Jason Lewis' Sensory Pleasures: Touch with Riitta Ikonen

April 20, 2010

Jay meets with Riitta Ikonen, an artist with her hands in various artistic cookie jars, for the third installment of his sensory tour. Check it out!

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Riitta Ikonen is a London-based, stunning visual artist from Finland. I caught up with her at the Christopher Henry Gallery in NYC after a recommendation from her mentor and personal art hero of mine Mr. Ian Wright. Riitta creates images from the ground up, often using photography in nature and/or on location. Tucked into self-made folksy costumes she manages to delight even when addressing weighty topics such as global warming and resource depletion.

“My work is concerned with the performance of images, through photography and costume design. Certain items, usually small and insignificant, excite me to the point where I have to wear them and then document that process. The super-garments I make open up new experiences. In my costumes tremendous things happen – to me and to the people I work with. Today I exploded an egg in the microwave. Next, I want to make an egg costume.”

A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Riitta has taken part in numerous international projects and exhibited her work from Moscow to New York City. She has partnered with institutions such as Tate, White Chapel Gallery, Bfi, ActionAid, and the British Embassy in Russia. In 2008 Riitta won the prestigious Becks Canvas Competition and is currently preparing new work for a show later this year.

I of course asked if I could collaborate on something and was fortunate to spend an afternoon with Riitta at “Treasure Beach,” one of her secret locations. Shhh! I was able to join in the process by documenting her and creating some new photographs and I’m really happy with the work, some of which you can view here!

We first created portraits with Riitta’s Raffia costume using her girlfriend as a model. Many thanks to Elisa for enduring the prickly bushes, those things are dangerous!!!

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Why did you choose art as a medium for your self-expression?
Strategic moves were never my forte, so I followed intuition and voila. Here I am. There was no debate about choosing art as a career, but it seems to fit at the moment. The work I do isn’t so much about expressing myself, but often discusses issues that affect plenty of people and exists to nudge some gears. Humor is important and seems to seep into everything (even climate change campaigns…) I’ve found you can cut through a lot of fluff with humor.

More specifically, why fashion & why costumes?
I don’t know, you know. It surely isn’t a global solution to art, but it works for me. I can get to the image I want through the use of the costumes, I felt drawing/painting/graphics was never enough, the outcome was too predictable. But why exactly costumes, I’m still figuring it out. I quit costumes as utter nonsense a few years ago, but had to return to it after a futile search for equally satisfying medium. I make them myself, yes. I’m not a supreme qualified seamstress, but I learned to sew at a very early age from my mother. The sewing machine happened to be in my room so I kept sewing and it finally came in handy.

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How do you and your collaborators cross paths?
You mean how it all gets started? Random chance often brings things about, little chitchat here and there. The saying ‘Work hard and be nice to people’ – very true. I try to follow. Combining forces with people who do what you don’t do is a prima formula too.

Does the fact that you’re originally from Finland and reside in London inspire anything you do?
Sure, definitely. NY always gives me fresh eyes…the foreignness makes me more objective and (sometimes) awake. I like the feeling of having minimum baggage. I’m not quite a real outsider in England anymore (I’ve lived there some nine years now- by accident), but I still very much enjoy the “outsiderness” and not really being part of it all.

Riitta also led the effort to comb the beach for found objects for various future projects.

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What’s next for Riitta Ikonen? What other projects are you involved in? Future projects?
The ‘If You Could Collaborate’ project rolls on with Ian Wright, a collaboration show opens at the Tate galleries in May, New work New York show later this year, some lecturing around and costumes for Hackney.

What can you not live without?
Four seasons and double letters.

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What touch/texture evokes happiness for you?
Light switches. Clean, warm hands. Water- I’m looking for a good pool in Brooklyn…Anyone?

Is there a Riitta Ikonen theme song?
Hmm…maybe not a specific one, but Finnish marching music maybe?

See more work from Treasure Beach and Riitta Ikonen on Jay’s blog.

Comments (2)
  • Kein Etikettenschwindel bei – Riitta Ikonen | Irisnebel [...] Does the fact that you’re originally from Finland and reside in London inspire anything you do? Sure, definitely. NY always gives me fresh eyes…the foreignness makes me more objective and (sometimes) awake. I like the feeling of having minimum baggage. I’m not quite a real outsider in England anymore (I’ve lived there some nine years now- by accident), but I still very much enjoy the “outsiderness” and not really being part of it all. (Quelle) [...] Wed Jun 29, 2011
  • Jason Lewis » Sensory Pleasures 3/5, Riitta Ikonen for Converse. [...] Riitta Ikonen is one of my favorite artists, she also has a mesmerizing accent and says the word “super” more interestingly than anyone I’ve ever met. Here’s images from an afternoon at her favorite Brooklyn beach, see and learn more in my interview at Converse Play here. [...] Wed Apr 21, 2010
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