Photo: Victor X
I often question why I am so blessed to be surrounded by such artistic talent and creativity, then I remind myself I’m in Helsinki. The former design capital of the world (2012) – Helsinki is a city booming with exceptionally talented people within the creative industry. My focus now has turned to the Helsinki art world, and a man who has been engaged with it for the past 20 years, American photographer and writer Mark Maher.
Mark is an unusual archetype of seemingly endless creativity. When he is not writing copy for one of the hottest and most sought-after advertising agencies in Helsinki, he is both producing and curating art. Mark’s roots are in photography. However, he enjoys the process of manipulating and distorting photographs – and the results are often exceptional.
After producing seductive and captivating art for over two decades, Mark at times seems to be just getting started. His new art book, Low Life, will launch in December, and this latest series complexly explores the transgressions of normalcy within society – more specifically – the online sex industry. Gritty and powerful with soft and sensual hues, Low Life is sure to open comfortably shut eyes on both the topic of sex work, and the seedy frontiers of digital culture.
Mark’s earlier works explore other stimulating topics such as love, new world order, modern warfare and desolation.
“We are odd miraculous creatures capable of astounding acts of transformation. To be any living thing, most basically, means to pose a question.” – Trouble / Mark Maher
Trouble was a notably powerful series whose primary form was both a book and installation in which Mark took small, plastic children’s toys and contorted them in various ways then photographed the resultant objects and paired the images with an early 20th century psychological questionnaire used for profiling schizophrenia cases. This collection is minimalist in its delivery and generous in its implications, suggesting repeatedly that there’s often a confusing paradox between one’s innocent, childlike state of mind and the adult stream of consciousness. Trouble suggests that humans – as a species – must monitor their own mental degradation, which is directly influenced by our immediate surroundings. With Trouble Mark revels in his penchant for placing hard things together with soft in the same context, thus seducing the mind toward penetrating thought. That by definition is art.
“I think visual art, without exception, is always about something frozen that was once burning” – Meltpoint / Mark Maher
Another remarkable Maher series (and milestone) is Meltpoint. Meltpoint also begins as soft photography and ruthlessly transforms into an exploration of (through photograph manipulation paired with text) the demanding and undeniable complexity of love. The often desolate beauty of love in its entirety – irresistible, yet scarring – is examined with a bleeding, open heart. Meltpoint is an “artist’s monograph and a lover’s diary,” which perhaps seems an odd combination initially, however, initial qualms quickly shift while moving through the book. Meltpoint reminds us that we create as humans capable of deep thought an uncertain purgatory between our memories and actual occurrences. The portraits give us permission to ponder the perplexing nature of love, and its searing power over our subconscious selves.
I sat down with Mark – my most trusted neighbor – to discuss things further:
On the urban corner that is Roihuvuori?
“I’m excessively proud of my diverse Helsinki neighborhood! Lots of old Finnish grannies, some of whom moved here when Roihuvuori was built in the early ’60’s. But then a fair number of smart young Finnish families – many of whom are multicultural. I am as uninterested in living in a monocultural ethnic ghetto as I am living with only native Finns. Roihuvuori reflects many things that are the best of contemporary Finnish society.”
On a collection you are most proud of producing?
“I would hope people find the thread from this latest work and the things I’ve done before.”
On young talent in Helsinki?
“The town is crawling with smarty-pants. We should export half of them to China.”
On Love&Money (an ongoing curating project that brings high-quality art/artists to a corporate settings)?
“Bringing amazing artists and their artwork right to the heart of my day job is the key to my continued mental health!”
On advice for struggling artists?
“If you can at all avoid it, don’t be an artist.
Raw, in-your-face, edgy yet brilliantly thought-provoking, Mark will give you the whole package. He is a veteran at presenting visually and mentally stimulating art that poses questions some may be too timid to ask. His often quite effective technique of conjoining two often contrasting views with sensual pop imagery is an art form all its own. We are looking forward to the release of Low Life, meanwhile, you are strongly encouraged to scour Mark’s substantial oeuvre and encounter a most peculiar – and incisive – meandering mind.