The giant abstract painting, measuring some 25 by 15 metres and stretched on a museum wall, is, suggests its creator, but a tiny part of the skin of a monster. And indeed he might be right. Beyond its sheer size, the texture and the dark brown, green and grey colour scheme certainly suggest a monster’s skin. Yet it is also vaguely reminiscent of Chinese landscape painting: a nonhierarchical rhizome, a ‘scene’ of so many possible, imaginary landscapes, a ‘map’ full of doors to immersion and contemplation. The painting has been created not so much by willed, intentional brushstrokes, but by the weather and by organic material such as herbs and ginger roots, with which the canvas has been treated every day.
Adam Avikainen is a creator of fictional narratives or imaginary scripts, and the medium through which these scripts are translated into his immediate environment. In such a fashion, Avikainen, who has spent recent years in various parts of East Asia, ‘reads’ both nature and culture by letting them ‘write’ themselves – his art is one in which projection and inscription collapse on real and imaginary canvases, in paintings and installations, and in writings and poems. The skin painting has a story: the monster is called ‘Ginger Glacier’ (as is the painting, from 2012), and combines cold and heat, little and large, in an impossible tension. From a soundtrack of talking teenagers, we hear that the Ginger Glacier is a monstrous, quasi-mythic ‘nonbeing’ that comes to us from a future geological age. It is pictured by Avikainen as a mutation of life, growing out of all life’s symbiotic relation to the sun. It’s not simply that we owe our own and all life on earth to the sun; according to current scientific predictions, this giant burning gas ball will have completely consumed the earth in about five billion years. Indeed, in one billion years all the oceans will have evaporated. Consequently, we humans have less than 50 million years to drastically alter our physical bodies to withstand extreme heat. The Ginger Glacier is a name for what will become of our human bodies as well as all other elemental and spiritual life: a collective body composed of anarchic cellular life forms living and growing in symbiotic relationships, a ‘frozen heat wave’ that ‘dances with the sun’.
Like this one, most of Avikainen’s ‘scenarios’ begin when ‘humanity’ as we know it (as something beyond or in control of nature) ceases to exist. They raise awareness of the multiple other actors that define our fate – from the uncountable organisms, such as bacteria, that inhabit our bodies, to the large-scale processes, on a geological and planetary scale, in whose ‘bodies’ we live in much the same fashion as the bacteria in our own. Avikainen’s work makes us familiar again with the alterity of life; it brings us close and into imaginative-sensory contact with that familiar strangeness of mineral, vegetal and mental dimensions of life.
Avikainen is a traveller of margins: not merely of the physical world, but of the territories of language, common imaginaries, mental geographies. He tests their limits, and at these limits a world of mimetic inversions and infections begins, a world of anarchic animism, in the face of which Avikainen turns variously into a diviner or a forensic investigator. It is this anarchic and imaginary force behind Avikainen’s idiosyncratic poetics that makes him one of the most challenging artists of today.
Originally published in the March 2014 FutureGreats issue, in association with EFG International