In Motion, In Space, In Between
Of Anna-Lea Kopperi's art and its spatiality
The basis of Anna-Lea Kopperi's art, as I perceive it, is the experiences of everyday
life, and its every moment: washing oneself, seeing a bird fly, walking across
a space, perception of light. In addition, I see her art as an attempt to grasp,
to explore the meaning of these passing moments, materials, and spaces. This
meaning which, instead of being something concrete, solid, or permanent, is rather
'the invisible of this world, it is what inhabits this world, supports it and makes it
visible - its own inner possibility.' (Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Visible and
the Invisible, Evanston, Northwestern University Press. 1968.)
Kopperi's approach to art blends contents and methods of expression derived from
minimalism and conceptual art as well as from environmental art - movements
which abandoned the ideal of the everlasting work of art, and questioned
the positions of the artist and the audience, and their relationship. Kopperi's
sculptures both create new spaces and transform the space around them.
On the other hand, the process-like quality associated with many of the sculptures
makes them time-dependent not only in the sense of duration, but also
transformation, transition, and repetition.
A Dream of Heaven, the installation set up in the courtyard of the Wäinö Aaltonen
Museum portrayed the natural course of time, as the 232 pieces of mirror-glass
placed there in the spring were gradually covered by grass as the summer came
along. In 1996-97, Kopperi produced A Sample of the Baltic Sea by fetching
a sample of the seawater 98 times from three different shores. The water
containers were exhibited at a gallery, allowing beholders to experience 98
different instances of the Baltic Sea. The traces of temporal occurrences in
the sculptures refer to how the stratification of the temporary turns it into
Similar memory traces can be found in Embracing the Plants in a Glasshouse,
a work produced in 1992 in Garzweiler, Germany, in which the artist used white
ribbon to mark the withered flowers she already had embraced in a deserted
greenhouse. The use of white ribbon demonstrated the seriality, repetition, and
slowness of the work; it was a manifestation of the artist's meaning creating
process. little big house marks a return to the concept of embracing plants, albeit
from a slightly different angle. It inhabits various exhibition halls of the Jyväskylä
Art Museum and a nearby park. With their use of the building theme, both works
deal with man's relationship to time and space - his relationship to his own
existence. Kopperi searches for a protecting, caring, and time-allowing relationship
to her own environment. To her, this relationship is manifest in the houses and
spaces we create for our everyday life and everyday experiences.
little big house no longer simply repeats the artist's movements, instead
the repetition has been shifted to the inhabitants of the city, to those walking in
the park. What memories will this work evoke and what kind of memory traces will
it leave in the minds of the passers-by? And how will it shape the given outdoor
space and the way one experiences it? These are the questions the work poses to
those experiencing it.
Room For Space
The keyword in Anna-Lea Kopperi's oeuvre is clarity. Many of her installations,
produced mostly in Germany and Finland, belong to the conceptual and land art
traditions, which have drawn their inspiration from minimalism. Kopperi's works
are characterized by the way their compositions tend towards opposites, pure,
simple elements, and the artist's geometrically clear use of space. Nevertheless,
her art deals with the creation of situations rather than constructions.
Another keyword could be ‘extension’. Kopperi condenses and reduces
representations of life’s basic situations. She presents them as bare equations of
objects, whose purpose is to convey and analyze emotions. In 1992 in Kronenbourg,
Eifel, she placed six Indian ink containers in a row along a line of felled trees in
a forest, while six milk containers were placed in a nearby dip to form a circle.
The small object installations stimulated perception. They both divided and
combined, they were small additions to the greatness of nature: the line of a man
and the circle of a woman.
Installations are characteristically site-specific and temporary. The site-dependence
of Kopperi's works is carefully thought out. The site always presents a challenge:
how to mark it and how to create a systematic, yet almost imperceptible addition
to it. The means chosen for this have to refer to the scope of common experience,
which in turn ensures that the works have the ability to communicate. The means
of expression has to be able to combine the individual space with the more general
requirements, for example, for preserving the environment. This also means that
the temporality of installations meets the permanence of specific values.
Many of Kopperi's object installations emphasise how small the aspects that create
the atmosphere of a certain space can be. She has often used lime bricks to build
clear, geometric forms, whose elements may at some point contain an anomaly.
