Eyes as Big as Plates arrives in Brooklyn

“Eyes as Big as Plates” is an ongoing collaborative photographic project between the Finnish-Norwegian artist duo Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth. This unique collaboration is now presented as a solo exhibition in New York City at the Brooklyn based Chimney Gallery. In the exhibition, 12 photographs are installed in the gallery space so that they form a visual unity in a column-like formation. This way the solitary portraits emerge naturally from the gallery space, which itself is raw and original.  Eyes as Big as Plates presents solitary humans standing meditatively in their favored setting.  What makes them special is their organic attire made of leaves, branches, pine needles, rocks, or flowers. The models are senior citizens.  Ikonen’s & Hjorth’s photographs have another layer in them. The wearable sculptures connect the humans into their stages organically, making them part of the world they inhabit.  The Chimney exhibition features newer works from Greenland, South Korea, NY, Iceland, Japan, Finland and Norway.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Mr Otsubo (Iceland 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.
Eyes as Big as Plates # Mr Otsubo (Japan 2015) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Karoline and Riitta, can you tell more about the idea behind the elderly portraits. Where did the idea to do the series originate?

Karoline and Riitta: The series is produced in collaboration with retired farmers, fishermen, zoologists, plumbers, opera singers, housewives, artists, academics and ninety-year-old parachutists. These are people we meet through friends, relatives and newspaper ads, in hardware stores, noodle bars, indoor gardening society meetings, swimming pools, senior centers, on the city streets etc. Our creative point of departure lies in the collaboration with these contributors, who we consider as co-creators. As we started our investigation into local folktales we reasoned that the older the local interviewee we would work with, the closer we would be to the tellers of the tales and the talking rocks of the stories. Those Nordic hills hadn’t changed since the tales, but the people sure had. So far it doesn’t seem to us that the answer can be predicted by the age of the answerer. Thinking of older people as a unit that operates in a certain manner is rather lazy with much of the western society unnecessarily confused when it comes to the ‘usefulness’ of older people. Attitude with knowledge, life experience and stamina are some of the main traits we have found amongst all our collaborators, as well as a formidable curiosity for new experiences. As Eyes as Big as Plates continues to cross borders, it also aims to rediscover a demographic group too often labeled as marginalized and generate new perspectives on who we are and where we belong.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You shoot the portraits in the nature, so it seems that thoughts about environment, and people’s relationship to it is really part of the visual narrative?

Karoline and Riitta: Each image presents a solitary figure in a landscape, dressed in elements from surroundings that indicate neither time nor place. Nature acts as both content and context and the characters literally inhabit the landscape wearing sculptures. In the beginning of the project we were curious and on a mission to find out what kind of connection the Norwegians had with their rocks, fjords and hills and especially keen on looking at the folktales where nature or natural phenomenons were personified.

Folktales often made complex natural and sociological issues understandable and accessible, with phenomena taking on forms and characteristics that even a mere mortal could have a dialogue with. Perhaps our Eyes as Big as Plates images aim to discuss the contemporary human in the nature in a similarly approachable language. As the project started crossing borders, our quest soon turned more towards investigating universal questions about imagination and curiosity, and evolved more into a search for modern human’s belonging to nature.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Edda (Iceland 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.
Eyes as Big as Plates # Edda (Iceland 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.

The location is chosen based on conversations with each collaborator, who might have a special connection with a certain landscape or a specific plant in the area. Sometimes we spend days finding the perfect location, sometimes we discover it within minutes. Most often the best collaborators and locations are found through chance encounters and lucky coincidences, which is also some of the main reasons why the project is still ongoing – the unpredictability is highly addictive.

Each image always starts with a conversation with the contributors. Most often, and ideally, we meet our model before the actual shoot day to chit chat about the world, life, interests, neighbourhood, relationship with nature, opera, moss, fishing, weather…, and see if there is something there that we can just magnify a little. We try to find out as much as possible about who our model and collaborator is beforehand in order to best present them and their relationship with their surroundings. The ‘costumes’ are just a primal response to real people in their settings. We always start from scratch with each contributor. Some of them are eager to participate in all stages of the process, from collecting the materials to deciding on the location and even putting together the sculpture, while others prefer that we make the choices that best reflects them.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I recall that Karoline found Riitta, or was it visa versa, as collaborator in a fun and memorable way?

Karoline and Riitta: Eyes as Big as Plates started life on the southwest coast of Norway in 2011. When Riitta was searching for a collaborator online, the three words ‘Norway + grannies + photographer’ found Karoline as the top search result, as she had just finished a book on Norwegian grandmothers. Karoline loved Riitta’s work and sense of humour, and one email and two months later, they met for the first time on the doorstep of a little white wooden house in Sandnes.

It was a very natural marriage of our complementing skills, where we come up with one image from two heads. Part sculpture, part installation and part photography, we work together from beginning to the end of the process. Karoline is the photographer in the duo while Riitta works mainly with the creation of the wearable sculptures in the images, but most importantly we operate with one mindset and vision, to the extent that we barely need to talk during the shoots, as we both know exactly what we are aiming for.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many countries have you embedded in these portraits, and how many people?

Karoline and Riitta: Over 60 people from 12 countries (Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland, UK, France, US, South Korea, Czech Republic and Japan.)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you remember the most memorable portrait ever in the making of it, perhaps related to the how the situation or process evolved?

Karoline and Riitta: It is quite impossible to pick one portrait as the most memorable, especially since so many of them feels more and more precious as time passes and our dear collaborators (and us) grow older. There are so many incredible encounters over the years, many that have turned into long-lasting friendships and we feel like we are the luckiest artist duo alive. One day the most memorable portrait is the very first one made together with Halvar in Norway, another day it is the memory of Riitta’s mum midnight swimming back and forth in lake Kalvä side by side with beavers on a freezing Midsummer’s Eve in North Karelia, or the very magical double shoot with Karoline’s grandparents last summer, some days we remember the intense weather conditions, other days we treasure the silence we all experienced, or the eagle that flew past us, the fog that landed just perfectly in time or the ruthless sun that never left the scene, it all depends on the time of year, season and mode of the day what comes into mind.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your recently published a book about the project, and it bears the title “Eyes as Big as Plates”. What do you want to tell about the book tour?

