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Safety Propagandist #11: Jukka Siikala
Finnish artist Jukka Siikala discusses his new zine, his upcoming first work of fiction, and chasing the "thrilling sensation"
Jukka Siikala is a Finnish visual artist with a unique and interesting career. Largely existing outside the control sector that is the global art world, Jukka has instead distributed his paintings, collages, photographs and videos through cult media. He has lent fascinating images to countless albums covers. For black metal albums by artists like Clandestine Blaze, Baptism, Deathspell Omega and noise projects like Grunt, Jukka has created provocative and striking imagery that’s consistent with the sonic maelstrom of black metal but still wields a poetic sensibility that is all the artist’s own. Intriguingly, Jukka’s paintings are often photo-realistic renderings of charged pornographic imagery, while at the same time he also produces slick and highly visual photographic images. Thus, his art instantly demands discourse about the interplay between mediums, the necessity of the painting versus the photograph and the distribution of artistic production in an outsider economy.
Jukka has a new zine coming out called Seksnobyl 1, images of which are shown here, as well as his first work of fiction. Jukka’s novela Spaniels will be out shortly from the great Infinity Land Press, whom also published a collection of Jukka’s visual art work . Nevertheless, Jukka and I spoke over the last few days through out Instagram DMs to talk about his career. Let’s let Jukka do the rest of the talking as we welcome him into the Counter-Agency of the Avant-Garde.
Adam Lehrer: What appeals to you about being known as a “sick fuck”, according to an online hater?
Jukka Siikala: The guy from Thanatische Manifestation blog started his interview with this existential strike: “Who are you?” It is a very hard question – I don't know who I am. I am what I need to be.. So I remembered this online comment where someone called me a “sick fuck” and decided to use it as a reference point, to tell the interviewer how I relate to that. That says more about me than simply: “I am a visual artist from Finland.”
AL: But do you think that this idea of being "sick" could be one that's well suited to the creative ego? That to embrace being a sicko could translate into a subjective freedom?
JS: Yes, maybe that would offer a role to play, but with limited freedom.
AL: You’ve said that curiosity is a vital characteristic to being an artist, and that following curiosity will inevitably lead people towards dark, occulted, and unsettling content. Do you believe then that something that plagues so much of art now is artists failing to take their curiosity to its logical endpoint, holding themselves back from curiosity to avoid confronting difficult truths?
JS: My view is that obsession is not an essential element of becoming an artist anymore. Art might be plagued by people who have no curiosity. Art is becoming engineering and computing, a circus trickery without laughter.
AL: It is a joke, is it not? I often wonder if most people who call themselves artists are compelled less by the expression of some internal alienation and need for catharsis than they are in earning likes and making fluid connections on Instagram. Useless cowards.
JS: It is good to have them trapped within the walls of modern art.
AL: The art world as a control sector walling off the conformists from the rest of the culture can be helpful in this way no doubt. Before going backwards, let’s discuss your new zine. Seksnobyl 1 is a collection of recent photography of yours along with some strange and jarring texts. How did this project come about, is there a primary theme you were interested in when shooting these images?
JS: I just follow the thrilling sensation. It is very much about trying to illustrate the feeling and at the same time dwelling in the feeling that the image gives back. Ballard writes about having sex with ideas, that's what I am doing. With Seksnobyl I am creating an entity, and a platform to grow.. Something to have sex with.
AL: That's interesting. While discussing Peter Sotos recently someone said to me that people overestimate the postmodern context of his work to justify their appreciation of it, and overlook the work being about "what gets the dick hard." You think your work is functioning in this kind of way?
JS: The core of everything I do is tension. I aim to use lack of clarity to maximize tension. Hopefully my doings are unclear enough to others too to make them hard for them to fit my work into the postmodern context.
AL: One of the texts in the zine is about tapeworms and sex, what intrigues you about the tapeworm and how does it function as a metaphor? This writing is very strangely unsettling, are you interested in when clinical reportage such as this becomes surreal and uncanny (Adam Parfrey did this well)?
JS: Yes, I am very interested. I just watched Naked Lunch. The way how Cronenberg and Burroughs mix the real and surreal is so satisfying to experience. Worms are very symbolic. I suppose they have been a sign of sickness and we have this disgust branded into our DNA. I have seen dreams in my hangovers, where worms are coming through the skin and I have heard similar dreams from others enduring hangovers. When I was nine I saw a parasitic worm that had slithered out from my family member. I am not sure if I should use it as a metaphor.. I just know that it fascinates me.
AL: You’ve built a career in visual art with almost no support from the actual art world (and believe me, you’re better off for it). Album covers, book covers. Your work has broadly become consistent with what we think of visually when we think of Finnish noise and extreme music. Do you care about the ways in which people become acquainted with your work? Or, are you just glad to get people’s eyeballs on it?
JS: No I don't care. Many noise enthusiasts have a broad understanding of marginal culture and different art forms. I couldn't hope for a better audience.
AL: Is the audience something you think about often?
JS: No, but it is nice to know that somebody somewhere watches my work and gets something from it.
AL: In the Uusi Kansio images you sent me, you are preoccupied with the close-up of a woman crossing her legs. Are these condensed and specific images of libidinal charge often of great artistic inspiration for you?
JS: I like to play with the forms and search for a balanced composition, but that is just a part of the whole thing, merely a serving suggestion.
AL: Could you elaborate upon this idea of a "serving suggestion"...
JS: Sorry about delay, many things at the same time. Also a demanding question :).
AL: It’s all right we can stretch the length of the interview as long as we need to (haha); a slow burn week long interview it’ll be like a Rivette film.
