Towards the first nordiSKulptur exhibition: An interview with Páll Haukur and Pia Männikkö
By Annukka Vähäsöyrinki
AV: Páll Haukur, in your artistic practice you are interested in deconstructing the concept of an object. As materials you use image, ready-made objects and natural materials, among others. What is your working method and the process from an idea to a finished art work?
PH: All of the work I do is inseparable from an overall process in my mind. In the sense that it´s more like traveling through a landscape, each new work being a topological continuation of this stretchable plastic whole. That’s how I try to think about sculpture. The general idea is to situate oneself within, or at least aim at reaching, a place beyond the symbolic hierarchy of representation and structures of meaning. I am more interested in how sculpture exists or performs than I am in what it means. The tension between the material and the physics that constitute it is what makes the sculpture for me, how the deterministic meets the arbitrary and chaotic. I feel that things like gravity, tension or decay are as much objects within the sculpture as are its more physical and obvious parts. I think a sculpture is ready in my mind when it manages the possibility of drawing attention to those things but also, preferably, if it has the slightest possibility of self-destructing. When it manages to hold that tension, it becomes an object in the overall landscape, so to speak.
AV: Pia Männikkö, space and body are the starting points in your artistic practice. What is your working method and the process from an idea to a finished art work?
PM: Often a new art work stems from an idea I want to realise, but sometimes also from an interesting material I’ve found. I don’t always have a projected end result in mind, but the art work rather forms throughout the process, by experimenting and testing. You don’t often get to do a test installation of spatial pieces in the exhibition venue beforehand. That is when the art work and its installation require extra careful planning. You won’t see the outcome until right at the end. That’s exciting!
AV: What can we expect to see at the nordiSKulptur exhibition at Gallery Sculptor?
PH: I think there is going to be a lot of decay and change. I´m interested in making sculptures for this show where a biological component needs to be replaced regularly – kind of like a sacrifice on an altar. I like to use living materials in combination with more rigid structures so that the whole thing is either growing or breaking down depending on where it is in the process. Time will be the main sculptural element, I think. That and some sticky golden honey.
PM: On my part the planning has only just begun. Gallery Sculptor is familiar to me as an exhibition space, but only from other artist’s exhibitions. Now I’ll have to look at it with new eyes. I would actually like to make a new piece for the exhibition. Me and Páll have also been offered a chance to work together on a new piece, but we haven’t had time to discuss matters in much detail yet. My aim is to make the exhibition as interesting as possible.
AV: What kind of dialogue is there between your works and practices?
PH: Me and Männikkö just started a dialog. I´m very excited to work toward this show with her. I think we are both interested in the subjects of time and nature even though we are approaching them from a slightly different angle. I suspect that the show might end up having a somewhat organic feel to it…
PM: Our works are very different, which makes the combination interesting. Sharing the exhibition venue, our works will inevitably communicate with each other. As soon as we get the planning properly started, we might find unexpected connections with our practices.
AV: Páll, is this your first connection with the Finnish art scene and vice versa, Pia?
PH: I´ve been to Helsinki before and got some minuscule connections with the place but this is my first time showing there. Very excited about that.
PM: I’ve never been to Iceland, but I’m very fascinated by it. I’ve been planning to apply for a residency in there. I have encountered Icelandic artists and art works through exhibitions and publications, but personally I don’t know Icelandic artists. Except for Páll very soon!
AV: Páll, what kinds of themes and phenomena can you detect in contemporary Icelandic sculpture and where is it heading to?
PH: It´s hard to say in regard of some sort of Icelandic-ness at this point. A lot of influence and knowledge has been brought to the island in the past two decades by artists traveling and studying abroad. One of the main influences responsible for a contemporary art movement in Iceland was the Fluxus in the 70´s. When it comes to materiality and such, contemporary sculpture in Iceland is maybe more than anything influenced by the lack of certain industrial solutions and funding. It mostly relates to the body and means of the artist making it. Still, this is by no means absolute. I would say that the contemporary sculpture in Iceland is an unruly being that resists being one thing or another.
AV: Your work focuses on materials, objects and aesthetics. How does it resonate with the current themes and trends in Icelandic sculpture?
PH: It´s hard for me to say except, like the local weather, it resists being any one thing. Also, my sculpture practice is largely developed in Los Angeles where I used to live for a few years. There I wasn’t necessarily so much interested in what was going on in the local sculpture landscape, with heavy materials and all kinds of synthetics seeming to be trending. My interest was always in trying to confuse or disrupt some sort of hierarchy of meaning I felt constituted objects, physical or ephemeral, and eventually my sculptures started coming out of that process. I feel like it´s still a process that does not give any kind of account of what the thing is going to be until it´s just there.
AV: What kinds of trends and phenomena have you detected in the Finnish contemporary sculpture, Pia, and how does your practice mirror them?
PM: I haven’t noticed any one trend, if you don’t count as such the wide array of practices and technics. The materials used in contemporary sculpture can be plants, fabric or light, as well as digital tools and platforms. Also public works are executed in diverse ways. You can, for example, combine a sculpture and video projection, like Vesa-Pekka Rannikko did in his latest work published in Vantaa in November. Traditional materials are still widely used, but themes and topics come from today’s world. Sculpture reflects topical issues related to the society and environment. I believe this trend will continue.
I consider myself a ’multifunction artist’. I haven’t been able to select just one material or method. I’ve noticed, that quite many artists use other forums as well besides traditional exhibitions. I have been working as a scenographer at a dance theatre group, for example.
AV: NordiSKulptur 2019 is a collaboration between sculptors’ associations in Finland and Iceland. As members of these associations, how do you see the role of artist associations in 2018?
PH: I think the role of artistic institutions like the sculptors’ association is still very important. I see art as material-based craft regardless of its theoretical, political and even ethical implications, and I think associations built around the accumulated knowledge and histories of the artistic subject at stake are of great value. Not to mention the social aspect. Art is in my mind very much a thing contingent on a social body, which makes it important to cultivate and pay close attention to how that body thrives and proliferates.
PM: It would be very challenging for an individual artist to produce such an exhibition project. The strength of artists’ associations is enabling these kinds of exhibition opportunities and events for their member artists. Advocacy, communications and networking are also an integral part of the functions of an artists’ association.