Around 30 kilometres south-east of Porvoo, in Loviisa, there is a peaceful island called Sarvisalo. It was here that the British–Finnish Zabludowicz Collection initiated a residency programme in 2010. The international emerging artists invited to the residency spend time on the island, producing art and interacting with other artists.
THE BRITISH ARTIST Toby Ziegler produced his piece The Alienation of Objects as a commission for Sarvisalo, one of the three art centres of the Zabludowicz Collection. The work will remain a permanent part of the Zabludowicz Collection in Sarvisalo. The installation is located in an old barn refurbished as an art space.
Part of Toby Ziegler’s series of installatios will be on show in the autumn at Studio K. Kiasma’s Kultu group met Ziegler and Ben Washington, one of Toby’s six assistants. Ben’s work mostly consists of computer modelling of the works.
How did you come to display your work in Sarvisalo?
Toby: The show has been through several reincarnations now. This piece [Ziegler points at one of the sculptures] was originally shown in Berlin as part of a different show, and Anita Zabludowicz bought it in 2009. It was actually made in a barn a bit like this. The project grew, and this group of sculptures evolved specifically for the Zabludowicz Collection’s space in London. There was a wooden structure that supported the sculptures there, too, but it was quite different. It feels like the show has been reborn each time, and this structure is obviously a response to the space very much. In Kiasma, freight containers will serve as plinths for the sculptures.
Why do you modify your exhibition for different locations?
Toby: Because it wouldn’t fit otherwise. I always work very specifically to the space, and I suppose it’s about how you encounter things.
Ben: I think it also has to do with technology, because it’s possible for us to start thinking about the space already a year before we go there.
Toby: When I work with things, I think of them as autonomous objects that have to function in isolation, but when I’m thinking about an exhibition, it becomes about the dialogue between the objects in space.
The sculptures are made of aluminium?
Toby: Yeah, the aluminium is oxidized, so basically rusted. We scrub them and wash them with caustic acid, which creates the white texture. I wanted a paper-like quality to it, but still not denying what it actually is, which is sheets of aluminium. I wanted them to feel very hollow, like it was just the skin that was creating this form. Somehow they play a game, where they have this large volume and they kind of ask you to believe in that volume. At the same time, they constantly remind you of their hollowness. So it feels like a mass, but at the same time like something inflated.
What roles do the people in your work group have?
Toby: They drink a lot of tea. They’ve all found really specific roles. We all talk a lot as well, and no one is scared to voice their opinion.
Ben: Everyone’s got something to say.
Toby: And it’s brilliant, I love it. Me and Ben work most closely. I work with someone else on the paintings as well, but that’s something I generally do by myself. It’s harder to delegate. But with the sculptures, we work very closely and it’s been a really long relationship. There’s a lot of stuff that we don’t really
even have to say anymore. And we fight.
Ben: Quite a lot.
Toby: Usually it’s me going ”I want that leg chopped off” or ”We need to simplify this”.
Ben: And then I go ”Do you know how long it took me to make that?”
Toby: But it’s about the essence of the form, what needs to be left, and not really having any sort of academic reasoning. Just hashing it out and struggling with an object until it works, until it does something awkward or balances, or just feels right.
The starting point for one of your sculptures is porcelain Staffordshire dogs. Why?
Toby: They’re something that’s very common in England, on people’s mantelpieces. These pottery dogs, which they started making in the 18th century. They were already a kind of bastardized version of oriental pottery dogs. They’re just curious things. They’ve been through so many different transformations; they were originally Chinese lion dogs.
Ben: Sort of like guard dogs, meant to be quite ferocious.
Toby: And then people started producing them in England and gradually they got domesticated and became spaniels, these cute little dogs. They would use the mould over and over again, so after a while, some of the ones being produced were really abstract, sort of forms that just looked like a turd with a face painted on it. And I think that’s what really appealed to me, this idea of things that had lost information in so many ways. And then, I went to my parents place one day, and I noticed they had a pair on their shelf, which I had completely forgotten about.
Do you think it’s important for the audience to know the background of the original object?
Toby: These are not knowledgebased works. It’s not the sort of work where I want people to walk in and read a piece of paper and find definitive meaning. I think they should have associations. Maybe they feel familiar, but you can’t locate exactly what that is. They function in a number of ways; they do something on a really personal, sometimes a sort of intuitive, level I don’t even really know about.
What’s the best and worst thing about being an artist?
Toby: Doing interviews is the worst. I don’t know what the best thing about being an artist is. It’s a right pain! No, it’s a great job and it’s really hard as well. I’m sorry, I don’t really have an answer for this one.
Kristoffer Ala-Ketola, Petra Vuolanen, Reija Meriläinen, Santeri Räisänen and Valter Tornberg
Kiasma’s Kultut is a group of cultural interpreters that are 16 to 22 year-olds interested in art and culture.