The XXV Mänttä Art Festival has selected Anna Ruth (b. 1975) as the curator for the 2020 exhibition. Ruth is a Canadian visual artist who has called Jyväskylä home for the past 15 years. She is an award-winning art event organiser and versatile cultural activist who has enriched the Jyväskylä art scene with her decade-long nomadic art gallery project, Äkkigalleria. Ruth has worked in many mediums, from painting and drawing to mapmaking.
Anna Ruth has participated in exhibitions in several countries, including Italy, Norway, Portugal and South Africa, and her artworks have been acquired by various art collections in Finland and abroad. Before arriving in Finland, Ruth lived in France where she finished her art studies. The Mänttä Art Festival has been near to Ruth's heart for many years. Her relationship with the Art Festival was established already in 2002, the year of her arrival, and since then, she has visited every Mänttä Art Festival exhibition excluding one.
Ruth’s work navigates the border between tradition and innovation, striving to break down archaic boundaries. In the early 2000s, established art venues dominated Jyväskylä, presenting barriers to outside artists. Together with her partner, Juho Jäppinen, Ruth began curating exhibitions in their home, allowing her to introduce new artists and artistic perspectives to her adopted country. In 2009, she expanded the concept to create Äkkigalleria, which turns public and vacant commercial spaces into galleries. Through this cooperation, she has created opportunities for a diverse range of artists to bring their self-expression and social concerns to the public.
In 2015, she began specializing in murals, hoping to enrich existing objects rather than create new ones. Today, her work appears on many walls, from hospitals to private homes, in Finland and beyond.
Working independently and crossing boundaries are central to Ruth’s work. At the same time, she values cooperation with various arts organizations and institutions. “Collaboration has led to many interesting possibilities for my art, and for me personally,” she says.
“Physical, intellectual, and emotional borders are central themes in my art,” Ruth says. “I have always had problems with boundaries, whether between nations, people, or art genres. I am interested in crossing these borders in art and life. Before moving to Finland, I lived and studied in several countries. I come from a long lineage of first and second generation immigrants so this kind of mobility is an important part of my identity. This is the first time I am working within an institution; as the curator of an established art event,” Ruth says.
On selecting the artists
This year’s exhibition title is Erehtyminen / To Err Is Human. "When looking for humanity, I kept running up against errors. Mistakes that keep us from being humane and others that launch us unexpectedly closer. Today, with the ever growing presence of artificial intelligence, our ability to make mistakes is an increasingly significant aspect of our humanity", Ruth explains about the theme.
This year’s exhibition presents 47 artists or artist groups. Individually, 62 artists are participating in the exhibition as many work in pairs or as groups. The exhibition highlights the diversity of contemporary art in artistic mediums, styles, perspectives, languages and nationalities. Out of the 62 artists, 55 will be shown in Mänttä for the first time. Almost half of the artists come from multicultural backgrounds
For the XXV Mänttä Art Festival, Ruth invited artists working in multiple mediums of contemporary art. Her priority was to focus on artists who have never shown in the Mänttä Art Festival, and to present voices not commonly heard in such an established setting. She tried to mirror the richly varied demographics of Finland, selecting people from different age groups, experiences, and geographies. The showcased artists come from all across Finland and beyond, and span generations, from 26 to 93 years old. Only a handful have previously worked with Ruth, making her job as curator more exciting. “I like to maintain a certain level of risk and uncertainty when putting together an exhibition,” she says.
In the 2020 Mänttä Art Festival, Ruth hopes to build a bond between artists and community, and create a lasting emotional impact that inspires visitors to return again and again. Though she hopes to differentiate the 2020 exhibition from its predecessors, she will carry on the thread of humanity that marked the 2019 festival.
A close relationship with Mänttä Art Festival
Anna Ruth has followed the Mänttä Art Festival closely. “When I first came to Finland for an artist residency in 2002, I visited the festival,” she says. “It was great to see the quality and diversity of Finnish contemporary art in such a huge exhibition space. Since then, I have tried to attend every summer, only missing one in 17 years.
“A few years ago, I dreamed of what I might do if I were curator of the Mänttä Art Festival. I quickly abandoned the idea as far-fetched … until I received a phone call a few months ago. Now, I get to spend a whole year living and breathing the Mänttä Art Festival.”