Tuomas A. Laitinen

The Boneless One 
September 14 - December 11, 2021

Opening Reception: September 14, 4-8pm

The Yeh Art Gallery at St. John’s University is pleased to announce The Boneless One, a solo exhibition of glass sculptures and videos by Finnish artist Tuomas A. Laitinen. The Boneless One presents a series of contorting glass sculptures made for octopuses, as well as two videos that examine different aspects of octopus intelligence. Altogether, this exhibition proposes lessons learned from non-human intelligence, and builds on Laitinen’s previous investigations into questions of ecology, symbiotic processes, and knowledge production from multiple viewpoints. This exhibition is Laitinen’s first institutional solo exhibition in the United States, and the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York.

Since 2016, one strand of Tuomas A. Laitinen’s artistic practice has touched upon  research into cognition and consciousness in other-than-human minds, focusing on octopuses in particular. In ancient Greece, “the octopus was known as the ‘boneless one,’ the creature that (supposedly) survives hunger by eating its own tentacles,” writes noted classicist Emily Wilson in the introduction to her translation of The Odyssey. As humankind embarks on new, unknown odysseys — post-pandemic futures, the challenge of climate change, and privatized spaceflight — what guidance might other-than-human lifeforms offer wayward journeyers?

Notably, octopuses excel at adaptation. The series A Proposal for an Octopus (2016-ongoing) is a direct extension of his cephalopodic inquiry, and Laitinen presents ten twisting glass sculptures with tubular chambers and amorphous apertures. Not only do the architectures evoke the tentacular and malleable forms of cephalopods, but they provide potential habitats for boneless bodies. The video Haemocyanin (2019) follows an octopus as it plays with, investigates, and squeezes through one of Laitinen’s vessels. The video’s name derives from the types of proteins, which contain copper atoms that transport oxygen through the bodies of cephalopods, imbuing their blood with a bluish tinge.

Octopuses blend into their environment with the help of chromatophore cells. In Blend 01 (2020), a machine learning system attempts to produce an image sequence based on a dataset showing the camouflaged creatures of the deep. The video is part of a series of experiments made with a collection of images of cephalopod camouflage. The mutating textures mimic how these lifeforms can quickly morph their bodies in vibrant, unexpected ways. The final work in the exhibition is the glyph typeface Ctongue (2018). Laitinen derived these glyphs from his research on octopus arm movement, and the work exists both as glass sculptures and a functional typeface drawn by the artist. In the exhibition, Ctongue appears in the video Haemocyanin, as well as in the text installation The Boneless One (2021), which is a collaboration with the type foundry Schick Toikka. In this work, Ctongue glyphs are blended with readable text, creating a mutating body of speculative language.

Altogether, Laitinen’s work weaves a saga of shapeshifting intelligence, the multi-tentacular potential of adaptation in the face of new realities.

Tuomas A. Laitinen: The Boneless One is organized in collaboration with the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York.

The exhibition is generously supported by the Rev. Al Shands, Frame Contemporary Art Finland, and The Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture, AVEK. The artist is supported by a working grant from The Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike).

About the artist
Tuomas A. Laitinen is an artist who works with video, sound, glass, chemical and microbial processes, and algorithms to explore the entanglements of multispecies coexistence. Laitinen composes situations and installations that inquire into the porous interconnectedness of language, body, and matter within morphing ecosystems. In recent years, Laitinen has been working with questions of ecology, mythology, and processes of symbiotic knowledge production. He often works with translucent and transparent materials in order to find ways to layer complex material and spatial relations.

Laitinen´s works have been recently shown in the 1st Helsinki Biennial,  21st Biennale of Sydney, 7th Bucharest Biennale, Screen City Biennale 2019 (Stavanger), SADE LA (Los Angeles), Amado Art Space (Seoul), Moving Image New York, A Tale of a Tub (Rotterdam), Art Sonje Center (Seoul), Helsinki Contemporary, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art, and MOCA Shanghai. Laitinen received The Fine Arts Academy of Finland Prize in 2013.

Image: Tuomas A. Laitinen, still from Haemocyanin, 2019, 8 min, UHD, stereo sound. Courtesy the artist and Helsinki Contemporary.