A Shared Joy is a Double Joy

Nina Roos and Jussi Niva in Conversation with Rita Roos

Sharing 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.


RR: Tell me about a memorable episode from your

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.


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-

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