A Shared Joy is a Double Joy
Nina Roos and Jussi Niva in Conversation with Rita RoosSharing Space Even though spatiality has been a key word in analyses of Jussi Niva and Nina Roos' works, I now propose to set it aside. What interests me is the con- tinuation, what will happen when their works share a space at the Sara Hilden Art Museum. When Jussi Niva and Nina Roos meet to plan the exhibition, I have a question ready in my back poc- ket: What is the reason behind your putting on a show together? I, nevertheless, soon forgot to ask my question, absorbed as I was in listening, not so much to the content of what they were saying, but to the way they communicated. The medium was not really language, but their works, and I felt like an outsider. I noticed that, with time, the works had been given various designations and nicknames that were new to me. The situation was most reminiscent of one in which two people who have known each other for years spend time together in a common pursuit involving a to them self-evident plane of shared insights. On the next occasion we saw each other I put my question. Pause. Plus a laconic answer from Niva. "Because we wanted to see our works together. Both Nina and I have a need to see our own works interacting with works that have, in a way, from the start lived in parallel with our own work. And then there is a satisfaction that may well await the viewer when the exhibition is ready, and the works have to cope and live on each other's terms. Nina is in fact the only artist whose works have sparked off an im- mediate desire to have them communicate with my own. Right from the start, we wanted to keep away from concepts, headings, themes, names, curators. We have been working on this exhibition in various different ways for two years now. As I said before there is a mutual need and desire to have the works spend time together." RR: So we will have to wait and see what happens. Since you both 'actualise' spatiality in your art, I im- agine a kind of fruitful cross-current in the real space, which will accentuate the slippage between the physical dimensions of reality and the mental image's infinite potential for transformations. Childhood RR: Tell me about a memorable episode from your childhood? JN: I remember when my eyes were first opened to Nina's work. She was then in her final year at the Academy of Fine Arts, and was working with a bright green paint. Whenever I looked in she pointed to different parts of the paintings, and won- dered with a feeble hopefulness whether it wasn't beginning to look 'wrong'? Isn't it slanting? Soon afterwards she abandoned the canvas, found the zinc sheet, and got a grip on 'wrongness'. NR: Your description must be about my attempts to find my own 'scene of the crime', i.e. a place for my paintings where I could to an extent break away from what I saw as a barrier, painting with a capital P, and to an extent could embark on an investigation on my own terms. By the way, Jussi, I associate your childhood works with paintings with organic motifs. They were flowers, weren't they? JN: I very soon got tired of the organic shell and fungus shapes. The background, what was second- ary, suddenly began to fascinate me, and I began to develop it as a separate visual object. The outcome was that the paintings in the form of wall panels invade the real space in a physical way. One-Eyed RR: Now I want to hear the story about how you missed the coffee cup. JN: On the journey I developed a bad eye inflam- mation, and while it was being treated my right eye was completely covered for a whole day. I had to manage with my wrong eye, wrong in the same way as if somebody right-handed had to write with their left hand. Suddenly I didn't understand familiar, safe three-dimensionality. With only one eye I couldn't get an idea of short distances. I was trying to get hold of ob jects before they were even in reach, I step into empty space on the stairs, and stumbled on level ground. These situations were like flashes of two-di- mensionality, from which you had to try to con- struct the reality of space. In the same way as one- or-other-handedness determines the logic of doing things with your hands, one-or-other-sightedness plays an essential role in creating three-dimensional- ity. RR: On that subject, I wonder whether the I Spy With My Eyes series is a kind of journey into the mysteries of perception? You especially produced monochrome paintings for authentic situations and then photographed the scene. JN: I photographed the I Spy works using a panorama camera. The pictures it makes correspond to the situation of a viewer in motion, with the pic- ture being formed equally by things that have al- ready been seen and passed, as by the things in front of you. It is more of a sweep of the view, which at the same time coordinates distances and the re- lationships between sizes, rather than constructing details. The normal one-eyed lens focuses more while a panorama Ed living room can be looked at as a picture in itself. It corresponds naturally to the situation when you are in the room. You know, for example, how to move around there. The paintings I made take up their own position in each room. They are actually one-eyed aids to forming an idea of distances by measuring or covering up, an at- tempt to change the situation. The Eye and the Marianne Caramel RR: Jussi Niva's works contain an intermediary, the concept of an instrument is articulated. Visuality is handled pragmatically, despite the fact that there is no reason to use that word about the result, the ac- tual works. Whatever the case, when Niva works he has no need of the unpredictability of practice, the process behaves relatively rationally and clearly. In this sense, you are both each other's opposite. NR: It is