“The title of the exhibition is The Book of Life and its theme is the significance of language for biological life. This theme has occasionally surfaced in my writings and works in the past 20 years, but now I finally got a chance to concentrate on it,” says Osmo Rauhala about his exhibition in Kiasma.
Osmo Rauhala began painting at the age of 12 using his father’s furniture paints, and he learned from books how to prime canvases. “We drew a lot at school, because one teacher was teaching three grades at once, so everybody drew a lot every day. Already back then, my sister submitted some of my works to an art event for young people, and I won the regional competition. That of course encouraged me to think that could actually draw. I was admitted to the artist society in my home town while I was still in high school, but because of my father’s death I could not seek admission to art school after matriculation. I first studied economics and history. When I had completed one degree, I decided I would learn to know art thoroughly. I studied for one year at the Free Art School, and then I gained admittance to the school of the Fine Arts Academy. At that stage I had decided I wanted to be an artist instead of making an academic career for myself or working in the field I had trained for previously.”
SIURO AND MANHATTAN
“When I still was in high school, I was forced to take on the running of the family farm, so I learned it and got used to doing it alongside everything else. For three years I travelled by train every day between Tampere and Helsinki to take care of the cattle back home and to pursue my studies in the academy. That taught me how to quickly concentrate on whatever is at hand. Something in the rhythms seems to fit, and although I have lived for over 20 years in New York, I still haven’t given up farming. Although farming is more tangible, it too has an element of mysticism. No one knows exactly all the elements involved in causing a seed to grow into a big plant. Energy, temperature, humidity, soil, etc., constitute an equation that not even the best agricultural science is able to simulate in outdoor conditions. My co-existence in these two different worlds has worked for a long time, and a functioning system is best left alone.”
The artist’s time and the farmer’s time is divided between New York and Siuro. Agriculture and painting share some similarities in that they are both seasonal, and depend on light and the time of the year. “When you’re in Siuro, you observe nature and animals and store up the visual briefcase in a way that is slightly different than when you’re in New York. When you’re in Manhattan, you look at pictures, read and analyse art, converse with people in the art world, and so on. Social interaction is different in the two places. New York is much more profuse in, say, the availability of organic food, whereas it has considerably less nature. On the other hand, while you’re there, you tend to notice natural phenomena. You see the rain, the wind and the trees in the parks differently when there is less of them on offer. A crowd of people also leads you to observe our species in terms of the dynamics between the community and the individual differently than in a small village.”
LANGUAGE AS A PART OF EVOLUTION
“All the paintings in the show were completed in 2012,” Rauhala adds, “although many of them have of course been in process in one form or another for much longer than that. The first pieces in one series, Game Theory, were made as far back as five years ago, but I painted a new nine-part series just for this exhibition. Seriality is perfect for a theme about language, because it creates a kind of readable situation for the viewer. Structurally too it resembles language, you can arrange the components like letters in a word, or words in a sentence.”
Human actions and decisions are increasingly based on linguistic information, and mathematical information in particular plays a significant part in governing our behaviour. What if that information is not in keeping with reality, and our ideas of the causal relations of life are actually incorrect? As the activities of humanity already affect the entire planet and its surrounding space, we can no longer afford any mistakes in this matter, because they are difficult or even impossible to correct afterwards.”
According to Rauhala language has become a key element in the survival of our species, and also part of the evolution of life. “Art has played an important role in the development of humanity since time immemorial. It would otherwise be difficult to understand why people in bleak Stone Age conditions would have taken the time to sculpt things from bone or to paint fabulous animals on rock walls. You would think that gathering food and making weapons and tools would be more relevant for survival than activities of that sort. Evolution has proved the necessity of art for the human community, because we are still here. One of the functions of art is to transmit information to future generations, while investigating and also questioning that information, and creating new visions. This creates an elastic glue that holds the community together and passes on the durable elements of culture as a foundation for future generations.”
REMEMBER TO FORGET EVERYTHING
The titles of the works and the series have two roles to play. According to Rauhala, the titles in the analytical series refer to connections beyond the work itself. For instance, the title of the series Game Theory refers to the scientific theory of decision making and mathematics that is used today in economics, biology and psychology. In the poetic works, such as Remember to Forget Everything, the titles are part of the works themselves; they employ language to create an ambience.
Osmo Rauhala’s working method has changed over the years, from the early wet-on-wet, one-piece-at-atime approach to a more sustained process of layered painting that allows several works to be in progress at the same time. The layers of paint are thinner, and even small differences are caught by the eye more easily. “It is a bit like harvesting: first you sow the motif by drawing on the canvas, then you cultivate it layer by layer, all parcels at the same time, and finally the whole thing comes together like a field of corn ready to be harvested.”
STILL BUSY IN FUTURE
“When the swallows returned to nest on our farm after an absence of decades,” Rauhala exclaims, when I ask him what has inspired him. “They were like long-lost friends. I observed and guarded their nesting, and I was really excited when they succeeded in getting five fledglings to fly. Now their genetic memory of their nesting place on our farm has expanded, and I am waiting for them to come back next spring.”
Regarding his future plans, Rauhala says that after the opening of the exhibition in Kiasma, he plans to have a holiday with his family and to visit New York. His next museum exhibition will be in MASS MoCA in the United States. Back on the farm in Siuro, he is working on a new sheep barn. The first section will be completed in the autumn, the rest next spring. “I also need to fix the old village schoolhouse and to finish a log studio, so there’s no lack of things to do.”