About Bird, Library and other works

-unfinshed fictional conversation-

Installation Bird and Library is quite diverese in relation to your earlier works. It has different elements, materials and medias in one constitution. What lies behind this way constructing a work?

In may latest works I have dealt a lot with idea of narrative, fictive installation. Simply said the idea is to create an environment of various visual and readible elements which in interaction to each other and wiever create sort of narrative network. Different medias require their own form of language and vocabulary which doesn't create a language of their own but a mixture of starts and meanings within the space. Using different mediums prevents the meaning to crystallise to fixed point. It requires the viewer to change viewpoints and thus "start again" looking at the work. This also reason why I like using elements which have temporal nature.

So is your meaning to create confusion to viewer?

It is not the only meaning but it is a part of it. My works still stay within certain limited content, so there is of course a way of understanding and reading of the work.

Tell me about how you start your work. For example with this exhibition.

I work very differentily with different medias. With these installation based works the startingpoint is almost everytime in exhibition space. When I start I usually don't have set up idea for installation. I begin with research of history and characters of space in use. This work has a lot to do with Turku Art Museums collection, especially the Jussi Mantynen collection in next room to the Studio space. Mantynen was a former taxidermist who later devoted himself to animal sculptures. He was popular in Finland in 19 th century. His sculptures are stylized, semi modernistic sculptures, like egyptian animal sculptures. Sculptures have also a strange cartoonist exaggereting outfit. His works have strong nationalistic emphasis. His active years were the years of forming the Finland as independent state. One is his most famous sculptures is a Elk statue. Copys of that are located in four various citys: Viipuri (Russia), Helsinki, Lahti and Turku, where this exhibition took place. While doing the reachear for this exhibition I found an old poscard which depicted The Elk Statue in front of Alvar Aaltos famous Viipuri library in Russia, on former finnish area. The photo was taken in 1942, during the truce between two wars between Finland and Sovjet Union. Role of Alvar Aalto as ”nations architect” was obvious. His international poetic modernism was regarded as a finnish genuine style. The contradiction and common background between Mäntynens heroic, mythologal sculpture and Aaltos timeless formalistic funktionalism was a fruitful combination. Both are regarded as constructors of national esteem even they represent opposite ends in style of their production. The exhibition took place Turku, city where Aalto had his office in beginning of century. Also the first functionalistic building in Skandinavia, Turun Sanomat printing house, is located in same town. Standard furniture, as they were called, for Viipuri Library were made in furniture factory in Turku. Viipuri Library was the first public building by Aalto where he used for eaxmple the famous three leg stools (Stool 60).

Aaltos architecture opened to me the idea of standardisation. Aalto himself didn't have clear systems, but Le corbusiers and Aulis Blumsteds systems are well known. I ended up using A4 paper which is maybe the most common standardised "object" we meet every day. It has tactility that is familiar to everyone. It represent also something which is bound to idea and potentiality. It gets its content by abstraction, text or drawing. A4 is sort of white cube in two dimensions. By constructing a plinth from this paper I created nothing from nothing, a platform for content. That white cube had also role as a supporter of concrete fragment. The pile of fake stool 60s had similar nature. They were used as supporters instead of a seats. The material MDF-board is basicly paper, it has a clear sense of being a non-material, material of idea. Concrete fragment has parts copied form from Viipuri Library, for example the outline of bird from reading rooms ceiling. That is something Aaltio designed as an acoustic and visual element.

In the other end there is a wind machine. Is it just to make papers move?

When I started to do this exhibition I felt like using elements of spectacle. In the houses Aalto designed I have visited have certain modesty in them, they are intime even when they are public buildings. I wanted to include something opposite to this work. The wind machine is a machine for special effects, to create artificial naturistic effect. It has something exagerating like in Mantynens sculptures. Gusts dismante the papercube and change the exhibition situation to a temoporal performance. The sculptural elements act by chance. Windmachine also takes viewer to be a part of exhibition, artificial wind disturbs them and creates a white paper floor. The Jackdaw video is a decoy to viewer to move over the paper-covered floor. The video itself is very simple, just one image, a glipse of bird, Jackdaw escaping from its nest. Most of the time picture is empty with only black grid and branches moving in wind . Video is shooted on on handheld camera and image is in constant move. Safetynet constructs a grid over the picture. It organizes the image to smaller units. Everything that happens, happens behind it. I see that as a reference to the A4 paper in the cube. Because you can see only a glimpse of the bird, viewer is obliged to wait in front of monitor for something to happen. While looking at video he is located between a wind macine and a picture of windy situation, back turned to sensation while looking at abstraction.

