Every month, Institut finlandais highlights creatives whose work sheds light on today’s Finland and France. At the opening exhibition of the renewed institute, an artwork entitled “Reflection painting, gold” by Renata Jakowleff will be presented. The inspiration behind this commissioned work, which is made of more than 120 000 glass beads, has been the premises and materials found at the institute. The work lives and changes constantly through light, shadows and hours of the day, and enables one to observe the physical qualities of light. This artist, who constantly challenges the conventions of beauty, shared with us her vision regarding material and light.

Born in Hungary, and based in Finland, Jakowleff’s artistic career is distinguished by her long-standing experimental work with glass. Jakowleff has exhibited in numerous exhibitions both in Finland and abroad and has participated in many international art fairs. Her work has been acquired by the Finnish State Art Deposit Collection, the Finnish Glass Museum and international private collectors among many others. In recent years, Jakowleff’s boundary-breaking approach has led to the innovative Muotobetoni concrete pre-casting technique, which allows this material to be printed with decorative 3D patterns.

You have accomplished a versatile and international career as an artist and designer. How did you end up working with glass in particular?

It was not a childhood dream for me. Crafts and design were somewhat in my mind already as a kid, but I didn’t find the right path right away. I went to an art high school, and after that studied both in business school and university. Then I applied to the ceramic department in the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. After starting my studies and getting familiar with glass, I understood that is the best thing out there.

You have a very experimental approach towards different materials and their use. What fascinates you about glass?

I love the liquidity of it. It makes it very challenging and this is something that suits my temperament; I like difficult things and challenges. Many materials react quite slowly, but glass is something that responds and reacts immediately already in the production phase. I am particularly interested in the material’s own movement. If I worked with wood, I might be interested in the fact of how wood cracks on its own. But wood would be too slow material for me and I would not have the patience for it.

Sometimes the work might remind us of fur, or in a certain light one can see either the typical Helsinki summer light or night sky looked from below, and summer day observed from the front.

Would you say that glass as material corresponds to your character?

Yes, and the rhythm. I also really like glassblowing, it is so fun and yet so challenging. I like interacting and having a conversation with the material. I can play with glass: when it is taken from the oven, it is like honey that gets stiffen very quickly.

When you start working on a new project, do you usually have a sketch ready in your mind?

Certainly, there are many different paths to this. Underlining the process phase is important for me, and how the progress depends on the terms set by the material. Of course, the more you work, the more you learn. When initiating a new project or a work, I usually have a lot of ready ideas on my mind that is based on previous observations and experiences. This is obviously just sketching. The actual work is to aim something ready and that is really time-consuming.

For me, the different phases of working – sketching, brainstorming and research – are relatively short, and do not follow each other in chronological order. Different aspects intertwine: when working on one thing, another idea is already getting its shape. This never stops. The working process may sometimes be very slow and can be even boring. This is the reason why I have started using more and more prefabricated materials. When you produce all the material yourself, what might happen is that you find yourself lacking behind. It was good for me to give up the technical process, where the risk for failure is high. With material-based work, the result is always a compromise.

It is important to take some distance in regards to technical work with materials. The ideal would be if I got some assistance with the experimental production phase, but it is good to keep in mind that despite how simple the shapes are, everybody has his or her own signature – the result always mirrors its maker.

 

 
How was the process with the work “Reflection painting, gold” which was commissioned by the Finnish Institute?

The process of this work had started to get its shape already through my previous work, where I had used blue prefabricated glass. This was also the idea behind the work presented and commissioned for the institute; what are the possible ways to utilise the same process and prefabricated materials.

When brainstorming the piece, I tried to think of different definitions given to Finland and Finnish culture. In the beams used for the work, one can find ideas of repetition and monotonousness, hard work and clarity. The beauty that emerges from clarity is also something very Finnish for me. Even though identical pieces are used in the work in large amounts, I do not see or think the work through them: I think of areas, and how these emerge through light and shadows. Sometimes the work can remind us of fur, in a certain light one can see the typical Helsinki summer light, night sky looked from below, and summer day observed from the front. At some point, when working on the piece, I was thinking of pursuing an organic shape. However, I did not want to create an object that would directly refer to something. I like the abstractness and painterly direction of the work. The latter was particularly important, as I did not want to create something sculptural and 3D, which is so often the case with glass pieces.

The light plays an important role in the work, and in general with the use of glass. Could you tell us something about its meaning for you?

Recently, I have become more and more interested in Finnish light, it is almost like material. I have lived in Finland for many years now and always thought of surroundings primarily through the definition of darkness. Only recently I have focused more on light: it is transparent and strong in Finland, even cutting I would say. It also feels like the sky in Finland would be somehow more in the front, lower. Here in Paris, the sky is definitely higher.
 

 
You also work with concrete: you have developed Muotobetoni, which is a pre-casting technique that enables concrete to be printed with decorative 3D patterns. How do you define yourself and your position between the world of design and purely artistic work?

In general, doing arts and design is like cleaning the mess in the chaos. I do not see the two as separate entities, because the starting point is the same.

Muotobetoni is based on the liquid aspect of concrete and its plastic qualities. When one presses something on concrete, it displaces material and creates a movement.

The core stays the same: I am once again intrigued by the movement of the material. At the moment I especially work with glass and concrete, but all the mobile materials I consider them interesting.

Do you think that combining arts and design in Finland is easy?

I believe that the combination of these two is turning into something more natural. Glass art has been in the past strongly attached to industrial arts, and its past in the field of design has been somewhat heavy to handle. A strong categorization has also played a strong role in this.

I believe that the Ornamo Award was also a recognition of how working can be multidisciplinary and boundary-breaking. You can work on the same thing from many different angles. Being an artist makes things sometimes easier, as you are allowed to ask stupid questions.

On several occasions, you have brought up how you like to experiment and challenge while being in the constant search of new. Where do you find inspiration?

I follow a lot of theatre and contemporary circus. I also appreciate art that engages strongly with society, where one can find many levels and depths of meaning. I get often ideas while being on the move: the movement is something that inspires me. Another thing is quality: time and thought can be found in good quality. Perhaps one should rather talk about sense rather inspiration.

Renata Jakowleff

Photos: Christian Jakowleff