Karoline and Riitta: The book is a culmination of the first six years of this ongoing project, and each book is hand-finished, unique with thinly pressed vegetation veiled underneath the cover cloth to honour each of the 60 collaborators in the project. We teamed up with Swedish designer Greger Ulf Nilson and the independent, Oslo based Press Publishing. For the release tour we returned to many of the countries we had visited to produced the works, and enjoyed a fantastic, fun and intense book launch tour to New York, Paris, Helsinki, Oslo, Landskrona, Nuuk, Seoul, Tokyo and London all over the course of 4 months. The book was also shortlisted for the Paris Photo- Aperture PhotoBook awards in the ‘First Photobook’ category, as a finalist from nearly 1000 submissions.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Marie (US 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.
Eyes as Big as Plates # Marie (US 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The book also initiated a Kickstarter fundraising process. Do you want to share some tips, or ideas for this kind of succesful outcome?

Karoline and Riitta: Our Kickstarter experience was a true rollercoaster and the outcome was just quite unbelievable. We spent weeks preparing, researching and gathering material, editing texts, having the material reviewed, putting together the video piece, sourcing the perfect soundtrack etc. Obviously we already had quite a lot of material from our 6 years of production and process material, and even an established audience that we could reach out to. We took day and night shifts between New York and Oslo emailing people non stop with personal emails, and our magic bullet in the campaign came in the form of Kickstarter’s weekly newsletter where we were recommended amongst 3 other projects to their whole worldwide community. Until this moment, we fought for each and every pledge and it was a slow start. We were lucky to be picked up – and in 24 hours went from 29% to 120% funded…

Hot tip: Make sure you set aside enough time to babysit and nurture the project and campaign while it is live, throughout the duration of the campaign. Then, once the campaign is successful, starts the aftermath of following up with delivering the rewards. We spent probably nearly a month sending emails, packages, postcards, printing, resending, chasing post etc. It was hard, but mainly exciting and definitely worth it.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Karoline, since you are Norwegian, and I haven’t asked this previously from you, I’m kind of curious what do you want to say about Norwegian art scene and support?

Karoline: The Norwegian art scene is small, but it has got quite a unique support and funding system in place for artists. There are many different opportunities when it comes to project funding, stipends, grants etc and recently some exhibition venues have slowly started to get used to the thought that artists might also deserve payment for the exhibitions they produce, instead of paying for renting a space, which I understand is more common in for example Finland. Norway still has a long way to go in terms of the gender gap though, both in terms of the most-selling artists, the most represented artists and the movers and shakers of the gallery world.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that the art education is exceptional in Norway?

Karoline: I studied abroad, so I cannot speak from my own experience here, but after hearing from my colleagues who did study in Norway, my impression is that there are many other countries with much more progressive art education.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Riitta, you are Finnish, what does ‘Nordic’ collaboration mean to you, do you find that you both share similar ideas or mindset because of the Nordic factor?

Riitta: We both grew up with an understanding of the outdoors as something intermixable with the indoors. It is part of everyday and the awareness and interaction with our surroundings still drives our practices strongly. Both of us live in big cities so there is a definite need to roll in the leaves regularly.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you see that this project could be developing on its next phase, have you figured out the ‘after’ yet since the book came out?

Karoline and Riitta: We are taking part in a public art project in Seoul, South Korea this winter with newly produced work made in collaboration with seniors living in and around the Olympic village in the PyeongChang area, these will be on display on the Seoullo 7017, a newly renovated former highway turned into a pedestrian walkway that connects the eastern and western sides of Seoul. We are also taking part in a group exhibition in Germany (The Museum Schloss Moyland) this winter and spring, followed by a solo show in Finland in the summer (Pielisen Museo in Lieksa), and more exhibitions in Detroit in the autumn. We have promised each other that we will continue the project as long as it’s fun and we are still very much enjoying ourselves. In the continuation of the project our focus might shift more to investigating the impact of climate change on people living in different parts of the world. We feel compelled to use our voice and platform to discuss the things we find important and urgent.

***
Karoline Hjorth completed her BA Photographic Arts and MA International Journalism from the University of Westminster (London) in 2009 and Riitta Ikonen graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2008, with an MA in Communication Art.

RIITTA IKONEN & KAROLINE HJORTH:
EYES AS BIG AS PLATES
JANUARY 19 – FEBRUARY 18, 2018
OPENING FRIDAY JANUARY 19TH, 6:30-9:30PM

THE CHIMNEY NYC
200 MORGAN AVENUE
BROOKLYN, NY 11237

The Chimney is open on Saturday & Sunday, 2pm-6pm.
Other days by appointment:
contact@TheChimneyNYC.com

Amelia Marzec’s Weather Center for the Apocalypse

New York city based artist Amelia Marzec has been working on a project Weather Center for the Apocalypse since 2015. The work is presented during Climate Week in NYC, opening taking place on September 20, 2016 at United Nations Plaza. The artist has created an ongoing and evolving Weather Tower installation, which handles a theme of change in the environment and culture where we live in. Weather Center for the Apocalypse is an alert to an uncertain future as it predicts those “changes that could affect the autonomy of citizens in the event of disaster”. According to Marzec, the project offers alternative perceptions to the media-driven forecasts we constantly encounter, and takes seriously the fears and superstitions that we as community may have. Recently, the project was on display at Sixth Extinction Howl at Billings Library in the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you find weather? It is there all the time, but to become a derivative and subject for art, do you find it is common at all?

