— Skills of Economy

Future is Bright – Conversation with Nina Lassila

Jussi Koitela:

In Critical Review of Icelandic Power Structures you take the position of journalist who has on one very basic question: Where lies the power? This question is not asked so often in the public space  or to ordinary people. How do you see this act of asking in the public space, and not asking it to the sociologist or political scientist?

Nina Lassila:

Why I chose to even in the first place work with the topic of power was because I had by chance read an article about the icelandic “business scene”, and I found it quite interesting how almost a “whole nation” was generalized in this article, and that is why I wanted to get involved in discussions about power with icelandic “normal” or lets say random people. And for me, as an artist, being in a public space is the best one to find so to say “normal people” – otherwise most people around me are artists (and they are perhaps not always the most “normal” people…). And yes, I think it is a great way actually to give a voice to “normal” people like this. I mean, when are our voices & opinions really ever heard? yes, in internet debate forums and on TV, but rarely in direct unplanned conversations between strangers. And as shown in my piece, the idea of power can mean very different things to different people. That I found very interesting. Perhaps we all should take this on as a task; to engage in interesting discussions with strangers for a couple of hours once a week. Or hand out sandwiches like Sophie Calles.

Asking a scientist would give us a different answer and perhaps an answer that would not always be “normal” talk – I mean the attention span to listening to scholars can sometimes become short because it’s not easy enough, or we cannot identify with the scientist as well as with someone like the rest us, “normal” ones. (Perhaps I will try that also, to ask the same question from a scientist. With the possibility that I, in the end, will seem like ALi G. Well, it might be very relieving…)


Yes, perhaps it was not wise to me use the concept “normal people” in the first place, but somehow it raises the question about artist’s and economists (or media person’s who has power on societal questions) and their audience or target people and how these professions see those. Generally I feel that, when watching and hearing an economist talking in media, I am only to be used for his or hers own purposes and the reason for him talking is to get my approval for those purposes. How do you see the role of the artist as compared to that of the economist? Do you have as an artist purposes for what you want get audiences approval?     


I guess people in general trust an economist…sadly perhaps. Do people trust an artist? Perhaps the artists role is something close to a “missionary”, not someone who preaches but someone who guides the audience to see things differently. Of course the media is already doing this but who trusts the media anymore? I like to think that the artist is seen as everyone else, as one of the “normal” people “down here”. But, yes of course the artists seems a bit weird but normally not at all greedy and capitalist. I hope I am not wrong…

I think I am not so interested in getting approval – but then on the other hand, yes. Because in my work I want to discuss topics that I find important so yes if somebody agrees and says “hell yeah, this is true, thanks for opening my eyes to this issue” then I feel I did something right. But in the end an artists’ work should not be about convincing others about something – because that would probably be quite boring art and close to propaganda and fundamentalism. Isn’t the artwork mostly posing questions?


You take this role of a clown-journalist. Does this allow to you to ask different questions than serious artist activist who uses journalistic mediums to take a critical stance on economical power structures? Gregory Sholette writes in his article Speaking Clown to Power: Can We Resist the Historic Compromise of Neoliberal Art?:

Which is to say the rescue of art in an age of neoliberal enterprise culture will not take place exclusive within the realm of representation. Instead, it will require an appreciation of feints, dodges, sideways maneuvers, unexpected acts of reversal, and the ability to mimic organizational power like a clown, better yet, like a clandestine rebel army of clowns.

Is your clown/journalist character a rebel or is there also critique/irony towards artists taking roles as journalist or activist?


I believe this clown character is not really a rebel, perhaps to some extent but the simple act of wearing this masque gives me the freedom to talk freely about things I am not an expert on. But I do believe that the “clown” somehow disarms the public – they become a bit startled and do listen to what the “clown” is asking…if I would not wear the masque it would just be me, Nina, and that would feel weird to me – I mean, why would I be asking strangers about power. On the other hand if anyone, dressed up as superman or not, would ask me anything that I consider important – I would answer and engage in a discussion. But being clownish somehow just makes it easier to reach out to people. Like smiling. I think a rebel is someone who really shakes up things …. I’m not there yet….

