The following essay on Artor Jesus Inkerö‘s exhibition Trophy has been written by Harry Tafoya, an art and music writer from New York City. He has previously written for publications including NPR, Pitchfork, Frieze, Aperture, Art In America, and more.

I grew up in Southern California in the 2000s, a time and place where appearance mattered far more than substance. Sunny fakeness and social elitism went hand-in-hand, and made for a very powerful but very superficial form of etiquette. You smiled out of politeness regardless if you were actually happy, or whether you cared if your company suddenly burst into flames (or not!). It didn’t occur to me until I was older that I’d grown up in a very ruthless place, and that these early social lessons were themselves a cunning way of smoothing over personal differences. This is a set of behavior that I’m sure would register as incredibly foreign to the Finns, who don’t bother wasting their time with fake pleasantries, never mind useless talk. Part of my love for Finnish artists is the awkward theater that they make of navigating everyday life and the surreal, sometimes disturbing deadpan with which they leave things unsaid. In a fairly homogenous country, to be aggressively plain-spoken about one’s oddness is a powerful way of reasserting just how radically different other people truly are.

Artor Jesus Inkerö cuts a distinctly freaky figure despite being tall, good-looking, and outwardly well-adjusted. In their film Short Reach, Inkerö stretches, poses, and lingers across various public spaces in their gym clothes, not doing anything particularly flamboyant or attention-grabbing, but nonetheless sticking out like a sore thumb. The work is an extended piece of choreography based on the subtle cues of cruising, and the slight ways in which they arch their back, face the camera, and flex their muscles feels like an off-kilter and misplaced attempt at trying to attract the viewer’s attention – and not necessarily even in a sexual way. It’s studied banality, with Inkerö making a performance out of going through the motions and revealing in turn just how flimsy and artificial our ways of relating to each other truly are.

For their show Trophy at the Kirpilä Art Collection, Inkerö offers a jolt of strangeness that both plays into and subverts the conventions of the museum’s home space. Filtered through their experience as a longtime collector of ceramics, Inkerö approaches domesticity through a singularly bizarre perspective. Amateur ceramic pieces without any clear or obvious function are emblazoned with boldly nonsensical poems. Where most homewares feature a nice pattern or a heartwarming cliché (“I Heart Mom”), to ash a cigarette in one of Inkerö’s wobbly, misshapen vessels is to be confronted with aggressive non sequiturs like ”Stick Toilet” or ”Hole Home Dream” aimed at destabilizing any relatable feeling of familiarity never mind coziness.

The artist’s own selfie-portraits further warp the exhibition space. Inkerö could’ve easily been cast as the model for Magnus Enckell’s Young Male Nude, but in their own practice the artist casts themself as an infinitely more baffling kind of pin-up. Posing in dressing rooms, bathrooms, and wall-length gym mirrors, the artist anchors photos fit for Grindr with hilarious ribbons of absurdist text. In Big Buddy Fuck Yeah, Inkerö flexes into the camera while the crudely written words blare out from behind them like a football chant. Elsewhere, Inkerö juxtaposes their selfies with photos that make a punchline out of the artist’s own vanity; Big Ass Lemon and Big Ass Pipe for instance are such goofy and on-the-nose dick and ass jokes that you can’t help but laugh at Inkerö’s rude daring.

The show’s title, Trophy appears on the top half of a lumpy ceramic vessel; Inkerö has simply written “Debt” on the base. It’s the kind of wonky art piece that wouldn’t inspire anyone to actually go for the gold, but it is a funny little gesture for people who roll their eyes at the thought of what it conventionally means to “win” in the first place. In Inkerö’s show, domesticity isn’t held up as any kind of great or special prize and neither, for that matter, is passing yourself off as a glorified sex object. Selfies and sculpture are all means for Inkerö to channel their sly, nonsensical brand of humor into work about what it means to occupy a body and a living space. In doing so, the artist offers up a genuinely singular and wonderful kind of oddness that expands one’s sense for the ways other people live.

Photo: Artor Jesus Inkerö, Short Reach (2019) at the Kirpilä Art Collection, 2023

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