Meijburg Art Commission: Interview with Pasi Orrensalo

by Unseen July 11 2018

At Unseen Amsterdam 2017, Finnish artist Pasi Orrensalo (b.1969) was announced as the winner of the Meijburg Art Commission, granting him the opportunity to produce a work for the art collection of Meijburg & Co Tax Lawyers. Pasi since set about developing his project, a process which took him to a recycling centre in the Netherlands to rummage through the waste materials of Meijburg & Co employees. As the project enters its final stages, we caught up with him to chat about the stories he seeks to tell through discarded objects.

Tell us about some of your recent work. What inspired you to start working on your series Life Behind the Waste?
For me there is beauty and emotion in everything around us, especially that which we cast aside. Every object has its own intrinsic beauty, created during its lifetime, as well as through the relationship it had with its owner. Each object has a story to tell. So for me, a scrapyard is the ultimate library.

Scrap yards are also often seen as the terminus of our journey on earth; a graveyard for the objects we have interacted with during our lives. I am fascinated by the pasts and futures of this ‘waste’, because for me it is not waste at all, but rather a jumbled collection of stories and histories.
By introducing movement, as I did for Life Behind the Waste, the waste takes on a new energy. Its past is celebrated and its future is launched. Because, as it is in life, the scrapyard is only the latest staging post in a never-ending series of convoluted twists and turns. One family's abandoned car, filled with the memories of a summer road trip, will become the raw material for a new one. Its story simply continues in another form, it grows and multiplies, and carries on living. Its current state is only temporary. Much came before, and even more is still to come.  

What were your initial ideas for the Meijburg Art Commission? How did the project develop?
For the Meijburg Art Commission I wanted to create a work that contained a strong link with the company and its employees. I asked them to collect as many ‘office related’ objects as possible. Objects that they have spent years using. Paper, books, manuals, printers, scanners. Objects that would have ended up on the scrapheap.

What kind of message do you hope to send to your audience by using waste material as your subject?  
Far more than the embodiment of our reckless consumption, the waste represents traces of our lives: stories of love, anger, resentment, loss. Seminal moments in people's lives or brief instances of interaction. This ‘junk’ used to belong to someone, it’s been played with, at work, on holiday. It’s been the cause of – or witness to – sorrow or joy, quickly discarded or cherished for years.

So much history remains clearly visible in the waste. Smells, fingerprints, names, wear and tear. When you look at a discarded object you can see more than the thing itself: where it stood in a room, whether it was cleaned regularly. Stains, cigarette burns or scratches all hint at a past and a story that is hidden. They remind us that there was, and continues to be, life behind waste.

For this commission, you worked with waste material from Meijburg & Co. How did you approach working with this material? How did you prepare for an assignment like this?
There is only so much you can prepare. I know, from experience, the general rules of gravity. An object’s fall depends on its weight, its size and shape, and whether it is falling with other objects. For example, 100 loose sheets of paper fall differently than 100 bound pages in a single book. I know that if I layer certain objects, then I might get the result I expect. I can place the crane in a particular place. I can wait for the right kind of light, or wind speed. However, that is all the control that I have. I guess you could call them my tools. The final composition is always serendipitous, and the moment I take the picture is always instinctive.

How does the process of developing a commissioned artwork differ to the development of your own self-initiated work?
It depends on who the commissioned artwork is for, but the approach is always the same. As is the case with my self-initiated work, there is always a chance that a commissioned artwork is not satisfactory as my work depends on serendipitous events. But in this case I was very happy with the result. I was very lucky with the rubbish collected by the Meijburg employees. The colours of the paper in combination with the printers look fantastic. Nobody could predict this incredible combination, it just happened.

Thank you, Pasi!

Image: Paperless #8, 2018 © Pasi Orrensalo