Creative Conversations: Niko Luoma

Niko Luoma,  Self-titled adaptation of Bigger Splash (1967),  2018.

Niko Luoma, Self-titled adaptation of Bigger Splash (1967), 2018.

Photographer Niko Luoma finds inspiration in jazz music and variations created by happenstance. Luoma is currently exhibiting at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in Chelsea. His work can also be found at somewhat surprising places: Uniqlo clothing stores. We met Luoma to find out how all this happened.

We are meeting at the High Line Park, the former elevated freight rail line turned into a green space in Chelsea. What made you choose this place for our meeting?

High Line is such a brilliant idea. It really gathered together all the galleries of the Chelsea neighborhood when it was opened in 2009. When you are walking on the High Line, the buzz of the city disappears in the background. The city becomes the exhibit, and you observe it like it was a piece in an art gallery. You can get a similar, calming experience in Central Park, which is my other favorite spot in the city. These places just add few extra seconds to the vibrant and intense minutes of New York City. 

Niko Luoma at the High Line.

Niko Luoma at the High Line.

You currently have your second private exhibition in one of the art galleries next to the High Line, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. Your latest works are all based on masterpieces of art history. Why are you fascinated by them?

I choose the paintings in terms of how interesting they are in regard to space: the direction of the lines, the elements of the painting, the spatial experience. For example, Picasso’s Guernica has a rolling force that travels through the painting from the upper right corner to the lower left corner. I thought that if I can captivate this movement in my photographs, I have succeeded.

And how exactly do you make your photographs? I have understood that your method is pretty unique: scientific and abstract, planned and accidental at the same time?

15 years ago, I lost my interest in what is happening in front of the camera and got curious about what happens inside the camera. The exposure itself, when the light touches the film, became the content of my work. I stripped down the process of making a photograph: I only use light, light sensitive material and a device that controls those elements. My method is the multiple exposure; I expose the same film over and again, up to several thousand times per each piece. I always go towards unknown solutions although I have a clear starting point. My work is like jazz: you have a melody and then you improvise around it and return back to the melody. It is all about time.

Does music inspire your art, too?

Yes, it does. For example, in the works of John Coltrane and Alvin Lucier the themes of space, duration, repetition, process and time keep inspiring me, and I am trying to translate them into my own work. Like I mentioned, my work is very much like jazz. First you compose a theme, then move to improvisation and the unknown, and then back to the theme to complete the performance.

Niko Luoma,  Self-titled adaptation of Vase of Flowers on a Garden Ledge (1730 ), 2017.

Niko Luoma, Self-titled adaptation of Vase of Flowers on a Garden Ledge (1730), 2017.

Niko Luoma,  Self-titled adaptation of Standing Blonde Nude with Dropped Chemise (1917) , 2018.

Niko Luoma, Self-titled adaptation of Standing Blonde Nude with Dropped Chemise (1917), 2018.

So, chance plays a significant role in your artistic process?

I have always been attracted to the unknown. Chance operates in everything and the trick is to recognize it. Chance is my fuel. In places like New York I feel a higher concentration of chance, which keeps my senses nicely alert. Anything is possible at any given moment if you let life unfold and become visible. Art, and life, is an experiment that happens in the moment. It is "all in" all the time. This is the only way for me to make sense of the chaos that swirls through today’s world. More than ever, now I hear the philosophy of W.S Burroughs: "Be aware of the middle road, it is the most dangerous road in the world." Not to the center, but to the margins without a compromise.

At the moment your work can be seen at the Uniqlo clothing stores, too. How did that happen?

It is one of those unbelievable things that happen in life. I was in Berlin in spring 2017 with my students from Aalto University when I got an email from Uniqlo. They asked me if I would like to collaborate with them as an artist for the Uniqlo SPRZ line, which merges art and fashion. At first I thought it must be a spam. A week later we had a Skype meeting with Uniqlo people from Tokyo and New York. It has been an ongoing process ever since.

How did Uniqlo spot you?

One reason might be that I have been pretty visible at art fairs during the last couple of years, from ARCO Madrid and Paris Photo to Art Basel Hong Kong. Uniqlo’s licensing manager Yukiko Oyama had seen my monograph And Time Is No Longer an Obstacle at Uniqlo’s library, which apparently has all the art books ever published in the world. Yukiko thought that my art suits their SPRZ line, so that’s how everything started.

Was it easy to say yes to Uniqlo?

I have always been open to all kinds of collaborations. In recent years, the concept of my own work has been about borrowing, too. It is about creating a dialogue. It has been very comfortable working with Uniqlo. I gave them free hands to make adaptations of my works, but all details from every fabric, model, and photo have gone through me.

Niko Luoma’s solo exhibition ‘Proximity’ is on view until April 14, 2018 at Bryce Wolkowitz in New York.

Niko Luoma,  Self titled adaptation of Night Fishing at Antibes (1939) , 2015.

Niko Luoma, Self titled adaptation of Night Fishing at Antibes (1939), 2015.

Interview and photos by Liisa Jokinen