Amelia Marzec: Currently there are a lot of artists doing work either directly or indirectly on the influence of human activity on climate change. I have seen a few other weather projects since starting the Weather Center for the Apocalypse. Everyone on earth is participating in this story right now, whether they are aware of it or not.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the background for your project, which will also materialize during Climate Week in New York. 

AM: The Weather Center for the Apocalypse began during an anxious time when I was in a relationship that was failing, at the same time that my Grandfather’s health was failing. It was a moment of knowing that these things were going to end, while not knowing exactly when that was going to happen. I needed to prepare and put things in perspective: what would be the most outrageous ending? The world could end, of course. With the current focus on climate change, it didn’t seem that far off.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Have you always been future oriented, foreseeing the future, as apocalypse might imply?

AM: Yes. My current work began a number of years ago, when I lost all of my hearing in one ear due to a tumor. I began to focus on the reality of daily communication failure in my life, and to pay more attention to the physical objects that make up our telecommunications infrastructure: our phones, our internet, our radios, and other devices. I began building objects to avert possible future disasters of communication in our society. The Weather Center for the Apocalypse continues this work by becoming a news media center for a pre-apocalyptic world.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about the narrative part of your Weather Center for the Apocalypse project, in which the visual implements a strong narrative element, what do you want to say about it?

AM: The story of the Weather Center unfolds over time as the project is built and refined. It began by providing forecasts to STROBE Network, a news network that was broadcast from Flux Factory in 2015. News and weather reports that were both practical and fantastical fed a daily apocalypse warning system. However, it has become clear that the Weather Center needs to be prepared for complete telecommunications failure, so the Weather Tower, which is a functioning weather station, was built mostly from salvaged materials that I gathered in my neighborhood. It collects local weather data so we don’t need to rely on major news sources. Predictions, fears, and anxieties are collected by interviewing local residents, and severe warnings are broadcast over a short distance with an FM radio transmitter.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where did you install the Weather Tower before, and how did those environments alter the direction?

The Weather Tower has traveled to different locations in New York to collect weather data and predictions from residents, including Industry City with Creative Tech Week; Governor’s Island with FIGMENT festival; Sag Harbor with Wetland, a fully sustainable houseboat; and Long Island City with Flux Factory and the Artificial Retirement exhibition. Being outdoors tends to trigger people’s memories more of changes that are happening on the earth. I’ve been caught in the rain a few times now, which has forced me to become better at weatherproofing the work.

 

amelia-marzec-weather-tower
Amelia Marzec, Weather Tower, part of the Weather Center for the Apocalypse -project.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Since you will have the UN presentation, what expectations do you have for it. Is it possible that the work will gain more global visibility with the location?

AM: There are some meetings that week at the UN about climate change, so it would be really nice to continue those conversations in a public place, as it affects all of us. I would also let passers by know about Climate Week. This type of artwork tends to happen one conversation at a time, so I don’t expect it to be a global phenomenon. Hopefully I can collect some interesting predictions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does the work read a label climate change art, do you think that art can be a vehicle towards a better understanding on what is happening?

AM: Yes, climate change is one of the major themes of the Weather Center for the Apocalypse. I do think art is a vehicle towards better understanding of the issues, and I also think that is one of the responsibilities of an artist.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have been connected to Eyebeam in New York City, what has this education and community meant for your creative thinking?

AM: I’m currently an Impact Resident at Eyebeam, working on our conference Radical Networks. The conference brings together artists, educators, and technologists to discuss the future of alternative networks in the context of community. This could mean experimental social computer networks, local community and rural networks, network security, uses of networks for activism, and the overall question of who owns the network. The community at Eyebeam is made up of some of the most forward-thinking people on the future of art and technology, and it is an honor to be among them. Seeing how other artists live and get work done has given me the confidence to pursue these projects, in addition to expanding my thinking about the work itself.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you think a notion artistic research designates, a process that goes beyond a merely presentation to include research on a specific subject?

AM: It depends on the context, sometimes it simply means searching for images or text to be used in a project. But it should mean practice-based research, which has more depth in that the projects are leading a conversation, which happens in the context of previous writers and theorists. There’s other types of research where you’re mostly talking about artwork, but not making it. I’m a very hands-on person so I’m letting the work lead for now.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is so interesting how you relate to technology with a nostalgic wibe. There seems to be also a feature of old electronics and low tech involved in the making. How do the objects make you inspired?

AM: My previous project, New American Sweatshop, is a working model of an electronics manufacturing factory for a post-industrial economy, using our trash as a natural resource. I had gotten frustrated with building activist projects that were only possible for very privileged groups of people: people who could afford to buy technology, and had the education to know how to build it. I was also getting parts from international companies. During hurricane Sandy, there was no way to get supplies, as the roads were closed. So I started the New American Sweatshop to source parts locally from the resources that we had, which turned out to be our trash. It’s not so much nostalgia as necessity, knowing what we’d have to do to build communications infrastructure in a disaster scenario.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have discussed a role of the digital as something that might alienate us from connecting to one another. Should we go back in time, beyond the internet in our human communication, or do you think there is something else, which is a possible way to go?

AM: We need to use the current digital technology as a tool to organize and meet up in person. We need each other as human beings, and we will never be able to duplicate the experience of being together in the same space, despite advances in technology.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the philosophies which you rely upon, and make references in you work?

AM: I’ve always been very much into DIY culture, having grown up in the 80’s and 90’s.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: One strong sensibility which comes across in your approach is feminist art, or a community of women making societal art. You have been featured in conjunction to A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn that promotes the women’s voices. Would you like to say something about this special connection?

