Meet the Artist – Terike Haapoja

Terike Haapoja is known for her innovative utilization of different technologies in her art. The artist has had solo exhibitions and as Gustafsson & Haapoja duo with her fellow artist Laura Gustafsson all over the world from Faroe Islands to Japan. The current Brooklynite moved to New York after getting into a residency there in 2014 and has been staying there ever since. We meet with the artist who recounts how living in the U.S. has changed her views and tells us about her upcoming work Animal Capitalism. We also discuss her relationship with animal rights activism.

Posthumanism is currently trendier than ever. However, when artist Terike Haapoja (b.1974) started her artistic career, posthumanist discourse was not a trendy topic and there were in fact only few artists dealing with the question and conditions of life. Although she has been making works involving animals from the beginning, her works have not always been about animal rights, “though they have been there, in the background.” Rather, she focused on the similarities between humans and other species. 

Growing up as an only child in an artistic family, art has always been a way to express herself but also a companion to Haapoja. She found her interest in technology assisted ways of making art through her education: While studying lighting design at Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy she developed a relationship with technology. After that she went to Academy of Fine Arts Helsinki where she grew especially interested in thermal cameras and ultrasound imaging. A good example is her early project Mind Over Matter Over Mind (Untitled 1-3) (2005) which is a series of three videos made with ultrasound images of 20-week-old human embryos. 

Terike Haapoja: Mind Over Matter Over Mind (2005), stills from video


In Entropy (2004) the artist has used a thermal camera to picture a horse that has just passed away. The video visualizes how heat exits the animal’s body after its death and its silhouette slowly fades away. At the beginning of the video, we see a horse that is all red and as the video goes on, the red color turns into shades of green and yellow before completely fading away as does the presence of life from the animal’s body. The video was shot in a rendering plant in Kauhajoki with the assistance of a veterinarian. Haapoja says that with this work she felt the need to communicate the existential experience of mortality. 

Haapoja describes the rendering plant as very grim and macabre, which is completely hidden from the final product and viewer’s eyes; “Thermal data in itself does not really look like anything so the final product we see is strongly aestheticized”, she explains, adding that “technology has a way of revealing something while also concealing something, so every gesture of revelation becomes also a gesture of concealing, which is very fascinating to me.”

Terike Haapoja: Entropy (2004). Installation view. Photo: Tony Favarula

“I started utilizing thermal cameras because I was searching for the right way to convey my experience of another being, another body cooling after dying which was very mystical, life-altering and hard to process. I started thinking about thermal cameras as I was reading about them in a scientific magazine and it gave me the realization that this medium could help me deal with this experience. So the reason I started making videos with thermal cameras was very personal. It was about an unspoken, very private experience that I could not have done together with anyone because it was not a shared experience.” 

Gustafsson & Haapoja: Conversational co-creation 

For the last ten years, Haapoja has been collaborating with writer Laura Gustafsson after meeting on a course Haapoja was teaching at Theatre Academy. What is characteristic of their collaborative project is their strong emphasis on language: The projects often include a lot of textual elements and linguistic contemplation. This is not only because Gustafsson is a writer but most of all because their works are based on a dialogue they have together: the works emerge from verbal communication. Because of this, the works they make together are already in that area of shared experience unlike her solo works such as Entropy, the artist explains.

“We often describe our work strategy as us going on a work- and nacho camp: We go to a summer house or somewhere where we can relax, just eat nachos and candy and talk about life. While we are there we also talk about our plans and ideas and have these in-depth discussions about the themes that we have in mind. That way, the projects start to form from that dialogue we have together. We are equals as artists; our works are like our shared babies.”

Animal rights 

Gustafsson & Haapoja: No Data (2021). Photo: Jenni Latva

Gustafsson and Haapoja have aimed at exploring the coexistence of humans and other animals in a critical way and their works have a strong political ethos and focus on animal rights. Haapoja believes that ethical thinking is formed through a personal, existentialist experience and through a person’s own emotional relationship to it, and one cannot be told what is politically the correct way to think and feel. This different approach is the difference she sees between their works and activism: “Whereas activists aim to send a direct message and tell people how to think about things, we aim to open those questions in a more experience-based way and create perspectives that are less easy to translate into political messages.” Through their works they aim to bring up a feeling of compassion and sense of being the same with other species. 

However, the artist duo is actively in contact with the animal rights movement and its organizations: “We have been working with the Justice for Animals organization, often if we have some more activistic project or if we are organizing a discussion event we try to invite or inform them. Our materials are also always available for them,” Haapoja explains. 

In 2021, Gustafsson and Haapoja had a solo exhibition called Pigs at Seinäjoki Kunsthalle which focused on hog farming and the way they are utilized in animal farming. The exhibition included a 16-channel audio work Waiting Room (2019) of pigs spending their last night alive at a Finnish production facility. Their video No Data (2021) was also part of the exhibition and it focuses on the infrastructure of the hog farming industry. The exhibition caused a lot of public discussion on whether or not it was suitable for children. Although the exhibition did not include any graphic image, a few local schools decided not to bring their students to the exhibition due to the exhibition’s strong message. The discourse that emerged from the exhibition is a good example of how charged topic animal rights still is, especially in the Ostrobothnia region where the livestock industry is still very active. 

Gustafsson & Haapoja: Waiting Room (2019). Photo: Jenni Latva

New York state of mind

Living in the U.S. has affected the way Haapoja perceives topics such as the dialogue between the discourse on animal rights and that of antiracist work. She tells us that Museum of Nonhumanity (2016), a project by Gustafsson and Haapoja, is a concrete example of how it has influenced her work. The artist also explains to have noticed a difference between the discourses happening in her home countries, explaining that sometimes the posthumanist discourse in Finland feels less political because it does not relate to the questions of social inequality like in the U.S.

“I have learned tremendously about decolonization and antiracism because here it is forefronted in political and art discussions. I cannot imagine making anything without considering the reality of white supremacy and critically thinking about what exactly are we talking about when we talk about humans. Humanity itself is a very controversial concept. The humanist discourse is dominated by the western worldview much like the discourse on animals.” 

The discourse on animals tainted by the western world was the leading element in the Museum of Nonhumanity. The 11-channel video installation that contains over an hour of footage, focuses on the different rhetorical ways to create the distinction between humans and animals. “For example, talking about killing as ‘removing’, is a way to distance the act of killing in animal production as if the animals are only perceived as a resource. First the distinction is made linguistically and then taken into practice”, Haapoja explains. 

Gustafsson & Haapoja: Museum of Nonhumanity (2016). Installation view. Photo: Terike Haapoja


The artist has two solo projects that she is working on; An extensive research project Animal Capitalism where she explores how capitalism relies on the utilization of animal bodies: The exploitation of non-human animals in producing industrial material with their bodies is parallel to the exploitation and oppression of humans. With this project, Haapoja aims to visualize how the exploitation of animal bodies and environmental damage are intertwined, and how animal production is not just one part of the production industry but it is in fact paradigmatic to the way capitalism works. The project contains a lot of interviews and discursive work. She received The Guggenheim Fellowship for the project in 2022. 

Another project she is currently working on is about her father Zoltán Popovits and aunt Marika Popovits who are both artists but with very different artistic practice. They fled Hungary during World War II and ended up in different parts of the world, so they have a personal relationship to war history. The project focuses on how life experiences and historical events affect the way people make art and perceive the significance of art in their lives. She also reflects that on how the post war generation perceives art and its role.

Terike Haapoja’s photo: Tony Favarula

For more information and requests on Terike Haapoja’s works, please contact AV-arkki’s program 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 was 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.