Southbank Centre’s Winter Light exhibition brings Finnish media artist Teemu Määttänen’s installation Noste to London. Teemu spoke with us about the installation, light art and the process of bringing Noste to London.
Tell us about Noste?
Noste was originally created in 2008 for an exhibition at Galleria Kandela in Helsinki. The current version is entirely reconstructed, despite the underlying idea remaining untouched. In 2008, I was interested in challenging the two-dimensionality of video art, I wanted to create a fragmented screen in three dimensional space. It’s important to me, when working with light, projection and animation, that the reflective surface is not a passive, receptive screen, but a three-dimensional, temporal and spatial abstract landscape, part of the content and idea of the work. The work is meant to be accessible and legible to those who don’t have access to or interest in the thoughts and ideas underlying the apparent simplicity of the work. It’s essential that the work is beautiful to look at, especially during these dark months. There’s something magical about the way light moves in Noste, it’s a bit like staring at a flame.
The entirety of this project was carried out remotely – a collaboration between Helsinki and London. What was that like?
It was an interesting challenge because of the remote aspect, but also due to the relatively short timespan we completed it in. Working remotely itself wasn’t a new experience as it’s often part of the process when producing work transnationally. Working remotely emphasises the centrality of planning and careful design in the creative process. Equally, the importance of clear communication, listening to and making sure that you understand others is accentuated when you mainly communicate through video conferencing software. As I’ve never been to South Bank, I’ve been exceptionally reliant on other people, photographs, drawings and, of course, Google Maps!
What interests you in light as a means of artistic expression?
I suppose it’s the elementary nature of light that interests me. I’ve always been interested in movement, there’s something magical about the way light moves, how shadows grow and morph. As an artistic tool, light is quite abstract. It points to something otherworldly. That otherworldly character is emphasised in my work as I mainly manipulate light digitally. Light can be made to move without the restraints of the physical world.
You also teach at Aalto University. Tell us about the relationship between teaching and artistic practice.
At Aalto teachers emphasise their own experience and practice. And my research is simultaneously my artistic practice. This project, for example, is a great case study in design, planning and remote working practices. Alternatively, this can be used to illustrate approaches to 3D modelling and envisioning works in spaces without being physically present. This is all useful for teaching.
What can light art installations contribute to an urban environment?
I’d like light art installations to help create urban environments where the use of light is more considered. There’s a lot of unintended and ambient light that doesn’t always contribute to the creation of a cohesive environment. I’d like to see more permanent works that are in dialogue with their surroundings.
Did you have to rethink your approach when translating Noste for a city of London’s size?
I don’t really make site-specific work, but, of course, it’s interesting to see how my works interact with their environment and the audience. It’s fun to see people react to the work.
How has the past year impacted the way you think about your work?
The current situation causes more challenges and uncertainty than allows for creative space. For light installations and events around them, it can be especially challenging as many are simultaneously large public events or festivals. On the other hand, the installations themselves don’t require large crowds to be present in one place. It’s completely possible that artists will turn inwards and look to create more individualised installations that can be experienced alone or in small groups. This hasn’t come up in my work yet. That being said, there are certain structural benefits to light art installations. Noste can be installed and people can go and check it out whilst adhering to social distancing.
Winter Light, 20.11.20-28.2.21 (Määttänen’s work from 4.12. onwards), Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road; London, SE1, free entry, from dusk until 11.30 pm. More info by clicking here.
Teemu Määttänen’s installation is commissioned with the support of The Finnish Institute and the Embassy of Finland London.
Image: Ruu Toropainen, Text: Volter Rechardt