Art

A Finnish “Yes” at a New Gallery in Jersey City

Installation view of Kyllä Kyllä at Studio 371 (all images courtesy Trevor Amery)

Studio 371 is a new gallery in downtown Jersey City. With more than 3,500 square feet, lots of natural light and raw aesthetics, the space is ideal for a range of work, including large installations and performances. The current show, Kyllä Kyllä, features the work of artists Trevor Amery and Kathryn Zazenski. It’s very un–Jersey City: no dollar-store aesthetic here. Amery is a two-time Fulbright finalist, and Zazenski lived in the village of Fei Jia Cun on the outskirts of Beijing, China.

Trevor Amery, "Portable Sauna"
Trevor Amery, "Portable Sauna (Sanni and Marko)" (2012), wood, clothes, towels, 7 x 7 x 8.5 feet

Kyllä Kyllä roughly translates from Finnish to English as, “yes yes.” I did not glean this information from the exhibition statement or press release, but from a Rough Guides book about Scandinavia (though Finland is technically Nordic, not Scandinavian). I find it curious that the viewer is not privy to the translation. Did the artists intend for the viewer to feel out of place, puzzled or excluded? By the arrangement of a deadpan assortment of objects on display, I’d say yes. But this tactic, I think, is part of the show’s appeal.

Both Amery and Zazenski attended Arteles Creative Center, an artist residency, in Finland last summer. The two works in the show that struck me most were Amery’s “Portable Sauna” and Zazenski’s “Memory Maps: Haukijarvi,” both made in response to their time at Arteles.

Amery’s “Portable Sauna” is just what it says it is — a portable sauna, minus the wood-burning stove and gently hissing steam. On the sauna exterior hangs a sundress, t-shirt and shorts. Just below rest a pair of flip-flops and sneakers. A stack of white towels, rolled and arranged in a pyramid, greets the viewer as well. (It’s a nice touch.) All of these anecdotal details encouraged me to walk into the sauna as if I were Goldilocks.

Central to the work is a sound recording of a conversation in Finnish. As I stood in the dark room, I found myself trying to make sense of the disembodied voices. Who is talking? How many people? What are they saying? Do these voices belong to the people who hung their clothes on the outside of the sauna?

In Finland, and much of Scandinavia, the sauna is central to people’s lives. It serves as a meeting place, steam bath and meditative chamber. “Portable Sauna” functions as both commemorative sculpture and an eavesdropping chamber.

Kathryn Zazenki, “Memory Maps: Haukijärvi” (2011), mixed media on paper, 5 x 7 feet

Zazenski’s “Memory Maps: Haukijärvi” is a wall installation showcasing 60 drawings. To display the drawings, she created a type of postcard or magazine shelf (the kind found in souvenir shop), which is directly adhered to the wall.

Each drawing records a day in the life of the artist during her residency in Finland. The date and location are indicated in the upper right-hand corners. As I stood in front of the work, I began to detect certain reccurring motifs and themes, such as maps, architectural renderings of her studio and declarative statements. Some of the drawings veer toward the truly idiosyncratic. For example, one is an archive of American cuts of pork: spare ribs, tenderloin, shoulder, hot dogs and bacon. Another drawing is a connect-the-dots map, with a series of X’s denoting possible movement in space. My favorite is a list of translations of English words and their Finnish counterparts: “BREAD = LEIPA,” “CAKE = KAKKU,” “ICE CREAM = JAA KERMANVAR INCH.”

To view “Memory Maps: Haukijärvi” is to witness an artist trying to make sense of her time spent living abroad in Scandinavia. I find the sundry details that she records relatable, mundane and infinitely fascinating. She represents artist as archivist.

Kathryn Zazenski, “Geometry of Thought: Visualizing Binaries” (2012), graphite on paper (courtesy of artist's web site)

Another compelling work by Zazenski is her suite of drawings Geometry of Thought: Visualizing Binaries. These function as a kind of Rorschach test, without the soft, amorphous inkblots. As I surveyed the 35 pieces, I spied an X-wing starfighter, Toshiro Mifune’s kimono, lovelorn paper cranes and a death’s-head moth.

Kyllä Kyllä, curated by Kara Rooney, is the first of a series of scheduled shows at Studio 371. I commend Rooney’s vision to bring new voices to Jersey City. If Kyllä Kyllä is an indication of the gallery’s future exhibitions, I am ready to cross the river to see them.

Kyllä Kyllä continues at Studio 371 (371 Warren Street, Jersey City, PATH train to Grove Street) through April 6. The gallery is open by appointment.

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