2015 JAN–JUN

Marja Kanervo

Marja Kanervo: Untitled, 1999–2000.

The starting point for Marja Kanervo’s artistic practice is almost without an exception a certain existing space, or a documentation of it. What is most characteristic to her spatial installations are on the one hand their emptiness, and on the other hand the strong sense of presence, evoked by her actions taken in the specific space.

Kanervo's works gain control over the space by inhibiting it with erasure. They emerge from retouching the architectural structure. Their inherent physicality is accentuated even further through the evident physical labour the artist needs to attend to. Thereby, a very unique and intriguing paradox is born within Kanervo’s practice: her works are very immaterial – one could even consider the scraping and the disposing of the substance as the absolute extreme of immateriality. On the other hand, they would not exist without the built environment and its apparent physical history and decay.

‘Defying classification’ is a cliché that people who write about almost any genre of art should avoid, but which conversely many practitioners themselves are delighted to hear. It applies to Kanervo’s oeuvre as well. As her spatial installations are at the same time empty and engulf the entirety of their habitat, they also manage to maintain conceptually loaded as well as multi-sensorially stimulating. They often present minimalist beauty but at the same time encompass a critique on hideous human ignorance.

Marja Kanervo: SILENCE, 2006.

Ecological aspects have been linked to Kanervo’s vocabulary of physicality for a long time. Her waste oil installations in the early 1990s managed to induce a subtle but straightforwardly eco-aware, political message. Similar stances are ingrained in Kanervo’s less obvious choices of materials – or better, the immateriality in her work. The strategies of non-objectivity and ephemerality also imply environmental consciousness through the process of re-using something that already exists; through the creation by reconfiguration, not production.

Marja Kanervo: Spring Light II (Two Studies), 2013.

Kanervo’s photo based works seize the thematics of erasure as well. Now only she is not wearing out layers of paint but photographic information. Here, the mechanical rubbing out is conceptually as rich a process as the spatial deletion, as a photograph is always a documentation of something that has been. The deconstruction also shatters the illusion of embedded reality in a photographic representation, and parallels it with the fragility of human memory.

Marja Kanervo will be starting her 6-month artist-in-residency in January 2016 at ISCP, the International Studio and Curatorial Program located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The period is made possible by the Alfred Kordelin foundation. During her residency, Kanervo will focus on working with photography.


The text is partially based on Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 138/2013 Marja Kanervo: Esiinkatoavaa / (Dis)appearing. Eds. Patrik Nyberg & Jari-Pekka Vanhala.