I have no intentions to criticize other artists as activists/journalists, on the contrary…Some of my favorite personal art works are activist / journalistic art works (i.e Renzo Martens Enjoy Poverty piece). If I’m ironic about art, it’s about the Art market …


You said that you are not there yet, do you see your works as paths to some other works or actions, maybe to really rebellious actions? Can you imagine the next step from In Critical Review of Icelandic Power Structures? Do you think that you have learned something about power or economical power when realizing Critical Review of Icelandic Power Structures what you can use in possible next step?  


What I learnt by/after doing that event in Iceland was partly that many of my preconceived ideas were true and also not. I was happily surprised by some of the reactions that people have about power but then also not so surprised by some of the answers, i.e. that power so often is connected to wealth. I was mostly happy to hear that power meant nature to one of the people I talked to. But all in all most of the discussions I had I could somehow relate to and agree with.

When it comes to the next step of another work I believe I would either make a similar work but somewhere else, to compare the answers. But of course I have “played” with the idea of changing the question into i.e. “where can I make money” or “where is the money”. Both are very simple question and both can get quite different answers.

A rebellious action would probably be to give anyone power for a while but then on the other hand everyone has power to some extent. I do fantasize about creating more rebellious actions / events. Perhaps the dreams will come true – but I don’t want to do anything stupid in order to be rebellious. Which  sometimes seems to be the case…


In a press release at the MediaBox exhibition you mention: “After the collapse of the Icelandic economy (October 2008) this work changed dramatically – for a while I did not know what to do with it.” How do you see the collapse of the Icelandic economy changed the meaning of work? and did it change your role as an artist?


For me my work changed in the way that I did not know how to go on with my material because I did not want to appear ironic and funny about the icelandic peoples misery (most of the people I talked to answered that the future is bright when I asked them about their opinion on the future of Iceland.) On the other hand the people in Iceland have managed to change everything to the better  so I guess they were right when saying that the future is bright but in 2008 I (and nobody else) was not sure at all – it all seemed very gloomy then…and I did not want to hurt people’s feelings. So I did not want to go on making a piece where the word “bright” is heard all the time. That’s why I waited a little bit. Then later on in 2010 I met with a curator for the Latvian Survival Kit Festival and we decided to show my documentation of the work. The festival deals with artistic ideas and works about survival in times of economic crisis. And in 2012 I learnt that Iceland was paying back their debts 3 months prior to the deadline I thought to myself “how typical of them” and I did a new edition of the video for MediaBox in Helsinki.


Gregory Sholette: Speaking Clown to Power: Can We Resist the Historic Compromise of Neoliberal Art?, 2011

Nina Lassila, Critical Review of Icelandic Power Structures, MediaBox Exhibiton, Press Release


Nina Lassila was born in Helsinki  Finland 1974, lives and works currently in Gothenburg SE / Berlin / Belgium. She is a visual artist working mainly with video and performance. In many of her works she deals with questions of identity – specifically identity affected by social barriers, conventions based on gender and upbringing and cultural differences. Her other bodies of work explore issues of  supernatural phenomena  and economic structures.

She criticizes, scrutinizes and dwells into different topics.  As an artist Nina sees herself having a sort of an artistic  license with which she  moves freely around  in different areas of phenomena and themes. She has collaborated with many other artist i.e The Mobile Box and is currently part of the Roni Horni duo.  She has taken part in several group shows and video festivals internationally.

For more information see www.ninalassila.com

Lassila has taken part in several group shows and video festivals internationally i.e The Istanbul Biennial 2007, Reykjavik Festival of Arts 2008, Rencontres Internationals Paris/Madrid/Berlin 2007 and 2012,  Kassel Documentary & Video art festival 2009/2012, Reality Check TSSK Trondheim NO 2010, Cartes Flux Festival of New Media Helsinki FI 2010, XV Art Fair Mänttä FIN 2010, LOOP Barcelona 2011, SHE DEVIL V Macro Museum Rome 2011, Nordic Art Express -  Nordic Video Art on tour 2010/2011,  Blanche-Neige Centre Georges Pompidou Paris 2011,  Directors Lounge Berlin 2007/2012