Communication is considered to be one of the ultimate visual art components and functions.
But how does art communicate and on whose terms? This question puzzles me constantly. At times it lingers in the background, but it always resurfaces in my work.
Allegedly, the concept of visual experience indicates something we cannot put into words: a non-verbal experience. It may as well be, but this is true only in the event that we do not want to share the experience with anyone else. However – if we do want to share this experience, we need to use words, including for ”non-verbal” experiences.
Visual art has its own language in which meanings, symbols and codes are often difficult for viewers to interpret. This is one of the many reasons why the control over how art is defined, in terms of what is ”high-level” and ”high-quality” is in the hands of gallerists, museums and other actors in the art market. The content of artistic concepts will nevertheless remain quite elusive on a general level.
This is why I feel that the letters represent an interpretation tool that combines both theoretical and visual concepts. To me, the content of art is not only emotional, but it is also an important intellectual exercise.
During the early 1990s’ financial crisis I was walking on Aleksanterinkatu, one of the main banking streets of Helsinki, and the tearing down of what used to be wealthy banks’ neon letter signs caught my eye. When I asked one of the workers what was going to happen with the neon letters, the answer was that they were going to the dump.
I asked if I could have them instead and after some negotiations the letters were transported to my studio. I found it intriguing how once so mighty banks’ logos could turn into a pile of junk.
What was the life of a neon letter sign? I started to work with the letters, I counted them and started to reorganize them into new words and meanings. The letters became carriers of hidden messages and they slowly revealed their lives to me. I turned the letters into objects, I painted and photographed them and used them in my paintings.
To me, these letters still have deep meanings. They have become symbols of power that can vanish in an instant. Ever since I discovered the letters, I continued working on this project in one form or another.