Warren King: the engineering of emotions

The Arts Night is one of the most attended arts events in Helsinki: museums and galleries open their doors late, all kind of spaces (studios, libraries, restaurants, shopping malls, parks, homes…) organize happenings and the streets are crowded with people of all ages.

Out of the many events taking place this 25th August (http://www.helsinginjuhlaviikot.fi/taiteidenyo/), I recommend not missing the meeting with Warren King at Galleria Sculptor just across the Kaupatori/Kauppahalli (Etäläranta, 14 – see map below).

IMG_4722This Stockholm-based American artist (soon to be living in NYC) will certainly inspire you: firstly because his path to art was not typical. Instead of art school, he studied to be an engineer and worked in construction for several years.  And then he jumped on the technology wave and worked for software startups in Palo Alto for over 10 years. It was always a loving hobby for him to amuse his children by making masks and costumes, but it was only three years ago that he took THE big “creative” leap and turned this hobby into an art career making stunning cardboard sculptures. This quest to reach out to our creative selves is in the air of our “innovation” intensive era and Warren King is a remarkable example of how creativity can turn into artistry and bring out a world of shared emotions.




The second reason I recommend meeting Warren King and his art work this Thursday (the show runs until 4th September), is the manner in which he tackles the issue of “identity”. The catalyst to his artistic work was the return visit of his entire family to their ancestral village in China, a village his grandparents left after the Chinese Civil War.  The people and the surroundings had not changed much, which was surprising considering the speed at which China destroys its villages to be able to build cities. But this reinforced the feeling of belonging to the place.  King was born and raised in the US, so the reconnection to this village was very emotional — especially because several villagers that he met on the street that day actually remembered, and resembled, his grandparents from 50 years ago.  But soon King experienced the limits of his newly “recovered ” Chinese identity: because he was the product of another culture, this Chinese heritage could never be fully restored.

DSC_0301Where do migrants belong?
 This is certainly a rich area to explore, because so many of us are expatriates at one moment of our lives and build our belonging to several cultures, tie our personal history to several places, sometimes not even reflected in our names or IDs but present forever on our minds, in our behaviors, our ways to fathom the world around us, even unconsciously. In his Helsinki exhibition, King has rebuilt this encounter with people in his grandfather’s village of origin in China, creating a human-size cardboard sculpture per encounter: an old couple here, a man watching him pass by there, etc. This project to recreate the villagers as sculptures seems to be a quest by the artist to understand WK quelques personnageswho he is.

The third reason for you to visit this exhibition is the masterfulness of this emerging
artist at conveying emotions with sculptures made of cardboard: the faces are expressive without the addition of any colour or material, they have a narrative posture and seem to be saying something.  He truly brings this disposable material to life. King makes no secret about the structure of his statues: if you turn around them, you will see that their back is revealed, enabling you to see how the various pieces are held together with glue, clips, etc.)
Finally, in this exhibition you will also be able to admire the meditative piece find yourself lose yourself” by TN10, the exciting artistic collaborative team of King and Joanne Grüne-Yanoff.
Kudos to Galleria Sculptor that had the brilliant idea of inviting King and signing the thrilling debut of TN10.
More information about King can be found on his website:  www.wrnking.com; TN10’s website is www.TN10art.com.
The full list of Arts Night events can be found here http://www.helsinginjuhlaviikot.fi/taiteidenyo/

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff’s “Happy thoughts!” at Detroit Stockholm

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff latest show “Happy Thoughts!” has just opened at Detroit Stockholm* in Stockholm, an opportunity to continue a conversation we have kept alive for several years now.

Art Hot Spots: Joanne, in each consecutive show, you display increased virtuosity in the use of your own vocabulary. Both your last Berlin show “Instructions for Flight”, and your current Stockholm exhibition, ”Happy Thoughts!” demonstrate formidable and increasing strength.

Is the title “Happy Thoughts!” linked to the happiness from our daily little gestures as the choice of a house with rooms and some furniture pieces might suggest, or are you referring to our human condition as portrayed today, an imperative to be happy, no matter what.


Joanne Grüne-Yanoff  "Spine Hands" room view

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff “Spine Hands” room view

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff: There is a sound piece in this show called “Happy Thoughts” which contains a series of overlapping voices. One voice asks: “Are you okay?” Another assures repeatedly that they are fine, and a third urges in increasingly insistent whispers “Think happy thoughts! Happy thoughts!” There is a clear disparity between what is being claimed and what is being hidden. I am interested in that space – between what we say and what we feel, between what we aspire to project, and be, and what we hold secretly inside that might conflict with that ideal. In this exhibition Happy Thoughts, I examine these small, conflicting gestures, both physical and verbal, as survival strategies that we utilize in order to traverse the space between our aspirations and our realities.

