Companions Is a Safe, Healing Space and a Call For New Codes of Survival and Forms of Togetherness

”Drawing on historical and current convergences between art practice and activism, the artists in Companions will share their tools for living with uncertainty, and call for new codes of survival and forms of togetherness.” Companions, Forum Box

Forum Box: Companions. 20.8.-12.9.2021. Helsinki, Finland

The sound of fountain mixes with something ambient, bird singing and a peaceful and calming voice behind a curtain. A trailer. A van. A sheet hanging in the wall like a shelter or a dress. A bike with enormous yellow letters forming the word HOME. Vivid. Flourishing. Mobile. Civilized. Persistent. Determined. Fresh.

These are the first imperssions of Forum Box’s Companions, a haven for healing, recovery, connection and security, a thriving, powerful and cleansing exhibition curated by London based artists Minna Haukka and Kristin Luke. The exhibition brings to Finland a piece of the famous London Feminist Library – a couple of dozen artists from different fields and nationalities meet in an exhibition combining activism and visual arts, exploring the theme of partnership and calling for new forms of coexistence in order to flourish and survive. The whole creation with its viruses and plants is represented, and the space is psychologically very safe, soothing and cathartic. ”Today you are not alone,” it seems to say. ”There’s a solution”.

And the solution, it is sustainable, connective, mobile, floating, new. In the heart of it there’s creative thinking, shared and differet information and collaboration. ”Minna Haukka’s and Kristin Luke’s collaborative project Mobile Feminist Library is an extension of the Feminist Library installed in a van. Since 2018, the MFL has taken different forms, responding to each place it lands. At Forum Box Gallery, the Mobile Feminist Library becomes an expanded concept, combining mobility and collective practice to cultivate counter-patriarchal bodies and systems of knowledge. Haukka and Luke have used this as their framework to create a feminist base for reflection, learning and dreaming.”, the prospectus of the exhibition says.

The control, ignorance, exploitation, misuse and various roles of the female, queer and representatives of different nationalities indeed are beautifully featured, even riveted there and so is the history of the struggle, a different kind of historiography, and the alternative narrative. The power, language, and democrasy associated with movement are accentuated from the form of a fountain trailer and van library attached to the back of a car to new suggestions and solutions, and from the work after work, the truth and honesty of often suffocated or invisible experiences and reality emerges. Instead of a constant emphasis on genitals, libido and sexuality, a picture of violence and pain, the exhibition is civilized, calm, beautiful – and definitely that’s why the entity is so overwhelmingly strong, and underlining continuity and security. “Protect us from the virus & from those who value lies over the truth,” says Rachel Houses art book in the exhibition.

Even though there’s a great amount of material and ideas included, it’s all coherent and all together creating something new.

”Divide and rule” (latin: divine et impera) means gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power and dividing the forces of the ”enemy”. Niccolò Macchiavelli identifies a similar application to military strategy in The Art of War (L’Arte della Guerra), 1521. The Mobile Feminist Library instead, is connecting, moving trough rulers borders and barriers, collecting and offering free access to information and suggesting equal coexistence in harmony.
Minna Haukka, Kristin Luke: Mobile Feminist Library, 2018-2021.
The stillness and unability to move is riveled in Sahsa Hubert’s video of making portrait of Edmonia Lewis (1844–1907) (picture), who was a queer African-American-Haitian Ojibwa sculptress working with marble in the Neoclassical style. She preferred portraying people from the African diaspora and indigenous people, and was one of the first black women in Rome. Lewis became an internationally noted artist, despite being fetishised and tokenised by the locals.
The portrait is part of Sasha Huber’s ongoing portraiture series The Firsts which is dedicated to amplifying histories of the first persons from the African Diaspora to have migrated to various European countries in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Firsts researches historical and systemic racism and its debilitating effects on members of the contemporary African Diaspora, with a focus on women being underrepresented throughout history.
Sasha Huber: The Firsts – Edmonia Lewis, Mediabox
Mobility, flexibility and sustainable harmony with nature, freedom is repsresented and/or suggested in Harriet Hill’s HOME-ing (2021), which is a sort of tent over a bike and a mobile home all necessities included.
Harriet Hill: HOME-ing, 2021. Rachel House: Resistance Sustanence Protection, 2021.