JS: Taking a good photo without permission and secretly in a turbulent environment as a subway or a bus with many co-travelers is like fishing. It takes patience, some acting skills, risk taking, luck.. The final photo is the fish arranged nicely on plate.
AL: I’ve always been particularly drawn to artists that work in both painting and photography and create a dialog between the two (maybe this interest started after reading Houellebecq’s The Maps and the Territory?), and you are highly adept at both mediums. This is made all the more intriguing considering the fact that some of your paintings, particularly the more pornographic ones, are photo-realistic. What then can painting to aesthetically or emotionally that photography can’t, and vice versa? When does an image necessitate the painted canvas, and when is it appropriate to be rendered photographically?
JS: Usually there are some sort of act behind the image and that determines if it going to be painting or photo. This is one reason why I like instant photos. The taste of act is stronger. When the idea comes to surface through work I don't feel like repeating it. That's why I am shifting my approach between mediums. Different mediums also feed each other.
AL: You’ve said you enjoyed shallow and corporeal responses to art rather than trying to evoke anything more, philosophical… is this incorrect? Is there an honesty to shock and arousal that makes it a more honest artistic expression? I figure, Michaelangelo’s David for instance, despite all its historical analysis, is really the artist’s worship of this male body. It’s coomer art. Is all art libidinal?
JS: I was probably trying to express that “shallow" elements can evoke philosophical thoughts as well as 'deep'. I have a taste for shallow 'B-class', but I am not a true B-class person in a sense, that I follow from the side. Deep and shallow matters are just elements in a composition and they have the same value. I am interested in playing with that composition.
AL: What does it mean for your art to be less your personal philosophy than “the excrement of” your philosophy and ideas?
JS: I could say that my works are platforms where I cultivate my own philosophy. Maybe that is my philosophy? Just playing with elements, no messages, sort of an in-breeding world.. My personal view is that the artist is on the wrong path if he/she tries to send a message to the viewer. That kind of ambition blurs the reflection.
AL: Could you define your concept of “Anti-Social Realism” that became the name of a show between you, Mikko, and Markkula?
JS: It was Mikko's manifesto. It suited the show so I went along
AL: Awe OK good to know; it’s hard to find much info about it online anymore.
JS: It was a nice exhibition. Quite impressive humiliation shows in the opening party.
AL: The Materials of the Artist and Their Use in Painting: With Notes on the Techniques of the Old Masters by Max Doerner; you’ve stated that this text is an important document to you. How important is it for painters to understand the craft aspect of artistic production? Do you see your work as being in dialog with the Old Masters in any way?
JS: I have been working in an artist’s materials shop. It is sad how little artists care about the craft side of their profession. They mix oils and acrylics and pay no attention to how well their works will age over time. This is a matter of working ethics. As a painter I aim to produce work of good quality and the Old Masters represent “good quality” to me.
I have saved a still image from an Eastern European gang bang film, where the couple having sex is surrounded by a dozen mature women. The composition with all those lively facial expressions reminds me of Old Masters' paintings. I will paint it some day, a large canvas, and it will be a kind of dialogue with the Masters, I guess.
AL: Let’s go way back. How did you first know that you were probably an artist? What were the formative films, paintings, records, and books that set you on your journey?
I don't have any specific moment that I could recall, probably soon after military service. I started to play with collages and for the first time actually created something, not just copied something else. Formative material that set me on a journey were bands like early Napalm Death and Kreator. It was very difficult to find interesting films or books in the Finnish countryside and those days there was no internet. I traveled 400 km with my last pennies to see films like Tetsuo.
AL: That's fucking awesome. I was just listening to Kreator's Terrible Certainty yesterday. And also, I own this [I share a photograph of my Shinya Tsukamoto Arrow box set.
JS: These days I download torrents. I don't know how many terabytes I have downloaded of all kinds of weird films..
AL: Any films you watched recently that left an impression?
JS: First I have to say that I haven't seen Tetsuo 3, I am too afraid that it is not good..
JS: From the new ones that I otherwise don't watch much, I liked Titane. Death Wish 3 impressed me with how shitty it was. The Flesh and the Fiends was very atmospheric. I finally had a good moment to watch. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and it was very good. Recently I have been watching a lot of film noir and Franco's films.
AL: That sounds great. I quite liked Titane as well, not terrific but certainly interesting and worthwhile. Before you started working with Mikko and Markkula and the various artists of Finnish extreme music, were you already intrigued by noise and extreme music? Is it something you listen to regularly?
JS: Yes, I had the usual path: from ‘80s heavy metal to speed, thrash, death and doom and finally black metal. I didn't really like Norwegian black metal that much and I am still much more into old death metal. Besides metal, I was curious about other styles: hardcore punk, industrial, strange music like Aphex Twin, Diamanda Galas, John Zorn and CMI bands. My friend got a bunch of PURE CDs and that was the beginning of my interest in noise and power electronics. I don't listen to noise much these days. I have tinnitus and it doesn't feel good to hear high pitched sounds.
AL: Let’s end this discussion talking about your upcoming novel. What can you tell us about the book? When will it be out? Who will be publishing it?
JS: The latest news is that Spaniels is coming out in 2 - 3 weeks. Publisher is Infinity Land Press. It is a novella; about 80 pages long. There are several sequences from a person's life. It is about my attitude towards life, something that I couldn't express through images.
1/2. images from Seksnobyl 1
3/4. images from Uusi Kansio
5. Jukka Siikala Ejaculations on Prosciutto
6. Jukka Siikala Moonlight
7. Jukka Siikala Untitled
8. image from Seksnobyl 1