hard to make comparisons and to analyse differences, but there are dissimilarities. I could try to explain this by using a 'symptom' I have been thinking about. I don't have a driving licence, and I don't intend to get one. The reason is both very sim- ple and complex. When you drive a car you are forced to react motorically to the surrounding world, by reading it through a certain set of codes, signal colours, traffic signs, patterns of movement. It would quite simply be impossible for me (and very probably dangerous) to conform to this kind of vis- ual control. My painting is the opposite, to orient myself again and again in a spatiality in which there is no given place from which I myself or what is out- side me can be zoomed in on. I can't separate or screen off visuality, what comes in through my eyes, from other kinds of sensory perception. That is why paint is my medium, paint in itself already contains an inexhaustible potential. And then comes the challenge of using it, and at the same time excluding and avoiding things that are visually recognisable. For example, the other day, when I was painting and was focusing on a red streak on white paint, I got a real taste of Marianne caramel in my mouth. RR: It sounds as though you were in a borderline situation of meaning. This usually refers to two types of situation, either a state in which there is not yet any meaning, or another in which it can no longer be expressed. I wonder whether in your painting this could involve a third variant, made possible precisely by the fact that your practice is not verbal, but that of painting. So, what interests me is that, even if we, as viewers faced with your paintings, can experience a'borderline situation of meaning', it is at the same time possible to establish communication with the work. We are not left out- side. My idea is that this is not a matter of a state be- fore the sign or after the dissolution of the sign, but a third alternative, a parallel communication occur- ring alongside what happens on the symbolic level. A communication in which the symbols are replaced by handholds in the specific materiality of painting. NR: Sounds reasonable, but with the reservation that you are not going to refer to Julia Kristeva's ideas about the relationship between creativity and the mother's body, or rather to the loss of it. Despite the fact that it is not my job to interpret my paint- ings, this terminology makes me a shade sceptical? RR: In what way sceptical? NR: Quite simply because a term like, for example, the mother's body is far too visual and concrete (even if it is also an abstraction) when referring to painting. Then we are again stuck in the network of representation via language, on a level I try to get away from, i.e. from images in painting. Somehow going in reverse. RR: Seriously, what I am thinking of here is related to the concept of estrangement. Since, in Lacanian terminology, our knowledge of the world is founded on imaginary identification (via mirroring), we end up in a state of estrangement. Our self is actually based on something that exists outside our- selves. What I would claim is that your paintings avoid alienation. We can as though become assimi- lated into them, enter into them via the senses. They function as fixed points for a kind of surprising assimilation, completely independent of the laws of symbolic representation. I relate the spatial dis- orientation you work with to a removal of precisely the boundary that separates off, and at the same time creates, the self, and thereby also the Other, the place we speak from. The paintings realise a sen- sory utopia, the perception of being able to move about and orient oneself unhindered, because there is no outside. A making real that is impossible according to the principles of logic. NR: I understand. But that does not go against the fact that I am concerned with clarity. Not as a simplification, but as a split-second realisation of a moment in which a physically experienced clarity, a painted one, is transmuted like a nerve impulse into something else. For me this is true realism. Narrow and Broad Thick and Thin Difference as the prerequisite for communication, to see both one thing and another, even though they are neither alike nor unlike each other.--Jussi Niva measures and calculates sizes, distances and propor- tions. At Kluuvi Gallery in 1990 he showed his Measuring instruments, and the viewer could take a direct step into the dynamics of procedure. Niva's colour vision also conforms to bou.ndaries that are carefully tested. As though through the application of paint to a snowy landscape in Snow-Clad, or through the rainbow in Borrowed Landscape, we were able to participate in an extreme visuality. The eye here virtually exists for the experience of physi- cal presence. In Japanese culture the relationship to the un- familiar is expressed using words like 'thick' and 'thin'. Handy words to use in a culture where rela- tions to the stranger are dealt with through a form of assimilation instead of a drawing of boundaries. When something from outside becomes too much --too thick--theJapanese person makes it thinner he cuts away and creates a new shape. When, in re- sponse to Nina Roos' painting, I think of the word 'materiality', I specifically associate it with the simplicity of the way, that in switching between thick and thin the paint constantly gives the painting fixed points. In Roos' way of working with paint and acrylic sheet there is a built-in guarantee that the vanishing of boundaries will not become the same as an encounter with the void. So long as we sense, sense thick and thin, we are physically present.Catalogue text from the exhibition at Sara Hildén Art Museum in Tampere 12.11.1994 - 12.2.1995.
Translation: Michael Garner