Women are not on equal footing worldwide, so anything that serves to amplify women’s voices and give them confidence in their work is something I appreciate. Being together to have this discussion and forming our own networks is key. It’s possible that I’ve gotten more opportunities through connections with other women than with men. The idea of women competing with each other is outdated; we are more effective when we collaborate, and that is something that I see younger women doing more and more.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does VR resonate with anything you are interested in? Can we save the world with the idea of VR offering alternative perspectives?

AM: I’m both fascinated and frightened by VR. I don’t believe it will save the world. Having different perspectives is always helpful, but people have to be open to them. Whatever happens, we have to keep working on our own morality.

amelia-marzec-forecast-portal-from-weather-center-for-the-apocalypse-2016
Amelia Marzec, Forecast Portal, from the Weather Center for the Apocalypse.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you wish yourself going next in terms of plans?

AM: I’d like to build out more of the Weather Center, and I’m looking for support in order to do that.

***

Amelia Marzec was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and went to college at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers in New Brunswick. She came to NYC to attend the Design and Technology MFA program at Parsons in 2003, and has lived in the city ever since.

Check out artist website: http://www.ameliamarzec.com/

Riitta Ikonen’s artistic day dreaming

Artist Riitta Ikonen traveled recently to Greenland to discover new artistic work that reflects interaction between humans and their natural environment. Her exhibition, “Glacial Reveries”, is on view at The Chimney Exhibition & Performance venue in Brooklyn until February 7th. Interestingly, the body of work touches directly a topic of glaciers and their fate in the age of the anthropocene. Reveries, then, as a form of day dreaming, means for the artist a human survival strategy during the end of the world scenario. The objects include; a wetsuit for the tip of an iceberg, a lifejacket for a brick, eroded stones tied back together with strings, a video hidden in a suit, stairs leading up to cinder block windows. Few year ago, Riitta Ikonen captivated her audiences with a collaborative photography project, Eyes as Big as Plates, which embeds something remarkable of the elderly human portraits, characterizing people among their surroundings. In this interview, the artist discusses her exhibitions, travels, artistic practice and plans.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell about this ongoing project called Eyes as Big as Plates, how did it start, develop, and so on?

Riitta Ikonen: Eyes as Big as Plates is an ongoing collaborative venture with Karoline Hjorth, a photographer with a journalism and tall-ship sailing background. We met in 2011 on an artist residency after I, in search of a collaborator, typed in: Norway+Grannies+Photographer into an Internet search engine and found Hjorth as the top search result. (She had just published a book on Norwegian grandmothers.) We met for the very first time on the doorstep of a 20 m² flat in the small town of Sandnes, southwest of Norway.

Starting out as a play on characters from Nordic folklore and the personifications of nature in the lore, Karoline and I wanted to find out what kind of connection the Norwegians had with their rocks, fjords and hills. Those hills hadn’t changed since the tales, but the people sure had. We figured that the older the local interviewee/model, the closer we would get to the talking rocks of the tales. Folktales often made complex natural and sociological issues understandable and accessible, with phenomena taking on forms and characteristics that even a mere mortal could have a dialogue with. Perhaps our Eyes as Big as Plates images aimed to discuss the contemporary human in the nature in a similarly approachable language. After interviewing in Sandnes for two weeks, our investigation started shifting more towards imagination and Eyes as Big as Plates has evolved into a search for modern human’s belonging to nature.

Much of the western society is unnecessarily confused when it comes to the ‘usefulness’ of older people. As the project continues to cross borders, it also aims to rediscover a demographic group too often labeled as marginalized and generate new perspectives on who we are and where we belong.

The series is produced in collaboration with retired farmers, fishermen, zoologists, plumbers, opera singers, housewives, artists, academics and ninety year old parachutists. These are people we meet through friends, relatives and newspaper ads, in hardware stores, noodle shops, indoor gardening society meetings, swimming pools, on the city streets etc.

The title Eyes as big as Plates refers to two Scandinavian folktales featuring respectively a goat and a dog with eyes the size of plates.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It seems that the work was presented in multiple international places. Do you think that there were different receptions of your work that you find as constructive?

RI: I traveled to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the US last fall with Eyes as Big as Plates exhibition and was honored to witness the reactions to the photographs from of the large Finnish community. More people of Finnish descent live in the northwest part of the Upper Peninsula than anywhere else in the world outside of Finland. The images resonated with the crowd in a way that transcended borders, time and language. The Nordic spirit was redolent in the minds of the third generation Finns yearning to keep the connection to their heritage alive. Though the exhibition was small, it was one of the most moving and personal of the dozens of lectures and openings I attended last year.

After the opening of the Eyes as Big as Plates exhibition at the National Museum of Greenland, Karoline and I got to listen to Teitur from the Faroe Islands perform live at the Katuaq Center. His song ‘Home’ struck a cord in that moment and I realized there is a ‘home’ in each image for me, perhaps for others too, a universal anchoring point. Greenland was exceptional in many ways and I know that this was the first trip of many more to come.

I wish I could have attended the shows in Korea and Bogota too, but that would have required a body double. I have worked quite a bit with the Norwegians since 2011 and the Norwegian National Museum has been touring an Eyes as Big as Plates exhibition with a workshop for a couple of years now. At the opening of Fotogalleriet in Oslo, Karoline and I also got offered a chance to work on a public art commission by the Arctic Sea at Kirkkoniemi-Kirkenes, where we work on documentary portraits for a brand new hospital until 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Readers of this blog are interested in the artistic language and process, are there any compelling features that make yours?

RI: The process is most often rooted in collaboration, with the current show in New York at The Chimney being a cheerful exception. The latest works consist mainly of interactive sculptures and video all of which bubbled from last October’s trip to Greenland. The pieces were produced after digesting the experiences of the spectacular land- and seascape near Nuuk, and filmed over the next three months in Finland, the Pacific Northwest and New York. The below piece of writing by Robert Smithson also accompanied me through the making process as a kind of fluid spine.

