Kaija Papu, PI541, 2012
A police car is an unusual sight in an art gallery. Well, let’s face it, cars and indoors don’t really go together and though cars do feature in museums from time to time it’s still a little surprising to see one right there in the foyer but that’s the case at Kiasma in Helsinki at the moment. The police car in question is just by the cloakroom. There’s one of those museum ropes round it so it’s clearly art rather than the police answering a call somewhat over-zealously. Get a bit closer and it’s apparent that the police car is unusual in other ways too. I’m not thinking of the fact that it’s a Skoda. That’s fair enough. But police cars are almost never knitted.
In making PI541 – a three-year undertaking – Kaija Papu is raising questions about power structures and expectations of gender. The label for the work poses the question: ‘What happens when a police car – the flagship of a masculine institution – is crossed with feminine handicraft?’ Even having seen the work, I’m not sure I’m much closer to having an answer to that or even deciding whether it’s an interesting question. Nonetheless, I am now very much in favour of knitted and crocheted police cars.
Though the differences outweigh the similarities, the work reminds me in a way of Claes Oldenberg’s soft sculptures and, in the use of craft, of Grayson Perry’s work. Like Oldenberg and Perry, Papu has made a sculpture using unexpected – perhaps even inappropriate – materials. And like Perry, there’s a homemade, imperfect feel to the work; it would have been easy to programme a knitting machine to make the car but the stiches here are uneven in the way that hand-knitting always is. The result is a work that amuses me quite a lot.
Plus, Papu has solved that dilemma of how to deal with the urge to reach out and touch sculpture. I always want to know what stuff feels like; I assume everyone does. Though the work here is off-limits, Papu has helpfully provided a small crocheted cube on a shelf, above which there is a label saying ‘This is what the police car feels like.’ Though frivolous, I find myself rather hoping this idea catches on.