1 + Random
An interview with Mikka Nyyssönen
by Max Eternity
Hi Mikka, welcome to AD Mag
Hi Max, Thanks for inviting me, the subject of your magazine is close to my artistic interest.
I’ve been looking at your website, there’s so much art and information there. Exactly how many different types of media do you create? I know you do video and sculpture, but you also paint on aluminum? What else?
Well, I have not counted the amount of different media types I’ve made. I’m very interested in transporting work from one media to another, like importing a computational way to think inside painting or change the character of sculpture by painting it with a style very different from way it was sculpted, or sculpt something using a random set of rules instead of one’s expressions.
Mainly my work history goes: I studied painting, moved to the sculpting, then to the installation. I also studied a little bit of programming at the beginning of this century, and now my work technically is a mixture of all this. Sometimes I choose the media after the idea of the work, sometimes idea of the work comes when playing with some media.
And did you design your site?
Yes, some years ago. At the moment I’m planning to redesign it, maybe to look more like game.
I like that idea. So, how long have you been an artist?
I graduated from Helsinki Academy of Fine Arts back in 1992, so it’s 17 years now. Although, I don’t work all the time as an artist. Some years I don’t produce very much. My work does not sell very well as of yet, so I must earn my living doing other jobs. Sometimes, I do also graphic design, book covers, curating, teaching basic computer skills, posters, web design, to mention a few from last years.
You are from Sweden, yes? Do you come from an artistic family?
Almost… no, I’m from Finland! It’s the next country to the right on the map.
Yes, I am aware—my apologies, please continue.
I come from ordinary Finnish family, from a small paper industry town. I saw images of artworks mainly from local library’s books. I have always drawn a lot. Later I wanted to became a cartoon artist and then a painter.
So let’s talk about a few specific pieces of your work that grab my attention. You do so much interesting work, but I’d like to zoom in a few. For instance, you created an installation, exhibited in 2004, which is entitled “1+ Random.” It’s a great name for a work of art, and a great concept too…using cardboard and a computer?
“1+ Random” computational installation
Well, making computational artwork does not necessarily demand a computer or screen at all. Cardboard as a material was familiar to me from my previous installations , in which I often cut it into small pieces as a sort of building material.
Doesn`t that somehow remind the way the computer divides things to one’s and zeros?
Anyway, in this particular piece I was interested in combining this valueless everyday material to an algorithmic decision of how to place the pieces for the exhibition space in Purnu, Orivesi. Half of the pieces of the work were placed after the instructions that the simple, randomly-based, computer program gave me, and half of the piece’s placement was decided by me—in my own cognition. Because the simple program did not know anything of any kind of cultural values, the composition it made is also not related to any specific way of organizing visual things. My part of the composition, instead, must be somehow connected to several ideas, which give the overall work compositionally valuable. The installation as a whole is a combination of these two approaches, hence the name 1+Random.
I like your idea of using analog materials to create visual art that imitates a digital process. We’re talking now about “1 + Random”, but were you going with the same concept when you also created “Half Random”?
The concept of these two works is relatively similar, using digitally defined randomness at some part of the art-making process. (Although the way how the works do look is totally different from each other). While working with randomness I noticed that the result is very much dependant how and at what point of process digitally defined randomness is used. (Actually computer-based randomness is not random because it’s always based of some algorithmic formulae. But in my art’s case the computer certainly produces good-enough randomness as proposals where to place and how to deal with some visual elements of my works.) It’s like a making a group-work with the unknown.
The simple nature of your sculptures and installations is fascinating. It’s all very basic, yet at the same time it’s complex. I think the piece “Inside Out” really captures this idea of simple things that really make you curious…make you think. And that piece called “Wallpainters’s Wall.” is just fabulous. It appears rather large–monumental. Tell me about this piece, where is it now?
