The Humanshredder project by Jenny Suhonen goes through personal emotions and experiences, turning them into images through processes that utilize performance art, installations and videos.

The performance project kicked off in 2012 and since then Suhonen has done close to 200 performances. She has asked people to bring items that are associated with emotions or experiences that they would like to get rid of – losses, unrealized wishes, unrealistic expectations and many other things that life may involve. During the performance, the artist takes an item that she calls a burden, breaks it in the presence of viewers and stores the pieces in jars. Some of the experiences have been sent in the form of a letter that the artist reads and then destroys. She uses the pieces to create installations that have been previously displayed, for example, at Ars Auttoinen, Galleria Oksasenkatu 11 in Helsinki and at Galerie Pleiku in Berlin.

The Humanshredder performances allow the participants to see how the difficult experiences and the related emotions are reflected outside of oneself, destroyed and then turned into exhibits. The participants get rid of their burdens, but at the same time they also have to give their emotions to the artist and face them again when the items are publically displayed. The artist, on the other hand, acquires material to build the installation but she also has to store the fragments of the items and thus carry part of the burden.

The performance resembles a ritual. A ritual refers to activities that are performed due to their symbolic or emotional meaning. It may have both a collective and individual meaning. The purpose of an individual ritual is often to publically reveal a private experience that is so intense that one is not able to handle it alone. The ritual allows the experience to be expressed in a way that helps the individual deal with it and get rid of it.

Items often have an important role in rituals. They are full of meaning and are often used to lead rituals. With the items we can control the experiences connected to us. They help us draw a line between ourselves and others and they act as an extension to our body. Items related to a ritual are often situated in a space between oneself and the world, oneself and others, inside and outside. When they break away from their everyday role to become the target of a ritual, they act as an extension of the participant’s self. When an item is chosen to represent a human experience, treated like a human, given a name and emotions are reflected on it, it becomes part of oneself. When an item that represents a negative experience is destroyed as part of a performance, the negatively charged part of the participant’s self will be destroyed and he or she can move on.

The Humanshredder installation moves between the modern world and archaic symbols. It utilizes not only the items that the participants bring with them but also, more importantly, the emotions that are associated with the items. Even though the installation works as a therapeutic process, its meaning is ultimately esthetic. The healing experience of a viewer or participant is a by-product of the installation, but the real meaning is created when these emotions are made visible.

Mari Vuolanto
Visual artist