by Aglaja Stehnejová·
Leevi Toija (*1998, Helsinki) is a young artist of Finnish origin, lately based in Zurych. After obtaining his BA at FAMU, he continues his MA studies at ZhDK (Zurich University of Arts). His works, made in different media, focus on various topics, though their core aspects include the concept of non-places and collective memory.
Discover Leevi Toija here: https://www.leevitoija.com/#/about-me
Follow Leevi here: https://www.instagram.com/levitoija
Did you play with Lego when you were a child?
Yess, absolutely! I loved, and still love Legos! As a kid it was my most favourite thing to play with. Especially Star Wars Legos. Had a bunch of them!!
What did you like the most about Lego?
I guess the millions of possibilities, you can do with them. But even as a kid, I was never too keen on doing my own kind of buildings but was rather fascinated by just what you could do by following the instructions. And I loved to just sit for hours and build stuff. And now, looking back I can say that some kind of standardization of the blocks etc. has for sure been a huge interest of mine already at that time. The possibilities created by the same kind of blocks were the most amusing.
When did you come to realize your obsession with standardization?
Aside from Legos, I would probably say this interest started in my last year of high school. I got really into Russian avant-garde, especially the Constructivist movement. At the same time, I was in this "hobby" school called "Arkki", which is a school of architecture and design for kids and youngsters. I was just finishing the studies and doing my "diploma" work – a furniture series that was made following the principles of Constructivism. So I looked into a lot of Soviet architecture and I’d say through Soviet architecture, I got into standardization. But also just the whole Soviet state has been extremely interesting to me, with their crazy goals and such…
Could you tell me something more about your personal interest in Russian avant-garde?
I just wrote my bachelor’s thesis about a person called Aleksej Gastev, a Russian ultra-Taylorist, labour organizer and a poet, who envisioned a society completely free of individualism. This is my most recent interest and a deeper dive into a much less known character of that time period, yet super super influential. Also one of my most favourite manifestos of the Constructivists is Alexander Rodchenko's text called "Against the synthetic portrait, for the snapshot", which basically explains why a single portrait cannot depict something truthfully, thus becoming completely useless in this society they envisioned. This text I love as it "explains" why they wanted to abolish art, which is just a "bourgeois, subjective beauty-commodity".
What are the key signs of standardization; in theory? From your point of view?
When I think of standards, it’s just to set some guidelines. And for me guidelines are not about restricting, but to "show you the way"... This gives me freedom. The standards are to help me not get lost. I think one needs to be concentrated into some specific theme, and not bounce around from style and theme to another. One of course can, but one's actions should always have a meaning or a reason.
I myself am completely utilitarian in my work, and to achieve this I need the help of the ready-made manual that guides me through my practice. Thus I’m free of always thinking if I should do this or that. Sort of like a conveyor belt, that leads you on. This is also a lot of what Gastev describes as necessary for the new society. He calls it machinist world, in which people act like machines. This is the extreme example. But I like to use it as a reference for my work. And I find it amusing!!
Your artworks are severe and magical in their simplicity. How do you retrospectively evaluate whether they are compact enough or not? And when do you realize it’s too much?
I’m not sure if I've ever really looked back and examined how well I succeeded in my goal. But of course, the work evolves somehow, project after project. So I’m not sure If I can completely answer the question, but I think I've managed to make the projects more compact with time, which makes sense, as I have "grown" too... But I guess I will have to come back to this question later…
Perhaps after I finish my master’s – as my master’s thesis/work, I want to expand this “guidebook form” to other aspects than just video. Now my goal is to create a guidebook for pictures, text, and objects. And then perhaps the last thing would be a feedback mechanism...!
How has your practice changed over time?
If I just think back three years, when I started FAMU, I was purely into documentary photography. And since then, throughout time and many great lectures and consultations at FAMU, I started to change my perception on what was the right medium to achieve my goals with. And I’m still not sure if I have achieved them completely. At FAMU, I got into theory, which greatly changed my perception of the practice of an artist and what I wanted to do, or maybe rather how I wanted to do it. My goal in its core has been somewhat the same the whole time, but the means to achieve it have changed, I think!
On your website, you’re inventing the term “objective construction of common realities“. Could you further describe its meaning?
I’ll try to break it down word by word. My interest in objectiveness is in Rodchenko’s text, as it’s trying to abolish what is considered “subjective” or the idea of a mastermind genius artist, who sits at their studio, waiting for inspiration. I’m interested in objectiveness. I don't think my opinions are necessarily the main thing. I rather try to tell or portray something as objectively as possible, and from there the spectator should grasp what is right or wrong, or good or bad. I find this way more effective than telling people that something is fucked up and through that telling them to change their behaviour. I like to think that showing people the "truth" and making them think they are the ones seeing it, and that they are able to relate to the thing itself would actually make them change their mind or agree with something more.
Then the word “construction” comes purely from Constructivism. I like to think that I’m not creating something, but rather constructing something from pieces given to me. And “common realities” are something that everyone can relate to. They are sometimes very vague, but still specific enough so that they are not about me or someone else, but rather about something that everyone has experienced in some way. Especially now, as I have been interested in global and local infrastructures like highways and shopping malls, and overall in what is considered "non-places", I feel like common realities are what "non-places" generate. They are places that are in everyone’s reality I’d say!
I think objectivity could be achieved through machines, and this is why I like to create guidebooks and such to make myself work more like a machine and cancel out my possibilities of working with intuition. And through this I like to believe that I can get closer to objectivity, but sadly not fully.
In our store, people may find white cuboid blocks of your production. What method of their use would you recommend?
For me it’s important that they can be used for whatever. I don't want to say at all what they should be used for. I think whoever will have them can change the construction of the block at any time, so they are not set on one kind of way. They can also be used as something practical, as a paperweight... For me it really doesn’t matter. They can be something to collect, or they can be something to be used!
Have you been working on anything new recently? What can we look forward to and where can we find it?
Right now, I’m still finishing my latest project Static/Dynamic: Lessons on Highways. There will be one additional piece next to the video, sound and objects. But it’s still at the very beginning. Then additionally, I’m now in the research phase of something. I’m not yet sure what it will be, concretely, but one of my main influences will be a book called 24/7 by Jonathan Crary. Only thing I will say is that the project will be about light and lightness. And of course, my guidebooks for photo, object, and text will be coming out in the next two years!