Harmony by Gabriella Presnal is an art exhibition that reimagines our world where everyone is welcome and we live in harmony with our environment. The exhibition is part of the second annual Lux Skanssi event at the Skanssi shopping center in Turku, Finland.
“I wanted to create a society for the Skanssi exhibition where different cultures and people can live in harmony. I debated if the bright rainbow colors and youthful style of the pieces made it seem naive as if equality is just a fantasy. Is this community where equality, sustainability, and harmony are our defining features impossible or are we capable of creating it? I hope this exhibition encourages people to think about the kind of world we want to be living in and what we can do to make that our reality,” says Gabriella.
Gabriella Presnal is a Finnish-American artist (born in 2001 in Germany), who has lived in Finland for three years, after living in the United States, Canada, and Sweden. They are currently studying Fine Arts at the Tampere University of Applied Sciences.
Much of their work focuses on human rights, activism, and the global political climate as these are issues they have been very interested in since middle school. Gabriella works primarily with painting, though doesn’t limit themselves to working with various mediums such as watercolors, acrylic, relief plasticine, collages, mixed media, sculptures, ceramics, drawing and illustration, digital, and oil pastels.
Their first exhibition Genuine Expression was held at Aleksanterinkatu in Helsinki during the 2019 Pride month. Harmony is Gabriella’s fourth exhibition in 2020. They were part of the German Future Art Collective’s virtual exhibition Stay Alive, Stay Creative, and their art was part of the summer 2020 exhibition by Kulttuuritoimitus.
This exhibition was inspired by artists like Wednesday Holmes, Ana Serrano, Bete, and Gezo Marques, Daniel Agdag, and especially Nina Lindgren’s Floating City. My intentions were to represent a place where marginalized groups are liberated from oppression and have equity, dignity, and respect in harmony with our environment. One of the pieces, the arch city, is named Rainbow Nation which was inspired by how South Africa is referred to as the Rainbow Nation to describe post-apartheid South Africa after 1994. So, to me, this project represents a world/society “post-violence” as oppression is violent in any form.
My intentions are not to appropriate or compare every system of oppression to the apartheid but rather to try and reimagine a society without said systems and what would that look like. What this piece at its core is talking about is peace.
Johan Galtung’s coined the terms negative and positive peace, negative peace is an absence of violence, such as a ceasefire, positive peace meaning conflict resolution, restoration of relationships, and creating harmony between peoples. Peace in itself is not just the absence of conflict, it’s the absence of violence in all forms and the constructive methods of unfolding conflicts between different groups of people. So, of course, no country, even Finland, is truly at peace, because in many instances we lack positive peace. We lack harmony. At its simplest terms, the piece is essentially trying to envision world peace.
One thing I questioned in the process of making this project is if color makes the idea of this rainbow city naive and childish? Does this emphasize that it’s just a fantasy and peace can never be achieved? That marginalized peoples will never be safe and have the same rights? On the other hand, color emphasizes empowerment, reclamation, liberation, and acceptance. With the colorful and fantastical style, I wanted to reclaim a narrative that this idea of wanting equal rights is somehow juvenile. Or that this idealization of this anti-oppression society is somehow impossible and therefore naive.
The colorful, and youthful style of the pieces represents the youth taking action and trying to mold their future. It emphasizes the connections between human rights, the domination and exploitation of the planet, and the importance of democracy. It’s most essential message is that even a child can see the large systemic issues at hand, hence the youthful style. This “utopia” may not be 100% possible, I surely don’t imagine society living in beehives, but perhaps with the idea of solidarity with one another, we can create a version of it.
This project is also very interesting because there are very few people in the piece. If the whole point is to emphasize solidarity between people, where are these people? The houses are leaning on one another to build this bridge and these cities, for me, it symbolizes how human rights are interdependent with one another. I think the homes represent trying to materialize these ideas of supporting one another because the conversation can’t really stop at a conversation. It has to go beyond words, and even in the context of this exhibition it has to go beyond art.
For this project, I also want to include more urban settings, as graffiti is an art form that represents rebellion against conformity and institutions to some extent. I.e. messages about rebellion, reclamation, and perhaps a divide against the people and the institutions that are supposed to protect them but rather protect property and profits.
I think vocabulary we associate with the sculptures is also important because what is the importance of a nation over a city? A nation represents a people but this nation is represented by a people-less city. So in that way, it feels like an oxymoron. But I think a home is also what a lot of these ideas embody. We want to be safe, to have water, food, dignity & respect, to love, and to be loved, and we want that for everyone in our community on the basis of their humanity.
I also wanted to incorporate this idea of harmony between the environment and society. I think the beehives and the rainbow are very important because I think the idea at the core is that humanity is inherently good. Anti-oppressive movements are human nature, justice is human nature, solidarity is human nature.
A large part of the inspirations behind this piece is the communities I have been in. For instance, the beehives were created from old notebooks from high school classes. So this exhibition is very much about what we are teaching today’s children? What kind of society are they growing up in? Does our present represent the future that they want?
I think these pieces are very symbolic in that sense because they’re almost entirely made up of recycled materials and they have a very collage style to many of the buildings and surfaces, so it literally symbolizes tearing down or recycling the old and building something that works in harmony with our environment and the people in our societies. The city tries to emphasize cultures from around the world. The rainbow emphasizes pride but also the blurring of our social constructions and how we understand ourselves in our society.
The exhibition attempts to represent a world without oppression, conflict, and violence, voicing what the youth of today are demanding from our political leaders. The cities and the little environments represent what we need to value and protect in our world, i.e. biodiversity, ethical responsibility, justice, and more in order to create a more peaceful future. The faces of the exhibition represent this new wave of radicalized youth that we are seeing now in 2020 as a result of multiple factors relating to human rights and the environment.
The houses are leaning on one another to build this bridge and these cities, symbolizing how human rights are interdependent with one another. The homes represent trying to materialize these ideas of supporting one another in the real world. The rainbow arch bridges people and ideologies together.
Harmony is an art exhibition that reimagines our world where everyone is welcome and we live in harmony with our environment.
The exhibition is part of the Lux Skanssi event at the Skanssi shopping center in Turku, Finland. It will be open until November 1st. To visit: it’s across Lindex, next to H&M Home on the second floor.
Photos by Isabella Presnal