The roots that clutch

Following our 2018 grant call, Kone Foundation has awarded 26 million euros in grants to bold initiatives in research and art. In all, 277 individuals, organizations or work groups will receive funding. The artists' collective Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen is one of the working groups of new bold makers that have received funding for their projects.
Akuliina Niemi, Felicia Honkasalo & Sinna Virtanen Photo: Katja Tähjä/Kone Foundation

Art can revolutionise scientific concepts, believes the artists’ collective Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen i.e. Felicia Honkasalo, Akuliina Niemi and Sinna Virtanen.

“A jar of vitrified rock, trinitite, created in the world’s first nuclear test, wound up in our studio. We felt that the radioactivity of the substance was something awesome, terrifying and beyond normal human comprehension.

This was the inspiration behind the idea of the three-part Trinitite artwork, whose first part, the short film Terminal Beach, depicted the aftermath of nuclear devastation. We will now start working on the next two parts. We intend to trace the trinitite stone’s route back to New Mexico and descend deep into the final disposal site for nuclear waste in Onkalo at Olkiluoto. This comprises a study of the ‘footprint’ of radioactivity in the distant past and far into the future.

We view our work as being like roots that branch out and spread through the soil. In this long process, we deal with phenomena and materials from varied perspectives, through different media and using a range of artistic methods. As a whole, this creates content, situations and themes, landscapes and textures, which come together to form a sort of network.

We don’t want to define the form of the works now, at the beginning of the process, but to let the process take its course. The result may be a film, presentation, exhibition or something completely different. A tremendous amount of thinking and research lies behind a single work. We have also been wondering how to highlight this for those experiencing the art.

Cooperation with experts from the various sciences is a key part of our work. One of our partners in the Trinitite project is the Institute of Physics at the University of Helsinki. We are also working on Xenos, which combines art and medicine in a range of ways. This involves exploring familiar but strange, disorientating questions about life and death, and the boundaries between body and mind. We consider how modern science can change and shape the human body and the effect that this would have.

We have noticed that many of the questions that we raise may be hard to convey through scientific argumentation. The role of science is to explain and produce new scientific knowledge. We believe that art has a special ability to raise awareness, examine and express different perspectives of topics and questions that are easily left behind, forgotten, or pushed to the margins of scientific argumentation.

None of our works would have been possible for a sole artist, or even a pair. We have sometimes remarked that, combined, we become a fourth, invisible artist. Cooperation is a continuous negotiation. Fortunately, our negotiating skills are developing and we are certainly better negotiators than when we started out five years ago. For us, art is of tremendous intrinsic value and we are prepared to compromise in order to achieve such value.”

Heljä Franssila