LIGHT AND KINETIC MOTION SCULPTOR
Antti Maasalo’s artistic career has
passed through the variations of the Finnish art world, starting from the
1970s. Artistic boundaries have been broken, art events have been organized
and comprehensive, expressional
Maasalo became known as a kinetic sculptor, and he is a founding member of “Dimensio” (1972-), a group of artists create kinetic art. The artists of Dimensio create innovative works, which require open-mindedness and stick to the latest technological aids to achieve their expressions. The group, known as the vanguard of kinetic art in Finland, has almost been like a second home to Maasalo, and the group’s members have become his friends. The group comprises artists, composers, filmmakers, architects, technology researchers and engineers. Maasalo belongs to the International Kepes Society.
Antti Maasalo received the national art award in 1974, the national award in children’s culture and the national art award with the Dimensio group in 1982, as we as the art award of the province of Vaasa in 1992. He has about 80 public works and his kinetic sculptures are also displayed in foreign collections.
Antti Maasalo has participated in hundreds of exhibits since 1969. Exhibits, which have been significant to his career, have included AKT -83 Ateneum, the touring exhibit of 1987–89, Aika – Väri – Tila (“time – color – space”) put together by the Finnish art academy Suomen Taideakatemia, Valon Voimat festival 1996–97 in Helsinki and the MetaSYNK concert and the artist event of 2000 at the modern art museum Kiasma and Espoo’s cultural center. Different art forms, visual art, sound art, dance and installations were combined simultaneously into one, where some of the performers were physically present and some were on a computer network. Maasalo created light art for five different musical performances. His sculptures were also on display in the lobby, one of which was the multimedia piece Pohjoista valoa (“northern light”) with music composed by Otto Romanowski. Notable exhibits were also held at the “light weeks” of Tampere’s modern art museum in 1995-96 and Maasalo had 21 light pieces on display at Kerava at the turn of the year 1997-98.
The Exhibition of Solar Art 1997 at the Rauma Art Museum revealed Maasalo’s use of solar energy. A joint exhibit presented the sun through technology, science, mythology and history. The Aurinko–Sun exhibit was reassembled for the ecologically-oriented Skjern-Egvald Museum in Denmark in 2001 under the name “Sun over Dejbjerg”.
Maasalo has participated in about 30 international exhibits. One of the finest ones was the ensemble, Drei Finnische Dimensionen, presented at Bauhaus school in 1991 with the Dimensio group, which kicked off the opening of the building again after the reunion of the Germany. Kunnianosoitus Bauhausille (“a tribute to Bauhaus”), among other works, were placed outside in the number-one spot. Osmo Valtonen’s and Esa Laurema’s works were also on display. In the exhibit, Maasalo represented the forces of nature and an ecological perspective with his kinetic sculptures, which ran with the power of wind and water, as well as computer and video art. Maasalo’s works were considered to be like a northern light and as interpreters of Mother Nature. After sunset, the outdoor sculptures came to life again with electrical sound and light effects, which aspired towards nature’s own rhythm. Maasalo’s spatial works give a feeling of modernity, antiquity, boundaries and boundlessness all at the same time. In foreign articles, Dimensio was associated with trends in international, experiential art in terms of art history: American Experiments in Art and Technology, the French Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuell and the British Centre for Advanced Study of Science in Art.
Children’s art, children’s art events with a diversity of art, and projects have been included in Maasalo’s exhibits and work until the 2000s. He worked as the provincial art educator for the Vaasa province and as the provincial artist for projects, and he also arranged children’s land and environmental art events. Maasalo adapted his exhibits for a child audience. Playing, climbing and park works became a part of his production and the first public work to reach national awareness was the play sculpture Lintuemo (“bird mother”), a piece, which won a competition held by the national visual arts committee. The victory of this art made for children came in a contest that was held by the play therapy HAP and pediatrics department of the Jällivaara hospital in 1995 under the name Pieniä tarinoita (“little stories”). The fairytale sculpture, which could fill an entire room, enabled doctors and psychologists to observe children’s play from behind a one-way mirror. Kaustinen Folk Music Festivals have featured play sculpture series by Maasalo every summer for about 20 years. According to Maasalo, a playground functions best as an interface between the natural and artificial environment.