In the room behind the Studio space is a Jussi Mantynen collection, a small room filled with animal sculptures. In your sculpture there is a cube on a plinth, cube is broken from the top, some round forming on the top of the cube. On the floor, leaning to plinth there are boards, papers and thrash. All this is painted black and white so that it resembles drawing or black and white photo. How does this work relate to Mantynen or this room?

I found an old book from 1929 where his work was presented. In the book there were profound descriptions of his devoted working methods. As a former taxidermist he knew anatomy but he also spent long times following animals in nature and zoos. He also talked to hunters to get right feeling to the work. The text created almost a fictional character of artist devoting himself to his work. Interesting was the way how written text by descriptios drew the sculptures to diffrent level. Stone sculpture of Lynx was transformed to a transcendental creature. I wanted to create very representative, pictorial work here. The studio space was filled with materials as they are. I wanted yhis room to be a contradiction to Studio and also to Mantynens stone and bronze works. I made a fictional sculpture of unfinshed lynx statue. It is a picture of work in progress. Everything in sculpture is fictional: It represents situation which has not happened, it depicts materials with materials of illusion, it is painted so that it looks like flat picture. It is opposite to Mantynens works and materials, but is by its form transsendential as original Lynx statue is by text. I found interesting here to juxtapose two forms of abstraction: text and image. Even my sculpture is very pictorial it transforms to abstraction. This is ephasised in relation to surrounding Mantynens sculptures.

Combination of these two rooms has a wide range of refrences from concrete historical happenings to material meanings. Why do you want to fill the work whit such a load of meanings?

I don't think it is a load. It is quite restricted network. I see exhibition as a situation, happening, where I can just present certain combination of elements with various meanings an references. The actual work takes place in the stucture of all this. You can follow different paths of meaning through this work. They work in different levels: stadardisation, copying, on formal level of image of bird or animal , one hand political meanings like nature imaginerys nationalistic bounds, heritage of modern architcture etc. This leads to situation of open sentences, many starts with no endings, formulation of meanings in process.

Isn't there a danger of meaninglessness and everything-goes situation. How do you suppose this to be able to communicate with viewer.

Of course is that is a possibility. In my work I use quite clear references and easy ways to get on to the work. I use straight and simple assosiation lines in the work. I see that the combination of meanings, forms, concepts are the line to follow.

In you late works you have used modern and minmalistic motifs and forms and even straight reference to modernistic works (for example in video "Leda, Maiastra, Rooster and fly"). How do you see this in your work.

I see those as elements of visual language. They are linguistic readymades. I use modernistic works as quotations. By re-usig them they turn to pictures of themselves. They loose their orginal presence as artworks, they are reduced to abstraction of abstraction. I quite often even place them to situation, where these forms transform to actors on stage of sculpture, video or picture. Most of visual reference of art is a reproduction. By looking at for example painting catalogues rom 60's or 70's you see mainly black and white reproductions of works. Works loose large part of their meaning and start act like words, or concepts instead of artworks. My interst in using black and white has a lot to do with this idea of reducing and then opeing the work to wider interpretations. In Leda.... I got interested of Branqusis photographies and his enthusiastic attitude to this media. The video is a way of being like Branqusi in a studio. But by possibilities that are in use while standing there behind the glass.

Your relation to media is peculiar. I see your work in moving in between medias, and quite often you pose questions of media itself.

I think media in use is seldom self-evident. I see area between definitive medias as open field. My way of combining medias is often very concrete, t.ex joining painting and sculpture in material way as in earlier plasterworks, or using slides as colours and mix them to immaterial painting. Interesting is to use these references as tools of being between those languages. Interpretation depends on by which tradition viewpoint you look at the work. I have used painting as a storage of languages. As a media so profoundly used and examined it offers a wide completed vocabulary.

So you mean that you use character of media in the the same way as motivs and forms?

In black and white sculptures everything works happens inside the limited language. Sculptural language is fixed and it stays outside of exhibitionspace. The subjects of work turn to actors of certain environment. They are not performing as themselves but as images of them. Everything in work is artficial, materials, paint and subject. And I see them as "pure visual language" shown in certiain order. The media is a loan from two dimensional media. It has characters of painting, photography and drawing. That makes viewer to read the work by this tradition. In addition to this it has a effect of flattening to two dimensionality by perception. So the medium in between situation as well as the motivs have turned to quotaioins and abstractions of their models.

Your project Unknow untiled, has a straight reference to modern tradition by the name already. You paint again found paintings as copies of themselves. This has same elements as your other works , object as a picture, black and whiteness, loans of style. But in other hand you rise a question of subject.

