Matthew Cowan: para field notes At Photographic Gallery Hippolyte

Para field notes by Matthew Cowan continues the exhibition collaboration between Saari Residence and Hippolyte on 6–22 April 2018.

The exhibition para field notes by New Zealander artist Matthew Cowan is the sixth of a series of collaborative exhibitions between Saari Residence and Photographic Gallery Hippolyte. Central to Cowan’s exhibition are old customs and folk beliefs. His works are based on history, folkloristics, agriculture and biology, and they offer an imaginary view of the countryside and shape our understanding of it. The exhibition consists of installation made of straw and other familiar agricultural objects, photographs and video, and a collection of items on loan from the Tavastila local museum in Mietoinen, near the Saari Residence. The Mynämäki male choir participated in the making of some of the exhibition’s videos.

“One of the things about folklore and folk traditions is that it happens mostly in the countryside, and these days, most of us live in the city. I am interested in that gap between where we live and where folk rituals and traditions happen,” explains Cowan.

In his artistic work, Cowan explores ancient customs and superstitions that have survived to the present day in curious ways. During his stay at Saari Residence as the Saari Invited Artist, Cowan studied the local folklore of Southwest Finland and visited the Kalanti church to examine its paintings by Pietari Henrikinpoika dating from the 1470s. The exhibition’s name, para field notes, refers to the demon-like figures appearing in the paintings that likely represent paras, supernatural spirits known throughout Finnish and European folklore. A para was a familiar spirit and a servant, tasked with helping the house and its owner and protecting their wealth. The para could be sent to steal milk from neighbours, and church paintings, such as those in Kalanti, portray scenes of people churning stolen milk into butter beside an onlooking para.

Matthew Cowan (b. New Zealand) is a visual artist, based in Berlin and Helsinki, working in the realm of traditional European folk customs. His works take the form of photographs, videos, installations and performances, which play with the strangeness of the continued popularity of long-established folk customs within a contemporary world.

Para field notes by Matthew Cowan is the sixth exhibition organised as part of the collaboration between Photographic Gallery Hippolyte and Saari Residence since 2013. Cowan first worked at the Saari Residence in 2013 and returned for stays with the Lintutorni collective during summer 2015 and as the Saari Residence invited artist from autumn 2016 to spring 2017. He is currently a Doctoral Studies candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts in Helsinki.