First editions, angels, book worms and the Heavenly Footman – On the art of Panu Rytkönen
Panu Rytkönen (1983) creates wondrous collections of works which make you feel as if you are in a short story. Traditional woodworking meets conceptual contemporary art in Rytkönen’s works. On display there are for example the first Finnish-language Bible (1642) and other religious literature, documents on the history of Finnish sculpture art relating to the H. G. Porthan (1864) memorial by C.E.Sjöstrand (1828-1905). The style of the sculptures is reminiscent of traditional woodworking but on a closer look they comment on various phenomena of art history, different variations of sculpture art and range from found objects to book illustrations.
The exhibition title Heavenly Footman – Die Uhr läuft is named after the book by an English theologian John Bunyan (1628-1688) Heavenly Footman – How to get to Heaven that is displayed as different volumes in the exhibition. The name sparks various mental images. A loose translation of the title in Finnish could read something like “A Runner to Heaven – An explanation of the Man’s pursuit and getting into Heaven. The Finnish title stresses the act of running and actively pursuing getting to Heaven, not passively waiting around to be let in. Running into Heaven is a good description of the artistic process in all its surprisingness, but it also reveals our experience when surrounded by art. An art work can take us to a completely new time, place, and to an understanding.
Rytkönen has planned the Forum Box exhibition for years. He originally got the idea for the exhibition when working as mounting person for the exhibitions at the gallery. Looking at the tall and partly rough space, run by the artist co-operative, he began planning the exhibition that would take its physical form years later. The viewer quickly realizes the spatial contemplations of the artist as for example the horse sculptures are merging into the gallery walls, with the heads coming out in another room to the back of the animal. The sculptures reach high up as they illustrate how sculpting always takes places in the space. Rytkönen also shapes the images and topics that have been his inspiration, in the most intriguing way. For example the faithful dog companion in Mozart’s funeral procession (originally pictured in Joseph Heicke’s, 1811-1861, lithography) has turned into a wolf.
The artist plans his exhibitions carefully as they are versatile ensembles which include not only sculptures but the hunt for rare books. A religious book from the 19th century might prove nearly impossible to find since it is not valuable and is not in demand. Books and other printed items have always had a large place in Rytkönen’s installations. They bring about large textual universes, the charm of the objects by bibliophiles and other collectors and of course a materialistic component.
Rytkönen is an intriguing contemporary artist for his work is between traditional woodworking craftsmanship and conceptual contemporary art. His artistic expression is both subtle and quiet but at the same time deeply emotionally touching. He is not afraid to tackle monumental topics or romanticized interpretations of them. As an artist Rytkönen’s voice is rich in nuances and polyphonic. This is illustrated well in the artist’s notes: “Mozart’s journey to St. Marx’s grave yard. A horse carriage, a horse, a coffin and a driver on a day described the contemporaries as stormy. According to weather archives the day was not story however. ” The last comment reveals how art works create realities.
The Heavenly Footman – Die Uhr läuft is a metaphysical poem of the material and psychological meeting and interacting. The exhibition is a deeply philosophical presentation of the possibilities of contemporary art but simultaneously an ode to the overwhelming loveliness of old books. It is clear to the viewer how the past resides in us and how the unexplainable is always with us. The pivotal material in Rytkönen’s work is perhaps imagination that speaks to us in voices and intonations. Rytkönen directs us in his own polysemous spheres like marionettes. We move in landscapes of irony, seriousness, beauty, melancholy and the unexplained. And we do not want out.
Original text by Juha-Heikki Tihinen (PhD), translation by Miia Takala (BA)
The exhibition is supported by The Finnish Cultural Foundation