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Mobile Workforce by Rauni Liukko on display at HAM Corner

15.6.2020 8:13

Rauni Liukko: Mobile Workforce, 1977 / Photo: HAM / Arttu Merima

HAM presents selections from the museum’s collection in HAM corner. During the summer of 2021 Rauni Liukko’s Mobile Workforce from 1977 is on display. The exhibition can be viewed from the street during all hours of the day. This provides HAM with an opportunity to engage audiences with art outside the museum’s opening hours and walls. The exhibition is open for the time being.

Rauni Liukko (1940–2014) achieved renown in the early 1970s for her performative public sculpture ensembles. Her realistic fibreglass sculptures – described as “pamphlets” by her contemporaries – voice a silent protest, taking a stand on issues such as gender equality, socio-economic injustices, and children’s rights. Liukko’s exhibitions were ahead of their time in their participatory engagement with the audience, with the viewer physically sharing the space with the sculptures rather than keeping a distance as a passive observer. This participatory element underlined the social issues raised in her art.

Liukko’s sculptures are more than just realistic portraits of people. Her ensembles of figures can be read as unfolding vignettes that satirically portray scenes from everyday life. The 1970s saw a variety of artistic styles emerge. While, for example in pop art, there was consciously created a distance from daily life by infusing art with kitsch elements and complex cultural allusions, Liukko’s sculptures exude a sense of respect and compassion for the figures she portrays. Her work is humorous and ambiguous, but without any trace of cynicism. Her compelling depictions of the precariat are informed by her unshakeable belief in equal human dignity.

Liukko’s sculptures were often based on contemporary news and real-life experiences. Her early 1970s child sculptures comment on the Biafran War and famine in Nigeria. The long-term process that eventually culminated in Mobile Worforce was inspired by a train journey made by Liukko from Istanbul to Germany in summer 1976, during which she shared a compartment with a group of Turkish migrant workers. Unveiled at Helsinki Art Museum’s Kluuvi Gallery in December 1977, the piece payed tribute to the vast population of migrant workers that circulated around the world, including the large number of Finns who were forced to emigrate in search of work during a wave of mass unemployment in Finland in the late 1970s.

The original title of the exhibition at Kluuvi Gallery was Mobile Workforce / Pictures of People, comprising an ensemble of sculptures and a series of pastel paintings, with a soundtrack of train station announcements providing an evocative accompaniment to the sculptures. HAM came into possession of the sculptures upon acquiring a collection of 1970s and 1980s Finnish art formerly belonging to the Finnish collector Matti Harkonmäki.

Every portrait of an individual is always a portrait of their social context and historical ethos. Artworks in museum collections are like time travellers that visit us from the past, bringing with them reminders of history and bearing witness to social conditions at the time they were created. And, decades on, they curiously begin to reflect our reality today. The nature of work has changed radically over the past few decades. The 2000s witnessed the proliferation of a new type of agile, cheap workforce of casual labour and solo entrepreneurs, with workers shouldering all the risks instead of employers. This trend coincided with the progressive crumbling of many social achievements that Finland and other welfare states spent decades building. Had society evolved differently, these time travellers might have ended up in a different future where the entire global workforce could have enjoyed the equal rights of the welfare state.

Our ideas about work – and our social values overall – are never “ready”. They exist in a state of flux. Liukko’s Mobile Workforce invites a critical reappraisal of our evolving social reality and the changing needs of the future.

Curated by Arttu Merimaa, Exhibitions Curator, HAM