Visual Catalysts Exhibition

The Visual Catalysts exhibition opening was September 25th. It is a special exhibition part of the Backlight Photo Festival 2020, and produced by CICAT2025. Visual Catalysts was curated by Dr. Juha Suonpää from Tampere University of Applied Sciences. The exhibition will be open from September 26th to October 18th, 2020 at the Culture House Laukku – art space in Tampere.

The exhibition not only featured a few TAMK students, but many on the team behind the scenes are from TAMK, such as Juha Suonpää, the curator, or others like Petri Kiviniemi, Jouni Hirvonen, and Mika Nousiainen, who worked with the team to set up the exhibition. Luiza Preda, TAMK student, was an artist but also one of the exhibition coordinators, and TAMK Photography students worked to set up the entire exhibition. Read about their experiences below.


Visual Catalysts

Art is a powerful visual global language, and artists can be the future change-makers creating catalysts that speak across cultures. This exhibition opens one’s eyes, and shows us new ways of looking at climate change, micro plastics, extinction of species, overconsumption, and numerous other issues we currently face.

The catalysts of art show us that taking care of the globe is not just a job for researchers or politicians, as individuals’ choices do matter.

Juha Suonpää, Visual Catalysts Curator

Visual Catalysts is a collection of 37 artists from around the world, 19 different countries to be exact, who are using art as a catalyst to provoke thinking of a more sustainable future. The term visual catalysts comes from the question of how photos, video, and other visual presentations show reality and increase our thinking of change towards a sustainable circular economy. We need creative new ways of thinking more than ever to go towards a more sustainable future.

For an artist, participating in these kinds of festivals is the best way of sharing our work with the world. And not only our work, also our ideas, feelings, and, in some cases, much more.

VARE (Ignacio Varela), Visual Catalysts Artist

There were many beautiful works, and many works that shocked. While all were very different in style, message, or history, they all came together wonderfully to spark conversations and make you think about waste, over consumption, tourism, local communities, and more. How do we change from a linear to circular future? What actions do I take that aren’t sustainable? What can I do next? Questions one asks themselves when walking through the exhibition.


Backlight Photo Festival and CICAT2025

Backlight Photo Festival is one of the oldest and largest international photography festivals in Northern Europe. The festival has been organized every three years by the Photographic Centre Nykyaika in Tampere, Finland, since 1987. Backlight exhibits contemporary photography of social and global importance. The 12th Backlight Photo Festival triennial establishes a presentation space for works by creators of fine photographic art and explorers of the scientific world.

As an art photographer it was huge honor to be part of the Backlight Photo Festival. I would do it again anytime!

Isa Kiviaho, TAMK Student

The exhibition uses art to create change for a better and sustainable future, an aim of the CICAT2025 project. CICAT2025 is a joint project between Finnish universities searching for catalysts for the transition to a sustainable circular economy. Together with Backlight an international Special Open Call was opened in 2019 that received 168 different proposals. The final result is a collection of 37 artists presented in the exhibition, and the Visual Catalyst book that includes the artists’ works and articles by researchers.

For me the opening is always a bit hectic and I like to go through the exhibition by myself later, but at first sight the most affective work for me was Raisa Foster’s double sized light-boxes because of the beautiful and performative photographs, and the impressive installation method.

Janna Lindfors, Visual Catalysts Artist

Our Artists in the Exhibition

TAMK students Janna Lindfors, Luiza Preda, and Isabella Presnal, and iWeek 2020 artists Jana Köhler and Ignacio Varela, are part of the exhibition artists, using their art to challenge the present day and inspire us to change and think more sustainably.

As an artist I’m happy to be part of Visual Catalysts and the strong message it is giving to the viewers.

Janna Lindfors, Visual Catalysts Artist

The works Imaginary Friend by Janna Lindfors, The Invisible Fighters by Isabella Presnal, and What is a Tree Other Than Freedom? by VARE (Ignacio Varela) may look familiar as they were also presented in iWeek2020 SEE exhibition. Their work look at themes such as the relationship between animals and humans, individual and collective action, and the importance of natural ecosystems.

I am grateful to be representing my generation as the youngest artist of the exhibition. We and those younger are currently fighting for our future, one where we don’t have anxiety about the state of our planet. I hope my work, and the whole exhibition, sparks change in others to join the fight and create a better future.

Isabella Presnal, Visual Catalysts Artist

Since creating the work, and presenting it in iWeek2020, as a protest to what is happening to the biodiversity of Finnish forests, VARE tells me the project’s meaning has expanded and changed his everyday life because of it. “I think twice about buying things or another one that have less impact on climate change.” VARE explains that he tries to talk and advise people about the planet, though at least in Uruguay adults don’t often think about the planet’s future.

In this way, my project influences directly on my way of acting, and it would be wonderful if it happened to the viewers too. At least one. With just one person influenced, the project will have made sense. And if not, I will have to try again.

VARE (Ignacio Varela), Visual Catalysts Artist

X by Jana Köhler is a portrait of her own climate change. It’s a reflection upon one’s self of how or if change is actually being made. Luiza Preda’s work Remember Italy takes a critical look at the tourism industry and the use of souvenirs. Mass-production of cheap items encourages tourists to buy more to have as a memento of that location, raises questions of the effects it has on the planet.

These artists show just how different the focal point artists took with their artwork in the exhibition on the theme of Visual Catalysts. Everything is connected and has an effect on the planet, from tourism to pets, from personal action to ecosystems. How do we change our current systems? That is the question this exhibition asks us.