‘One’s mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. Vast moving faculties occur in this geological miasma, and they move in the most physical way. This movement seems motionless, yet it crushes the landscape of logic under glacial reveries.’
Robert Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects”, 1968

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you see that artistic collaborations and working with curators have formed your artistic language? Are you able to pin down, or do you have a story about how a dialogue with the art field has forwarded your career?

RI: I collaborate with people (architects, artists, photographers, sculptors, writers, postal workers etc.) to catalyze the interaction that determines the direction and the work. Unpredictability feeds my practice and keeps the process interesting.

Working with courageous people is necessary for progress.  My solo show ‘Glacial Reveries’ in NY is far wilder than I could have imagined with the fearless support and insight from the curator, Clara Darrason. She encouraged me to follow my initial plan of making the gallery goers walk under water, on the bottom of the ocean with the water level up in the ceiling. We also ended up installing a 25-foot tall iceberg in the show.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are you currently based in New York City, and do you have specific plans for staying and working here?

RI: I am currently on an airplane, and spend a great deal of time in transit. I am based in Kouvola with restless feet. I just met up with Tiina Itkonen in Helsinki who has done a life’s work in Greenland and it is only a matter of time that I will return there! I was hoping to go to Mexico City, where I have works at the Material Art Fair, in March, there are also the RCA Secret exhibitions and sales in London and Dubai, but again- I am restrained by this one body only.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you consider yourself a Finnish artist, are there any particular ways to designate and identify with your country of origin?

RI: I am a Finnish artist and I feel it pulsates strongly in my work and me. I receive a tremendous amount of support from Finland, whether it is from the brilliant network of Finnish Cultural Institutes around the world, Consulate staff, Cultural foundations, or curators. Most often as a Finn, you are only two steps (at most) away from a fellow creative countryman. This network is incredibly loyal and operates on a penetrable scale- a truly privileged situation however you look at it.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As mentioned, your current project and exhibition, Glacial Reveries is on display at The Chimney in Brooklyn. How did you find yourself going to Greenland to do a project there?

RI: It was a lifelong dream to go to Greenland; it was also the last Nordic country I hadn’t worked in. My collaborator Karoline Hjorth and I decided ‘it shall be done’, and we compiled a list of various Greenlandic institutions to reach out to. I called a few numbers and sent some emails. I received no reply. Eventually I got used to the ‘radio silence’, but made a habit of ringing one number or another every week. Most often no one replied, sometimes a receptionist or an answering machine picked up. A year went by stubbornly. We finally made the contact when Åsa Juslin from the Finnish-Norwegian Cultural Institute in Oslo, introduced us to Mats Bjerde and Mette Hein from NAPA (The Nordic Institute in Greenland), who were organizing Nuuk Nordisk Festival in the capital. After Åsa’s email, the ball started rolling.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is a topic of climate change important to your work, and how about the nature as such?

RI: Climate change discussion and open dialogue is vital and art is a good communication tool. I am a bit hesitant to talk about nature as I am coming to think that there is no such thing. There are just us in our surroundings, whatever those may be. The idea of nature might be just as manmade as Shopkins. Either way, to acknowledge that you are not separated from your surroundings can be a way to get the most real picture of the world available to us. (Timothy Morton has written interestingly on that)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is art political to you and if so, how?

RI: ‘The personal is political’ as it was once aptly put.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Did you find your artistic medium early on, or did you master and explore various techniques?

RI: After the wish of becoming a conveyor belt worker in a confection factory faded a little, a career as an artist was an obvious second choice. I am still exploring various techniques, and am a happy amateur. As a fish farmer living by the Arctic Sea said it very nicely last year: ‘I am a charlatan and an amateur, a typical Finnmarking who has adapted to this county of contrasts. I love what I do (Latin Amator = lover, amare = to love), unlike a professional who does something not because he loves it but to earn money. There’s a big difference. (Oddbjørn Jerijærvi)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have specific plans for the future?

RI: Go work in the desert in the spring, complete a National Park Residency, exhibition at Pielisen Museo in Northern Karelia, continue the Time is a ship that never casts anchor project in Kirkenes, Exhibitions in Germany and the Douro Valley in Portugal, Mail Art- Art Mail Show at the Finnish Postal Museum until the end of February 2016, RCA Secret in London and Dubai, Material Art Fair in Mexico City this month, More Greenland, etc.

 Artist website: http://www.riittaikonen.com/

 The Chimney, New York: http://www.thechimneynyc.com/

Eliasson’s ice revisited

Ice Watch will open to the public on Thursday, 3 December 2015, in the Place du Panthéon in Paris. This artwork by Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing is part of the occasion of COP 21 at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.

Olafur Eliasson is a Danish-Icelandic artist known for his large-scale installation art, which often has a site-specific component. He has also worked with sculpture. The elements, such as light, water, and air temperature are essential parts in the works to draw the viewer into experiencing them as corporeal and sensory.

Olafur Eliasson is not a newborn to the climate change issue; neither is he using blocks of ice for the first time in his installations. He has created interconnected works that are close to environmental happenings, proposing an innate sense of activism. How to catch great attention and international visibility with earthy and conceptual works, is his niche. Perhaps Eliasson artistry sometimes implies great attention with metaphysical value, but this fact is by no means discarding the materiality and tactility of the things. Perception and comprehensibility of larger subjects, particularly that of a climate change are very much embodied in the projects.

Taking the icebergs, which predominantly float far away from our sight in the isolated North are now taken seriously. Eliasson brings a hint of their monumental presence along with him putting them down on the marketplace of a metropolis, across the street so to speak. Let the ice melt there in front of our eyes to remind how the world is running out of time with the climate change, and how things truly are physical. We live in a physical world. In 2014, Eliasson installed the show in Copenhagen. The ice was placed in the middle of the town square, lifting the local spirits to think about the fjord water in the north. In 2013, at PS1 of MoMA in New York City, another work of this kind “Your waste of Time”, had ice pieces that arrived from the Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Visitors had a chance to observe and discover the melting ice.

