Meet the Artist: Kalle Nio

“Meet the Artist” is AV-arkki’s new series of interviews with our artists. We start our monthly concept with an interview with Kalle Nio, a visual artist and a co-founder of WHS, a collective producing new circus and visual theatre.

Kalle Nio (born in 1982) is a Finnish visual artist with a quite unexpected trick up his sleeve: he is also a magician. Considering the performative nature of magic, are all magicians also artists? “Some are, yes. But it’s also very easy to get into magic because there is that curtain of mystery that allows you to do pretty average stuff and people will still think you’re a magician,” Nio says. “It’s really easy to be mediocre but very difficult to be really good.”

Nio graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki in 2014, but he still considers himself as much a magician as he does an artist. “I’m still very fascinated with magic. Magic has incredible potential to wow people in a way that is not as easy to achieve with other art forms. It’s just that many magicians’ approach to their own work is not very interesting.” In Nio’s work, the two blend together seamlessly. “I think it’s very difficult to separate what is art and what is magic in my work.”

Bringing back the magic to the moving image

Like most magicians – and artists – Nio started perfecting his craft already as a child. He also got interested in filming videos very early on. “I did short films, skate videos, music videos, and stuff like that. Eventually it felt natural to combine the two.” Since then, Nio has regularly incorporated magic and video projections into his work, and his video installations often examine the relationship between film and magic.

Nio: Trick Brain (2017)

“Filmmakers were magicians and movies were a magic trick until they became their own art form,” Nio notes as he talks about the historical links between magic and film. George Méliès, one of the earliest film directors, was a well-known illusionist. “I want to explore different ways a film could be a magic trick again.” He also wants to delve into the essence of a magic trick: why we think some things are magic and some are not. “I’m really interested in how science and technology and magic link together, and if you’re not familiar with magic it can be difficult to see these links.”

Nio’s work can be roughly divided into two categories: stage performances and video installations. His multidisciplinary performances can be performed in numerous different contexts: theatre festivals, circus festivals, in the context of modern dance and modern art, in art museums, even in puppet theatres. “It’s up to the viewer or the promoter to decide whether they are theatre or circus or contemporary art.”

The other side of his artistic work consists of films and video installations that are exhibited in gallery spaces, but Nio has often rethought the concept of the screen or the surface where films are projected. “I’m interested in the relationship between the film’s content and how it is projected.” His work examines questions about the origins of film and especially its technical aspects: why the aspect ratios of the movie screen are what they are, why the screen is square and not round, why just one screen and not many.

“What is most interesting to me is the difference in the aspect of time between art that is shown in a theatre and in a gallery space,” Nio says. In theatre, people generally come in and sit still until the end, whereas in gallery spaces people come and go as they please. “That considerably changes the way you can manage people’s experience of time.”

Nio: Trick Brain (2017)

A union of theatre and film in the heart of Helsinki

Nio is also a member of the performance group WHS, which he founded together with juggler Ville Walo and designer Anne Jämsä. They originally did a piece called Waiting Room (2003) for Kiasma Theatre and it did exceptionally well: the group toured with it for over ten years. “Since then we have done a lot of performances, some together, but for the past ten years we have worked individually, and now we also produce other artists’ works and run the theatre. The WHS group has become a production structure that does many different things,” Nio explains. “The theatre works as a great base for our work.”

“The theatre” to which Nio refers is Theatre Union in Helsinki, which was originally intended as a rehearsing space for WHS. “Then we thought, okay, we now have this old theatre, so maybe we should start showing something in here.” In addition to magic, circus and theatre, the programme also includes films. The space had been a movie theatre since the 1920’s, after all. “It has slowly gotten out of hand. Running this theatre has now become a significant part of what WHS does.”

In fact, it has become one of the most visible aspects of WHS’s work in Finland. “Our theatre has become way more prominent than our performances, which is funny, since we all work as artists and performing makes up most of what we do.” Although he jokes about not performing enough in Finland, the reality is that there simply are not enough opportunities. “It’s because the theatre system here differs significantly from the system generally in Europe,” Nio explains.

Finnish theatres’ programmes feature very few guest productions, because most places produce their own shows with their own performers and staff. This makes touring in Finland very difficult for groups like WHS. “In France, for example, where we have toured a lot, theatres often only have a director and production staff, and the performances come from independent theatre groups.” Nio hopes to see things moving into that direction in Finland as well. “I think that guest productions would be good both for the audiences and for the advancement of performing arts.”

Nio: Trick Brain (2017)

The situation in Finland did not come as a surprise, however. “It was clear to me already from the beginning that if I want to support myself doing experimental performance art, I have to perform outside of Finland,” Nio says. “I guess you could say that around 90% of what we do takes place abroad. Not that I’m complaining,” Nio adds laughing. “I really like travelling, but of course I hope that I could perform more here as well.”

Nio is now working on a solo performance currently going by a working title The Green, which comes from the medieval English word for the theatre stage – hence the term ‘green room’. “It will be about lights and colour, but also about sound. It will be a very audiovisual piece.” It is a stage performance, but a smaller production than Nio’s previous work. “But we’ll see, my projects tend to get out of hand. My previous performance was supposed to be of smaller scale as well, but it ended up on the stage of the National Opera,” Nio laughs.

Take a glance at Kalle Nio’s new short film Trick Brain (2017)

For more information and requests on Kalle Nio’s works, please contact AV-arkki’s programme coordinator Tytti Rantanen, 

“Meet the Artist” is AV-arkki’s new monthly series of interviews with our artists. The interviews are conducted by Laura Seppälä who is doing an internship in AV-arkki in February and March 2018. Laura Seppälä has a B.A. in Theatre, Film and Media Studies from the Goethe University Frankfurt and she is currently finishing her M.A. in Cultural Studies at the University of Tampere.