form, he likes to include visual elements in his installations. In the As Time Sounds II installation, which was exhibited at the Mikkeli Art Museum during the summer of 2021, sounds created by Autio made geometric shapes on the surface of water. The speakers, which almost resemble human figures, bring a humane touch to whatever space he uses.

Reflecting his identity in Narva

Autio is currently in Estonia at the Narva Art Residency for three months, funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s artist in residence programme. It came to him as a surprise that up to 96 % of the locals speak Russian as their mother tongue. The Baroque style Narva was completely destroyed during the Second World War bombings, and the new, Soviet style city was built in place. The Estonian population was substituted with Russians.

Autio has plans for at least five new artworks this year. In Narva he is preparing a sound installation titled On the border, which he will create together with local choirs. It will be exhibited at the Tallinn music week (Kreenholm, Narva), Narva Art Residency this summer, and at the Kogo gallery in Tartu during the autumn of 2022.

– Here I’ve been able to reflect my identity with the local people who find the question of homeland difficult. The new installation is loosely based on the Finnish national anthem, which is melodically almost identical with the Estonian one. I intend to create an aesthetic experience, which for just a moment allows us to recognize and remember a world not marked by hostility and conflicts, Autio says.

Interview and images by Laura Iissalo. Story originally posted at https://www.skr.fi/

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