Based on the interview by Heli Harni, HAM for the Helsinki Biennial catalogue,
re-edited 8.7.2021 after the work Eons and instants was finalized.
Tell us about your artistic practice and your new work developed for the Biennial.
I began using soundless cracking agent or “snail dynamite” to introduce elements of time and performativity to my sculptural practice. I am interested in the soundlessness and slowness of the material in relation to its explosive power, as well as in the fact that the material is active in itself and it cannot be fully controlled. The loaded stone becomes an active agent within the spatial setting of an installation. The soundless cracking agent and the stones allow me to approach vast temporal and spatial scales from human to planetary and from corporeal to cultural.
While making the work for the Helsinki Biennial I contemplated on the notion `maa´, meaning the earth, land, soil, as well as, country, in Finnish. I was thinking about the idea of defence through Vallisaari´s military history, and went on thinking what it could or should mean today and in future. The question of growing need for mining, especially cobalt in Finland, has raised the understanding of the value of the Earth crust itself. The surface of our planet is a stage for the biotic, organic life to happen, including our modern way of life from mobile phones to electric cars. The rocky stage offers different types of habitats for variety of creatures to inhabit and the necessary mineral flows between abiotic and biotic.
The speculative sculptural installation for the Biennial resonates Vallisaari´s history as part of the military defense system and Alexander battery, the location of the installation, as a former gun powder cellar. Simultaneously it speculates the future of the growing need to extract minerals to sustain modern life. The past and the future unfold in the events taking place in the installation, as well as in the signification of the chosen materials and objects.
The installation includes a choreographed activity of loading and activating an explosive process. How ever the process is very slow. Critical minerals and soundless cracking agent, so called snail dynamite, are loaded into drilled holes in the rocks. After the triggering input, the materials take the agency, and the forces within them start to act according to their autonomous laws. The expansive mortar creates pressure that makes the rocks slowly to crack on their platforms. The inner forces of the materials, as well as the moisture and the temperature of the air influence each other and autonomously transform the work during the exhibition. Thus the work is simultaneously grounded in the present. The steel and brass platforms are materially connected to the ideological constructions of modern life and the activity of extracting.
I selected the rocks for the work from Vallisaari from areas where they had not been habited by other species yet. After the radical process in the work, and after the biennial, they will be brought back to the islands soil, following the ways in which, for example, the fallen trees have been treated on the island for decades, centuries perhaps, thrown on the side of the street and letting the moss grow.
How would you describe Vallisaari and Helsinki Biennial as a context of your work?
When walking around in Vallisaari, it feels like something is haunting, as if the spirits of the ones who lived on the island have not left. The ghosts materialize in tools and toys left lying around on the yard of a house. You can fleetingly sense the military histories like the explosion of 1937 or make associations with the cultural memory of collective ghost stories that arise from place names like “the Valley of Death”. There is also something monstrous in the manner, and speed, in which the nature has taken over the infrastructure of the island - and how its biodiversity now flourishes like nowhere else in Helsinki.
As I was selecting stones for the work, the army had just unearthed 8000 explosive related objects for making it safe to continue the bedrock excavation that needed to be done for the new water pipes and sewerage system on the island. Add to that there are dangers from hidden underground buildings that could collapse. Walking was allowed on marked paths only. Simple sticks were stuck on the ground to form an invisible line that should not be crossed. My body was guarded, and vice versa, the diversity of biotic life and constructions from past were protected from human interference. The markings followed me to my work. I loved the fact that the poles had so far been enough, no fences were needed. There is some sensitivity and trust in that. I tested whether the gesture could work in exhibition architecture as well. The gesture with the sticks has a particular energy to it, and it gives a feeling that something is going on over here. I brought some blue poles used on the island as well as tree branch walking sticks, orange-red-neon snow blow sticks, and brass tubes. I chose diverse sticks to emphasize the gesture, the what-they-do over the classification of what-they-are, – they warn, notify, make you alert.
As the forces in the installation function underneath the surface and because the work does not happen in a human timeframe, the viewer cannot grasp the entire temporal existence of the piece, you could say that the work also has something of a haunting quality. There is a particular tension in looking and waiting for a rock to crack. Culturally we think of rock as solid, permanent and eternal though we also know that geologically it is in constant movement. Cracking of a rock happens all the time, but it is only very few that witness it. The work offers another timeframe for the event. However, the cracking of a rock will still happen only for rare eyes, ears or backs.
A sharp, thin line opens on the surface of the stone. When the line has circled around the whole stone, it splits mostly in half. And sometimes, later, the other half splits in half. Afterwards one can sense the strength of the force that caused it. One can see the beauty of the inner world of a stone and the way the snail dynamite has shaped itself and how the shape starts cracking when exposed to air. There is also the loss of one form in exchange for another that we have to accept.