10.12.2020 - 6.3.2021

Matthew Cowan: Wildness Makes This World


6 / 4 €

Wildness Makes This World is a participatory project by artist Matthew Cowan, Seinäjoki Kunsthalle, the professional orchestra Laitakaupungin Orkesteri and people from the area of Seinäjoki that explores wildness as a mode of being.

The co-operation between the Kunsthalle and Matthew Cowan started when visiting Cowan’s exhibition para field notes at Photographic Gallery Hippolyte in Helsinki 2017. The Kunsthalle was making new program guidelines and Cowan’s art seemed align. The commentary on folk traditions and locality, humour and academic way of thinking seemed fitting for the program plans of the Kunsthalle, that was about to move to an old barn house. Matthew Cowan was invited to visit Seinäjoki and held an open lecture, and the planning of the project began.

Matthew Cowan observes wildness in the spirit of the carnavalesque and communal chaos at the centre of particular folk rituals across Europe. These rituals have often involved a central character – a ‘wildman’, bringing a sense of disorder and unpredictability to a community event. Traditional folk rituals such as these are interruptions in the normal communal social order that make clear our fascination with the thrill and nature of disorder. Among other works related to these observations of folklore, his practice has reflected this interest in a series of ‘wildman’ costumes and sculptures, disguising and hiding the wearer. Sometimes these are materials from nature, but other times they are simply made of everyday materials. As a symbol of a kind of a human threshold between nature and culture, these mythical characters embody a particular human urge that psychologically straddles the normal everyday responsibilities of human society and states of exhilaration, chaos, disorder and awe.

This new exhibition is the result of an artistic survey in collaboration with local people, museums and musicians, seeking traces and modes of wildness, environments and actions that can invoke an understanding of wildness as a mode of being. Through these interactions, new artworks have been produced. The works cover a range of responses to the idea of wildness, how it is experienced, what it might sound like, what it might look like, and how it is understood through historical sources.

Twelve local people have introduced the artist a wild place, their idea of wildness or a wild practice. Places such as forest, rocks, natural water, peatland, sports hall, childhood landscape and museums are such places.

“I have been interested in the kinds of wildness that could be translated into Finnish as ‘raivoisuus’, as well as ‘jylhyys’, and discussing these translations has been a part of the artistic exchange that has occurred”, Matthew Cowan explains.

The exhibition is a collective installation of new artworks, artefacts and historical objects as an examination of wildness, not just as it relates to nature, but more specifically as it relates to personal experiences and our senses. Whilst the idea of wildness is automatically connected to the realm of nature and seems to oppose domesticity, the exhibition’s interest has been in a more psychological viewpoint. Accordingly, an acceptance of psychogeographic knowing and the connection of experience to place has been an important theme of this exhibition. Overall the installation speculates that wildness is an essential mode for living, and we return to re-performing and inhabiting it in numerous ways that are sometimes unexpected and certainly not always limited to the natural world.

“Wildness is an essential mode for living, and we return to re-performing and inhabiting it in numerous ways that are sometimes unexpected and certainly not always limited to the natural world”, Matthew Cowan states.


The exhibition installation will have a soundscape created over the course of this year by Matthew Cowan in collaboration with the Laitakaupungin Orkesteri, supported by The University of Arts Sibelius Academy Seinäjoki Office. This new soundscape is the result of discussions and exchanges in thinking about wildness as it relates to making, combining and producing and music and sounds. The soundscape will play continuously during the exhibition.



Matthew Cowan is a New Zealand artist, based in Berlin and Helsinki, working in the realm of traditional European customs. His works are photographs, videos, installations and performances, which play with the inherent strangeness of the continued popularity of folk customs in a contemporary world.


Exhibition Guide

Picture: Jenni Latva