CHANGING THE WAY WE LOOK AT BEAUTY — IN CONVERSATION WITH RIIKKA HYVÖNEN
A woman had captured her bottom in a photo. Anyone who happened to glance at it, could instantly recognize what seemed like a glimpse to an incredible miniature universe: the colours of her mesmerizing wound altered from dark violet to light green.
”I have a really beautiful bruise on my bum,” she then wrote on the Facebook wall of her friend Riikka Hyvönen. ”Do you want to see a pic? It has 12 colors and is the size of my head.”
Of course Hyvönen wanted to.
And so, the making of one of her artworks had begun.
Starting from an innocent expression of pride, the teaser would end up as the title for a giant 3D artwork picturing a bruised bottom. In June, I Have A Really Beautiful Bruise On My Bum. Do You Want To See A Pic? It Has 12 Colors And Is The Size Of My Head (2015) became a part of a London bound exhibition called ’Roller Derby Kisses’.
“I painted the bums to capture momentary marks that are seen in a completely different light in the mainstream than inside the subculture of roller derby girls,” Hyvönen describes.
Falling somewhere in between of sculptures and paintings, the artworks are simultaneously confusing and magnetic — as they show how everyone’s skin reacts to a hit differently.
”I hope people can see the beauty of bruises.”
Although often looked at merely as a show, roller derby — one of the few contact sports for women — is, in fact, an aggressive sport demanding a lot of strength from a player. In derby reality, muscular butts are considered a great advantage in the ring. Therefore, the bruises the bottoms occasionally face are something to be proud of: true badges of honour, little love bites — kisses from derby.
Weakly hidden shock is a common first reaction to Hyvönen’s works, often followed by a nervous little laugh: God, how much that must have hurt! But even though the wounds earned on the rink have obviously caused pain, Hyvönen’s art remains unexpectedly delicate, even sexy.
”I am objectifying these women totally. But I am doing it exactly in the way they objectify themselves,” she says.
And yes, some of the women have clearly had fishnets on in the moment of tackle. At least the girl turned into Fresh Meat in Fishnets! (2015) — two meters and 50 kilos of MDF, wood, glitter and leather — uncovers a remarkable net pattern on her thigh.
An essential part of roller derby’s internet philosophy is sharing, because bruised bottoms are to be shown and admired publicly. Therefore, more or less official competitions in who’s got the greatest derby bruise happen casually. And it’s exactly this communal, feminist spirit of the sport that made an instant impression to Hyvönen.
The inspiration has led to a situation where millions of people have found it hard to get their eyes off of the unapologetic works. What sparkles through them, is the player’s painful joy of looking at her trophy in a bathroom mirror after a well-played game.
Pop, kitsch and camp, the works have demanded the artist quite meticulous persistence with the paintbrush, as well as stable hands with the jigsaw — in addition to a proper storage of wood, leather and glitter.
The loving relationship between Hyvönen and pop is a long-term one.
”I have been interested in popular culture since I was a kid,” the 32-year-old artist says. ”Or perhaps different cultures in general — all sorts of subcultures.”
Renowned for her exhibition Ylisöpö! (Über cute!) with visual artist Rakel Liekki in 2010, Hyvönen is interested in making us question our self evident truths.
”We keep on painting cuteness and yet we can’t find a rational reason for why couldn’t we just be cute,” Hyvönen says. ”Why would cuteness correlate with intelligence or the significance of the piece?”
In 2012, Hyvönen was finished with her plaster dogs Tinkerbell 1, 2 and 3. After the year-long process of sculpting Paris Hilton’s chihuahuas, she hung them on the wall of her studio like trophies or memories from a victorious hunting trip. Through this, Hyvönen wanted to guide viewers’ attention to the way we might approach living creatures as accessories.
Traces of the intense history of pop and Hyvönen can be sensed in her childhood home in Lapland. The paintings on the walls are far away from an average ten-year-old’s school projects: the Chagall replica, Mickey Mouse on a bright blue background and the chair with a bright three-dimensional yellow sun in the back all suddenly make the bruised bottoms of 2015 seem logical in the continuum.
”I painted cute animals,” Hyvönen says herself.
At 18, she decided to quit high school, and moved away from Lapland. Inspired by a romantic thought of an artistic au pair’s life, she settled in an Italian village. Afraid of boring herself to tears after a couple of months, she returned home — to follow from aside how her friends spent long hours in the library, preparing for the final exams of the Spring. She decided to continue her journey.
This time the she got lucky, since the city she landed in felt right straight from the beginning: Hyvönen’s first home in London was an Earl’s Court dorm room that she shared with nine boys. Working happily in a video rental shop, she wanted to live in London forever.
But although it took a while, it eventually hit her — the realization of having forgotten something. After graduating as a make-up artist, Hyvönen would be sent to work in shopping malls around London. Some seemingly insignificant day in the middle of the echoing hum of voices and applying foundation on unknown faces for their Friday nights out, she understood something important.
”I remembered that I was supposed to become an artist. I guess it was as if the society had told me for so long that it’s not OK to do just that.”
Hyvönen started working to get closer to becoming one. After working as a hairdresser and make-up artist for several years, she got into Hyvinkää art school in Finland, studied for three years — and wanted to learn more. So she begun with her fine arts studies at Goldsmiths University in London in 2012.
”Studying at Goldsmiths was great because nobody got forced to a certain direction. Instead, I felt my own way of making art was supported and strengthened.”
Simultaneously, she continued training with the London Rollergirls Recreational League, and started to pay closer attention to the girls’ habit of showing off the kisses from derby on the side of the pitch.
Finally in the Spring 2015, after investigating the psychological meanings of bruises and skin, she created a series of three-dimensional artworks for her degree show. From Goldsmiths, her works travelled to King’s Cross, to form a part of her ’Roller Derby Kisses’ exhibition, curated together with the Finnish Institute in London.
In the beginning, the women recreated for the works were found from among Hyvönen’s friends — like Selma.
”Selma bruises so easily,” Hyvönen laughs tenderly. The leathery surface of each bottom had to be broken and painted, then broken and painted again for dozens of times to make the bruises look real.
Selma, with whom she started her beginner’s fresh meat course, has lately even skated her way to the infamous A-team of Kallio Rolling Rainbow. Now her bum is presented in 50 Shades Of Purple (2014).
Although Hyvönen hasn’t had much time to play herself, she has become a person to whom unknown people are not afraid to show their wounds. Women from around the world — all the way from Australia and US to mention a few places — keep on lifting their pants just a little to be able to photograph the reflections of the trophies in the mirror.
After photographing themselves, they send the images of their unreal mini galaxies to Riikka Hyvönen — just in case she would like to turn them into art one day.
Text by Veera Voutilainen