The theme of the Kalevala has fascinated Antti Maasalo, and he estimates that, at some point, every Finnish artist deals with the topics in the Kalevala. For Maasalo, this theme was current midway through the 1980s and continued for over ten years. His exhibits also contained Kalevala topics suitable for children. In the summer of 1989, the “Kalevala Village” in Kuhmo presented a series of more than ten large kinetic sculptures and the works, claimed by the town, had been intended to remain in the Kalevala Village permanently, along the 2-kilometer path. The light, water and color sculptures were ecological art ensembles where wind, the movement of air and water, the sun, combined with the surrounding nature, formed an esthetic entity realized by means of technology. The basis for this Maasalo series was land and water, and he realized the art pieces in interactions with the surrounding nature. The Kalevala Village has since been changed. The municipal tourist attraction was privatized and changed into Pohjola Spirit. Some of the artwork was destroyed in the Pohjola house fire.
Cooperation with the town of Kerava began with the play sculpture Tuhatjalkainen, keinut ja seinämä (“centipede, swings and a wall”), which was done in 1982 in the town center in the middle of a pedestrian street. The most recent series are from 2006. The project proceeded as the preparations planned for Kerava’s pedestrian center moved forward; the pedestrian town center later won an award. A dozen more of Maasalo’s play sculptures were made public in 1995 on a pedestrian street, which also features works of other artists. Maasalo’s work came into its full right when, in November of 1997, at the darkest time of the year-end, a pedestrian street was opened featuring 21 light sculptures that had been done by Maasalo in the past ten years.
The Kerava project continued from 2005 to 2006, since the town’s plans still included a water pool for the town center park. The goal was to create a series, which would combine water, Maasalo’s steel sculptures, music and lights. Maasalo composed Oodi vedelle (“ode to water”), a musical composition Vedenhaltija, Vesiholvi ja Vesikeiju (“water sprite, water cove and the water fairy”), for the roughly 120-meter long and 25-meter wide pool. The piece was created in collaboration with the park department and committee. The music for the work is by Otto Romanowski, and water music with the sounds of real water and combined synthetically with other soundsform the foundation of the work. The audio design was done by Pekko Simonsuuri, lighting by Ari Tiilikainen and the construction by Finnish road company, Tieliikelaitos. Furthermore, in 2006, Keravan Energia celebrated its 100th year of distributing energy and donated Antti Maasalo’s light sculpture to the town, and it illuminated the walls of the three high-rise buildings in the town center, with slow, changing, moving color lights, imitating natural phenomena.
Antti Maasalo contemplates his art in a comprehensive way, giving consideration to the environment. He has also participated in environmental art projects. According to Maasalo, land and environmental art in Finland is rich. We don’t have pure land artists, but artists who also do land and environmental art.
In 1982, Maasalo was arranging a land and environmental art symposium for Nordic sculpture at Lehtimäki, called “Experimental Environment III,” in which the finished works were erected in the Valkealalampi area. Sculptors Hannu Siren, Olavi Lanu, Seppo Manninen, Osmo Valtonen, Esa Laurema, Reijo Hukkanen and Martti Aiha were invited to the event, and sculpting students from the art academy were asked to help. That was the third Nordic sculpting symposium.
A new lookout tower was completed in 2001, over 230 meters above sea level at the highest point of Lehtimäki in Suokonmäki’s cultural landscape. At the top of the tower is Maasalo’s Tuulten tupa (”wind hut”), a wind generator, which makes it possible to make power to light up the tower. In 2006, the area hosted an international light art symposium and an exhibition linked with it as part of the symposium events in Finland. The contribution of the International Kepes Society and the Dimensio group in the exhibitions and lectures was significant. In addition to Maasalo’s “sunwind” sculptures, there were photographs, light artwork, paintings, holograms and experiential artwork from, among other places, Austria, Romania, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, as well as Finland.