AHS: You have developed over the years a personal artistic language, a voice recognizable among all others. I would imagine that establishing that voice is a matter of continuity, persistence and probably a very unconscious process…

JGY: Probably also some willingness to get conscious about that process; to sift through and select the most resonant moments; to strap that unconscious, organic process on to a deliberate structure.


AHS: I find it fascinating how you embrace the use of new media to enhance the sensory experience that your exhibitions often are. In Helsinki, four years ago, you used suspensions made of PVC, since then we’ve seen video works in your Berlin and Luxembourg exhibitions, the amazing Polaroid series from the last Berlin show (http://www.pinterest.com/pin/207024914094374980/ ), and now, in this Stockholm exhibition, you incorporate sound installations, video installations, sculpture, and also a return to more traditional techniques such as figurative images on paper. With all of this, you continue to pursue the same themes, with the same “graphemes” (threads, butterflies, spines, hands, feathers etc.) and their sensory translation. How do you perceive the evolution of your own language?

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Talking Hands"

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff “Talking Hands”

JGY: My work concentrates on small gestures. They express transient emotional states that circle back repeatedly until they inscribe themselves in our personal grammar — in our small gestures. I isolate specific body parts, and voiced phrases, to explore these recurring unconscious actions that embed our gestures to communicate through time.

Once captured, these gestures are layered with actions of a different speed: paper is torn, balled up and thrown

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Spine Wrap" Video still

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff “Spine Wrap” Video still

against walls, un-creased and stroked, sewn up, and cut into, images are accompanied by the sound of cracking eggshells, slow-falling feathers, groans of effort, urging voices, the slowness of handwork, the quiet rhythm of breathing, the shock of violence.

I am always circling back to the same ideas. To understand those ideas better, I am consistently drawn to specific figurations that resonate with me symbolically, with which I layer materials that contain particular meanings to me. Over the years, this visual grammar has been continually called upon, and so it has become more robust.


AHS: The challenge at Detroit Stockholm, it seems to me, was the one of occupying the space and creating a sensory experience.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Feet Shoe Corner

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Feet Shoe Corner

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Installation "Feet Shoe Shelf"

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Installation “Feet Shoe Shelf”

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Installation Butterfly Spine video

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Installation Butterfly Spine video


JGY: I met a terrific curator at Detroit Stockholm, Sheena Malone, who has been working with me to put “Happy Thoughts!” together. She came up with the idea of putting the “Happy Thoughts!” sound piece in the bathroom, which I thought was a fantastic idea. With that at its core, Sheena started creating small rooms in which to allow these secret stories that make up the show, to unfold. For instance, she cleared out a hallway broom closet in which now hangs a collection of spines. There’s a strap-on spine for courage, another to feel airborne, a spine for creating connections, one to find strength, and so on. Beneath, projected on to a corner of the closet floor, a small film of a naked woman’s back is projected, as she wraps and unwraps herself in one of the spines.

Sheena looked into my work, saw its conceptual core, and created an exhibition that physically embodies the internal narrative of the work. I feel very lucky to have such a sharp co-conspirator, and to get to create a show in such an experimental space.


JGY "Fly!" Video still

JGY “Fly!” Video still

AHS: I find the video “Fly!” very humorous. The shoes have an open mouth like beasts talking as the voices in the video drive the jumper “you can do it!” In theory, these mouthed shoes should help you fly. Why is it so difficult? What prevents us from flying?

JGY: Maybe our need resides more in the trying than the flying itself.


AHS: The jump, then, is another gesture. In your last Berlin exhibition you focused on hand gestures, which continues now in your current exhibition at Detroit Stockholm. In Dürer’s work and all the Renaissance and classical painters, hands had their own vocabulary beyond their pure representation. Hands can be a symbol of our creative ability, and also the spiritual dimension. Nowadays, hands keep their creativity status, but what about the spirituality dimension – with your work it seems more present then ever (“what goes beyond us”)?

Albrecht Dürer Study of hands (1506)

Albrecht Dürer Study of hands (1506)

JGY: Research on gesture has shown how people use their hands to help manage the burden of thinking and communicating. Studies show that people unconsciously use verbal gestures as well. Although they typically happen with little intention on the part of the actor, all these gestures expand communication, providing an additional channel of expression that can be understood by an audience.

These fleeting moments express their depths in the ways we laugh, steal a

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Just do it"

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff “Just do it”

sideways glance, bite our nails, modulate our voices, rub our hands together, tap our feet, talk too much, or not at all.

