The Finnish artist Kari Kola initially planned to illuminate Connemara for Galway 2020 in a dazzling display of technical virtuosity coinciding with the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. However the planned public event was cancelled because of Covid-19 and the artwork is now available as a special digital edition. It shows how Kola played with scale creating something unexpected.
Here he discusses his professional career, which has taken him to many unique places including Villa de Laak in Eindhoven, the sacred Saana Mountain in Finland and the Stonehenge UNESCO World Heritage site.
What attracted you to working with light?
I’ve been inspired by light for as long as I can remember. The unlimited possibilities with it and the fact that everything on the planet is based on light – it puts a focus on things. I’m from Finland where darkness prevails. The autumns and the winters are long, so I’ve always been fascinated by it. I wanted to teach myself to use light to be able to utilise the darkness that surrounds me during those long dark seasons.
Is it difficult to marry landscape with the correct colours and illuminations?
It’s perhaps the biggest challenge. We are working in such harsh conditions to find the details from the landscape. Shadow is as important as light with projects like this, so you need the right angles from the right light sources to get the right impact. Colours and thematics are the basis of the project, so that balance is crucial.
Can you tell us about Villa de Laak and the Saana Mountain projects?
Villa de Laak was a very special project. Located in Eindhoven, the mansion was built in 1907 and has hosted kings, presidents and notable figures like Einstein and Henry Ford over the years. It is full of art treasures, so it was a real privilege to create a light-art project in such a unique location. With Villa de Laak I wanted to tell a story with light, using video walls, animations and PANI projections to illuminate the building inside and out, synchronised to music.
Saana Mountain was epic. Finland was celebrating 100 years of independence, so I wanted to create a stand-out series of light installations all over the country. Of the six sites I utilised for this project, five were completed in only nine days; two historic castles, Finland’s tallest building, a park area, and Saana Mountain itself. I aimed to create a wide-reaching message, a theme of universal independence that connected people all over the country, paying special attention to the people living in isolated areas. There are only about 100 people living in the little town next to Saana, called Kilpisjärvi, where I created a 250-hectare installation for two days. Through this installation, I wanted to make sure that residents felt that Finland’s independence belonged to everyone.
I have a strong connection to Kilpisjärvi which is one of the best places in the world to see bright and clear Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). The mountain itself holds a distinct place in the culture of the aboriginal Sami-people. For thousands of years, it has been observed as a sacred place in nature, one of only two left in the country.
For me, this project was a true showcase of the importance of Finland’s independence to a global audience.
Which of your most recent projects have you enjoyed most?
There are so many of them! Looking back, one very special project for me was Stonehenge in 2018, as it was one of the first times anyone was granted access to the site for an installation. My projects have also featured twice at UNESCO HQ in Paris, which has been extraordinary.
Can you tell us about your plans for Savage Beauty?
Our plan with “Savage Beauty” was to deliver the largest light installation ever created. Underlining the beautiful nature of Ireland using light art on an unseen scale, the surface area covered will be around 6,000,000 m2. the preparation has been particularly enjoyable. My career has taken me to many unique places, but there’s just something truly breathtaking about the wild mountainous expanse of the West of Ireland. We are playing with the scale and stillness of the Connemara Mountains, while exploring the programme theme of landscape.
How big is the team that works with you on your installations?
The size of my team usually depends on the scale of the project. In the company I have one full time producer and technician. To deliver “Savage Beauty” I will bring in about 15 people working alongside members of the Galway 2020, European Capital of Culture team.
Have you had a chance to explore Connemara and what part of the landscape has appealed to you most?
I’ve been here a number of times now and while there are a lot of really beautiful sites in Connemara, Lough Na Fooey where I will be focusing the installation, is just spectacular.
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