from the ‘Peeping Tom’ Series
© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
TANKERO – NOT AT ALL
Few people have a word as popularly associated with them as Ahti Karjalainen, and his joking word, “tankero” (a Fennocised modification of the English word ‘dangerous’). It came out of the then-Prime Minister’s fictional trip to an African zoo, where there were signs everywhere warning of “dangerous animals”. Ahti Karjalainen was imagined as speaking poor English, resulting in him saying “tankerous animals”.
The tankero joke spread far and wide in the Finnish-speaking world. Juha “Watt” Vainio recorded the “Tankero-tango” in 1974. In the same year Kari Huhtamo (b. 1943) created a bronze and steel sculpture which was bought by the Bank of Finland and soon christened “Tankero”. The link being that Ahti Karjalainen had been a member of the Bank of Finland’s board from the 1950s onwards and was Governor of the Bank,1982–1983.
Huhtamo’s Peeping Tom sculptures and the Tankero story had nothing to do with each other, unless you consider humour. From the 1960s, Kari Huhtamo began to take pleasure in modern art. He made playful, frequently half-abstract sculptures and colourful graphic prints. However, his relaxed touch is controlled and meets all the requirements of the balance, tension and form in sculpture. “Peeping Tom” makes fun of a classic theme, a figure rising out of the sea, a mermaid or a Finnish naiad. Huhtamo’s young woman has been washed by cubism and then given an abstract bath and then risen from the waves as sprightly as a Viktor Jansson sculpture from the 1940s, one of the more realistic figures in Helsinki’s Esplanade park. Belief in mermaids is very old and goes back at least three thousand years to Assyria. There are embossed images of mermaids and mermen dating back to those times.
“Peeping Tom” lives up to his name. The work captures the moment. Round, pop-eyes have fallen from their mask-like, cubist face and the entire sculpture looks as if it is rocking along a semi-circular trajectory.
In recent years Huhtamo has studied the possibilities of real and optical illusion in great depth. Many of his plentiful constructivist oeuvres range from large public sculptures to jewellery. He is probably the only Finnish artist who has exhibited in the famous Tretjakovi gallery, in Moscow.