Her means of expression include serialism and regular groups formed out of
Kopperi regards her working process as very private and devout. In 1992 she came
upon a deserted greenhouse in Garzweiler. She spent some time among
the withered plants and eventually tied up a wilted yellow bush with a cotton
ribbon - to signify an embrace. Later she used similar cotton ribbons for other
purposes: in Joensuu Art Museum in 1996, she wrote the word "snow" on the floor
with this ribbon, and covered the floor of another exhibition hall with ribbons
forming the shapes of skis or ski tracks. Thus, the ribbons represented both nature
and traces left in it, as well as the repetition of the traces and the geometry of that
repetition, pure memory traces.
Diversity of life can be reduced to diversity of ideas, and diversity of ideas, in turn,
follows the same order that has produced these austere, even spare solutions.
Something that does not "fit" in the picture may, at least partly, be present as
an extension or a crystallization. However, as there is no way we could tolerate all
the diversity there is, Kopperi shows us the lucid end of this. Diversity could not be
an object of study if it were not first given shape, if it were not given
an opportunity to manifest itself, unperturbed, one instance at a time.
The diversity of life constantly sends us from one choice to another. In order to be
able to interpret it, we need an apparatus for filtering concepts and expressions
Not everything can be manifest.
Kopperi's works illustrate the interaction between extension and reduction.
In extension a recognizable object is associated with a larger whole, while in
reduction the object remains undisturbed. The objects represent order while
ensuring the diversity of the disorder that is inaccessible to interpretation.
Order does not refute everything that is often mistakenly called chaos, i.e.
diversity; it is one end of chaos.
Things have their own inconspicuous order, and this art – their extension – has
the task of contemplating how objects and situations could be extended, and of
reflecting that extension. Extension, and why not the "law of positive extension" as
in gestalt psychology, does not involve grasping the whole world at one go, but
examining it slowly. A specific general theme - for example, the preservation of
nature – is treated so as to leave a mark of particular extension on it. Clear,
minimalistic basic elements ensure that the general is manifest in the particular,
and in these site-specific solutions, too.
Repetition, which is often associated with the traditions of minimalism and
conceptual art, inevitably leads to generalizations, to universal statements.
The particular becomes a part of the general in the straight lines of the lime bricks.
Repetition results in an increase in the universality of the represented, and
the particular becomes a part of the same. Kopperi contrasts effects and
effectuality with graduality, continuity, and development.
Eliminating opposites by portraying them forces them to adapt to each other; they
become camouflaged and co-exist. The clear opposites also give them a surprisingly
peaceful harmony: they have been externalized, and yet they still follow the same
compositional principle, and are contemplated in an atmosphere of peaceful
concentration, as though they were objects that are dependent on one another.
Especially when the conventions of representation are derived from minimalism,
the problem of conceptual art is how much of the object being represented is
present. Often very little is present, and the rest is imagined. In the Arte povera
approach, there is sometimes a conscious interfusion of the means and the end.
The containers in which Kopperi fetched water from the Baltic Sea seem at first
like a means, but they are part of the end. The sea and the glass jars in which
the seawater was contained both contribute to the same goal in the A Sample of the
Baltic Sea project 1996-1997.
In 1998, Kopperi produced the sculpture Mussel for the front yard and courtyard of
the SOK Corporation head office. She wanted to create two permanent building
spaces. The house in the front yard, with its double-almond shape, was made of
blue glass bricks. The layout of the base includes an unbroken almond shape, while
the other almond is formed by the rough, slopping sides of the building It is like
a glass eye gazing at the sky. The other building space is open, consisting solely of
glass pillars with a similar layout to that of the base.
The theme of the little big house exhibition also evokes associations with the shape
of a house. Kopperi's starting point is the rather unobtrusive, cube-shaped
transformer building from the 1930's near the art museum. The transformer
building is a house that has no inhabitants, no windows, and which cannot be
entered. Kopperi took this into account when creating her closed miniature wooden
houses. Even though the starting point is outdoors in the park next to
the exhibition hall, the exhibition breaks through the boundary and extends into
the indoor space. As the tiny houses hang suspended from the trees, nature gives
architecture a swing.
revised version of a text in the catalogue Anna-Lea Kopperi, little big house / iso
pieni talo. Exh. cat. Jyväskylä Art Museum, 2000.
© Anna-Lea Kopperi
and all authors 2008