Erkki Kurenniemi - A Man from 2048

Agnese Čivle


Erkki Kurenniemi “Towards 2048”
Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Helsinki, Finland
November 1, 2013 – March 2, 2014

Erkki Kurenniemi (b.1941) is a pioneer of electronic art in Finland. In his book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction with Its Own Past, the English music historian Simon Reynolds describes Kurenniemi as a Finnish hybrid of Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Buckminster Fuller and Steve Jobs. Kurenniemi is a pioneer of musicology and of computer and media culture, a person who designed and built his first electronic instruments as early as the late 1960s.

Artist has been recording his life and environment continually for years, with great accuracy and precision. He has a vision of an online virtual Erkki Kurenniemi, to be presented in 2048. The virtual persona would be based on all the documentary information Kurenniemi has collected during his life – photographs, videos, diaries and drawings – which will be downloaded to provide content for the online persona's mind.

Towards 2048 presents material from the personal archives of the Finnish pioneer of electronic music as well as early media art from the Kiasma collections. The show also includes a range of DIMI digital music instruments designed by Kurenniemi.

Exhibition has been curated by Kati Kivinen and Leevi Haapala in collaboration with special researcher Perttu Rastas from the Central Art Archives of the National Gallery. The following questions were answered by Kati Kivinen.

 The swearing robot, Master Chaynjis (1982) by Erkki Kurenniemi

What should people know about Erkki Kurenniemi and his work?

What we at Kiasma hope is that the exhibition “Erkki Kurenniemi: Towards 2048” will make Erkki Kurenniemi more widely known in Finland, and elsewhere, too. You might want to ask why, but it is simply because Kurenniemi is a fascinating figure in the Finnish music and art scene who has had a versatile career, and we wish to make that better known with our exhibition. Kurenniemi has been an important figure in the field of electronic music in Finland; not so much as a composer, but as a designer who made several progressive instruments already in the 1960s and early 1970s. For us as a contemporary art museum, Kurenniemi is also interesting through his many contacts with the Finnish art scene from the 1960s onwards. Kurenniemi was involved in the 1970s and early 1980s with many new art forms such as media art, and especially with video and computer art. Kiasma also has in its collections all of the experimental short films that Kurenniemi made in the 1960s and 70s, as well as one electronic instrument – the DIMI-S, aka Sexophone (1972) – and the swearing robot, Master Chaynjis, from 1982.

DIMI-O (1971) showcase & performance

Could you please mention three iconic designs of Erkki Kurenniemi?

Oh, this is a hard one. I'll do my best.

DIMI-O, 1971 - an early example of an interactive instrument; a video organ created to read notes with the help of a video camera. It has also been used in dance performances to create music from the movement of the dancers.

DIMI-S, aka Sexophone, 1972 - a collective instrument for 2 to 4 people that is based on bio-feedback (inspired by the writings and music of the American composer Manford L. Eaton). To play the instrument, you have to touch the other person - and only the bare parts of the body make sound!

Spindrift, 1966 - an exceptionally early analogical computer animation made by the collaboration of Swedish composer Jan Bark and Erkki Kurenniemi in the late 1960s. It was thought to have been lost, but when we were making the exhibition, the old film reels of the film were found in an archive in Stockholm. Film director Mika Taanila and sound artist Petri Kuljuntausta made a reconstruction of the work using the original film and sound reels.

DIMI-S, aka Sexophone (1972)

What are some of his more recent media art works?

Kurenniemi suffered from a stroke in 2005, and has therefore not made any new projects lately, but we're presenting in the exhibition a project called DIMI-H (from 2005), which Kurenniemi created in collaboration with Thomas Carlsson. The instrument is, again, interactive, and it is based on a theory of mathematical harmonies that Kurenniemi wrote in the mid 1980s. The instrument converts the movements of the audience into sound in a three-dimensional tonal space. The players can "pick notes out of the air"!

Kurenniemi donated a large part of his extensive archives to the Central Art Archive in 2006. The donated material was used to build an online Erkki Kurenniemi site that offers the public the opportunity to read the electronic publication “Erkki Kurenniemi”. In this case - what is the role of this exhibition, if the work of the artist is already so widely available to the public?

This is a good question, but I see that these two things are not at all excluding; rather, they both make the picture of Kurenniemi more full and vivid. We are so happy that we were able to collaborate with the archive and that they made the effort to bring a private archive, stored in the storage rooms of the national gallery, accessible to the audience and researchers via the Kurenniemi web-page and electronic book Erkki Kurenniemi - A Man from the Future. In the exhibition, where the archival material makes the frame for the whole show – following Kurenniemi's idea of gathering information for a virtual Kurenniemi to be released in 2048, with the help of the super computer of the future – we can show only a fraction of the photographs, videos, diaries, sound diaries, drawings, notes, paintings, computer animations etc. Therefore, these two elements complement each other in a good way!

Old Student House (Vanha ylioppilastalo), DIMI-O, 1971. Photo: Erkki Kurenniemi archives, Central Art Archives

Could you sketch out the overall feeling of the exhibition?

Despite the fact that the exhibition is partly based on archival material, it is not at all dull. Quite the contrary – the exhibition is abundant and it has a good deal of humor, too. What is nice, too, is that the exhibition offers the audience several opportunities to take part, as there are several interactive works. The architecture of the exhibition, which is based on the visual idea of a punch tape reel, also comments nicely on the different sides of Kurenniemi. It was designed by a young Helsinki-based architect, Jussi Ukkonen. Young people and people interested in music seem to have found the exhibition to their liking, and for that, I’m happy.

What kind of an audience are you expecting for this exhibition?

We are hoping to get a bit more diverse audience this time, since we think that both Mika Taanila’s (exhibition of “Time Machines” Finnish contemporary artist and renowned documentary filmmaker, Mika Taanila will be on view until March 2,  2014) and, of course, Erkki Kurenniemi’s exhibition will attract people who are interested in music – especially with electronic music – and also in cinema. At least it has started out well, and the specific music scene seems to have found the show!