On January 31, 2010, four men calling themselves the Food Liberation Army barged into a Ronald McDonald restaurant in central Helsinki and removed a Ronald statue from it. McDonald’s received a “ransom demand”, The demand was broadcast on YouTube asking Mcdonalds’ to answer questions about the sourcing of their food and their ethical stance. McDonalds refused to negotiate with terrorists and Ronald was executed by guillotine. Тhe Food Liberation Army stunt gave people an impression of activism, which was Jani’s primary objective. Unfortunately, the cover was blown when the cops threw the organizer to prison, and the press found about it.
Jani’s “love” affair with one of today’s most recognizable corporate symbols didn’t end there. In January 2019, Leinonen's artwork "McJesus", a crucified Ronald McDonald, caused a riot in Haifa, Israel. A multitude of Christian protesters flocked by the Haifa Museum of Art hurling stones at the police which blocked them from entering the museum to remove the statue.
Jani Leinonen is a Finnish visual artist. He is known for his public artworks criticising capitalism by using the imagery and icons of corporate brands. But his way of doing things is distinct.
White-haired, blue-collar socialism is enjoying a resurgence. But some places defy the stereotype. In Canada, for example, the angry old man of socialism goes by the name of Naomi Klein, a vibrant-looking female author, her words invigorating the Left. On the other side of the planet, another person takes a poke at capitalism – through the multifaceted, colorful world of art. Jani claims our problem is obedience. Nothing changes if we only obey. Disobedience is the only way to challenge systems and customs that don’t work. In his opinion, the most terrible things, war, genocide, and slavery have risen not from disobedience but from obedience.
Jani fights capitalism from within using its symbols, means, and icons in a subversive, humorous way. Jani Leinonen’s art is decorative, prudent, and deliberately designed to sell; on the other hand, there is the drive to provoke, which prevents his art from being classified as kitsch. This seems to work just fine for Jani. We should not be selling art through the myth of “individual genius creating unique pieces”. Jani makes art about the scary feelings and truths we try to run away from.
Those who rule by the sword of image shall die by the sword of image
Even the capitalists used to have manners. Now they are there simply for the money, says Jani Leinonen. Many of today’s best-known manufacturers no longer produce products and advertise them, but rather buy products and “brand” them. These companies are looking for new ways to build and strengthen their brand images. The war of attention is waged through images. Brand-sponsored images go as far as defining what’s good or bad in this world, what are causes worth fighting for, or even how public spaces should look like in their attempts to “sponsor culture”. Commenting on the future of poetry and art in a democratic society, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that he was not worried about a lapse into safe realism so much as a flight into unanchored fantasy.
Jani’s work makes us see through the increasing penetration of corporatist agenda into the citizenship discourse and forces us to ask ourselves when did we outsource our duties as citizens to multinational corporations? Jani’s work invites us to be active participants in the so-called Culture jamming and reclaiming of our public spaces. Is it the right thing to do? We do feel some element of delight to see the icons of corporate power undermined and mocked using their own weapon. It seems that those who rule by the sword of image are bound to die by the sword of image.
The Chapel of Remorse
A common pattern of Jani’s work is turning overly familiar images upside down, planting them in a context we are unaccustomed to, taking a stand against the very superficial view of life dominated by the very modern, corporatist idea of ‘positive thinking’. For example, he transformed the Stalla Madulain gallery, a 500 years old barn close to St. Moritz, into a 'chapel of remorse‘. The main piece is now in the Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich. Once again, his work stirs some features such as one of his images which depicts Cinderella in a questionable position. The “Chapel of Remorse” can also be compared to a Christian reliquary shrine. The sacred is a constant theme in Leinonen’s work, along with the tendency to toy with religious iconography.
The Things We Own
The artwork “Things You Own” is construed of logos of contemporary businesses – about half of them tech and crypto companies. The Things We Own is Jani’s foray into the world of scarce digital art and his first NFT (non-fungible token ever), going to be offered exclusively on Swappable, an NFT interface. In Jani’s view, the things we consume create the most detailed portrait of each one of us as individuals – for better and for worse. We are taught that buying things is more important and impactful than voting in elections. Perhaps it is true: like votes, when all our purchases are counted, an honest view of humanity is revealed. And it is not always pretty.
Jani Leinonen’s first NFT is also supported by the Switzerland-based international fine art logistics and infrastructure provider Haas & Company AG, a reputed partner of art collectors, galleries, museums, and art fairs worldwide which provides custody services for tokenized physical assets.
Jani Leinonen is a Finnish visual artist who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki in 2002 and his works have been exhibited internationally, i.e. at the Nordic Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennial, Wilhelm Hack Museum Ludwigshafen, Frankfurter Kunstverein, and ARoS Aarhus Art Museum in Denmark. In 2015 Leinonen had a retrospective exhibition at Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki called The school of Disobedience, which continued to ARoS Aarhus in 2016. In December 2016 Leinonen was also awarded the Finland Prize by the Ministry of Education and Culture, which is given in recognition of a significant career in arts.
Jani’s works can be found in museums, private and public collections on all the continents. Leinonen is currently exhibiting in Serlachius Museum with the street artist Banksy, Salo Art Museum, Stalla Madulain. Five start hotel Dolder Grand in Zurich has over 12 of Leinonen’s works on permanent display. Leinonen is also working on a boundary-breaking art project with the world’s leading VR and XR technology manufacturer Varjo. The project will be launched in the fall of 2021.
The auction for 'Things you own' is now live and you can bid to own this unique piece of art and Swappable history. View the auction.