Alternative historical narration stuffed in boxes at the dish washing sink of the van.
From it’s historical, empowering and educational core, the theme of companions spreads over to a mobile fountain and the concepts and power over body. The themes of medicalization, ignoring, being used and control are present in Niina Lehtonen Brauns paintings and a visual book inspired by stories of other women and advices given for women in a specific book (1957) (background).
Maria Dunker, Niina Lehtonen Braun, Mimosa Pale, Ilona Valkonen: Pipe Dream, 2021.
The red-spotted feverish portrait of a lady and the repetition of flower and plant element in Lehtonen Braun’s works symbolizes societys attitudes towards nature and women as a resource and also suggests the new view to both, the essential new dialogue, hearing and understanding the nature and the wholeness of both.
Niina Lehtonen Braun: My Body is my primary studio, 2021 ja Die Handelserin / The Palmreader (collage, detail)
Heidi Kilpeläinen: Hotel Apokatastasis I, 2021. ”’Hotel Apokatastasis I and II’ – Bug Hotels, were created alongside an ongoing video project, in which ’Insect police’ Heidi Kilpeläinen and her elderly father Reino – dressed in Reino’s old police uniforms – engage in various actions on a meadow, in order to save the insect population and the future of humanity. Internal organs as hotels nod toward humanity’s dependence on a healthy insect population and the urgent attention needed to avoid catastrophe. Personal, alchemical processes and quantum physics inspire this body of work.”, says artist Heidi Kilpeläinen.
This digital ’music video’ starring artists avatar seems to me like a documentary of female representation and use in showbusiness, but also an ode to girly beauty and talent. The viewer is forced to look at it as this was a zoo, trough the display and headset on, slide from rock’n’roll to stripteasy trap sounds and fantasy worlds sort of trough decades too, and stare at a tamagotchi- sculpture made of clay beneath, like it was a modern Willendorf Venus.
Emily Mulenga: It Gets Lighter From Here (2020)
Anna Chrystal Stevens: Mallow, 2021. The artwork is made in reaction to anxiety about environmental crisis and puts forward that learning survival skills and DIY processes can be an empowering step to gaining a greater understanding and respect of the natural world, thus creating movement towards sustainable solutions.
Artist and survival skills enthusiast Anna Chrystal Stephens is enthuastic about foraging and hedgerow foods in the context of living strategies, modern rural survival techniques, art practice and land relationships. Her works include advice for beginners, ancient ways, connecting with habitat and folk history.
Anna Chrystal Stephens and Glen Stocker: A Sick Logic is included to MFL. The postcard is a picture of Anna Chrystal Stephens’s Wild Ancient Meal, which is made from scratch with 100% foraged, uncultivated food. Bowls made with wild clay fired by campfire, beach-found shell for a cup. Meal includes stinging nettle, ramsons, archangel, flour from ground acorns, ribwort plantain seeds, rain water, dried rowan, hazelnuts, dandelion, yarrow, lemonbalm, fennel seeds, primrose, daisy, herb, forget-me-nots, and apple cider vinegar of fermented apple skins and rain water. The plants are picked only where they are plentiful in spring, and nuts, seeds and fruit saved from autumn. Read more here.

The extensions of companies go furher over artistic boundaries too, there’s also theatre and events attached. Theatre Vendetta and Decent Women will break out of boxes at gallery on Sat 18.9.2021 at 19, Thu 23.9.2021 at 19 and Mon 27.9.2021 at 19. In the performance of the two feminist groups improvisational theater, dance, performance, and visual arts are combined into one performance. ”The works presented during the evening deal with various representations of (female) gender and (female) body. The scenes created by the artists introduce the spectators to the impossibility of womanhood throughout history from the imagery of classical fine arts all the way to the conventions of modern Finnish society.”, the exhibitions text says.

There are no firm rules, suggests Anna Crystal Stephens in her book A Sick Logic. In the reality of changed conditions and self-destructive present, we just need to abandon the whole old narration and the old goals so far, start forming new, and flourish with the nature.

Because it’s the only way.




Companions is an exhibition that is rooted in the Feminist Library. Open since 1975 and recently relocated to Peckham, South London, the Library is a large archive collection of feminist literature, and an autonomous, intersectional, trans-inclusive, non-sectarian community space for the exploration of feminism.

The public program of screenings, talks and performances will run alongside the exhibition, exploring how the term companions can also include international solidarities.

Artists and collectives include Niina Lehtonen Braun, Maria Duncker, Minna Haukka, Harriet Hill, Rachael House, Jasmine Johnson, Heidi Kilpeläinen, Kristin Luke, Maria Mahfooz, Emily Mulenga, Mimosa Pale, Rachel Pimm, Sister Library Mumbai, Anna Chrystal Stephens, Ilona Valkonen, Alice May Williams, Feminist Library and Queer Zine Library.

The Companions -experience is good to end with Alice May William’s Mabley Green, 2021.
Just go and have a look at it. And no, there’s nothing wrong with what you see here, you are just not used to it. Yet.

Here’s also a playlist curated by us, inspired by Companions.

The Publication is supported by Arts Promotion Centre Finland.

Totuus. Suomen virallinen kulttuuritaidejulkaisu. Truth. The Critical Art & Music Magazine of Finland.

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