The project, which is installed in Paris recalls the title “Ice Watch“. The metaphorical piece has a power to speak of the ice that is speedily disappearing due to the global warming. Eliasson has stated that he is interested in giving knowledge a body, to encourage action on an everyday social level. What is sure is that everybody in the recognition of the global warming is going to be involved in the process. The artwork addresses it to the world, and thinks of it from the perspective of the future generations.

The physicality of the ice is remarkable because it stands for the longer life spans. Ice is older than us, who dwell here. For the installation, there are twelve large blocks of ice that come from free-floating icebergs in a fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland. They are arranged in a clock formation on the Place du Panthéon. Weighting around 80 tonnes, the ice will melt away during COP21.

… … …

Origin: Nuup Kangerlua fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland
Transport: Organised by Group Greenland / Greenland Glacier Ice, the ice was collected by divers and dockworkers from the Royal Arctic Line and then transported in six refrigerated containers from Nuuk to Aalborg, Denmark by container ship and to Paris by truck. Ice Watch is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and realised in collaboration with Julie’s Bicycle. Ice Watch is part of the initiative Artists 4 Paris Climate 2015.

Clay Apenouvon’s Film Noir de Lampedusa

Artist Clay Apenouvon has created a new installation Film Noir de Lampedusa for the Paris Climate Conference COP21, which begins the last week of November. The work is a memorial to the thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who arrived across the Mediterranean to the safety of Europe in makeshift boats and rafts. Installation, which was commissioned by the Église Saint-Merri, (Church Saint Merri) in Paris, consists of extended plastic film with various objects that are assembled into a “Museum of Silence”.

Apenouvon was born in Togo, West Africa. His new art installation traces back the memories of those that are lost forever beneath the waves. Throughout his career, he has worked with painting, graphic design and screen-printing. He has explored different materials, for instance cardboard using it as a physical material and as an artistic medium. The cardboard has been used as a symbolic material to address issues of packaging. Then, Aponeuvon created a concept Plastic Attack, which raised awareness of the dangers that plastic poses to the environment on a global scale. This scalable work is in constant movement, and has so far been exhibited in residences in Iceland, in the US, and in France.

As the Paris Climate Conference draws near, the theme in the Film Noir de Lampedusa installation handles a difficult subject of climate refugees. They are crossing perilous seas and changing locations because of the wars and economic crisis, which ultimately derive and cause new struggles over natural resources. As we know, the climate change deepens all kinds of crises around human-caused conflicts.

The installation itself reminds of a black waterfall pouring out from the walls as a kind of a vast oil spill that cannot be stopped. Film Noir de Lampedusa takes place in a church space, so the sanctuary next to the altar echo historical presence, yet the context links the work strongly to the present moment in which we encounter the refugees, and mourn the missing lives. The objects themselves punctuate lost things, as a bottle containing message of love, a cell phone, pair of children’s shoes, and religious objects, such as crucifix, image of the virgin and a Qur’an are scattered around the work. The composition is inspired by an Lampedusa activist Giacomo Sferlazzo, who collected pieces that were thrown over from the refugee boats, or lost by the refugees on the sea.

Spatially in the church context of the Eglise Saint-Merri, Apenouvon’s installation emerges from beneath the grand painting by Charles Antoine Coypel, called Les Disciples d’Emmaüs, (The Disciples of Emmaus, 1749). Then, the installation’s title implies a “Film Noir” that certainly can have many references. First, it can be  environmental, as it stands for the black film left on the ocean’s surface by each oil spill. Second, it is remembering those victims who of African descent so quickly fade away from the conscience of the world’s wealthy nations. The artist utters his concern:

“I read dozens of articles about the subject of newspapers, poignant testimonies of survivors and inhabitants of the island of Lampedusa. Among the items, a drawing marked me, that of Planzer, entitled “The oil spill of Lampedusa”.

Third, the installation title evokes the Film Noir genre of Hollywood melodrama, possibly referring to scenes and atmospheres of cinematic practices that raised subjects, which audiences did not wish to deal with in their daily lives. The mystery of worlds around us, which directly or indirectly touch us, but we think do not affect us? Could climate change with the planet calling for our action still be a subject of mystery, which needs more of our scrutiny, prayers, and art installations, such as Clay Apenouvon’s Film Noir de Lampedusa?

 

The artist is represented by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in the US.

Film Noir de Lampedusa opens on November 20 and runs through December 20, 2015 at the Eglise Saint-Merri, Paris, France

IC-98 art duo from Finland

Firstindigo&Lifestyle interviewed artist duo IC-98 from Finland, who are Patrik Söderlund and Visa Suonpää, respectively. Their recent site-specific installation ‘Hours, Years, Aeons’, was produced for the Pavilion of Finland at the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. IC-98 projects scale with in-depth research; being abstract and taking form in installations and in publications. Their animation language draws from the collective history of nature and culture. As the duo says:

Our work is post-historical, it is set in a distant future after the age of man. It’s about nature, which still has to deal with the consequences of the human era. It’s not natural nature, but a twisted one.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did IC-98 get started, what was your thesis during the first few years?

IC-98 (artist duo Patrik Söderlund and Visa Suonpää): We met at the University of Turku, majoring in Cultural History and Art History. We wanted to broaden the scope of academic writing by bringing our “writing” into public space. This idea became our program: to make site-specific interventions in public space, be they installations or anonymously distributed booklets.

How do your art works communicate with theoretical thinking, do you consider to be conceptual artists?

IC-98: The works start with conceptual and/or contextual analysis. This depends on the project at hand. Site-specific works start from research; animations are amalgamations of conceptual thinking, adjusted storytelling and handcraft. But if we should characterize ourselves shortly, we’d say we are conceptualists first.

