Meet the Artist – Kari Yli-Annala

Kari Yli-Annala (b. 1965) has a non-academic, non-artist family background. It was becoming such a determining factor in his life, that he felt it had to be broken. He struggled to find another kind of life, which he found working as an artist, a researcher and a teacher, but also as a curator and a writer.

The 2017 AVEK award accolade says: “I have come to the art field and art criticism from outside and learned everything from scratch. I needed some kind of work life, which I found from ‘art life’, by practicing and learning it. I also found out that art life was much measured by theory so I also had to get a grip on that. Art studies and work became kind of my life line, saving me from drowning into the meaningless of the world.”

Being among the first students in the Department of Time and Space Arts, he enjoyed exploring the world through video and 16mm film. “Moving image was my natural choice because it had this relation to movement and different times and durations of the world.” During his second year in the Academy, he was introduced to the concept of media art, following professor Lauri Anttila’s view that artists can freely choose their mediums based on what feels best for them, depending on the project they are working on.

Artistic production

Food, Horizon, Ground, Shelter and Life (on the life of goats) (1996) is one of Yli-Annala’s early works. He was filming goats at a farm in central Finland for a few days. “I guess I was striving for a post-humanist point of view although I didn’t even know the term back then. After all, there was no discussion about it yet in Finland”, the artist explains. The 16mm film transferred to video, was part of his series that focused on the relationship between humans and animals. The film practice was introduced to him by the artists Sami van Ingen and Oliver Whitehead who worked in the artists’ run Helsinki Film Workshop (Helsingin Elokuvapaja) in the early nineties. Another part of the series was a single channel video Human Interest (1995) which is about humans’ tendency to anthropomorphise the nature and invent stories about animals. 

Kari Yli-Annala: Human Interest (1995)

In the 2000’s Yli-Annala has founded a pedagogical project called Nomadic academy of experimental arts, been an artistic director in a media art festival AAVE (with Ivan Punzo as his wonderful collaborator) and continued writing and curating. He became also a member of FixC, a Finnish moving image artists cooperative. AAVE was an important platform in strengthening and even forming the current community of analog film performance artists in Finland.

One of the many art works he has done is a series of works called Politics. His video Prime (2017) is part of the series. Prime is a re-structured glitch portrait of the Finnish prime minister in the middle of an interview, where he questions the existence of the critical media in the future: a reminder of the fragility of freedom of expression. The series also included two other works of which the latter one examines the “theater” and discourse of politics. The first one is about Putin and Trump’s visit to Finland, hosted by Sauli Niinistö, the president of Finland. It was an installation with monitors and painted portraits of the presidents.

Many works by Yli-Annala are poetic-philosophical explorations on the nature of the powers and forces that the humans use in limiting the views on the world for their eyes and understanding. His newest series of works, called Kínima, is about the human and non-human understanding of the movement of the materials and minerals through time. It is about different territories, ranging from Harakka island to Al Arroub refugee camp in Palestine, the atmosphere and the thin layer of soil, rocks, plants and water on our planet.

A teacher, a researcher…

Among the reasons why Yli-Annala chose to become a researcher is that his video works were said to relate to historical works he was not aware of: “I wanted to know everything and this is why I did my study on the history of video art and experimental film. It took much effort and time to travel to see all the works.” Now the history of experimental film is covered well in books and even online, but back when he started, the situation was different.

Teaching came into the picture in the late nineties, when artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila asked Yli-Annala to teach a course on Gilles Deleuze’s books Cinéma 1 and Cinéma 2. Ever since then the artist has been teaching different courses in the Academy of Fine Arts, Art School Maa, TAMK University of Applied Sciences – School of Art and Media and at Aalto University’s Department of Film. He is grateful for the wonderful co-teachers Elina Saloranta, Sanna Sarva and Pia Euro, as well to the professors and teachers who have been understanding the special value of his teaching and encouraged and invited him to continue teaching, including Pekka Niskanen, Riikka Stewen, Anne Lakanen and the directors Isse Karsten, Minna Henriksson and H Ouramo of Art School MAA. After teaching for more than 20 years, the artist has noticed that he is still constantly learning new things himself as well, he explains. His recent practice includes also returning to Super-8 and 16 mm film practice i.e. by building up a pop up -film laboratory in Harakka island, together with artist Milja Viita.

Making art and doing research on art are completely inseparable for the artist at the moment. Yli-Annala explains that this is related to a kind of process philosophy, about things constantly moving, changing and transforming. He sees here similarities to artistic processes. “For me, research and art are very much the same thing”, he adds, saying that “I am very happy that through art I have found a way to be and work in and with the world’s phenomena – human and non-human.” 

For more information and requests on Kari Yli-Annala’s works, please contact AV-arkki’s programme coordinator Tytti Rantanen, 

“Meet the artist” is AV-arkki’s monthly series of interviews with our artists. The interviews are conducted by Vanessa Uhlbäck who is doing an internship in AV-arkki from August to December 2022. Vanessa is completing her Master’s degree in art history at University of Helsinki.