Vol. 2 No.8  

Naked ambition

Bend him, shape him, anyway you want him: the acrobatic charm of landscape and body artist Minkkinen arrives to dazzle Bucharest in a new photographic retrospective

     Arno Rafael Minkkinen parades nude around forests in winter and takes pictures of himself.
     The Finnish-American artist aims to connect with nature by contorting his long, thin and flexible body into a number of bizarre formations that react to empty, static and freezing  landscapes.
In this 35 year retrospective of 120 prints at the National Museum of      Contemporary Arts, Minkkinen exposes himself to the wild tundra of Europe and America.
     Sometimes the artist plays tricks on the viewer – such as covering his body in sand in an image that, on first glance, resembles a rock jutting out of the sea, or shaping his hand with out-stretched fingers miming a volcano.
     Although some of this is gimmickry, one is still impressed at the physical invention of Minkkinen.
     In other pictures, his hands and feet appear from the air, earth or water, as though they were single objects – this is a smart acrobatic display recalling black light theatre, where parts of the body  and vanish from a vacant background.
     But this is not just the freakish fun of the circus ring.
     At its best, Minkkinen’s body transforms landscapes with a surreal intervention, such as a self-portrait with crossed hands emerging from snowy ground, imitating a bird alighting a field.
     There is also a spectral quality to the work. In a self-portrait from 1973, at Aare River in Berne, Switzerland, his body is underwater with one hand coming out and holding on to a railing. It is a barely discernible figure with has all the ghostly intensity of Munch’s paranoid mysticism.
     There are images that have religious overtones, such as a hand on a wooden plane gripping three nails pressed down on the wrist, which could be a detail from the crucifixion. There is also a body on the sea surrounded by fire, which seems to evoke pagan burial rites. Indeed, the whole exhibition is curated as a Norse myth, with references to the hero’s journey from experience to self-discovery.
     But these analogies seem to be no more than incidental in an exhibition where the only religion is the awe Minkkinen has for the beauty and expanse of nature - the artist dances in the forests and even, at one point, hugs a tree.
     Of course this is 100 per cent pure hippy.
     But with lobby groups worldwide bribing Governments to plough up forests and mow down Caribou habitats, plug the ground for oil, scorch-earth prairies, bomb ibex and trout out of their homes and burn up the last reserves of oxygen - all in the name of shareholder value - a little bit of sixties idealism is a breath of fresh air.

Michael Bird

Saga: The Journey of Arno Rafael Minkkinen
Until 22 October
National Museum of Contemporary Arts (MNAC)
Palatul Parlamentului
Calea 13 Septembrie entrance