Timo Wright’s computer installation mocks people’s urge to categorise others
By Anu Uimonen
The first thing that a viewer sees after stepping into the Kluuvi Gallery is a wall covered with projected faces.
The visitor can, if desired, join the group: by sitting in front of the eye of the camera, his or her face ends up on the wall as part of the cavalcade of mug-shots.
However, this happens only after a rigorous analysis.
The computer software calculates on the basis of facial features whether the person whose picture is taken is a member of a “lower” or “higher” race, and places the photograph among the other 96 on that basis.
So of course I have to try it. The computer locates my face.
Face Found the text says, and it starts to analyse it.
Then the pictures on the wall undergo an intense shuffling, and when it all has settled I find my own face on the bottom row.
The computer installation by artist Timo Wright, The Race Code, compares each picture to an “ideal”, and its ranking depends on the degree to which it deviates from that ideal.
What is not revealed is exactly what the ideal is.
“I want to make people ponder if there is any point in categorising individuals”, Wright says.
The idea for the work came to him in the grim atmosphere that followed the previous parliamentary elections, in which increasingly overt racist talk started coming from different sides.
“I do not handle racism directly - I try to move forward past racism.”
Helping Wright was media artist Matti Niinimäki, who produced the software for The Race Code.
“Political art interests me - absolutely”, Wright says. “All public activities are political.”
“It is important for me that my art really does make comments and sparks debate - not just witticisms similar to advertising, such as distortions of logos. I want to stir emotions.”
Wright wants the public at large to encounter art outside museums and art galleries - on the streets and in shopping malls.
Although the installation is in a gallery, it is the hope of the artist that The Race Code might later be on display in some public place.
In a smaller room of the Kluuvi Gallery, the 35-year-old Wright takes on another sensitive issue - refugees.
In his work Pitkä matka kotiin (“A Long Way Home”) we hear stories about what it feels like when one is forced to leave home under duress.
The installation comprises worn-out radios of different ages, from which stories start emanating as they are approached.
“For the work I have interviewed evacuees from Karelia, Finnish war-children, and today’s refugees”, Wright says. “Their stories repeat the same emotions and they speak very similar sentences.”
Wright has removed from the stories all references to time and place.
They are read by one and the same voice - actor Vesa Vierikko.
The listener cannot know from where and when each person has had to leave.
What is left is what all of those speaking share.
“There is concern about animals being left behind, and what it felt like to turn and look back at one's home for the last time.”
Wright has noticed that in the prevailing atmosphere of hostility toward immigration, many appear to have forgotten that Finns have also had to experience what it is like to be a refugee and not to have a home country.
“If someone’s own grandparents have had the same experiences as the refugees of today, it is perhaps easier to understand the feelings of the refugees”, Wright says.
The stories of evacuees, war-children, and refugees repeat the uncertainty over whether or not they will ever get back home.
“Everyone has wanted to go back, even if the place that they left might no longer even exist.”
Timo Wright has taken direct aim at our present lifestyle and our established ways of thinking on previous occasions.
His Self Portrait, which was shown in the studio of Helsinki’s Kunsthalle in 2010, presented all the objects that he owns in small 10 x 8 snapshots. There were more than 3,000 of them.
“I wanted to show the ridiculous amounts of things that we own”, Wright says. "Every spoon, every vinyl record, every sock, every pen. Every single object. The things were made by someone else, and usually in bad conditions, so that we might be able to afford to get them all.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.2.2011
“If You Tolerate This…”, by Timo Wright: On display from February 2nd to March 4th at the Kluuvi Gallery in Helsinki on Unioninkatu 28 B, open Wednesdays through Sundays 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
Timo Wright - The Race Code
ANU UIMONEN / Helsingin Sanomat