KAIJA POIJULA: instantaneous poetical resonances
Kaija Poijula’s is one of those artists whose work causes an instantaneous poetical collision. When I bumped into her “Fortuna” one year ago – and later into “Sleeping beauties” at the Helsinki design museum, I really got fascinated by her virtuoso use of airy and frail dandelions trapped in an elaborate glass and polished wooden structure. Time just vanished leaving room for a profound moment of contemplation and poetic resonance. My real artistic shock with Kaija’s work came with “Angels’ swings” an installation that was exhibited in parks around the world between 1997 and 2005 and featuring swings (and little bells) high up on the branches of majestic trees and dedicated to all those we lost. We are meeting in front of one of her latest installations “Little Buddha”.
– To me,” Angels’ Swings” is one of the pivotal pieces of your art work: it uses key elements of your artistic vocabulary (swings, bells, trees) and explores an elegiac perception of instant and eternity. What was its genesis? One or two years before I created “Angels’ Swings”, two good friends of mine died. I attended their funerals and felt a lot of grief which I also linked to the death of my father when was a teen. I started to wear their mourning and exclusively dress in black – which I still do today (smiles). I however did not want to express grievance about their loss but rather remember how lovely and cheerful they were and I don’t know how it happened but I thought of them as angels. As for the swings, I have always been fascinated by the movement of a swing, going slowly back and forth. It’s like lulling a child to sleep, a gesture of comfort nearly a gesture of healing.
With “Little Buddha”, you seem to visually revisit “Angels’ Swings”…
Recently, my daughter returned from school and I could sense
something was going wrong. In the morning, her class watched images of this year’s March earthquake and tsunami in Japan and she was under the belief that her father was there at that moment – he actually was on a business trip in China. She was suffering to the point that she was not daring to phone him because she feared nobody would answer. In this piece, there are swings for all the victims whose life was interrupted. At the bottom of this tree, I had my daughter’s footprints engraved in a stone, on the pattern of what we can see in the Asakura hall of the Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera Asakura-do, the “Clear Water” temple).
One of the most beautiful elements of the “Clear Water” temple is its bell, another recurring element in your work… do your bells have a religious nature?
I have always loved the sound of bells – without any religious
connotation. I was thus overjoyed when we moved to Dublin in Ireland and could listen to church bells daily. One of the most memorable artistic events of my recent four years stay in Ireland was a church bell concert I organized with 20 bell ringers playing “the bells of angelus” in canon from 4 bell towers.
I could have become a professional bell ringer as Leslie Taylor, Master Ringer in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral invited me to start a professional training and I would certainly have accepted if we were staying there longer but we moved in the neighbourhood of Galway, in the West of Ireland, Ennis – which made my commitment to such Dublin-based project impossible. In the countryside, I developed interest in the Irish and Celtic folklore which I started to illustrate for my personal purpose.
– As part of your artistic education, you specialized in textile work, which resulted in many pieces commissioned by the Finnish Lutheran church. Has it enabled you to work on your artwork’s central themes of death and love – and the related issues of the presence of those we love in our lives and time oscillating between transience and eternity, in ways you had not envisaged before? As a freshly graduated student, I was admiring Juha Leiviskä’s architectural
work and one day I just took all my courage and phoned his office for an appointment: I had developed a series of textiles which I felt would fit his interiors perfectly. He might have thought the same as I ended up designing the church cloths for the Harju Funeral chapel (Mikkeli) that he restored and extended, the Villa Lepola (Espoo), and the Palestinian cultural centre (Bethlehem)… Using a boat on the antependium of the Harju Funeral Chapel, or a skeleton dancing with an angel for the one of the Kulosaari church, were initially perceived as pagan symbols rather than religious ones… it was however my perception of death in this specific context which is also consistent with the representation of death in the Lutheran art history.
There are two other art pieces that I would like we talk about because they are so touching in their approach to keeping in touch with those who are gone: “boats” and “sempre fideles”.
I created “Boats”for the Finnish Association for Mental Health (Suomen Mielenterveysseura) anniversary in Lahti (1997). I was thinking about a way to remember those who are gone and came to the conclusion that their soul could wander like boats are sailing on the waters, and we could remember them by setting the boats on fire. I was not expecting such an emotional process to take place when I started to look for unusable boats: there were lots of stories incarnated in those shipwrecks that still made them very dear to their owners! The boats had to then be mounted on a structure in the middle of the lake and prepared for burning harmoniously. The other moving aspect of this performance was that it accidentally – but are there such accidents? – took place on my late father’s birthday date…
In “Sempre fideles”, I started to work from these birds transporting letters during the First World War out of which many were love letters. Birds were shot to intercept potential military secrets but my focus was on all these love messages that never reached their addressees. And have you noticed that the heads of two birds projected shadow is a heart? (smiles)
Kaija’s work is not only deeply poetical but also anticipates on a current trend that I would call “collaborative art” or “crowdsourced art”: installing “Angels’ Swings” in Helsinki was made possible thanks to the intervention of the Helsinki fire brigade that lifted the swings sufficiently high up so that nobody would hurt oneself, making “Little Buddha” was possible thanks to the Helsinki city garden administration and her stonesmith friend, “Sea and oceans collection part 1” was made possible thanks to her friends who were each asked to contribute with a bottle of sea from their surroundings… Her artistic vision calls for other people’s engagement at a very early stage of the art work’s implementation, like an emergency cry to gather people around some of the deepest values we can share: love, friendship, beauty and hope… FOREVER. ____________________________________________________
KNOWING MORE ABOUT KAIJA POIJULA’S WORK
http://www.kuvataiteilijamatrikkeli.fi/taiteilija.asp?id=2662 Kaija’s textile work is visible in the churches of Kuulosaari (Helsinki), Herttoniemi (Helsinki) and at the Harju Funarary Chapel (Mikkeli) and at the Palestinian Cultural Centre (Bethlehem, Palestine) (http://www.annadwa.org/about/about.htm more details and pictures at http://www.ark.fi/ark3_04/betlehem.html) Kaija recently exhibited at Saatchi Gallery London to the occasion of the “International Art Fair for contemporary objects” (gallery Norsu’s stand (www.norsu.info/) and at Stoa (www.stoa.fi)
KAIJA’S ONGOING/UPCOMING EVENTS
The Virinä gallery in Virrat (www.virrat.fi) is exhibiting her work until 18.6. The Johan S. gallery in Helsinki from 24th August to 11th September 2011 (http://www.galleriajohans.fi) featuring “Sea and oceans collection – part 2”, more dandelions and… Cheongju International Craft Biennale “Between tradition and future” 21.9.2011 – 30.10.2011 http://eng.okcj.org/home/main.do Finland is a guest nation to this South Korean Fair and Kaija Poijula’s work, alongside many other prominent Finnish designers, will be displayed by Ornamo (www.finnishdesigners.fi)
IN RELATION WITH KAIJA’S WORK
Those who are familiar with Hugo Simberg‘s work might find a correlation between Kaija’s treatment of the theme of death and the old Finnish master’s world of fallen angels, walking or dancing skeletons. Many of Simberg’s paintings and drawings are visible at the Ateneum (www.ateneum.fi). Currently there is also an exhibition of Simberg’s work at the Didrischen’s (www.didrichsenmuseum.fi)