Such passing signals pile up to form some part of who we are and how we navigate through. They are secret stories that we carry within.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Threads video still

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Threads video still

For the Berlin show you mention, I researched specific hands through history to develop a catalogue of gestures that I find powerful and to which I referred.  The Dürer image of the hands that you refer to is, of course, one of the sources for the piece Just Do It. For the current exhibition at Detroit Stockholm, that work continues in a piece of layered papers containing many different hand gestures.


AHS: And the spiritual connection?

JGY: I ran into this question recently, as I have been collaborating with the classical music ensemble Stockholm Syndrome. In a few weeks, Stockholm Syndrome Ensemble will perform Piano Quartet by the composer Peteris Vasks. For this performance I have created a video to premier while they play, which is partially informed by a quote of Vasks: Most people today no longer possess beliefs, love and ideals. The spiritual dimension has been lost. My intention is to provide food for the soul and this is what I preach in my works.

The piece I made to accompany the Vasks is a pair of hands on either side of a table covered in a pile of threads. At different points the hands are exploring the threads, tying knots, creating connection.

Maybe part of what goes beyond us gets created in our enduring search for connections.


*Joanne Grüne-Yanoff’s exhibition “Happy Thoughts!” at        jgy2010_butterflywingheartbreath_detail

Detroit Stockholm

11th April – 5th May 2014

Roslagsgatan 21

12-4 daily and by appointment



JGY syndrome-ensemble-454Stockholm Syndrome Ensemble featuring the premiere of the video Threads by Joanne Grüne-Yanoff at Musikaliska, Stockholm

23rd April 2014 at 19:00; Artist talk with Joanne Grüne-Yanoff and Stockholm Syndrome Ensemble’s Simon Crawford Phillips around 20:15 before the Act II of the concert.



To know more about the artist’s body of work:




Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Bird Headphones" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff says it’s “Okay!” – and glam! it is.

Have you ever wondered what happens to artists who walk in our hearts? My experience is that they stay there forever: they shake you, their work resonates… ! Last year, as Joanne Grüne-Yanoff was still living under Finnish skies, I had the privilege to attend her distinctive Finnish shows, and also visit her studio, to discuss her work at length. Now that she lives in Stockholm (a city to keep under watch regarding its contemporary art) and exhibits at the epicentre of contemporary art (Berlin), the beat goes on and on… with “Okay!” a multimedia exhibition where every piece resonates with the other.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Bird Headphones" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Bird Headphones" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff FeatherBox(videostillThat'sOkay!) 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff FeatherBox(videostill "That'sOkay!") 2011

– Your current work in the Berlin exhibition”Okay!” at Galerie Helga Maria Bischoff  seems to burst with glamour (the use of the feathers surrounding the “Feather Box (that’s okay!)” video, for example, like a cushion of personal comfort, or “Feather Point” the video with the feet on feathers; a freed sensual layer on your unchanged conceptual vocabulary, which is now enriched by video. Have you used video as a form of expression before?

– I have been walking around with a secret stash of videos in my pocket for years; last year, I let Kalhama & Piippo Contemporary in Helsinki see a few, and they had a great response, and immediately chose one to show at their summer exhibition in Savonlinna.  I thought Berlin was a good place to begin showing more, and that will continue.

– Can you talk about the idea of glamour and the videos?

In the split-screen video object (Feather Box (that’s okay!), I liked the softness and luxury of this feather nest that the viewer walks up to, only to find this intense woman, repeatedly assuring “That’s ok!” in smiling jump cuts, while on the other side, crossed legs calmly sit, crashing eggshells to the ground.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Featherpoint (videostill) 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Featherpoint" (videostill) 2011

Similarly, in the video “Feather Point” two feet carefully, cautiously, feel out their surroundings, trying from time to time to stand on point, trying, nearly doing, coming back down, trying again; the sound of something creaking – maybe bone, maybe wood, maybe some outside shift – as accompaniment to the sometimes falling feathers.

The dichotomies presented are underscored by sound; it gives rawness and fragility to the seamlessness of the videos, marking them with a different speed and energy, breaking the quiet poetry of the feet, crashing the developed surface of the smiling woman, the controlled legs.

The videos are seductive and poignant and beautiful and dark and brutal and painful. I suppose glamour can be summarized similarly.

– Do you think that your use of materials, say, in the cases we just talked about, are particularly feminine?

I would posit that because I am a woman, the use of materials is viewed as particularly feminine. If I were a man, the use of materials would be viewed as containing a boldness, profundity, irony, complexity, strength, etc.  Yawn.

– Matthew Barney comes immediately to mind

– Or Broodthaers’ use of eggshells, Mike Kelly’s knitted objects, Beuys putting things in glass vitrines, Duchamp in cages, Hirst’s use of sparkles and butterflies, Cornell’s boxes… The issue is not the endless list of male artists that have not been called on for a feminine use of materials, but the manner of seeing through lenses that correlate the feminine with weakness and the masculine with strength, which, of course, is another conversation.