This project is a bit different. It is even quite simple, only painting over painting. The narrative level which is linear or circular in other works has turned to be in situation of looking, in layers on top of itself and also in layers of time an history of object. In other works everything is visible, in paintings the meaning is formed by past and is hidden under conceptual layers. Subject is one point in there. Who is artist, how is model, what is value of work, what is worth doing. But in this way it rises question of meaningfulness. Why to do such a work. I don't think the meaning is in my brush stroke , or in subject of work or artist, but in between there.


Sudden changes from painting to sculpture and back to painting

Philosophical reflections on the three-dimensional works of Vesa-Pekka Rannikko

Veli-Matti Saarinen

Vesa-Pekka Rannikko's most recent three-dimensional works present 'typical' images, images that are recognisable in a completely different way; they are akin to sculpture - though it is sculpture that has a distinctly painterly character. He uses coloured plaster to achieve the same kind of sketchy effect that Rembrandt, for example, does in his later period. If you look closely, they appear to be unfinished sketches, because you can see traces of the way he has worked the thick masses of oil paint. Viewed from further away, Rembrandt's paintings look like perfectly refined illusions of reality.

If you look at Rannikko's three-dimensional works from a little further away, they seem to lose their three-dimensional quality: they become like unframed paintings. In this situation, the works are something other than either sculptures or paintings. They are like a genre of visual objects that are unknown to us, which make us strongly aware of the linguistics of visual presentation.

It is characteristic of Rannikko's art that the enjoyment attached to them does not seem to be associated with recognising the object that is the subject of the image; this would correspond to Aristotelean ideas about the usefulness and enjoyment of art. Classical art theory and Aristotelean ideas about art are really not the right context for looking at Rannikko's work. The enjoyment generated by his work is, on the other hand, connected with the fact that, in conjunction with them, we recognise the structure of our visual language: we can see how the language of art moulds our reality. And still more strongly, when I become suddenly aware of the limitations of presentation in painting and sculpture, I know immediately what can be brought out, generally speaking, by sculpture or by painting.

Looking at Rannikko's work arouses a certain amount of uncertainty about what one actually sees in them. At the trivial level we can see, for example, newsreel pictures of successful ice hockey players, or let's say the Sakari Topelius statue, where the man who is so familiar to us from Finnish banknotes appears with a group of children. We see images of everyday objects and other typical subjects. Our everyday life takes place in an endless flood of trivial images. Our everyday life in the world of images is deadened, dulled and stupefied.

It is precisely against this background that the power and significance of Rannikko's visual objects come to the fore: it is not a matter of depicting something already known, but rather a refined shift in the methods of presentation of sculpture and painting, which calls into question the rules of visual representation as a whole. Thus Rannikko's works raise a number of questions: what can we actually represent if two-dimensional and three-dimensional methods of representation are thought of as a matter of relativity? What can we actually imagine? At what point do we come up against the boundaries of our imaginative faculties? Are our mental pictures two-dimensional dreams from television or advertisements? How does our mind shape our imagination?

Behind Rannikko's work lies a philosophical question associated with modern - and postmodern - art: how do our different languages in general (different languages of art as much as languages operating with the aid of concepts) impart form to reality? How do all our different languages create everything that we differentiate as existing? Different languages create our reality in different ways. However, our languages are not immutable. We create, we change and we shape our languages all the time, with the result that what exists (for us) - our world, if you like - is in a constant state of flux.

Behind this question associated with the modern tradition, is the eighteenth-century philosophical discussion about the origin of language: does language have a divine, animal or human origin and in what way? From the point of view of later theory of art, one of the more interesting answers is the view put forward by Johann Gottfried Herder in his treatise Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache, according to which humanity, linguistic ability and human rationality are all closely interlinked. Humans are thinking, language-creating beings who can recognise the characteristics on which concepts are based.

The thing that is fundamental about this position is that Herder thinks of language as 'developing', or to put it more precisely, changing continuously as a consequence of human activity. Herder took the view that the language of his own time had lost something essential in its capacity for expression. According to him "Our bourgeois way of life and our social mores have potentially dammed up, dried up and watered down the ocean of our passions." Nevertheless, if people really want to, it is always possible to change and develop language, as long as the idea that language is wholly the creation of the human race is taken seriously enough.

Soon after Herder's time, the early German Romantics applied the idea in the following way: art has its own language that can be and is developed, the instruments of presentation which are in the hands of the people and which are used to create images of the world. These languages are equivalent to our world.

When examining the 'development' of languages historically, Herder also shows how religious ideas are tied up with the capacity of language to differentiate. Religious ideas call for a linguistic history of their own, so that a certain language is able to differentiate things in a certain way. According to Herder, "All missionaries throughout the world complain about the difficulty of communicating Christian ideas to the uncivilised in their own language, although expressing them should not be a matter of scholastic dogma but shared ideas of common understanding." Herder thinks this is a particularly difficult problem because in some languages, the concept of 'Holy', for example, does not exist (as in certain South American languages) or there is no concept of 'spirit' (in the Hottentot language, for instance). According to Herder, there are also major difficulties in communicating Christian ideas in the context of certain European languages, and he gives the Lappish, Finnish and Estonian languages as examples.

Herder takes the view that civilization is precisely a matter of the development of language. Only by assiduously and unceasingly creating language do people make different things - things that are ever finer, more complex and more difficult to access - real or comprehensible to themselves. In Herder's thinking, the ability of language to differentiate, which is something that can be improved unceasingly, identifies with the diversity of the world. The things that we consider to be divine are entirely dependent on the kind of differentiation we can make using our language.

When the modern concept of art came into being in the projects of the early German Romantics, Herder's demand for civilisation - the development of language - was interpreted above all as a demand for reflecting on and developing the nature of the language of art. Friedrich Schlegel, for example, called for the development of a language of Romantic poetry because there are things associated with our reality that cannot be expressed with sufficient spirit in any other way. As examples, Schlegel gives the miracle of birth, sudden metamorphoses of form and God. In order for these things to be made real or comprehensible at the intellectual level, we have to bring together all previous written forms of expression and on top of this, we have to interlink them with, for example, literature, philosophy, criticism and life.

Another interesting thing about the advent of the modern concept of art is that as the new language of literature develops, the importance of illustration comes very strongly to the fore. It becomes a fundamental issue that we can use images - not only in visual art but in literature, too - to present things that become divorced from other aspects of our language in a wholly unique manner.

In Rannikko's work it is not a matter of creating a visual language from a vacuum, but rather a playfulness in ways associated with seeing that seem unquestionable in our culture. At different stages in Rannikko's work we can sense an opportunity to see something else. Perhaps a two-dimensional figure in a familiar painting can come to life as an entirely new entity in a three-dimensional reality.

Veli-Matti Saarinen is an academic who specialises in the theory of art and has written a doctoral thesis on Friedrich Schlegel and his ideas about Romantic literature.

Published in book: Vesa-Pekka Rannikko:Terrarium, 2007


Organically!

Tarja Pitkanen-Walter

A wall painting is generally understood to mean a two-dimensional image applied directly to a flat surface to create an illusion. Vesa-Pekka Rannikko - should he ever think of his work as wall paintings - would disagree. Rannikko's wall paintings are never only two-dimensional, not even when they are created on the flat surface of a wall. No, because Rannikko's painting continues through the wall into a dimension that the eye does not see, but which is no less radical for that. The painting runs seamlessly into a hole made in the wall in a way that creates an illusion of flatness which fools the eye. Occasionally, the painting will allow the opening to be seen with colours gathering three-dimensionally around it. Rannikko's painting then moves from the appearance of flatness to the other extreme: it bulges and bursts.

Among his work of recent years, Vesa-Pekka Rannikko has combined the physical brushstroke of a painting with a sculptural shape. His works challenge the usual concept of a picture being flat and rectangular - whether it is a photograph, a video, graphics or almost any other popular form of picture. His works have made me wonder about the general and rarely questioned acceptance of the convention of paintings being flat and rectangular. Why should a flat base particularly suggest itself as the ground for a painting? The theoretician of modern painting, Clement Greenberg provides an answer in his Arts Yearbook article of 1961:

"The Paleolithic painter or engraver could disregard the norm of the frame and treat the surface in a literally sculptural way only because he made images rather than pictures, and worked on a support – a rock wall, a bone, a horn, or a stone – whose limits and surface were arbitrarily given by nature. But the making of pictures means, among other things, the deliberate creating or choosing of a flat surface, and the deliberate circumscribing and limiting of it. This deliberateness is precisely what Modernist painting harps on: the fact, that is, that the limiting conditions of art are altogether human conditions." (Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting, Arts Yearbook 4, 1961)

But Greenberg's view does not seem to satisfy Rannikko, who appears to demand a re-examination not only of painting and sculpture, but also of the concept of pictures, and the nature of seeing.

Immediately one starts sculpting a picture, it loses its rectangular flat pictureness; it approaches the three-dimensional, the province of sculpture as Greenberg would have it. From Greenberg,s point of view the chasm that has appeared between picture (painting) and sculpture seems insurmountable. But in his work Rannikko brings together the two- and three-dimensionality of painting and sculpture. His painter's brushstrokes are expanded into three dimensions on the surface of a three-dimensional support, as if to remind us that painting can have an existence that has more dimensions than the purely optical. Seeing the works sculpturally reminds us that shapes and textures can be wrapped around a surface; the shapes and textures of a sculpture are beleaguered by pictures. Rannikko places flat two-dimensional surfaces and three-dimensional forms one above the other to create a reality which intrigues the viewer's eye.

Rannikko's rebellion against pre-determined definitions and methods of art is expressed in various ways in most of his works. A sculpture from 1998 is a construction of spheres, placed in the corner of a room - too low down to be appropriate for a sculpture. In addition, this 'sculpture' has been drawn in pencil. This work, too, suggests a union between the flat two-dimensional and the three-dimensional - in this instance between drawing and sculpture - and further, unites it with the space it's in.

Some years ago, Rannikko cast the structure of buildings, of walls: as if splitting the wall he brought its structure forward by repeating it in a three-dimensional piece. In these works the flat image, the surface of the wall, did not suffice - but neither did the three-dimensional sculpture that was separate from its place of creation. The wall had to reveal its inner structure, the body beneath the surface. A work could not be only surface, nor an object separate from where it was created. It had to have a strong relationship to the space, a relationship deeper than aesthetic suitability.

Rannikko's latest works have grown organically into the space they occupy. In addition to being obviously attractive, presenting an intensity of colour and fruitful forms, the works are also somewhat vexing. They awaken a subconscious urge to scratch away the extra, the superfluous, as if spatters of mud or snow have frozen to the wall, or candle-wax has dripped from a candle. And all the while it is that same candle-wax, drippings of paint, escaped from the original form, that make the works special. They insist the work of art, the object, be redefined. These works don't fit into any of the traditional categories of painting, sculpture, or even installation. They demand to be looked at in new ways. They stain the Modernist cleanliness of the wall, and hint at being abstract objets d'art, yet at the same time they deny their existence as objects. These works have bloomed; they don't keep their original form any more than they stay in their place. They flow down the wall and on to the floor; they push through the wall, become part of it, like cancer cells bursting through their normal boundaries. These works cannot be removed or just wiped off. They are not moved from one place to another. The work is not a separate object but an organic part of the room.

Rannikko's works hint at the process of doing, almost as if they spurned the category of 'finished'. The works can be seen as a bursting forth, an eruption, a falling apart of finished. Are those pots and jugs from antiquity that are being broken? Are the floral arrangements dripping water? Or are those a pair of boxing gloves, dripping with sweat and bodily fluids, that have been thrown against the wall?

Careful observation of the works takes you into various states of mind; it brings forth sensations long buried in the sediments of memory. In Rannikko's work, it is the small marks left by the work process that become significant. Rannikko observes the holes of staples; the narrow, fragile rims of colour that have been left from a casting; the texture of the cast . . . These are the bits that open up the meaning, that destabilise the objectness of a work. The small 'faults' draw the viewer in closer, by confusing a predetermined definition, blurring the perfection of an object that separates it from the viewer.

Rannikko's latest built works are integral to an opening, an emptiness, a hole; to the collapse of predetermined meanings. Holes and 'faults' encourage redefinition through looking, a determination of what is significant taking place in the gaze itself. Such looking - as opposed to the almost violent flattening of a picture - is nourishing.

Perhaps Rannikko's works should be seen as musings on looking: the ability of the gaze to either open or close itself to reality, to the making of a picture of reality. Rannikko's works can be understood as musings on the gaze as a conscious sense of defining, controlling and distancing, even as a violent determiner of reality; and at the same time as a physical aspect, the aesthetic gaze that is characteristic of a painter. As I understand it, aesthetic does not refer to a decorative surface or superficial beauty. The aesthetic gaze is a slow stare, one that is lost in thought, whereby the viewer's unconscious physicality can become part of the picture, and the substance gets a chance to speak - to come alive. Contrary to the conscious gaze - which squeezes and freezes its object into a circumscribed concept of sorts, such as a hole, a painting, a sculpture, a vase - the aesthetic gaze draws the viewer's own physicality into the work. This physicality of gaze refers to the movement, to the rhythmical processes of the body, and to the unconscious mind engaged in looking into the picture. The object of such a gaze cannot be limited to being a flat object, and so the picture blooms.

For the aesthetic gaze, the work is not seen as an object separate from its viewer. The hole in the wall is not merely a hole. In front of our eyes it turns itself around, becomes a fragment of shadow, perhaps, while the wall itself seems to become paper - an illusion. The mind follows the eye along small details. These details open up to the aesthetic gaze as larger than concepts; details do not fit into concepts. They speak an aesthetic language that is alien to concepts. And so the artist, and the viewer who is open to the aesthetic, observes the details, the physical feel of the surfaces, the vestiges of colour and material. These are what speak of meaning. It is the moment of looking and seeing that creates fresh meaning.

Is it meaningful to see Rannikko's work in the category of painting, sculpture or installation? Perhaps we should see them rather as practical studies in the relationship between object, picture and gaze.

Tarja Pitkanen-Walter a visual artist and a professor in the Painting Department of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts.

Published in catalogue: Vesa-Pekka Rannikko: Casting, Pori Art Museum, 2006


A sculpture posing as a picture

A discussion between Vesa-Pekka Rannikko and Jan Kaila

Kaila: You have been creating pieces that are sculptures and paintings at one and the same time for about four years now. Has combining different things always been characteristic of your work?

Rannikko: Yes, it has. I started creating painting-like sculptures when I was studying ceramics at the University of Art and Design, Helsinki. Later on, at the Academy of Fine Arts, I started working with performance art and videos. The relationship between the corporeal and the image became the common denominator in my work. I'm interested in the grey area between different media. I often strive to create works that are defined by multiple shades of meaning. The interesting thing is that a piece cannot be categorised in any specific pigeonhole; it can be defined as a photograph and an installation, or a painting and a sculpture at the same time.

Kaila: So these twenty-first century works of yours are sculptures, three-dimensional objects here and now, but at the same time they are illusory images that represent something other than what they are in a material sense.

Rannikko: I'm intrigued by the sense of ambiguity that is created by not being able to define whether it is a picture or an object you see when you look at the work. At the same time, the physical place of the piece and the situation that it represents are obscured.

Kaila: I find your art surprising and humorous, especially when one thinks about the presuppositions that observers might have about traditional sculpture. A figurative sculpture is, after all, usually an autonomous object that takes the place of the model.

Rannikko: I don't think of myself as a sculptor but as a picture maker. The material I use does end up in three-dimensional form, of course, but the starting point is not three-dimensionality but two-dimensionality. I work from painting, drawing and photography.

Kaila: How does this process work in practice?

Rannikko: I experiment and test what happens when two-dimensional art traditions and genres are realised in three-dimensional form. I use working methods and models that are familiar from the history of painting, but the starting point may be something else, like a comic strip, for example. Sometimes I even categorise work in progress in a specific way: "this is a still life", or "this is a landscape", or "this is a portrait".For me, the key question has to do with the relationship between perception on the one hand and two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality on the other. So, it is quite clear that early twentieth-century art has been important to me.

Kaila: The pictures that you start with are, however, rather varied in their expressive qualities and techniques. They also belong to different historical eras. You have used both medieval miniature sculptures and contemporary news photographs as your models. What does the narrative content or subject of the model images that you choose mean to you?

Rannikko: Finding a subject is a complex process. Sometimes I find models to suit the subject. I became interested in the concept of a terrarium because of its artificial nature, and started searching for suitable imagery that I could use. But I often become interested in an image for its visual qualities. The subject is often defined by the inner dialogue between illustrative quality and its three-dimensionality. Many of my subjects come from photographs I have taken myself.

Kaila: Your first pieces, created in 2003, resemble traditional sculptures in the sense that they are full-length images of human beings.

Rannikko: In 2003, when I was experimenting with a new technique it felt right to start from the scale of the whole human body, which is an elementary issue in relation to image and space.

Kaila: These human figures were somewhat smaller than real-life human beings. Why was that?

Rannikko: It has to do with developing a picture. The idea was to create distance; a smaller "human being" looks as if it is further away - thus the sculpture becomes an illusory picture of itself, seen from further away. Observers are put in a position where they can't reach the work properly; the sculpture always remains at a distance. The human figure is also a recognizable marker of scale. A smaller-scale figure appears to enlarge the space it is placed in. This creates an experience on two levels for the observer, where the corporeally sensed space is smaller than the space experienced through the sculptures.

Kaila: You obviously used yourself as a model for your full-size works?

Rannikko: I used photographs of myself in various positions.

Kaila: How accurately did you reproduce the colours and light values of the model photographs in your pieces?

Rannikko: Photographs were then only a starting point. The lighting and colours of the pieces were created on new terms to refer to the specific situation of the actual work.

Kaila: Alongside your works depicting humans, your exhibitions in 2003 also included a number of still-life images representing various objects.

Rannikko: With one or two exceptions, I have tried to avoid too obvious themes for my exhibitions. I try to use unexpected comparisons to create additional meanings between pieces. These meanings have to do with scale and the relationship between the work and the space.

Kaila: In 2004, you created a series of busts, also on a somewhat smaller scale than real life.

Rannikko: They were explicitly smaller than real people - and they were also cropped and hung up on the wall. The idea was to highlight the picture qualities and approach the traditions of sculpting busts as well as the traditions of painting portraits. They are also some of the first pieces where I introduced cropping as a part of sculpture.

Kaila: What sort of models did you use when you were creating this series?

Rannikko: Some are modelled on photographs of myself, while some were initiated by films. I picked images for my own use from stills I made by stopping the film. The masking of the film remained as the cropping in my work. The Daughter series started out from my interest in Andrei Tarkovsky's film Solaris and the sci-fi novel by Andrei Lem on which it was based. Lem's novel depicts a kind of fictitious sculpture project, in which flawed copies of real people, alive or dead, are created through memories. In that way, the story is a type of image-making process. Thus, Tarkovsky’s film is fiction based on fiction. It's a series of multi-layered, flawed reproductions, i.e. images, in the same way as in my work.However, I could only find a single interesting shot in Solaris. It was a scene where the camera zooms in on a ten-year-old girl. The scene is left open in the film, and the girl's identity is never revealed. The series of works based on that image was named Daughter, since the word refers to being a child. It brings to my mind similar questions of resembling and copying as in Lem's book.

Kaila: Your works from 2004 and 2005 deal with the key problems of art in modern times, such as portraying movement and the borderline area between figurative and non- figurative art. Did your technique change too with these new works

Rannikko: To some extent: I work on a styrofoam structure reinforced with steel, using body-tinted plaster. The actual works consist of layers of body-tinted plaster on top of each other. I work on the colour and form of the piece at the same time. This simultaneousness sets parameters for the structure of the piece. Plaster dries quickly, and I only have a window of about five minutes to work each colour. After this, I mix a new colour and continue. The whole working process is rapid and sensitive. As the forms of my pieces become more disintegrated (they are sometimes meant to depict disintegration), they become more difficult to keep together physically. The structure of the work becomes more visible, and at the same time it becomes a factor that defines the content of the piece. This kind of disintegrating structure alters the observer's experience of the piece to a less material rather than a solid sculpture. The boundary between the work, the space around it and the perception of it becomes more ambiguous.

Kaila: It's as if you were seeking new aesthetic dimensions for modern art traditions with your experiments. Your rather rough style of working, which accentuates the marks left by the tools you use, differs from mainstream contemporary art, where artists often try to transfer meaning from the actual work to contextual issues, or create rather clinical objects that are refined in the extreme.

Rannikko: My working process is largely defined by the content demanded by the work. My pieces appear flat when perceived, despite their three-dimensionality, which is characteristic of my work. I strive to accentuate this contradiction between the object qualities of the piece and the picture qualities of perception with the physicality of my working method. I think that the work must retain its rough physical quality and be an interface that reaches out towards the observer, tempting him or her to make contact without any kind of exclusion.

Kaila: The titles of your works are very significant. With names you often bring interpretations or meanings to the works that the observer might not necessarily have come up with.

Rannikko: The titles of my works refer to the content behind them, which sometimes might not open up merely through the visual aspect. If we think, for instance, of the piece Rain cover, it could easily be just a yellow shape on the wall to the observer. The words "rain cover", however, refer to different directions: they speak of protection, shell, and covering. The way the observer's perception of the yellow shape relates to the knowledge that he is looking at a shelter from the rain is extremely interesting.

Kaila: On those occasions when the observer immediately realises what a piece of yours depicts, the title often has a tautologous, even an amusing meaning in relation to what is depicted (as clearly is the case with Balls, a work obviously depicting three balls). Sometimes, though, I at least cannot identify what I see in your work as anything based on an idea an object or a situation. For example, Setting remained purely non- figurative to me until I saw its title on paper.

Rannikko: I often use the names or subjects of my model photographs for the finished works. The model photo for Setting is one of a house burning down, which was actually a film set. I moved so far away from the model photo, though, that the stage set could manifest itself as something completely different.

Kaila: Due to the tautologous titles, observers might think that your other pieces also depict something more or less familiar, and thus begin to concoct a subject or a story for those pieces that they find non- figurative. Or they might begin to contemplate the nature of their own observations. How do you construct your exhibitions? What does an exhibition as a whole mean to you?

