How Finnish artist Jenni-Juulia turns a fragile world into art

In an unusual way, action artist Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen draws attention to the fact that the dream of an inclusive society without barriers has not become reality.

Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen is a total work of art herself - her open nature and her unusual politically influenced artmaking cannot be overlooked with indifference. She combines her life and experiences with OI – also called brittle bone disease – with creativity and her artistic training at Aalto University in Helsinki to create a specific perspective. Her creative expression is rich: starting with textile art, Jenni-Julia has expanded her repertoire to include video art, sculptures, installations, and performances.

In Germany, interest in her artistic work is growing.

Growing up in a family with visual impairment (on her father's side) and osteogenesis imperfecta/ OI (on her mother's side) in the fourth generation, she lives a life of ingenious practices designed for coping with everyday life that have been passed on from generation to generation. When OI family members break a bone, for example, certain routines are adapted to the changed situation to continue everyday life as normally as possible. Living with physical limitations is normality for the family members and becomes a special way of life - even if outsiders and the physically unimpaired would like to classify this lifestyle as adaptation, extreme courage or even survival.

Projekt Chairwomen
Projekt Chairwomen

Jenni-Juulia’s intention is to change the perception of disability.

Her artistic work starts with the following questions: Why are rare diseases not protected as a part of biodiversity? Why do non-disabled people determine how we should live, what aids we should use, and thus deny us the opportunities to live out our personal lifestyles? Why is charity confused with human rights?

With her politically motivated works, she touches on a sore point and motivates the public to become involved and think. Her art is a means of communication aimed at changing the perception of disability.

She mobilises all means to this end.

Tickle the crippled
Tickle the crippled

Her creative means of expression range from textile art to video art, sculptures, and installations through to performances

With her “Wheelchair piano“ project, she uses music as an element that unites everyone, overcoming linguistic barriers in interaction between “people with features uncomfortable to behold” and the physically unimpaired.

In "Tickle the crippled", Jenni-Juulia, lying in a plexiglass bubble, invites passers-by to touch her through gloves integrated into the skin of a bubble. The differing reactions from the public reflect the differences in generations’ attitudes towards disabilities: adults are gripped by shyness, unease, and rejection whereas children can easily embrace this "unusual offer" in a playful manner. This is evidence that the way we deal with disability evolves from "normality" to "exclusion" from the influence exerted by our society during the course of our lives.

Her son's febrile illness inspired her to create a special garment, the “thermochromic fever shirt”. The colour of its fabric changes as soon as the body temperature rises above 37 degrees. The body's fight against an invading disease is thus made visible in an aesthetic way and translated into a positive process.

The “Chairwomen performance” project simulates a situation in which a pedestrian assumes the physical disability of a wheelchair user. The pedestrian is seated on chair whilst her legs have been rendered immovable with artificial extensions. The intention is to demonstrate that the surrounding environment itself or an incorrectly adjusted aid can be the reason for the disability and thereby force the person into a hopeless situation.

Even though Jenni-Juulia’s artistic work takes a critical look at the way our society deals with disability, her interpretation always has a positive touch, an aesthetic lightness, with humour and playful ideas. She always reaches out to us as onlookers and encourages us to communicate and think.

Wheelchair piano
Wheelchair piano

Read more about Jenni-Juulia at http://www.kolumbus.fi/jenni_juulia/

Find out more about OI/ osteogenesis imperfecta at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteogenesis imperfecta (Glasknochen) Betroffene e.V.