Sleep Work

by Christer Dynna

A grip or a handle will in almost any context be thought of as belonging to the utilitarian realm of life, and will only rarely be read as an ornament. Especially so if it is a sturdy type, like the ones with which Pauliina Pöllänen has adorned her sculptural objects. These bulky lifting handles do indeed look a lot like trowels or rubber floats, or basic utensils of the bricklayer and the mason.

Naturally, the massive handles on the sculptures are neither to be grasped nor lifted. Despite the scale and the number, these handles don't correlate to the sizable dimensions of the object onto which they are fitted. And not only are they attached in perfect flush, they have, a lot like cautious chameleons lingering in groups, also adopted the colours of their support. 

The singular case of the chameleon becoming the tree, or the rickety amalgam of the zoological and the botanical, is a duplication of the unstable kinship between the mason's tools and his tiles. That's an amalgam not fully practicable either, this fusion is illogical. It works out formalistically, though. But strictly speaking, the tile and the trowel belong to different categories. So when successfully grafting these utensils onto her finalised work, Pöllänen short circuits the very idea of making a finished work of art, but this she camouflages seemingly light-heartedly. The pastels and pinks are reoccurring in her work. 

The resistance to the notion of a finalised work of art, is accentuated in her choice of both form and material; the immaculate plywood parts indicate an ongoing process of piecing elements together or, for that matter, of taking them apart.

 

The tiles are coloured in vibrant hues and at first glance their tainted surface seem to have been made rather swiftly, or perhaps even stained by a somewhat unruly action consisting of energetic motions. The truth is far from it, as they've been carefully handled and done individually, tile by tile, by the artist herself, relying in parts also on serendipity and happy chance. The ceramic tiles are carefully handmade tiles in stoneware, made by using moulds in a completely manual process, that requires the making of elaborate plaster moulds cast by Pöllänen herself.

Each and every tile have been hand coloured by multiple layers of glaze carefully applied using a spray bottle prior to a second (glaze) firing. These energetically coloured surfaces, that looks a bit as if arrived at by a rapid watercolour technique or simple graffiti, is in fact the result of a much more meticulous work.

This aspect of fastidious labour, inherent to most ceramic production, is not meant to dominate the sculptures from Pöllänen's hands. Her method is consciously seeking a visual effect of it being the product of a sleepwalker, who's been "purposefully navigating towards something I have no sight of ", as she herself describes it.

 

The inspection of what forces are unleashed through an 'awakening of the courage of a sleep walker' is for an artist a daring method. It is for anyone. What postulations will come out of it is hard to forecast, especially so when the very choice of medium also is equally defiant. The tiles being in all respects a very modest medium, Pöllänen's inspections includes asking 'How to arrive at something of my own when approaching simple tiles'.

The humbleness of the tile then becomes a downright tool of an investigative artist. Yet, even though tiles are amongst the most unassuming man made materials in sight for an artist or for anyone, they are, seen as a medium, at the same time charged carriers of a long cultural history. Tiles have been crossing borders and passed on through time, and thereby also reads as a subliminal 'cultural cargo', only temporarily loaded onto the 'harbour of here and now'. But for most of the passers-by, such a medium has become all too mundane, so we pass it, unable to observe how history with a miniscule h sometimes is perfectly camouflaged in the contemporaneous.

A sleepwalker's courage is nevertheless not subject to neither manipulation nor calculation. It is arrived at by exposing oneself to the new, or the very old, and by adopting, consciously or not, the motto of the British artist Grayson Perry, who's motto says: "Follow the path of most resistance".(1)

This insight is also expressed by other artists, who, in order to make their best works, are in need of resistance: The Norwegian artist, Hilmar Fredriksen, stated this once in my presence, saying he was in need of resistance that he got "from changing to practices that were unknown to him".(2)

The courage it takes someone to shift their artistic material and medium over and over, is, I presume, derived from an experience that as long as they give heed to their own intuition's guidance, the path ahead takes them to the right place.

Tina Dickow, a Danish singer songwriter closer to Pöllänen's own generation, says in an interview that she writes her best songs once she is able to let "language escort her to the place where the narrative becomes it's best and the form it's clearest".

 

The semi-supple looking wooden structures that Pauliina Pöllänen has built for this exhibition, gives, with their protruding parts, hints of a narrative of sorts; re- or deconstruction underway. Thus they make a good foundation for her vibrant tiles – these square and clear forms, that might nonetheless, be worthy subjects of a closer inspection since they carry a depth of their own. 

 

(1) See interview re-published on the Saatchi gallery site: www.saatchigallery.com/artists/grayson_perry_articles.htm

(2) During an informal lunch meeting at the Ceramic department, Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo on October 10th. 2014.

(3) Tina Dickow-interview published in Weekendavisen, #35, August 29th. 2014:

Kunsten at lade det flyde (The art of letting it float), by Michael Müller.

 

Christer Dynna