Art & Artists

Artist InterviewAapo Nikkanen on Bridging the Gap Between Disciplines and Communities

Finnish artist Aapo Nikkanen is no stranger to blurring the boundaries of art making. Currently based in Paris, his repertoire covers a multitude of mediums and themes, ranging from immersive exhibitions and creative direction to insightful writing and various international collaborations. Having studied in Finland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, (and collaborated in many more countries) Aapo’s professional background is truly pan-European.

More recently, his artistic focus has been at the junction points between ecological consciousness, psychology, and human behaviour. These themes took center stage at the HAVE/NEED forum, a critical fashion research platform co-founded by Aapo. Organized with the support of Institut Finlandais, the HAVE/NEED forum was launched in Paris in the summer of 2023 as part of the Together Again program’s second succession. The forum’s raison d’être was to invite the public to reflect on the problems in the fashion and garment industry through immersive discussions, workshops, and artworks.

A few months later in September Aapo, together with his collaborator Léa Domingues, presented their commissioned video piece ‘roll in circles’ at the Together Again festival in Helsinki.

Helmi Korhonen sat down for a virtual interview together with the artist to learn more about his artistic practice and experience with Together Again.

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Helmi Korhonen: You often explore the intersection of the ecological crisis, psychology, consumption, and our relationship with nature in your pieces. How do these themes inform your multidisciplinary, immersive pieces, and what drives your interest in exploring these interconnected topics?

Aapo Nikkanen: “These days it might make more sense to talk about my practice in the plural, as there are different aspects such as creating art, teaching, researching, and writing that interlace. For me, it makes sense to add skills and positions that further define my being-in-the-world. Making art is just one of them, even if it’s the baseline. For example, in a recent piece of mine, I used hypnosis as the medium, which led me to dive deeply into the topic. I pretty quickly realised that the best way to learn hypnosis was through a formal education, which led me to obtain a hypnotherapist’s degree. While I’m not planning to become a full-time hypnotherapist, I’m contemplating opening a small part-time practice to help other people. I prefer to not confine myself in one box, even if it’s counterintuitive to what we are taught.”

For Together Again, you collaborated closely with artist Léa Domingues. Could you elaborate on your personal, as well as collaborative artistic process? How does your approach change when working closely together with a collaborator, such as Léa?

AN: “I think what makes our collaboration so fruitful is that while we both have our own areas of interest and expertise, big parts of them overlap. She comes from design and I from art, which means that we both keep constantly learning from each other.

HAVE/NEED differs from my personal practice by being more socially engaged. Our research is qualitative and it’s heavily based on interviews. The HAVE/NEED Forum creates an interdisciplinary space in which we take on the roles of the facilitators. The videos are always collaborations, and we also teach at the art and design universities in Paris, which is very social.

Working with collaborators is very natural to me in general, and it’s present at different levels in everything I do.”

Together with Léa, you were able to bring two creative projects to fruition for Together Again; the HAVE/NEED forum in Paris as well as the ‘roll in circles’ video piece at the Together Again festival. Could you share any memorable learnings you were able to gain through creating the two pieces?

AN: “The Forum was born out of a need we identified in our research, which was to have a physical meeting point and critical discussion about the social, political and ecological problems of the fashion industry. Fashion can be perceived as superficial and unimportant by the art crowd, but the political power that it wields in France is colossal.

Just having been able to create this space where different practitioners at different moments in their careers would come together and have critical interactions was amazing to me. In Paris, there are not a lot of occasions when practitioners of art, fashion, and philosophy interact in a critical way, so I was very happy to take part in making it happen. My favourite thing was to see how engaged people were during the Forum.

About the video. One of our goals with the project is to give the documentation artistic forms. The video piece was created to reflect that idea: it features a Poem that Fran (musician and poet) wrote during the event as artistic documentation. The soundtrack is a snippet from a sound piece by River Yarra, which he composed for the event. The visuals are a response from Léa and myself to the other contributions. Using an artistic form allowed us to combine all these different approaches and mediums which we found exciting.”

You took part in a panel discussion at the Together Again festival in Helsinki, examining the possibilities of creating social change through collective and community-led art practices. In what ways do you believe collective art practices, such as those showcased in Together Again, can contribute to social change – particularly regarding the issues you address in your work?

AN: “One of the first things we should appreciate is that we’re not alone and that crossing the boundaries of our field will only make us stronger. We are facing very grave problems at the moment, and uniting is the only way to tackle them. It’s a bit simplistic answer, but how often do we actually have opportunities to do that in our everyday lives? By approaching art as a social and political tool, it can create those opportunities. But I think it should be taken seriously, with the aim to change the individual and society on a profound level, not just by answering the surface need to comment on the emergency.”



HK: How has taking part in the Together Again project informed your artistic practice? What’s coming next for HAVE/NEED, and how has being part of Together Again influenced or informed your next steps?

AN: “Together Again made our project with Léa possible, and for us, it’s a long-term project. At the moment we are starting to plan the next HAVE/NEED Forum, as well as analysing our research which we are planning to publish in the spring of 2024. We are giving classes in École Duperré here in Paris that align with the project. The next artwork we are planning to do is a series of short films.

In terms of my personal practice, I have become more research-based and long-term-oriented. I’m not interested in producing physical objects at the moment. I’m working on a series of “mental art” pieces, which are scripted scenarios that take place in a hypnotic trance. They will address the unequal narratives and behavioural models that cause contemporary stress and anxiety, which we have all been conditioned by. The pieces will deal with the impacts of neoliberalism and its subsequent problems, such as class privilege, climate crisis, patriarchy, and post-colonialism. The goal is to effectively live alternative realities through a hypnotic trance, that can help us repeat those realities in real life.”

HK: The concept of togetherness has been a guiding principle for Together Again. What does togetherness mean to you?

AN: “Togetherness is whatever you do when you look people in their eyes.”

Find out more about Aapo and his work on his website. Pair this reading with the Institut Finlandais’ dual interview with Aapo and Léa to learn more about their collaboration.