– Continuing along gender lines, in a recent article in the Berlin magazine J’N’C, you were compared to

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Shell Wing Slippers" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Shell Wing Slippers" 2011

female Bruce Nauman. I like this comparison: You create an hypnotic tension in the videos; they can make people uncomfortable in “Feather Point”, for example, we have the sound of cracking bones and muscles stretching to the point that they shake, close to breaking, etc. and at the same time, they are so aesthetically pleasing (a dancer’s shaped pair of legs,  feathers falling like snow in a Robert Frost poem). They really lure you in and hold you there, in a very unsettling, sometimes even painful, place.  Maybe your insistence on maintaining beauty while expressing such complex darkness is what makes the female part of the comparison.  What do you think? 

I think it’s a tremendous compliment, however you cut it.

– With this exhibition, you also reveal more of yourself – you use your image in the videos, in the drawings.

I have used my own image for years, and that has been out of necessity.  I’m generally around and available, and I grasp quickly what needs to come across.

– The piece Butterfly Box (Mütter Museum) is one of my favourite pieces from your current exhibition. Can you talk a little bit about that?  Where does it come from?


Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "ButterflyBox (MütterMuseum)" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Butterfly Box (MütterMuseum)" 2011

When I was a child, I often went the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, USA. The Mütter is a museum originally founded to educate future doctors about anatomy and human medical anomalies. My father, a physician, often brought me there when I was a little kid, and for me it was a portal to another world. Fantastic.

There were shelves of fascinating objects like old medical instruments, anatomical and pathological specimens and models, and row upon row of drawers to open filled with such things as models of eardrums. I loved that place, opening and closing drawers, peering into jars, staring at a skeleton of a woman whose rib-cage was compressed by tight lacing. Such stories in these objects – each, a microcosm of a secret world.  That place certainly impacted the work I make; the quiet there, the sound of the drawers opening, the smells, the light — all etched inside me. The box is part of that – an echo of those hours.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Wings, Pins, Spine" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Wings, Pins, Spine" 2011

In this exhibition, “Butterfly Box (Mütter museum)” finds an apparent

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Float" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Float" 2011

resonance/continuity with the superb and airy “Wings, Pins, Spine” that is very close to the work I saw last year at Kalhama&Piippo Contemporary in Helsinki (Joanne Grüne-Yanoff encased materials like eggshells, butterfly wings, moss, honey, feathers, etc. in everyday PVC). Can you talk about the symbolism of the materials in your work and that piece?

In my work, wings represent the constant presence of change, feathers the (human) desire to be something else, eggshells the tenacity and fragility of life. I take walks, in life, in general, and collect things.  In “Wings, Pins, Spine” I liked the idea of taking these everyday treasures, often organic, and often revered to the point of kitsch, and encasing them in something also everyday, decidedly human-made and not organic, looked down upon to the point of being demonized. I like that these fragile found bits, caught in time, are held forever, in shapes that will stay as they are, representing change.  The piece is a delicate series of dualities, held together by fine, sharp pins, to create a spine.

– You studied literature and love the strengths and materiality of words. What is the relation of your visual work with text?

It’s all storytelling of one sort or another. Over the years my work has contained a certain automatic writing. Thoughts and ideas come up and go onto and into the work; a catharsis that in the past I kept relatively unintelligible, so that it wouldn’t become too didactic. Now the text is entirely readable.  There is movement toward a more direct interaction.

Joanne Grüne Yanoff "Round" 2011

Joanne Grüne Yanoff "Round" 2011

– I love your ability to explore materials and employ a variety of media to support your poetical expression – this exhibition alone spans from works on paper to sculpture, and video, all in a tight dialogue, each enriching the other – recalling the versatility of  Rebecca Horn, Ann Hamilton and the already referred to Bruce Nauman and Matthew Barney. Still, I wonder if you are ever tempted about narrowing your focus to one form? 

Well, I just make stuff.  I often try to stay in one media or another, but certain ideas call for certain materials in my head. So that’s that.


Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Message" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Message" 2011


FROM JOANNE GRÜNE-YANOFF’s WORK http://www.joannegruneyanoff.com/ 

* Joanne’s exhibition “You Walked In My Heart And The Beat Goes On” at Kalham&Piippo Contemporary http://www.kalhamapiippo.com/ – more details in Joanne’s portrait  http://ruxandrabp.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/joanne-grune-yanoff-an-artist’s-walk-in-our-hearts/

** http://www.hmbischoff.com/ Joanne’s exhibition “Okay!” from 29th October to 26th November. The portofolio of her exhibition is available here http://hmbischoff.com/files/okayportfolios.pdf 

Text: Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti