Fluid Street, Kiasma 2008
Taru Tappola: In your work, you have investigated areas that fall between established categories, meetings between object and image, sculpture and painting, the three- and the two-dimensional, between arrested moment and changing time. How do you see the theme of the exhibition, "fluid street", in relation to your own practice?
Vesa-Pekka Rannikko: For me, the street is an opportunity for change and encounter, a kind of laboratory of processes where defined and planned actions are juxtaposed with random, undetermined actions. Encounters like that give rise to combinations and meanings that cannot be created intentionally. Such activity is inherent to streets, a kind of urban evolution. My own works could be regarded as signs of the process wherein the street produces meaningful objects from all kinds of combinations. The street can be considered one possible model for artistic activity and thinking.
What interests me about the street is also its transitory and evolving nature. People, traffic, spatial structures, together these create a criss-crossing, layered web of time where things come together and something new can emerge. In my work, I have tried to express time both as a photographic, arrested moment of "here and now", as well as a slower, continuous process that also reveals the signs of change and the passage of time.
Your latest sculptures include a tree trunk painted with graffiti, a pile of snow and a broken door. What was it about these that captured your imagination?
The piece of door is a fragment I found in an indeterminate place, a small wood between houses. A door itself is an intermediate state through which you move from one place to another. This particular door had lost its utility or had made the transition into another kind of function. It had become the object of action, perhaps some kind of frustration. A door is also an image of the human scale of things.
By contrast, the tree involves a more direct form of cultural activity. I found it behind a house that was covered with graffiti, someone had tested spray paints on it: the tree had been used as a kind of palette by the artist. It is also a juicy boundary where the urban graffiti culture and nature blend into each other.
The shape of the pile of snow was copied from a snow dumping site, where it had been moved for creating a "disturbance" to street traffic. The interesting thing about snow is its temporal dimension: its shape changes continually as it melts. I recorded the shape of the pile of snow at a specific moment in time. I have sometimes thought of it also as a perfect piece of sculpture, a perfect shape created by accident. Snow is also associated with purity and covering, yet it can in a moment turn into an obstruction, a piece of unwanted matter in the street. When streets are ploughed, the snow gathers up any stones or sand like dirt from a floor. The snow is removed, the street is sanded, and then the sand too becomes an obstruction at some point. And this goes on and on.
So your works are about becoming dirty or broken, even about coincidence?
Incompleteness, accumulation and the transformation of things into waste interest me as temporal processes, as a layered history of objects, as signs of use, traces that have generally been produced by non-aesthetic processes. I take photographs of all kinds of rubbish and of traces of action in objects. This has to do with the basic attitude in my practice, the idea of "unwilling sculpture".
Would you like to elaborate on the idea of "unwilling sculpture"?
An unwilling sculpture is an object which is not meant to be significant or meaningful, but which nevertheless becomes one through some action, breaking, perhaps, being covered up or swept away, being kicked or dirtied, or being "misused". Through the process of selection and refinement, I distil a work from it. As a work of art, the object is no longer the original physical piece of matter, but an object that has undergone a functional process of change, it is an object with a history.
The term is meant as a playful allusion to the Surrealist concept of "involuntary sculpture", which was used to refer to three-dimensional works created by some automatic action, such as a bar of soap whose shape is the result of repeated use.
How do you find these "unwilling" subjects? Do you start from some mental process or from a visual observation?
It does tend to come from a visual observation. It is largely about random encounters, about coming across a meaningful subject. The found theme then gives shape to the content I am searching for. I take many photos of different objects sand then select the most suitable ones for my work.
You have changed your method of working slightly. What are your thoughts behind that change?
I am interested in the fact that the initial starting point of the work is not determined by me, but by someone else. I try to achieve a kind of photographic record and directness in the shape of the sculpture.
In my earlier works, the object used to be fictitious or to represent a larger group of things. In them I used pictures freely as a source, and made the form by sculpting. In my more recent works, I have copied the form directly from the original object, or have made the work over the object. Starting from the copied object, I construct my work from tinted plaster so that the work has the same colours, lights and shadows that were present at the moment the photo was taken. My works are basically unique, they are individuals. The result is a kind of three-dimensional photo(cast)graph (a cross between photograph and casting) of the object. When the documentary and transient quality of a photograph is transposed into a three-dimensional piece, it underlines questions about the time and situation of the work.
Your works activate perception on many different levels. What are the questions of perception that you wish to pose?
My earlier works often involved a scaling down or scaling up relative to the human body, which gave them a pictorial quality and an impression of distance. The scale in my new works is the same as the viewer's, and they share the same space. However, the tinting creates an illusion in these works, too, it inserts a distance into the perception. It creates a conflict within the perception of the body and the gaze, when the visual perception of the work in space differs from its other experiential dimensions. It creates a sense of authenticity, even though the work itself is about artifice and illusion.
Published in the exhibition Fluid Street catalogue, Kiasma