Antti Maasalo’s sculptures have had light, dark space, motion, mirrors, networks and the latest technology. He has also used wood, iron, acrylic and steel pins in his kinetic works. Articles in the 1970’s mention motors from a record player, cassette recorder or vacuum cleaner as generating motion. Using mirrors, lights and colors, changing reflections and a kinetic effect were created. In Maasalo’s opinion, his works are not far from a natural phenomenon, because naturalism comes in many forms. Now, in the 2010’s, he is using a lot of natural energy, with elements like the wind, the sun and its light. His kinetic sculptures convey powerful feelings of nature. Sunlight and warmth also appear in his works, such that the cool material of the steel and the mirror becomes a conveyor of the feeling of nature.
Maasalo’s works also often have sound, which has changed from a humming sound in the beginning years, into a whole artistic-scientific work, Ääniharava (“vote-puller”) in 1989, with the materials acid steel, carbon fiber and fiber ribbon rippling in the wind. The sound artwork is a sculptor’s bullroarer made of ribbon, because when the wind makes the ribbon ripple, music and sound is created without the touch of a human hand. The pitch of the sounds vary with the strength of the wind. The ribbon is set so that the sound can be heard regardless of the direction of the wind.
Movie, video and multimedia expression is part of Maasalo’s art. Examples include these early works Ympäristö ja taide (“environment and art”), Havainnosta teokseen (“from observation to work of art”) and Ulottuvuuksia (“dimensions”) or the four-hour-long Tellus video presentation,1987- 1988. The presentations tell about the essence and ideas of the artist’s works, the basis of which is natural light, motion and sound effects, or wind-generated motion in a grain field, through the tree leaves, light and shadow and the ever-changing expression of details.
In the 2000s, Maasalo has become profoundly labeled as a dimensional pioneer artist, who joins technological expression and nature together in constructive and kinetic environmental artistry. His works take their energy from wind, water and light and are often made from steel, aluminum and carbon fiber, as well as mirror glass. The works speak to the observers in small gestures, without grand outbursts and great emotion. He is an intelligent simplifier, but sometimes a playful humorist as well. A metal rod sways in the wind with its fishing line and float in the Sunnuntaikalastaja (“Sunday fisherman”) (1985) art piece. As a counterbalance, Maasalo has presented his views of issues, like nuclear energy and destructive eco-visions affecting modern life and the state of the earth, for example, in the 1980’s works Potemkinin kulissit (“the scene of Potemkin”), Rajoitettu ydinsota (“limited nuclear war”) and Ahdas planeetta (“crowded planet”).
Maasalo has mentioned that Eino Ruutsalo is Esa Laurema’s role model and that he himself holds them in high esteem. The Ateneum ARS69 exhibition had a freeing significance for him; the displayed light artwork pieces gave promise to his artwork, which had not earlier been considered show-worthy.
Maasalo built a solar heated and geothermal home for his family and a studio at Lehtimäki in 1976-77, which were designed by architect Kirmo Mikkola, and he returned to the municipality of his birth. He has opened his studio-home to the public, even via computer on the Internet using a webcam. Together with Hungary’s touring exhibit in 2002, Maasalo presented his works and production to a foreign audience via the Internet, so the audience also had the opportunity to talk with him. Likewise, Maasalo presented his 2004 Töölönlahden aurinko- ja tuuliveistokset (Töölönlahti sun and wind sculptures) exhibit over the Internet from his home studio for Helsinki’s celebrations of Night of the Arts and an audience in the caves of Retretti art museum were able to follow Maasalo’s showing via the Internet in 2005.
Antti Maasalo still believes in his own creations and in the future of kinetic art. In his opinion, artwork must be experienced, not so much understood. In personal interviews, it becomes clear that Maasalo is moving closer and closer to a kinetic sculpture which uses natural forces. The entities between nature and art are important to Maasalo. Sun, wind and water are elements that he wants to power his artwork with. The structures of the sculptures are hard materials, steel and aluminum and his art represents technical esthetics. The duration of the work is an integral part, in which transformation, movement and reflection have substantial significance.
