Alumni Spotlight: Eeva Honkanen

Eeva Honkanen with The Owl’s Head (2019), inkpen on paper. Picture by Vanessa Kowalski.

Our artist-in-residence alumni Eeva Honkanen spent the beginning of 2017 in New York, at a time when the city was in uproar after Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. It was such a turning point for her that she decided to return for another residency period in 2019. We had the chance to catch up at her studio at the NARS Foundation to discuss how the city has influenced the direction of her work.

When Honkanen came to New York for the first time in January 2017 it was to explore the concept of impact that had begun to influence her. She defines impact as a threat and uncertainty that remind us of the importance of being present and living in the moment. What she found was a city in chaos and uproar after Donald Trump had been inaugurated president of the United States, with frequent demonstrations on the streets.

“There was a sense of disbelief, uncertainty and surprise in the air that suddenly became the present reality.”

Sketches by Eeva Honkanen.

During her residency, Honkanen produced hundreds of sketches. Her biggest source of inspiration was the contrast she found in people sleeping on the subway, whilst the chaos was going on around them.

“The city became palpable, intimate and comforting through the closed eyes of the sleeping people – as if they were stagnant for a moment before the subway stopped and everyone was off to the next place.”

Eeva Honkanen, Butterfly Effect (2016), inkpen on paper. Picture by Maija Toivanen.

The starting point for Honkanen’s work became her observations of her surroundings and the discourse related to those observations. In the beginning, these perceptions were closely linked to the uncertain political climate but have since expanded to at a larger scale consider the impact of people on the environment and lately worries related to climate change.

“I originally came here to explore the concept of impact that had started with my work Butterfly Effect in 2016, only to realize that the small current that I came to study had already grown into a river. I couldn’t be without continuing working with this concept.”

Honkanen found the city so inspiring that she decided to return for a second residency period – this time at the NARS Foundation. The result can be seen in the work The Owl’s Head, a 153 x 87-inch ink drawing that she started and completed during the three-month stay. The inspiration for the work comes from the enigmatic Garden of Earthly Delights (1515) by Hieronymous Bosch, combined with Honkanen’s increased interest in global issues such as the loss of biodiversity. The drawing contains hundreds of people and animals trapped inside the head of an owl, an art historical symbol for a threat or a warning. The figures do not seem to realize the surrounding catastrophe of the rising sea level.

 The work can be seen as a warning of the impact of small things growing into large issues – like climate change – but also as a reminder of the importance of being present and a homage to the people and animals that we share this planet with. And hopefully will continue to do so.  

All of the figures in the work are connected by a line, another feature of Honkanen’s drawings that has been reoccurring since 2017.

“It represents the thought that we are not here as individuals but are all connected to each other. We are all in the same boat.”

Detail of The Owl’s Head (2019).

The Owl’s Head was featured in the group exhibition “Behind the Seen” at NARS Foundation in September 2019, but it is not the only place where one has been able to admire Honkanen’s drawings during the fall. Through her residency at NARS she was introduced to several curators and gallerists, who invited her to participate in two other group exhibitions in New York. The two pieces that she had brought with her from Finland, ‘Butterfly Effect’ (2016) and ‘Constant State of Tension’ (2015), have been featured at Boccara Art Brooklyn’s Summer Open Call 2019 and Rockaway Artist Alliance’s ArtSplash 2019 respectively.

“This residency has given me the opportunity to further develop my own work and network on an international level and I have been thoroughly pleased with the outcome.”

Meanwhile, in Finland, Honkanen has had a solo exhibition at the newly opened Turku Kunsthalle during September 2019 fittingly called “IMPACT”. The installation featured not only Honkanen’s large-scale drawings but also some of the sketches she produced in New York in 2017. These help create a dialogue and concretize the intercommunication between her residency and the impact it has had on her work.

Honkanen will continue to work around the theme of impact and her next big project is a solo exhibition at the Finlandia University in Michigan in 2021. And maybe the tides will bring her back to New York again.

“I certainly hope so. I feel an as strong continuum here as I did two years ago. Nothing has yet come to a close but everything feels like a new beginning.”

Eeva Honkanen, A Collision (2018), inkpen on paper. Picture by Maija Toivanen.