When the Ends Justify the Means
Hanne Ivars’ animation trilogyGood Will (2009–2011) turns established moral codes on their head in a straightforward manner, presenting viewers with a range of questions on what is ultimately acceptable behavior between humans. In the tale-like doll animations the rules of acceptable behavior as well as society’s moral values turn out to be fluid concepts, heedlessly broken in the pursuit of pleasure and personal gain. Even violent behavior is not out of bounds for Ivars’s figures, neither for the ”primal” humans nor for the girl dressed in shining white: the ends justify the means – even the mean ones – in Ivars twisted animation landscape. The unintentional and intentional cruelty of the children as well their inability to grasp the severity of their actions turn into adult traits in the films, where evil does not get its just desserts, it just moves on.
The good will in the trilogy’s title is clad in controversial garb at the hands of Ivars, because the figures in the short animations do not appear to recognize others as possessing human dignity, but rather as tools to satisfy their own wants and desires. In Good Will III (2009) a nude female figure leaning on a staff asks a male figure who is passing by for help in getting her apparently decrepit companion moving again. Following a short negotation the man lifts the sick man up on his back to carry him. This evokes the patron saint of travellers, Saint Cristopher, who served God by carrying people across a river. But the couple does not show any gratitude to the man who helped them, instead they force him into ever greater exertions by hitting him with the staff. When the bearer tires under his burden, falling to the ground, they poke him with the staff and kick him in the side, finally leaving the poor man lying on the ground. Ingratitude turns out to be the reward of the world!
The opening film of the trilogy, Good Will (2009), is like a demonstration of the need for moral codes and guidelines in human interaction, and that money doesn’t make up for all the bad ways we treat each other. In the story a cheerful girl moves playfully along the road by throwing cartwheels. Suddenly the girl stops when she discovers a man lying on the road. The girl circles the man, but against our expectations she doesn’t even try to wake him up, instead surprising us by peeing on him. After this the girl leaves without a worry in the world, yet returns once again. Defying our expectations again, she doesn’t show remorse by helping the man lying on the ground, but instead throws some money on him and continues her journey, cheerfully throwing cartwheels. Her actions can’t be considered a show of good will, despite her returning to leave money for the man on the ground. But in her own mind the girl thinks her action cleansed her conscience and behind her cynical attitude we can almost hear the Finnish punk band Hassisen Kone singing ”Raha Ratkaisee” (Money Resolves).
In the final part of the trilogy Who Throws the First Stone? (2011) the environment has changed into a bleak and empty coastal landscape, where bonfires burn like beacon fires behind the dunes. The landscape is turned into an active agent in the story through numerous dolly shots, swirling and twirling wildly, sometimes turned completely upside down. The dolls in turn have been changed into half meter tall hard plastic figures, that have stepped out of the screen into the installation that spreads out into the gallery space. (The bleak coastal landscape flashes by in the background as the dolls throw stones at the gallery visitors. A stone have been suspended from the ceiling, hanging above the viewers, as if to drive home the threat of competitive stoning.) Once again Ivars refers to christian mythology in the title of her work, as well as to the question of whether any of us is so much more innocent than the other that we can bring judgment and throw that first stone. On the other hand, perhaps the enthusiastic stone throwing presented by Ivars more easily brings to mind Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), where the crowd participating in the stoning finds it difficult to wait with stones in hand for the judgment to be read out. For Ivars an interesting ethical-environmental question is formed between the name of the work and the dolly shot landscape, as the title challenges viewers to consider when we will finally act and do something for the well-being of our common globe.
art historian & curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki
This essee has got Funding from Frame.