Creative Conversations: Riitta Ikonen

Eyes as Big as Plates # Matti I , Finland 2012.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Matti I, Finland 2012.

The Finnish-Norwegian artist duo, Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth, have portrayed seniors in nature around the world for the past six years. Their newly published photobook, Eyes as Big as Plates, brings together the fruits of this collaboration and was recently shortlisted for the 2017 PhotoBook Awards by Aperture and Paris Photo. We sat down to have a chat with Riitta Ikonen who has lived in New York intermittently since 2011. 


So, New York is your home now?

I would say yes, but it is complicated! Emotionally my home is still very much in Finland: my roots and meaningful origin are there but my wife and dog are in New York so maybe my home is here. I travel nearly half of the year so home is also on the road.


How has the city inspired you?

After coming here, I was excited to wake up every morning, go out and see what is going on in the streets. Anything can happen in New York and there's a feeling that most anything is possible. People respond in a refreshingly open and curious way when they hear my profession. If you feel strong about yourself, you can get a lot of strength from the city but sometimes it works the other way round too and the city consumes your energy. You feel what living inside this huge organism is like.

Riitta Ikonen holding a work from the series Eyes as Big as Plates (Agnes II, Norway 2011) at the Rockaway Beach in September 2017. Photo by Liisa Jokinen.

In New York, you can immerse yourself in any kind of art field.


Has New York changed the way you work and live?

It is pleasantly chaotic here so I have become a lot more relaxed! I used to live in London where life was quite organized. I find myself reading a lot more books, thanks to the long commute between the city and the Rockaways. My relationship with consuming art has also changed: I am almost ferocious here! You can immerse yourself in any kind of art field, which is nice.


Your photo series Eyes as Big as Plates has evolved into a continual search for modern human’s belonging to nature. Many people say there is no nature in New York. What do you think?

Centennial , Finland 2017.

Centennial, Finland 2017.

While working in Japan, my collaborator Karoline Hjorth and I asked a person going to a temple where does he go to experience nature. He looked at us like we had lost our minds. “This is our nature”, he said. “The nature is where I am, I do not need to go anywhere else.” The thought that there was no separation was a refreshing one. In Manhattan the skyscrapers are your mountains if you like. 

But I am a traditional Finn in my liking to deserted, isolated nature and I do miss moss. Living in big cities has maximized my yearning for solitude, which is partly why I moved to live by the ocean this summer. I am very much looking forward to the winter when you might be the only person walking on the beach. It is good for your thinking. 


For Eyes as Big as Plates you photographed seniors in different countries. Was it significantly different in different parts of the world?

I do not think that crossing a geographical border automatically changes much: it is more about individuals and their mindsets. Borders often seem as arbitrary as a person’s age; in the end, it is just a number.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Becki , Japan 2015.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Becki, Japan 2015.

What are your future plans?

Our plan is to continue the series as long as it is fun and so far we are wholeheartedly enjoying it! Eyes as Big as Plates continues in Tanzania and we have exhibitions coming up in Nuuk in Greenland, Kirkenes in Norway and a world tour with the PhotoBook Awards nomination. Next year our focus might shift more to investigating the impact of climate change on people living in different parts of the world. We feel compelled to use our voice and platform to discuss the things we find important and urgent. 


Interview by Liisa Jokinen