Rannikko: I don't construct obviously thematic exhibitions, but I try to create networks within them for the observer to go backwards and forwards in. A certain piece might have such a unifying meaning that it covers the thematics of the exhibition in itself and links up with other pieces, like Gathering in the exhibition of the same name. My works might link up with each other through colour, contrast or scale. I feel that it is also interesting to leave some issues unresolved and question how the works could possibly relate to each other. I often think of my works as fragments - parts of a larger work, the exhibition.

Kaila: I feel that your latest works, from 2005 and 2006, relate to both objects and figures that are familiar from pictures, as well as to the strangeness and set-like quality of the representation, as in your work Hotel.

Rannikko: My works are stage-sets of a certain type. The sort of illusions created through set-design - they are shells, they are pictures. That is also why I have ended up with similar subjects - production situations, construction situations. I continue to build these up, layer upon layer, as Tarkovsky built up his film on the basis of Lem's book.

Jan Kaila is a visual artist who uses photographs, moving pictures, text and objects in his work. He is also a professor in the Postgraduate Department of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts.

Published in book: Vesa-Pekka Rannikko:Terrarium, 2007


The Joy of Asking and Experimenting

Paula Toppila
Curator, Frame

I find myself trapped by Vesa-Pekka Rannikko's Fragments (2001-2002) series. These works are like the engine, something that is crucial for making the thing go, but which is generally hidden, non-aesthetic, hard to define, metallic and heavy without being either. Like the convoluted assemblage under the car bonnet that causes it to move, like the innards of any piece of equipment, which are not intended to be seen, but to be hidden beneath the neat, protective shell. Yet Rannikko is not satisfied with simply showing what appears to have been made to be hidden, but goes even further - in his exhibitions at Gallery Titanik (2000) and Gallery Kuumola (2001) he also hitched the wall itself into being a part of his work, and tried to expose the making of the work, to show in the work itself the time that it took to make it, the process by which the work became what it is.

Is this also what is fundamentally at issue in the series of plaster sculptures mostly portraying human figures that primarily study light and colour, which begins in 2003 with the exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum? And what is that going on on the surface of the sculpture, the cheerful battle between light and colour? Even though the figures clearly have different identities, that does not seem to be the main point, too much is happening on their surface. All the figures are passive, relaxed men, on stand-by, as they say - but full of presence as though to confirm to the doubting viewer - look, it is happening right here, on the surface! This is about observation, about the way we look at ourselves, at each other, about the way the environment is reflected in us and in our pictures. In this sense, for example, In the Background (2003) - and Red Light (2003) are fertile objects for contemplation.

Even though the process of making the work is no longer clearly readable from these figurative plaster sculptures, the counterpoints to Fragments , it is, nevertheless, still present in the unswerving choice of materials, in the plaster. Making a sculpture out of plaster (coloured by the artist himself) with a spatula intrinsically involves speed, since plaster dries very quickly. And perhaps specifically for that reason, his recent works made using plaster and concrete are very painterly, or, I would say, expressive, in a way that is characteristic of painting as a genre - the rapid, revealing execution is the primary observation. The lights and shadows have been made luxuriantly, in thick layers of colour, one on top of and interleaved with the other. That is why the work's remote viewpoint, from a distance, permits us to form an image of the whole. When we look at the piece from close to, the blotches of colour appear as though the light had formed a layer of bark on a human body, created a radiant, light coat of armour - an antimilitaristic, if not highly carnivalesque, camouflage created by light.

Rannikko is very open-minded and at the same time practical with regard to the artist's means of expression. Plaster and concrete are not the only materials, nor are casting and using them the only methods that Rannikko has employed during his career. He has also investigated light and colour in the minimalist manner, directly and clearly via photography, in his slide projections in exhibitions at Gallery Kuumola, following his residency in Iceland in 2001. The occurrences and emergences that take place in the work here and now were also once studied by the BAR group, formed by Rannikko and two other artists, and its performances. Video and drawing have also brought new scope for investigating simultaneous occurrence and the relationship with space, and also the carrying out of artistic work.

It is interesting and stimulating to notice that Rannikko's starting point is quite evidently a courageous posing of questions: Is this what it looks like? And what are we actually seeing? What is involved in making the work, what is its process? How do we give light or colour a presence? Is there actually any difference between a sculpture and a painting? Is there a possibility of creating a situation in which that difference vanishes? Does enlarging the original object make the work a monument or a tribute to its subject, or does something else happen here?

Asking questions, however, is not enough. In order to liberate the forward-bearing energy hidden in the questions - as Rannikko's production shows - it takes tireless experimentation and testing of both materials and processes, and also of the viewer - not to forget the artist's endless practise and risk taking.