Attendee Anniina Nummela and artist Isabella Presnal discussing the Visual Catalysts book

TAMK Team Behind the Scenes

Behind the exhibition were many people from TAMK. The first being Juha Suonpää, the curator of the entire exhibition. Others like Petri Kiviniemi, Jouni Hirvonen, and Mika Nousiainen worked with the team to set up the exhibition.

When Luiza Preda was selected as an artist, she didn’t expect that she’d also be working as one of the coordinators, with German artist Alexander Lembke, for five months. “I started as a shy exhibition assistant, but soon, everyone understood the amount of extra work that was coming every day and slowly, but surely, I started to accept more responsibilities on my shoulders.” She learned a lot about what goes into an exhibition behind the scenes, and says it was a great pleasure to have been both an artist and a coordinator for the event.

When time came to set up the exhibition, Juha Suonpää asked his photography students to be part of the team and help set up the entire exhibition. TAMK Photography students worked the full week before the opening, from measuring to hanging up prints to taking care of digital works to hosting the opening. I asked the students to tell me about their experience.

It was beautiful to see how a small group could come together with the same mission during such a short time.

Isa Kiviaho, TAMK Student

For some, like Teini Piibemaa and Yu-Hsuan Harjula, this was their first time installing an exhibition. The exhibition took four days to set up, sometimes they worked 10 hours a day, but Yu-Hsuan assures me that it isn’t as scary as it sounds; “Time flies when you’re focusing on the tasks, and there is always some achievements during the process, therefore the long hours really are not tiring, time passes so fast that I cannot feel its existence in those moments. ” Teini said that this experience has given her the understanding that will help her future exhibition planning.

As an exchange student it really was an amazing experience to work on this project. I learned a lot about how exhibitions work. The week of preparation was very interesting and not what I was use to (coming from a filmmaking background)!

Magali Asmar, Exchange student at TAMK

Others like Isa Kiviaho, agree that building an exhibition the size of Visual Catalysts was an amazing and teaching experience. She feels that the trust from the organizers held great importance, as “it was clear that they listened to our ideas, and saw these important. It gave me, and maybe all of us, more confidence and the energy to give our full potential to build a successful exhibition.” Yu-Hsuan told me that one of the most beneficial learnings was about measurements, as it is a huge part of the set up. With this knowledge the students have more opportunities to work in galleries for their practical training.

Minh Pham worked as a technician, taking care of the digital artworks, which required a lot of problem-solving skills and flexibility to make things work. He tells me they learned a lot during the preparation, many practical things like utilizing the space or mounting works, but also cooperating and helping each other and handling a great amount of work in such a short period of time.

The Visual Catalyst was a really fun and stimulating experience for all of us who were involved in the preparation and opening.

Minh Pham, TAMK Student

Something that really touched Yu-Hsuan was that they were the few people who physically touch the art works, with gloves and very gentle handling of course. She tells me that to see and to touch the art works is two entirely different moments. “It really makes me feel closer and connected to the works, and on some level, I feel closer to the artists even without meeting them.”

The only way to receive these amazing moments is by participating in setting up exhibitions.

If you love art, you should for sure take part behind the scenes! The satisfaction of the finishing moment was one of the sweetest fruits in life one can ever ask for.

Yu-Hsuan Harjula, TAMK Student

TAMK Student team: Magali Asmar, Salla Flinkman, Yu-Hsuan Harjula, Naksu Kihlakasi, Isa Kiviaho, Vilma Kosola, Salla Kuoppamaa, Minh Pham, Teini Piibemaa, Luiza Preda, Silja-Riikka Seppälä, Elisa Serave, Saga Tähtinen, Silja Tusa, Juulia Vanhatalo.

TAMK student team at the exhibition opening:
Teini Piibemaa, Yu-Hsuan Harjula, Magali Asmar, Luiza Preda, Vilma Kosola, Isa Kiviaho
Photo by Minh Pham

The Opening

On Friday, the 25th of September, the exhibition team hosted a physical and virtual opening with artists, researchers, and guests. For those in person at the opening we wore masks and sat at a distance as we enjoyed seeing the works, as well as speaking with other guests whilst sipping locally sourced cider made from unused apples. Using Zoom, international artists and guests were able to join the opening from their homes. We heard from organizers about the process of the exhibition and the book, as well as from artists about their works.

I am very grateful that both the physical and virtual opening turned out to be a real success. But maybe the greatest lesson for me was when I realized that behind every great visitor experience, lays hundreds of hours of brainstorming and hard work.

Luiza Preda, Visual Catalysts Artist and Coordinator
Luiza Preda hosting an Instagram Live for international guests

Being really far away from Finland during this exhibition was not easy for me, but the team behind the scenes did a great job, it was like being there!

VARE (Ignacio Varela), Visual Catalysts Artist

This year we’ve seen how technology and digital platforms can be utilized to create accessible and international events online. The event industry has been catapulted into exploring and testing the capacities of virtual events, the industry is shaken and needs new solutions. Hybrid events are the future during COVID but also for a circular society. Why take a flight across the world emitting kilos of CO2 when you can join online from home or your local co-working space? This event offers an idea to how events could combine virtual platforms and a physical space.

It was truly a privilege to be able to attend the opening in real life (given the circumstances) and it was sweet and innovative of having the exhibition opening also virtually. The organization really proved that every artist and worker was valued and included into this exhibition opening.

Teini Piibemaa, TAMK Student

Exhibition Set Up Photos by Minh Pham

Opening and Exhibition Photos by Teini Piibemaa

Article by Isabella Presnal

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