Artist and lecturer Fanni Niemi-Junkola (b.1962) makes films about power relations in social situations. Most recently her works have involved interactions between humans and animals. In her own words, Niemi-Junkola doesn’t display ‘carcasses’, as in quite a few representations of animals in art. We discussed the artist’s works and her multiple professions.
During her studies at Glasgow School of Art, Fanni Niemi-Junkola switched her medium from sculpture to moving image, as she felt she was better able to express the things she wanted to. While sculpture was concerned with aesthetics and spatiality in a very concrete and physical way, Niemi-Junkola wanted to deal with the notion of personal space between humans and social power relations. Her themes are connected to her everyday life, the borderline of private and public, interactions and power relations not only between humans, but recently also between humans and animals.
How do animals cooperate?
In Equilibrium (2020), Niemi-Junkola films herding dogs, sheep, and humans. “I wanted to film the dogs’ connection to nature, but also to humans, and the cooperation between humans and dogs,” she explains. “But on the other hand, the cooperation between animals. Dogs and sheep, and dogs and dogs.” The film shows wild instinctive behaviour in all parties, as well as moments of calmness, equilibrium.
The idea for this film arises from her everyday life, as Niemi-Junkola herself appears in the film, training her own Icelandic sheepdog. The musical score in her earlier work, Protection (2016), inspired her to make this film. The artist describes her inspiration: “I had a very strong aesthetic vision. Pekko’s music contains ancient elements and I visualized dogs in old village communities before cities existed. I thought about their significance in those communities, how dogs were the first animal domesticated by humans. I began to train my dog for the age-old skill of herding.”
Ownership of nature
When it comes to animals, Niemi-Junkola has a special relationship with horses, in particular. She owns a horse, and humans can be seen interacting with horses in multiple of her films. Breath (2016) has three simultaneous videos playing next to each other, showing a horseback rider riding their horse. The videos zoom in and out, focusing on different aspects. “I simply had a very experiential idea of the rhythm and the power of the body, how the animal and human blend together,” the artist says. The visuals of the film are very connected to the music. The rhythmic piece, composed by Pekko Käppi, consists of a slow beat accompanied with human voices breathing, resulting in a mesmerising sound. “The dialogue with this musician is very essential, as the work is completed through its soundscape,” Niemi-Junkola states.
In addition to working as an artist and a lecturer, Niemi-Junkola is a trained horse massage therapist. In Protection, she can be seen using the craniosacral technique, an energetic form of treatment on a horse in its stable. The stall bars are shown on purpose, to draw attention to the animal’s captivity. “It raises questions of freedom and power relations, questions of limited space in captivity,” she clarifies. Humans ‘use’ nature in many ways. “We buy the ‘nature experience’ for ourselves, we pay for the full care stable, and we drive somewhere to the outskirts of town for an hour or two, to practice that natural relationship we pay so much for… Of course it’s not the optimal way to keep a horse, it’s in a closed square for most of the day.”
Niemi-Junkola also describes the technique she uses to care for horses: “You actually have to face the animal, in a way you need to immerse yourself into the animal. You cannot rush into the situation using direct force, because the animal and the situation will escape. You must blend in and you must listen with your body. In a way, your own sensitivity, your presence and stopping the moment is the skill of the craft.”
Niemi-Junkola points out that art often displays animals only when they are dead. She herself is not interested in displaying representations of ‘carcasses’: “I try to take my own path with the significance of communication and visuality.”
How has teaching affected Niemi-Junkola as an artist? “Of course it’s had a positive impact, they’re young people, and the energy and the hold on life and making art is that of a young person’s.” Niemi-Junkola feels her focus is also more on the future instead of the past, thanks to her students. “But it also means that one needs to share energy.” Although being busy with her lectureship possibly affecting her art work, her artistic ambitions drive Niemi-Junkola to keep making art.
In future art works Niemi-Junkola wants to continue exploring the relationship between human and nature. Hunting, for example, is a contradictory example of people affecting nature, but being closely part of it. The artist also contemplates the effect of conceptualisation, how it opens up the subject, but can create distance. “I think forms of interaction should be considered when discussing nature and the environment. How new technology and digitalization add to the subject of sustainability and communication is controversial, yet a very interesting question to be explored.”