Can you name some of the most important theoretical premises that could be your guidelines? How about your artistic influences?

IC-98: Our theory comes mostly from the left-leaning French poststructuralism: Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Michel Serres, with an important German addition: the work of Walter Benjamin. Artistically we do not have many modern or contemporary influences. Visually we lean towards 19th Century and the history of depicting landscape: Claude Lorrain, Gianbattista Piranesi, Caspar David Friedrich, and William Turner. The important thing about 19th Century is the fact that it is often at the same time the prehistory and a mirror image of our own time: in many respects, the world was the same but the underlying processes are still more visible (think Jacquard loom vs. laptop: they share the same binary logic but where laptop is a black box, in the loom we still see how the thing actually works).

Could you tell more about the process itself, in what ways do your concepts or visual process evolve, are there any common or repeating parameters in the making? For example, how do you choose your visual atmospheres, like create the sets, lighting, how does the process unravel itself?

IC-98: The style is based on the fact that the animations visually start with pencil drawing. From this stems the fact that the animations are black and white. So it is a material, not a stylistic element. The different atmospheres and recurring elements, our visual vocabulary (fog, mist, stars, water) is functions of the scripts, which often deal with multi-rhythmic time and transformations of energy and matter. The script always comes first; even lighting should carry parts of the story. If we cannot justify a visual element, we omit it from the final work. Technically the “scene” is fashioned after 18th century theatre: the image is composed of flat layers and digital effects between these layers. We try to keep it simple, not to be too much carried away by the limitless possibilities of cgi (Computer-generated imagery). When we compose a scene, the pencil drawings are first scanned, then composed into layered scenes and lastly animated.

What do you want to say about your idea of ‘Events’, and about the ‘possibilities’ that can be found in your artworks?

IC-98: The idea of a moment being pregnant with possibilities – or situationistically speaking “constructed situations” – comes from our earlier practice. We combined situationist thinking with Deleuze’s idea of the actual and the virtual and Benjamin’s Theses on History to conceive an idea of an intervention/work as an event making the user/viewer aware of the interconnectedness of past and future possibilities. As Deleuze beautifully writes, the present moment is surrounded by a cloud of virtualities, the unactualized past events, which maybe did not take place but can still happen. This we still consider the political element of our work even when the animations might at first sights appear visually anachronistic.

Is it relevant to always question time and space as elements in you work-in-process?

IC-98: Coming from the background of both visual arts and history, the complex nature of time is elemental in our work. Animation enables us to show multiple temporal rhythms in one image frame. Sometimes it is about the passage of time as such, then again it might be about a certain time in history.

What are the three things you would tell about yourself to North American audience today as an introduction?

IC-98: We have worked over multiple media for almost 20 years now. During this time, we have developed a visual language – be it artist publications, installations or animated films –, which combines the theoretical and the political with the visual and emotional. And important element here is the combination of old school (drawing) craft and the new digital media.

You have participated in Art Fairs in New York City, in fact at the VOLTA Art Fair couple of years ago, how was the reception from the audience and organization, how about other experiences from local scene?

IC-98: The reception has been good, though ours are relatively difficult works in the fast paced fair circuit. You need to be able to give time to the work. Then again, even a quick glance of the “surface” communicates the classical quality of crafting the artwork – though it’s in digital form.

IC-98 installation at VOLTA NY-2013 with Galleria Heino. photo: Firstindigo&Lifestyle

Some time has passed since the opening of the 56th Venice Biennale, what are your most important remarks from the art biennale so far, did the location and site change the actual process? How do you feel, are you able to follow up what takes place during the art exhibition?

IC-98: Working on site-specific projects has taught us that it’s always about communication between the site and us, the hermeneutics of place. In Venice we realized, that we had mostly done the research over the years already (the questions of territory, public space, wood and woods, the history of the Finnish welfare state, the relations of humanity, architecture and nature as a whole). The challenge then was to find the best way to tell the story in a framework of very strict regulations. We were first working on a more ephemeral and performative format, but had to recur to our most well known medium in the end: the animated film.

During the biennale we have mostly received comments from visitors now and then. But, the perception of our own work hasn’t changed during the process. We have always done a lot of thinking and tried to take into account all the possible permutations of a given site or situation.

It seems that ‘Hours, Years, Aeons’ has duration and layers, what does the work narrate about? It starts forming in the cave, and goes through time in history? Does it deal with today’s hot topics, such as climate change?

IC-98: It’s very much about climate change, the much talked about questions of the Anthropocene (note: Wickipedia defines this as: proposed epoch that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s ecosystems). But our work is post-historical, it is set in a distant future after the age of man. It’s about nature, which still has to deal with the consequences of the human era. It’s not natural nature, but a twisted one. The work exists both as a spatial multi-screen installation and the linear film shown in Venice. The Venice version let’s us experience long, geological stretches of time – the aeons.

Specifically, the work has a background in the nuclear waste repositories, how something is buried deep into the ground. But as we all know, what is buried, will once surface again.

Did you find time-based media works as your medium from the very beginning of your artistic career? How about your sculptural works, and the ways different media communicate with each other?

IC-98: We considered our free distribution books already time-based in a sense. The installations often include an interactive element, which means that they work in space but also as a part of lived time. We have liked the idea of the viewer as a user. But formally we entered the temporal realm when we wanted to make animations. The main idea was to be able to show the chains of cause and effect and use certain cinematic techniques to speak not only to the intellect but also the senses.

Time-based media has a different nature than other art works. What is your opinion about it, how do you see your art from the point of view of the future, what could be the time-span?

