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

Camilla Vuorenmaa carves wood into paintings

Camilla Vuorenmaa is a young visual artist focusing on the human experience and the everyday encountering between people. She creates portraits with full of affect that stem from an exceptional artistic medium. Her portraits appear on carved wood as vigorously painted characters. An award-winning Finnish artist had a recent museum exhibition at the EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art in Finland.

The main motive in my works is the individual experience and a sort of portrait. Effort, success and experiences of failure, the dignity of everyday life, affection, frustration and the experience of innocence and pain are subjects I reflect in my works. Mainly I portray the figures as themselves, doing some kind of a activity or being in the middle of it. Fundamentally we are all alone with our personal experiences. -Camilla Vuorenmaa

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you find your recent artistic medium, is it common that an artist combines woodcarving and painting together?

Camilla Vuorenmaa: I started to work with wood year 2010, when I had the first opportunity to work as a full time artist for longer period of time. I had wood on my mind already before, but then I knew it was time to start with this material. My work has though always been moving between 2 and 3 dimensional form. I have felt the need to add mass and structure to my paintings, for example continue it with foam rubber stuffed canvas, or continue painting to the wall, over its material form.

Using wood in sculpture and even painting on the wooden sculpture is quite common. But this combination, painting and carving on wood boards is not yet very common. My working method is actually closer to the graphic boards that graphic artists make as a basis for their prints. Difference is, that I use that basis as the art piece itself, instead of making prints out of it. I call them paintings; others might call them something else.

As an artist do you feel that you can associate with both design practices and with the fine art history?

Camilla Vuorenmaa: Hard to say. I guess the things you grow up with, see and smell, forms, colors, light and shadow, basically everything has an effect on the visual idea. I am sure that Finnish design and especially its patterns have had influence on my visual choices. It is more unconscious than relevant though.

Your recent exhibition at the EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art, was about people working by the sea. Could you tell more about this project?

CV: I applied to the SIM residency in Reykjavik on the winter 2014. I got the residency time to the September and October 2015 and it was perfect timing, since this project was on my mind before I knew about the prize and following exhibition at EMMA. All together, I had only nine moths to prepare EMMA exhibition, so it was good to have this idea already burning on my mind. I wanted to investigate the basis of the culture in Iceland, which is fishing. Everything in that country has basis on their fishing culture, so very simply, my aim was to go with the fishermen to the sea for some period of time, observe their working habits as an isolated community, atmosphere at the boat and individuals’ relation to the sea. I got connected to the MSC-Marine Stewardship Council representative Gisli Gislason in Iceland, and he told me a lot about the history of the fishing industry and helped me to connect with the Helga Maria ship’s crew. I went to the Atlantic Ocean with Helga Maria ship for one week on September 2016. During that time I photographed their working and used later these photos as basis of my paintings. The ship left from Reykjavik and went up until the northeast Iceland sea area. And returned. Gladly, weather was good most of the time.

 

What was your experience in working with EMMA museum; did you work particularly with a curator to build the show?

CV: Making an exhibition is usually a lonely work, but bigger shows definitely involve more people and more things to be taken care for. For EMMA exhibition I was closely working with curator Tiina Penttilä from EMMA. She came to visit me at my studio and also interviewed me for the catalogue several times during the making of the exhibition. I felt I got well supported by Tiina Penttilä and the whole museum crew during the making and building process. As an exhibition space, EMMA is wonderful and gives many possibilities to an artist. Especially I enjoyed making the wall paintings to the space. This was great experience as a whole.

Where does your artistic process start, from the idea of a canvas, or from the wood?

CV: Everything comes side by side, simultaneously. I choose material same time as I collect ideas. I take photos of something that interests me, like for example wrestlers. I made series of paintings based on the observation of the movement of one wrestling team in Helsinki. I do not really make sketches on paper; I see my photos as my sketches. I buy material, print photos that inspire me and spread them around the studio. Then I start to combine different sized wood panels and paint the beginning of the piece on the boards. I paint and carve, paint and carve until it is ready.

Wood has been my main working material for the past six years, but now I start to feel working again also with other materials.

You have worked with mixed media, how did you develop the techniques in each period of time, can you speak of artistic growth, or is it more like a seasonal thing?

CV: I guess all the developments on my techniques have had to do with the search of some kind of layer in between a painting. Painting on canvas, plexi glass, paper, mdf-boards, wood, wall, all these have circulated in my work. I can return to a technique I tried and worked with several years later and proceed with it further. I see working as a visual artist also some kind of work of an inventor, chemist, and alchemist. All the material details and accidents with them lead in to interesting paths and can start even a new process.

Camilla Vuorenmaa, Fisherman, 2015, painting (carving on wood), 200x120x2cm, EMMA -Espoo Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Ari Karttunen/EMMA 

What are you inspirations for creating your art, does it usually start with observations or fieldwork?

I used to collect inspirational pictures from old magazines. I spend hours and hours in old bookshops and went through dusty old magazines and photography books. The nostalgia and history inspires me, and also the idea that everything that happens in the world has already happened many times, they just appear in more modern form from century to century. Also my love to literature and books as objects has something to do with it. For the past years I have also started to use more my own photography as a basis of my paintings. I have become maybe more brave to confront the subject, or my curiosity has gone over my shyness.

 

How would you describe the education in Finland, much did you learn from your art education?

CV: My times in Finnish Art Academy were great. My teachers gave me a lot of freedom and opportunity to try everything. I was on the painting department but visited other departments regularly to try their material and working methods. For some, this kind of working freedom might have been too much, but for me it worked perfect. And if I needed support or comments, I could get that from the courses or ask studio visits from the teachers.

Is there something particularly Finnish in your art making?

CV: Well, I guess wood is pretty Finnish material. As wood industry is still so big in our country. Also I have understood from my colleagues and collaborators in Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and England that Finnish painters seem to have something peculiar and wild in their visual language. This has been of course great to hear – what a compliment to Finnish painters.

Do people ever ask you about the nature of your practice in regards to your gender as a woman making art, and your subjects for art, does the gender play any role in your art making?

CV: Well, I wish I could answer that “no – I have never have heard any questions that have something to do with my art making and being a woman”. But of course I have. Many people still seem to wonder how a small woman like me can handle big wood blocks, or do so big sized works. Once I even heard one man saying to me that your works are great, they look as if they are made by a man. I wonder what Louise Bourgeois must have heard! Good thing is that these comments are though not the first and the only thing I hear about my work and my working methods. Art is always political. So of course my art is too. I am more interested to hide my perspective of the roles of humans in my work, than comment it very straight in my work. But of course it is there. And I was the one who made these images.

What expectations do you have for the future, where do you see yourself going next?

CV: Now I am in the rare situation that I have exhibitions and plans made already until next year. Usually I have not known my ways for more than six moths. Interesting for me is to also see how this will affect on my artistic work, I have a possibility to plan and make long-term choices. My next big solo exhibition will be on January 2017 in Gallery Forum Box in Helsinki. After that I will take part to two group exhibitions in Sweden. I am more than exited and grateful for this situation. My aim has always been to make it possible to work as a visual artist without making compromises in the content. I follow that road.

Artist website:

http://camillavuorenmaa.com/