An Interview with Artists Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta

by Amy Brady

This month I have for you a two-person interview with Finnish artists Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta, who recently collaborated on an installation in Scotland entitled Lines (57° 59′ N, 7° 16’W); it brings greater awareness to the risks of sea-level rise. Both artists have created previous works that speak to large, systemic issues, such as humanity’s relation to technology and the markets. With Lines, installed at the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre in Lochmaddy on the island of North Uist, they explore our relation to nature and the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Per Pekka’s website: “By use of sensors, the installation interacts with the rising tidal changes; activating on high tide. The work provides a visual reference of future sea level rise.” The effect is quite chilling.

Please tell me about your light installation at the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre in Lochmaddy, Scotland. What inspired this project? And what do you hope viewers take away from it?

The inspiration for the artwork derived from a connection and co-existence between contemporary society, urban development, and oceans. We started the project within the context of physical positions of seaside communities and their futures. The process quickly turned towards the causality of climate change.

After looking at the theme from various angles, we concluded we’d make an artwork discussing this very relevant issue in seaside communities around the world. Highlighting the future predictions of sea-level rise with LED visually resonates with contemporary consumer society, and at an individual level.

We were hoping to pinpoint an important issue by the means of art: Art carries the potential to convey complex ideas, concepts and scientific data in a powerful way that other mediums, like texts or graphs may fall short of.

Have you collaborated before on art projects?

We both have collaborated before with other artists and appreciate the synergy, both at the practical and conceptual levels. Working collaboratively often leads to new and surprising solutions.

Working as a team allows us to undertake larger entities. Collaboration also allows for larger capacity both in concept development and production stages.We discussed working together on some other concepts and ideas, but this was the first project to be actualized. We have known each other since childhood through skate- and snowboarding. During the project we were working from different locations, Timo from Scotland and Pekka from Finland. Distance meant long conversations on Skype, contemplating the process from various angles.

Both of you have created works that speak to large, systemic issues, including humanity’s relationship to technology, economics, and various social structures. Why focus now on sea-level rise, a consequence of climate change?

We both share an interest in the workings of contemporary society and its related phenomena. In the last decade or so, climate change has been a part of wider discussions about consumerism and economic growth.

As individuals, members of communities, and participants in history, we feel it is only natural that these themes filtrate our artistic practice.

Do you think about issues of climate change beyond what you create in your art?

Pekka: I tend to look at these issues nowadays from the perspective of a father. What kind of environment (nature or political) are we leaving for the generations to come? Can we sustain peaceful development and democracies? Climate change will probably be the biggest globally destabilizing factor in the future. Even today most of our global crises derive from a scarcity of resources and livable land.

Timo: I spent a big part of my past life as a professional snowboarder and have also spent a lot of time in coastal areas. The physical changes in the seasons and extreme weather are already present, as well as coral bleaching, glacial retreat, and the start of the sixth mass extinction. What will be the future of this planet within the next few hundred years? It seems that even with the facts provided by leading scientists, we have been incapable to react on this important topic that will affect us all.

You both are located in Helsinki. How would you characterize the ways in which your city – or Finland more generally – is talking about climate change?

The conversation is divided. Now especially, when parliamentary election is at hand in April, these topics are used and exploited for political agenda. Amid all the talk and promises, Finland is making strange decisions concerning carbon sinks by increasing clear-cuttings and its usage of minerals.

What’s next for you?

As the original title of the work, Lines (57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W),suggests, this is an artwork that can be executed in alternative coordinates. Hence, we have conceptualized possible variations of the Lines at different locations.

We are currently working together on a concepts for a site specific installation dealing with geopolitics, mining/minerals and borders in the arctic region bordering Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Besides collaboration, we are both working on our own projects. Timo is working on a solo exhibition coming up this summer, which explores urban semiotics and visual pollution. He’s also working on a piece for an environmental/land art exhibition thematically dealing with geodiversity, environment, and sustainability.

Pekka is working on the last iteration of his exhibition trilogy, a multi-year project consisting of thematically linked exhibitions. The trilogy discusses growth of the global market economy as well as geopolitical and economic tensions by means of omnipresent control, judicial manipulation, and the landscape.

To learn more about these artists and their work, check out their respective websites: Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta.

(Top image: Lines (57° 59′ N, 7° 16’W), courtesy of the artists.)

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.

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Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.com and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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