IC-98: In all probability our works will seem as anachronistic or as nostalgic as any other cultural product of our time. The paradoxical thing is, we always try to conceal the technological or digital basis of our works. We try to make our works look like they could have been made in any era. It would be nice, if in the future it would be impossible to say from the outset when watching our work: “That’s so 2010’s!” Then again, the animations are all about the resolution, the bit-depth, the ratio, and the available digital effects…

Finally, what are your ongoing and new propositions for the future?

IC-98: We are in the preproduction phase of our first feature film, ‘The Kingdom of Birds. It’s loosely based on the life’s work of Finnish deep ecologist, eco-fundamentalist, ornithologist and fisherman Pentti Linkola. The film imagines an old fisherman’s last day on earth in a future where all of mankind has perished. It is time for other species.

The 56th La Biennale di Venezia is open until November 2015, where IC-98 is represented.

Check out the artist websites following the links below:

IC-98 homepage: www.socialtoolbox.com

IC-98 animations: https://vimeo.com/ic98

IC-98 monograph: http://issuu.com/framefinland/docs/ic98_hoursyearsaeons_1_

Cultural geography and ‘hiisi’-territoriality…

Cultural geographies can be full of imagination. Finland’s geography shares attributes of ice and snow, whereas some other places are filled with sand and heat. North, cold, south, warm, masculine, feminine, are ideas that we unconsciously relate to our cultural geographies. Then, ‘space’ when attached to cultural geographies is partially ‘virtual’. Interesting is, how our imagination creates space as ‘absolute’, ‘relative’, and ‘relational’ (as David Harvey challenges it).

What I am thinking in relation to my new work-in-progress research project within arts, is a questions of imagination; how do we as cultural beings and citizens of the global world, create meaning from our cultural origins, or from our cultural geographies. My current research is not about Finland, but I like to reflect one particular attribute, which so often defines Finland’s geographical imaginary. That is the forest, and forest has a meaningful and long prehistory in Finland.

Folk traditions in Finland’s territory never considered forest as pure wilderness. From the prehistoric times, people utilized its resources leaving marks on a terrain. Originally, forest metsä in Finnish language did not mean the totality of space where trees are a dominant feature of the landscape, but the term pointed to the sacred. Metsä was an edge where inhabited regions of the people ends. It was a borderline for the everyday social life (tämänpuoleinen) and it was a route to the other world (tuonpuoleinen) (Anttonen 2003, 299-301).

In the thirteenth century, early Baltic-Finnic population covered over 230 local villages in Finland’s territory. An old custom was that ritualized spaces were separated apart from the living areas. Certain trees in metsä had hiisi-inhabitants (hiidenväki) were the dead beings were put to rest at hiisi-sites. These hiisi-inhabitants were the supernatural people of the post-mortal world. When Christianity was brought into the country, the hacking of trees that had hiisi-inhabitants started, and churches were built on those spots. What then happened was, that folklore also converted hiisi –term and its ontological referent to signify ‘Hell’, as a borrowed duality from the Christian theology. The forest started to signify borders between the ‘civilized’ world and the ‘pagan’ world (Anttonen 2003, 299-301).

How does this imagination enter our current ideas of the forest, is intriguing. How do we see the forest, how do we process it, occupy it, harness it, and so on?

Reference: Anttonen, Veikko 2003: “Sacred Sites as Markers of Difference-Exploring Cognitive Foundations of Territoriality”. In Lotte Tarkka (ed.): Dynamics of Tradition. Perspectives on Oral Poetry and Folk Beliefs. (Essays in honour of Anna-Leena Siikala on her 60th Birthday, January 1st 2003). Finnish Literature Society: Helsinki, pp. 291-305.

Feeling good about my environment

I was tuning into Björk’s Joga, looking at videos of Icelandic landscape and thinking about the affective aspects of our environments. Where we grow up, the landscapes that we get used to, has an impact on us. I strongly believe that landscapes shape our emotions and our approaches to different environments.

When I think about some of Björk’s own comments about the environment she grew up in, I feel the same way as she does about the North. We should reconsider the Arctic resources and the Northern environment, and take climate change more seriously. Rapid climate change would be huge threat to our landscapes, and even change our feelings about them. I recently learned about a new book, which speaks about the unspoken sites of the climate change process. “To Cook a Continent. Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa” is a book by Nnimmo Bassey.

Bassey writes about Africa, where nature and natural resources have been traditionally considered a blessing. His insight is that by using the nature in a wrong way can turn it into a curse. Bassey accuses global North for taking raw materials from Africa. This also means that when the wealthy economies are consuming fossil fuels, indigenous forests, and commercializing the global agriculture, those economies also destruct their own sense of the good. Our question should be, how to maintain our responsible approach to nature and environment? Perhaps one way is to keep enjoying the nature, and also bring that sense into our designing.

The human aspect in the community development is a central part of the contemporary design of environments. A new and innovative design-thinking considering public spaces is now more focused in the ‘good-feeling’ aspect that can be attached to making the spaces. Adding dimension of ‘feeling good and happy’ recreates the interiors and designs to fit better in our lives, and to serve us better as communities. Design education at its simplest comes with a recognition that people want to feel good, weather they are in their work offices, at home, or visiting serving centers and service points in public spaces.

Also, another important question is, what is my favorite place and environment? And, how do I define the good feeling attached to my favorite environment?  I consider a human component to be the core factor even when it comes to a work environment. Feeling good would come with additional space for interaction, which would bring awareness and a sense of collaboration. My experience of my favorite environment is attached to my own memory of different places, which I have visited in my life. Then, the collective images surrounding places shape my feelings about them. In retrospect, my feelings about different environments is influenced by various representations about them.

In modern design the interiors and exteriors can change my perception of my surroundings quite significantly. How I experience the space, of course, depends of my age, size, and my habitat. I have become nostalgic about the childhood landscapes that my family used to visit. Calling those national parks also my favorite places on this earth makes me rethink how important they are today. Feeling good and remembering the favorite places is one way to respect the future of our environments and the nature.