Business Hotspot

150 x 140 x 40 cm

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Business Hotspot

Tea Mäkipää's Business Hotspot (2014) is a free wi-fi hotspot set in the Cape Le Grand National Park near Esperance, several hundred kilometres from Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, the state which is the second-largest national subdivision on the globe.

Set up as a zone in which the passer-by can access the Internet, Business Hotspot is functional in a way that contemporary technology is always presumed to be, and it is symbolic, too, suggestive of the problems posed by the immateriality of global consumer culture, its requiring mass-produced devices, software developed by multi-nationals and, that now elemental necessity, electricity. Yet the irony that seems to most interest Mäkipää is that by means of accessing the Net we can not only send messages and images from the remote location, we can also search for information about the place itself, its animals and plants.

This temporary project, part of a larger venture to be titled The Battle for Australia, is an illustration of the paradox of presence and experience in early 21st century life. Australia itself, known as much for its vastness as for its unusual fauna and flora, provides a perfect setting for this invocation of the question of human communication in, between and through the Natural World. Almost an updating Yves Klien's famous The Void (1958), in which an empty gallery was exhibited, or John Cage's 4'33” (1952) in which no music is played and instead the enviroment is listened to, Business Hotspot presents nothing in itself, only what the viewer can perceive in the place and, beyond that, what can be investigated by means of wi-fi access.

While it seems to be Mäkipää's most understated, most dematerialized project, like all her other work it invites us to question the dynamics between technology, communication, habitation and the Animal. It allows her to critique that which today acts as the primary “interface”, the mediator, between every person and his or her experience: BUSINESS. The Australian viewer might justifiably wonder if Mäkipää had encountered that word as it is used in Aboriginal English, where it means that kind of social activity related to cultural and spiritual matters; often they cannot be disclosed to outsiders.

Like a number of other Scandinavian artists, Mäkipää, in considering the destructive consequences of industrial culture, provides a sense of alternative relations with the Natural World. Her suggestion that there is another level of experience in which animal sentience is a reliable and admirable presence is uncommon among Western artists. Several of Mäkipää's works are intended to provoke us to consider the life of the Animal, not simply from an ethical point-of-view but rather by allowing us to encounter their sensibilities, life-styles and cultures. Her works All Day Symphony (2009), in which the sounds – music! – of a yard of hens was recorded and presented to reveal their aesthetic and communicative functions, Petteri: My Life as a Raindeer (2007), that captured the daily activities of an antelope's life from its point-of-view, or the comic Our Common Problem: People (2009), in which actors speak with humans from the bodies of domestic animals, each emphasise the role of communication in summoning up inter-species empathy. Beyond a concern with environmentalism, Mäkipää wishes us to recognize that we live midst the rich sense-worlds of other, non-human beings.

Although it may be possible to over-state a Finnish, pre-modern impulse in Mäkipää's work, it is important to contemplate her fascination with “animism”, perhaps even an elusive kind of shamanism, in which the non-human world has a presence at least as powerful as that of the human. The ironies that interest her aim to correct modern and post-modern assumptions about language and sentience.

In Europe, of course, the spectre of ethno-nationalism looms large. Her work The Destiny of All Life lies within Technology (2009), alluding to the gates of a NAZI camp, reminds us of one of its deathly ends. But the other side of European culture, most apparent in those countries at its fringes, is fecund with memories of the pre-modern, its rituals, tales and beliefs, their alternative realities. The Finnish spiritualist movement Suomenusko is one example of the return to an appreciation of the Natural, as is the work of the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, whose ethos of Deep Ecology is entirely in keeping with Mäkipää's own world-view.

To Mäkipää it is very often the issue of communication that is foremost in her apprehension of contemporary culture's violence towards Nature. This means that she as much proposes modes of – to use techno-jargon – “connectivity” as conjures the circumstance of the encounter between human and non-human. The work Business Hotspot is precisely the question of connection: How might we be present in a place? Implicit in this are the implications of any answer we might give to this. We are led to reflect on the consequences of our being at the site, of our Being here.

When cast within the context of the Australian landscape, these questions, even as they are so immaterially and ironically presented in Business Hotspot, are provocations requiring responses both practical and conceptual. We viewers are being asked how we can experience being in Nature whilst still remaining connected through the “umbilical cord” of our digital technologies. We are asked to think of the environmental implications of our presence and on what that might mean for our spirit, whether spirit is understood merely as mood or grandly as metaphysic.

With this work Mäkipää has captured us, specimens of the Human, that not-exactly-rare animal, between one mode of attention and another, between the Technological and the Natural.

This idea of the “hotspot”, literally meaning a zone of concentrated activity, and the simultaneous, dual captivity it represents for the human – being enmeshed in place and network – is used by Mäkipää to localize us, to remind us that in the midst of all our activities we are always placed, always within a fragile, multifaceted place which is shared with other beings.

By naming the work Business Hotspot she emphasises the presence of commerce, its constant determining of values, and hence its blindness to the Natural that is independent of our involvement. But, bearing in mind both the manner in which the word “Business” is used in colloquial speech – “to mind one's own business” – and in the special circumstance of Aboriginal English, the viewer of this Australian work could see it as a metaphorical sanctifying of the place. This might not be exactly what Mäkipää intended, yet it would be entirely in keeping with the ethical ambitions of all of her work.

Out there in the bush on the far southern reaches of the Australian continent, the viewer is being invited to log-on, encouraged to connect for the good of the Earth.

John Mateer