Pori Art Museum (http://www.poriartmuseum.fi/) bought the work recently to their collection. It was exhibited there at the beginning of this year in their group show called “The site of painting”. Wallpainter’s Wall is eleven meters long piece made with acrylic colors and by cutting holes on kapaplast plates. Before doing the painting I wrote a computer program which gave me a sketch for the work. The program “decided” the color of each horizontal stripe, length of each stripe and the length of each of the cut holes in the work. I see the work as a hybrid of traditional way to make paintings and algorithmic-based decisions made by a computer. Wallpainter`s wall is and looks hand-made although a big part of its aesthetics comes from a script that can not know nothing of aesthetics. This paradox was my main reason to paint this work.
What do you think of this idea of the hybrid artist; one who creates both digital and traditional art? I created a name for this. I call it TADAE, which means Traditional And Digital Artist-Engineer. I came to conceptualize that because I think artist who can easily think in both digital and analog really represent a completely new subset of creative individuals. This is something I find very important, because I think it sets a historical
precedent. Have you given any thought to this?
TADAE sounds fine! Mixing colors physically from the tube gives different results than mixing colors on-screen, both ways are important. And even minor knowledge of computer algorithms gives artist new ways to have or develop new ideas in one’s brains. There’s plenty of ways to combine these ways of thought to create a meaningful artworks.
We’ve talked about some of your computational and analog installations, now let’s talk pure digital. You’ve made some video art? I like the piece called “Space Cave.” How did that come about?
Spacecave is a flash movie made of pictures taken inside my earlier sculpture “Cavepainters Cave” (2005). Illusion the work creates is constructed from the pieces of very limited part of reality. Script that moves and changes the parts of the work is partly based on randomness, the movement is always different, You could watch it several years without the film repeating itself exactly. Basically the work is a 2d work which tries to look like a 3d. It is a hybrid of painting, sculpture and visually of Sci-Fi movies in a digital form.
There’s another video you created entitled “American Traffic.” I find it very interesting that a Scandinavian artist would create such a piece, but at the same time I think I might understand–why?
The picture material of this flash movie is taken from inside a car during traveling from Roanoke, Virginia to New York at 11th of October 2003. A script that runs the movie loads and shows the pictures in a random order. The work is a road movie without a story or characters. It shows one of the ambiences of our times which is very ordinary for someone living there and then but much more exotic for an external visitor(or to someone who might not know what a car is.) Later I made also a comparison work called Helsinki traffic, but that’s not online, never finished it. The work is not a document, it’s experience seen through that time’s consumer—driving–and a script putting images to a random order. I might have been interested in this subject also because of the Hollywood movies, I had seen thousands of scenes of American traffic before actually being there, the work is also my approach towards this imagery.
Finally, since we haven’t yet talked about your paintings, I think we should because they’re all quite good. Like you paintings of sculptures series. That’s an interesting concept, and they have a certain 1950’s modern look.
Yes, they certainly do. Although, the way I made that series was totally different from the Modernists. The works were composed of the forms of my previous sets of sculptures (8 sculptures) on top of each other, and then reducing details to flat surface paintings while also changing the color themes.
Do you have any thoughts about out digital future?
So many possible universal outcomes there…varying between killer nanobots destroying all life on earth or good robots supplying enough food, energy & other goods freely for everyone on Earth. From the sculptor’s point of view the development of 3d printing sounds very interesting–the possibility to print almost anything in 3D at your home in the future. As well, theories like Nick Bostroms “Are we sims” (http://www.simulation-argument.com//simulation.html), seems to be saying everything’s already digital and there’s (small) probability that we’re living in someone’s computer right now. So, the digital era creates its own cultural theories and concepts also, which certainly will be different from last century’s cultural theories and that new theoretical field will invent it’s concepts from things like 3d and virtual reality and biotechnology and theoretical physics. It will be interesting to follow, but to be honest I don’t have very strong opinion where the digital future will go, with so many options there.
Mikka, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
Thank You for interviewing me.