Auxiliary first interviewed artist Juha Arvid Helminen prior to the Summer 2020 Issue, when Covid was a new problem and no one had any idea how long it would be around or whether a vaccine was even possible. Skip ahead one year and here we are, with some parts of the world gradually opening back up or vaguely hopeful to do that soon, other places not even close, and many still cautious. However, art and creativity persist, sometimes even thriving in isolation. Juha Arvid Helminen is still working, but on a different medium than we covered in the Summer 2020 Issue.
There are new sculptures you have made which are the Noxian Imperium series. I realize each sculpture has its detailed story, but feel free to share a top-level summary of what this series explores, like a primer before people have a more in-depth view of the pieces themselves. What sort of themes are being explored here?
Juha Arvid Helminen : I have been working on my photo series The Invisible Empire that deals with misuse of power through its aesthetics for some time, but because of the pandemic it was hard to get models, so I have put that to the side mostly. So, I started another project with some similar visuals and themes but with fictional back stories, they are more dark fantasy with extreme conditions and powerful form language. So, I started this 1/6 scale figure series Noxian Imperium. Too many times people think and ponder about some art series and then they make it and feel that it’s a failure; I just like to start doing it and then see what kind of paths it will lead me on. Originally, I was meant to make one or two figures, but then COVID-19 started to affect my life, and I felt this kind of character study sculpture series is the perfect way me to spend my time. The figure series takes place in the future after [an atomic/nuclear war] and the characters are from different centuries and millenniums. I wanted to tell stories that some of you might not have been told in this kind of genre. Most of the stories are sad with no real winners. It all starts with the preacher proclaiming in the desert that a new royal house must be founded from the three largest tribes in order for humankind to live another age of the gods, what ever that might mean in the end. All this will happen with mutations, engineering accidents and perseverance. Most of the characters are addicted to different kinds of psychedelic drugs, religious fanaticism, and megalomania. The world is a strict patriarchy, but at the same time I didn’t want it to be copy of something that already was. There is no racism as all the characters are ethnically very mixed. There is gay marriage and so on. But people are stuck in this war-mongering society and the struggles of living in a citadel and its outpost in the wasteland and anybody who tries to escape it usually suffers. I’ve taken influence from many different sources, from history, from dystopian movies like Mad Max and Frank Herbert’s Dune books. And with the characters I just wanted to have no real limits, like I have an executioner who has a huge hydraulic press in his helmet to crush peoples heads in, there’s a message runner with amputated legs so he can use blade prosthesis to run faster, and I have a preacher who got mutated by taking life-prolonging pollen gas and his face is just tumorous spheres. I often think one of the biggest hurdles for many artists these days is self-censorship, that they could take their aesthetics to the end but don’t. To be honest I’ve never cared much for this kind of mindset and especially during pandemic days when I have spent more time alone I have abandoned correctness more and more. And the results of this can be seen in this statue series.
The previous interview with you in the Summer 2020 Issue of Auxiliary was conducted before this global pandemic was in full swing, and even upon the issue’s release, we could not have predicted how long this would last (it’s still going now, particularly the variants). I suppose sculpture can lend itself to isolation more than photographing with models, but how about other art forms? Have you been able to adapt your processes to keep making art in a reasonably safe manner? Any socially distanced photoshoots with others?
JAH : Apart from work gigs, photoshoots have been few and far between. So, I have been making these figures and writing their back stories. Covid times brought this isolation to our lives as many of us have not really felt it before. But I do believe that you can’t just shrug your shoulders and do nothing. Make the time work for you.
Have your observations of the geopolitical response to the pandemic inspired any art you have made or are currently making? Such as the Noxian Imperium series we can see on Instagram; how much of the inspiration for that come from before our current situation versus during it?
JAH : To be honest, I am not so good at making art work of current things directly or it always takes time. My most current image was a photo dealing with Hong Kong’s situation with China. We’ve all seen the crackdown on democracy by the Chinese authorities. But when it comes to the pandemic, different countries have had different types of solutions; the Finnish government has done generally an okay job. But then again you have to remember Finland is a country where the biggest scandal during Covid times has been how much breakfast money the Prime Minister spent.
Have you had an exhibition not get cancelled? Was it moved to a virtual format instead? Have exhibitions been able to occur in some form?
JAH : I post most of my artwork online but I would not say those are online exhibitions as such. I am really saddened that my Tokyo solo has been moved so many times, but what can you do? And to be honest, it’s a small hindrance compared to the suffering that Covid has brought to many people. But yes, I think it’s really important to showcase what you’re doing, if not in the gallery then online. And it must be remembered my fan base is all over the globe and that’s why the Internet is so important. But I am taking part in this derelict house art project Purkutaide this summer where I’m doing an art installation in one of the building’s rooms in Kerava.
Following up on our first interview’s ideas and themes, what would be a healthier unity in your view? Would it be a situation where communities properly value difference when sheltering and raising individuals who can then in turn use this enlightened strength to recursively help the community when it needs it? Might we emerge from this pandemic having learned things that would help us approach a better way, or might we end up regressing a bit, perhaps?
JAH : Homo sapiens is an interesting species; we adapt to things so well, but at the same time, we make the same mistakes all over again. I think I would be the wrong person to ask too much about community as I am eternal outsider. But my positive feeling about this pandemic is that when people have a lot of extra time they are pushed to find ways of spending time and better themselves with new skills or visiting old passions. There is some great beauty in all the art that has been created in these times. And maybe as people are sharing their works online in new groups, maybe this has helped them to connect with those to whom they would have not had conversations otherwise and then found understanding of different view points and ways of life.