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Five Minutes with Nanna Hänninen

Nanna Hänninen’s work has always looked to explore dichotomies that exist in this world, most notably the illusion of what is real and what is false. In a world of ‘Fake News’, her conceptual approach challenges the idea of photography as an objective snapshot of reality and the truth. We sat down with the Finnish artist to talk about her artistic influences, climate change, and what art means to her.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I entered my first black and white photography course when I was sixteen and in my early twenties I started my first professional art studies at the Lahti Institute of Design in Finland. In the beginning of my studies I thought I would become a photojournalist but during my first year it became clear that my thinking was too artistic. After my time at Lahti Institute of Design, I attended Aalto University (commonly referred to as The Helsinki School) to get my masters degree. While I was studying here I became a professional artist presented by several international galleries including Galleri Bo Bjerggaard in Copenhagen.

Can you talk about your artistic influences and other artists you are most inspired by?

Düsseldorf School artists such as Thomas Demand have influenced my work, while the likes of Gerhard Richter, Barbara Kruger and Francesca Woodman also impact my style.

Do you prefer to work alone or collaborate with others?

In my artistic practice I tend to work alone but my whole family is often involved. After the art making part and editing phase, almost all the work is a collaborative process with printers, museums, galleries, publishers, mentors and collectors.

Art itself can be seen as a study of the world – but from a different angle.

Can you tell us about a project you’re currently working on?

I am currently studying climate change as a phenomenon from the individual’s perspective. Being an individual in our society and being a human being in general is something that I am intrigued by.

What is the meaning of art, and why is art so important in our society?

Art itself can be seen as a study of the world – but from a different angle. Art is often about processing personal issues even if it is not self-evidently visible and by making or looking at art we can explore new perspectives.

One of the most important things in artistic practice is the freedom of speech. From the viewer’s point of view, I think it is important to understand that artworks are open to all kinds of interpretations – all of which are equally correct. Thinking through art helps us to foster empathy and to understand other people’s thinking. Most of the time when I look at art it looks and feels different depending on how I am feeling that day. This richness of interpretation and the dialogue with yourself is a truly beautiful dimension in art.

Future on Stake (one of the oldest living organisms on earth) From the series Now is Now (2017), Nanna Hänninen

You are using art in another kind of context too, can you tell us something about it?

We live in a complex and globalized world as our society becomes increasingly multicultural. Due to the digital era and our hectic lives, we are also often lacking essential skills which provide a base for a coherent society. Communication, collaboration, and creativity are lacking in the modern world. 

I believe that to foster 21st century skills we also need 21st century tools. This is why I developed Neemo™ Method – a photography-based learning and facilitation tool. It is a creative workshop which combines collaboration and learning through photography. In this workshop, we aim for participants to get inspired by photographic art while implementing their own strategy. I feel that as an artist I am on a mission to teach the power of art to everyone, especially to those who have no access into the world of art and artistic thinking.

What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t an artist?

I might have been a doctor, therapist, designer, philosopher or politician.

The Greenhouse Effect (earth on operation table) From the series Now is Now (2017), Nanna Hänninen

What advice would you give to young artists starting out?

Work honestly and systematically without forgetting yourself. Be proud of your work, but do not forget you’re not the only artist. Try to find people around you that you feel comfortable with and who will be honest with you – you need people in your life who appreciate you as a human being and not just an artist. Also, get a mentor who gives you honest feedback on your work and think of your career as a long journey.

I would suggest that as long as you don’t have a family of your own, you should travel a lot because this enriches your own thinking and helps you to grow as a human being. Lastly, I wish you good luck as you need a bit of that too to become successful.

Click here to see Nanna’s profile on Singulart

Nanna Hänninen latest projects

Exhibition in her native Finland at Serlachius Museums from 1 February 2020 – 7 March 2021.

Nanna’s new book, Now is Now, is available via Kodoji Press.