Donations are often regarded as selfless good deeds, and are expected to be voluntary, free and anonymous, though they may raise sensitive ethical questions. Through their exceptional choice of subject matter, Nils Agdler and Timo Menke examine the processes and ethical issues of donation. Juxtaposed with an art collection, the processes of sperm donation, especially with regard to their ethical dimensions, have surprising affinities with the world of art museums when one considers the role of collectors and donors in the formation of art collections. Alongside with the works of Agdler and Menke, an examination of the provenance of the displayed works from the Pori Art Museum’s collections opens up interesting perspectives on “fatherhood” and the phenomenon of inscribing one’s name in history. Many fundamental concepts such as “exhibition”, “work of art” and “donation” receive double meanings in this exhibition.
At first glance, it would appear that the museum’s collection policy can have little in common with Gifted Men (2015) the three-channel documentary film installation examining the commercial distribution of semen in Denmark, based on personal interviews conducted with anonymous sperm donors and clinic managers in Copenhagen, Odense and Aarhus in Denmark. Recent studies indicate that the quality of sperm will continue to decline in the future, which in turn will increase fertility tourism in Europe. The installation draws attention to the tight screening of donors, the commodification and marketing of sperm, and issues involving masculinity and fatherhood. In an age of evolving conceptions of the family and multiple accepted family configurations, the work is highly topical. As Timo Menke points out, a donation to the sperm bank has social consequences: “Anonymous sperm donors are like blind creators of entire family trees or populations that remain unaware of their begetter and can never learn their identity. Donors affect the demographics of society with much more far-reaching consequences than they themselves or anyone else can foresee.”
Agdler and Menke have also created a new piece to accompany Donor Portraits at Pori Art Museum. Produced in collaboration with the Porin Mies-Laulu male choirs, it explores new conceptions of masculinity and fatherhood. Drawing on the conventions of male choir singing, the work features the Vaarinlaulu senior citizen choir’s performance of Schubert’s (1797–1828) Holy Is the Lord, a song commonly performed at funerals, and another performance, a choir version of Annie Lennox’s and D. A. Stewart’s Sisters Are Doin’ it for Themselves (1985) by the Välimiehet choir of younger men. Both songs are emblematic of resignation: the older generation is preparing to step aside, while the younger male generation reflects changes in gender roles and masculinity, insofar as the paragon of masculinity has been the role of the man as the family’s breadwinner. The connection of the performances to the themes of Gifted Men is clear.