Exhibition view – Riiko Sakkinen, White Trash Blues, Galerie Forsblom | Image by HKI Art Guide

EXHIBITION REVIEW | Riiko Sakkinen Gives Capitalism a Taste of Its Own Medicine

Artist | Riiko Sakkinen (b. 1976) graduated from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2002. His work has been widely exhibited around the world and he is represented in prominent collections such as the New York Museum of Modern Art, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and Helsinki Art Museum. The artist lives and works in Spain.

Exhibition | RIIKO SAKKINEN White Trash Blues | Galerie Forsblom | 13 January – 5 February

Images | HKI Art Guide and courtesy of Galerie Forsblom

Fun, cartoonish imagery blends with heavy symbolism and sharp sarcasm in White Trash Blues, Riiko Sakkinen’s show at Galerie Forsblom. One step at a time, it all unfolds to the unsuspecting viewer as an absurd animated movie where beloved characters many of us grew up with have been kidnapped and re-contextualized. Propaganda-like slogans give a strange allure to the gleeful actors. The word play starts with the title and ends with random words scribbled in pencil, like on a magnified comic strip.

By the time you’re done with the whole show, you might have become Sakkinen’s accomplice in a  roller-coaster ride of civic and political critique of capitalism. Difficult to determine how much of this is consciously acknowledged and how much is subliminal. For Sakkinen masters the hidden message technique all too well. Interpretations of one and the same work can radically change if you just shift towards it  by one meter. The closer you get, the more biting it gets.

White Trash Blues is shown in the context of Finland’s 100 years of independence anniversary this year. A massive collection of whites and blues – the colors of the Finnish flag – conquered the main gallery wall. For this work, Sakkinen searched and bought paint in every variation of white and blue he could find, to then add it methodically on canvas, unchanged. Every shade is given a reference name. Thus, what were previously mere generic colors now become branded as Milk, White Noise, White House, Moomin House, Blue Angel, Hyperlink and the list goes on.

Other works hint at a wide palette of social and political issues: racism, communism, capitalist advertising and consumerism to name just a few. The juxtaposition of happy cartoons with serious, sometimes even tragic subject matter does nothing but mirror the mass-media culture we are living in today: “You see it all the time. On one page of the paper there is a devastating picture of refugees and next to it there’s an ad for sausages”, says Sakkinen.

President Trix seems the happiest of them all, with its coronated ”President” butter head. Cross-reference with the recent USA elections and you’re in for the joy ride. On the opposite wall, the Smurf dominates all communist shades of red, except for one that’s actually the red of the Republican party logo. Confused much? I was.

White Trash Supremacy depicts a gleeful boyo with an extra pair of wing fists. All over the canvas, splashes of black carry stamps of no black coffee, no black sausage, no black humour, no caviar, no little black dress, no magic. ”NO, NO, NO – we ain’t gonna have no black s**t!!” the boyo seems to shout.

Sakkinen’s use of popular culture images and bombastic statements makes for a poignant representation of our beloved ”today”. An image that’s hard to swallow, despite the terribly nice and welcoming surface. The show reaches its target. Whatever connotations and references White Trash Blues stirs up for you, guaranteed it won’t leave you indifferent.