Maasalo describes the basis of his work almost poetically; about the wind, the movement of the air and the water, the sun and the esthetics of the environment and nature. At the same time that Maasalo’s works function in a harmonious relationship with the surrounding nature, he illustrates with them the kinds of forces and properties the wind, water and sun have. The sculptures bring out the visible or invisible energy of nature.
Much of Maasalo’s kinetic light and sculpture artwork is designed and realized in such an environmentally friendly and comprehensive way, that, in the end, the majority of what Maasalo produces can be considered environmental art, if desired. His sculpture-work-light and installation concept is deeply understanding of nature. Maasalo’s series in Kuhmo and Kerava are practically environmental art, due to their comprehensive art concepts.
Antti Maasalo’s artwork and pieces leave a strong and diverse picture in the mind and his career is actively continuing. Kinetic light-video-multimedia and moving sculptures seem to have grown ever-closer to the artist’s mental landscape and to philosophical concepts about life and art with regards to humans as living and responsible parts of nature.
Dr. LEENA PASSI Museum Director, Ph. D. in philosophy
This abstract is based on an extensive collection of periodical clippings about Antti Maasalo, from 1962–2010.
The moon sails between the clouds and the blue shadows of the trees play their kinetic dance on the snowy forest path. Antti is at the wheel and I’m by his side. Antti doesn’t think we can get our work into international exhibitions, because we may not be insiders. They claim that light artwork is too difficult to transport and it also requires a dark exhibit area and a big viewing distance, and it’s not necessary to present such “weird things” to the public anyway. Then, right then and there, we decided that we would organize the international exhibitions ourselves. This happened about thirty years ago and what happened afterwards… became a reality.
In spring of 1987, I had a visit from artist friends from the GDR. They became acquainted with my studio, which had been designed by Kirmo Mikkola, and noticed that it had been done in a “Bauhaus spirit”. After a few months, I received an invitation to arrange an exhibit in the Bauhaus building in Dessau. I contacted Antti and my friend Osmo Valtonen and soon the “Drei Finnische Dimensionen” artist group was established. We were allowed to use two big halls and the large grass field at the front of the Bauhaus building. Later, our exhibit was moved to Berlin. At that time, this was like the finishing touch and crowning achievement to the few years I spent in Berlin.
Arranging international exhibits went quite smoothly, even without e-mail. It was also easier to get financing than it is today, because relatively few artists held exhibits abroad.
The second, more extensive, tour took place in 1993. At that time, Unto Hämäläinen was also involved and the name of the exhibit was, therefore, ANTTIESAOSMOUNTO. We began in the Tallinn Art Hall Kunstihoone and moved on to Szombathelyi Képtár, Hungary. An extraordinary amount of viewers came to see the exhibit, primarily students.
Since Antti and I have continued good relations with Hungary, we were invited to Eger’s “Evil Church” – a Baroque building whose oval-shaped booths were a challenging place for a light exhibit. After that, our exhibit was divided in two – part of it was on display in Balassagyarmat, and the other part was in Budapest.
Over the years, Antti and I also went to many Hungarian-held light symposiums, which often had an exhibit associated with them. Most of these events were arranged in the town of Eger. In September, 1996, we were involved in making history, when we founded the international Kepes Society. This society includes members from about sixteen countries and its theme is light art and architecture. Kepes artists, and their works, have since come to Finland several times as our guests.
These were exhibits made with a small group. Furthermore, there have been many opportunities for exhibits abroad within the Dimensio group. We first visited Hässelby, Stockholm in 1976. At the alternative-energy-forms symposium held there, Antti got a revelation about “Aurinkotalo” (“sun house”). Soon thereafter, he made it on Lehtimäki, next to his own home. Later, we went to Poznan, Poland, where we were given an opportunity after Dimensio had visited Poland in 1978. We had a large-scale exhibit in Riga, Latvia and St Petersburg in 1997–98.
The moments we shared building up exhibits have been unforgettable. Often, I was with the transport vehicle with our regular driver, Eero. Without exception, we have encountered wild adventures on our trips. Those pre-EU days were very bureaucratic, especially in the eastern European countries. All of these things positively have enriched our lives – it was worth it.
ESA LAUREMA (1950–2010)