In conversation with Jaakko Kahilaniemi

by Unseen October 09 2018

Key to Unseen Amsterdam's ethos is its commitment to Talent Development, with programmes set up specifically to support emerging talent in the world of contemporary photography. In the first of a series of interviews with Talent Development award winners, we chat with Jaakko Kahilaniemi (1989, Finland), who won this year's ING Unseen Talent Award Jury Prize with his artwork Nature Like Capital, receiving €10,000 to invest in a new project.

Firstly, congratulations! How does it feel to be the winner of the ING Unseen Talent Award Jury Prize?
It was such a big surprise! This year’s Jury was incredibly talented and professional so winning the Jury Prize feels absolutely amazing and I’m so grateful for this. It felt absurd to go to the stage to receive the prize, but in a very good way! I was just so happy and obviously still am.

Can you tell us a little more about the work that won you the ING Unseen Talent Award and the narratives guiding it?
I wanted to start a totally new body of work where I artistically investigate how people are using nature as a form of capital rather than an environmental reserve. Also, I wanted to include four basic elements from classical alchemy in the work: air, fire, earth and water. They are relevant to almost everything and almost everywhere in the world and the universe.

Therefore, I created four different pieces. One of them presents earth, where I planted five olive trees in a Finnish forest. The red line painted inside the museum glass represents the journey of those olive trees from Greece to Finland. The second work is about fire. This picture is from Pyhäranta, Finland, where one of the biggest forest fires occurred in Finland last summer. In that work, there is a painted circle inside the museum glass presenting the foreign factor. The third piece represents water. I played with Baltic sea and recycled plastic acrylics in the water and created a non-permanent installation with those acrylics. Nature is changing and humans are affecting it, that’s why the photo is solarised. The fourth work is about air. I created a little acrylic box which I filled with birch branches and smoke. For me, it is a metaphor for something bigger, like a cyclone or a natural disaster.

Nature and our relationship with nature is a strong theme throughout your work. How important is this to you as an artist and, in your opinion, how can photography be used to raise questions concerning our relationship with the world around us?
I believe we all can raise awareness through any medium we choose. Mine is photography and sculpture. I believe we can make a big change in people's attitudes through art and photography. When people pause and interact with art, they often begin to reflect on the importance of their own habits and behaviour.

Following this award win, what have you got lined up in the future?
This month I have my first solo sculpture show of Nature Like Capital at Mältinranta Gallery in Tampere, which is the city I grew up in. There will be no photographs and only sculptures made of wood, concrete and plastic. I combine natural materials with unnatural materials and there will be about 6 or 7 sculpture installations. I’m really excited about this because I feel that many of my photographs are like sculptures, so creating a sculpture show seemed like a natural progression. Following that I'll have time to continue the Nature Like Capital photo series and I would like to have a solo show with that project next year!

Thank you, Jaakko! You can read more about our Talent Development programmes here.

Image: All Play Every Day, from the series Nature Like Capital, 2018 © Jaakko Kahilaniemi