FiR Artist Interviews: Terike Haapoja

This interview with artist Terike Haapoja, conducted and written by Tessa Aarniosuo, is a part of a series of discussions with artists taking part in the Frontiers in Retreat project at HIAP, Helsinki International Artist Programme. 

– Jenni Nurmenniemi, Curator, Frontiers in Retreat; HIAP


On the Museum of Nonhumanity

Terike Haapoja met writer Laura Gustafsson in 2012. They had admired each other’s work for a while, so they quickly bonded over common interests and values. The bond resulted in a project of both artistic and scientific reflection entitled The History of Others, that focuses on non-human perspectives of the world through exhibitions, seminars and discussions. The first part of the project took place in 2013 and was called The Museum of the History of Cattle. The Trial, the second part of the project, was commissioned by the Baltic Circle festival and premiered in 2014. I met Terike outside the Tiivistämö building in Suvilahti, Helsinki, to discuss the third part of The History of Others, scheduled to open 1st of September 2016 in Helsinki.

The Museum of Nonhumanity, the third part of The History of Others, focuses on the history and rhetoric of dehumanisation. The boundary between those who are considered human and non-human has always been used to justify violence against the latter. The Museum of Nonhumanity considers this dividing line, and where it has traditionally been drawn, taking into account slavery, colonialism, genocide, race and gender discrimination, as well as other examples of white supremacy and patriarchy. As a whole, The Museum of Nonhumanity is a fictional monument that challenges us to imagine a world where dehumanisation is put into the past.

The Museum of Nonhumanity is not a mere art exhibition, but will include a vegan coffee shop, a bookstore, seminars and an evening programme as well as a video installation.

Haapoja and Gustafsson are also presenting a piece titled Embrace Your Empathy! at Flow Festival 2016. Embrace Your Empathy! is a prelude to the Museum of Nonhumanity, and comprises of a video installation and a collection of banners, both displaying catch phrases that promote empathy and understanding between species and humans.


TA: How do you bridge the gap between humanity and the other?

TH: I do not think I can ever bridge the gap; however, I aim to question it. Of course, it comes naturally to draw a line between humanity and the other, but that does not mean that we should blindly accept it. The Museum of Nonhumanity will show, that the humanity in question is a specific humanity, a patriarchal supremacy, a cultural construct. The other is the oppressed: animals, women, people of a specific heritage or ethnicity. The gap may be there, but the need to reflect on it is constant.

Decolonisation, empathy, natural law and the Anthropocene are important discourses regarding this reflection. Another important theme is, of course, love; we must exercise and actively pursue love in order to even come close to bridging the gap between humanity and the other.


TA: How do you rid yourself of your human cognition?

TH: I do not. It is dangerous to believe that one could easily identify with the oppressed, but it is the only way to practise empathy. We may not succeed, but we need to try. There are, of course, creatures with which we share many characteristics; we have bodies and families, for example. It is fairly easy to imagine what their life must be like, and art is a good platform to practise such an imaginative play.


TA: How do you avoid the temptation to preach or moralise, while still awakening your audience to matters of empathy and co-existence of the species?

TH: Preaching indeed does not work. However, an art piece can be viewed as successful when it manages to juxtapose complexity of topic with a clear ethical message. In politics we tend to simplify multidimensional issues. Political art, on the contrary, aims to bring out the complexity of the matters. History is never black and white, there are always many viewpoints to consider.


Embrace Your Empathy! at Flow Festival 12. – 14.8.2016
Museum of Nonhumanity at Tiivistämö, Suvilahti 2.9. – 29.9.2016