In 2019 during a trip to Western New York I had the opportunity to visit PLAY/GROUND, a platform for site-specific installations by contemporary artists, at a former high school in the village of Medina, NY. For its second edition, the organizers invited artists both from and outside the region to create immersive art projects and installations transforming the rooms and hallways into a multi-sensory experience for visitors. This is where I encountered the work of Kristiina Lahde, In the Fold and From a Straight Line to a Curve (12″ rulers). For this installation, pertinent to the extinct life of the school building, the artist covered the walls with plane white paper that was folded and transformed into architectural forms. Placed in the center of the room she installed a sculptural construction in the form of a geodesic sphere built from vintage wooden yardsticks. That night I had the fortune to meet the artist.
Kristiina Lahde is from Toronto, Canada. In 1999 she received her BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and since then her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Canada and abroad. In her latest work, Follow a Curved Line to Completion and You Make a Circle, exhibited at MKG127, Lahde “employs the circle: a force that binds and brings together; a cyclical journey; or a zero that signifies nothing but always holds an important place.” Produced during the most trying months of the pandemic, Lahde’s focus results in a harmonious and unified body of work where she explores the continuous line that turns into a circle. I reconnected with Lahde at the beginning of the year when kindly she gave me a virtual walkthrough of her most recent projects and we turned that conversation into the interview below.
Claudia Pretelin: Could you talk briefly about your primary interests in art and when you decided to follow this path professionally?
Kristiina Lahde: I see myself as a sculptor first; I begin with the materials even if the resulting work is a 2-dimensional collage or photograph. I research and collect common place materials that are often overlooked. I alter and re-format these objects to make sculptural constructions, which are often presented through photographs or collage. Everyday objects such as paper clips, rulers, library file cards, and sheets of ordinary computer paper have been altered or repositioned to make new or unconventional forms. Process and action are central to uncovering the work. As Eva Hesse said, “ Don’t ask what the work is. Rather, see what the work does.” It is in the doing, how I organize, alter, or position the materials. This is where the meaning is found.
I became involved with the Queen West Art scene that was flourishing in the early 2000s around Toronto’s west end. On those gritty Toronto streets, at openings and art parties, I met gutsy artists and brave gallerists opening galleries on a dime. I showed wherever I could: window spaces, artist-run centers. I learned that you have to just make art even if the conditions aren’t ideal. Maybe you got that grant, maybe not. I looked up to Instant Coffee and Katharine Mulherin, watched Jeremy Laing and Will Munro perform The Wall of Virginia Puff-Paint at Zsa Zsa Gallery. It felt immediate, fun, and above all social. I loved it. This eventually led to meeting Michael Klein and showing at MKG127 along with some of the artists I first met during those Queen West days.
CP :In your art you often work with found or discarded objects and everyday materials that acquire a new life through a rigorous conceptualized process. What’s the personal connection that you find in some of these objects and how do you establish relationships with these materials through your work?
KL: Instincts are strong in my attraction to research an idea. I’m playing with ideas of measurement – in the largest sense possible: how we rely on tools for measurement but sometimes they are faulty. For example, the metric system is derived from the scientific mapping of the circumference to the earth. We arrived at the length of the meter as it is a fraction relating to planet earth; one forty millionth of the circumference of the earth. Later it was shown that the earth is not a perfect sphere but more of an oblate spheroid; it bulges around the equator, resulting in an irregular circumference. The history of the meter proves that the art of measurement strives for precision yet often misses the mark. Over time measurements need to be recalibrated when inaccuracies are found. These elements lead me to consider those inadequacies and also question the limits of authority. When does the idea become something other? When I transformed rulers into zig zag lines in From Point A to Point B, I wanted to reconsider through sculpture what the idea(s) or systems associated with that object does. A straight line may not be the best tool for measuring a journey or path which is more likely meandering or irregular.
CP: You have also experimented with photography. In your recent photographic work, Outer Edges, the images that you produced seem three dimensional. How did your experimentation with photography begin and how do you explore its potential now?
KL: With photography I can frame and light the sculptures, capture the forms, look at the shadows in an intentional way. Outer Edges is a good example of how I work across sculpture and photography. Here I work with folded paper, knowing that the final work will take photographic form. In the case of Outer Edges, I folded multiple straight lines across sheets of ordinary computer paper. The result is a web of intersecting lines that overlap until a circular relief emerges. These delicate sculptural constructions are then photographed in natural light to create dramatic shadows and highlights across the folded surface of the paper. Line and shadow combine to produce images that reflect on the absence as well as the presence of the circle.
I began using photography again recently to document, when the art I was creating became too delicate to survive on its own. That has been a rich process.
CP: Tell us a little about your most recent exhibition Follow a Curved Line to Completion and You Make a Circle at MKG127. What’s the premise of this project and how long did it take you to complete it?
KL: The starting point for producing this work was to explore the many possible ways to experience a circle, as a volume, a void, or a line. With this exhibition I employed found materials: rubber bands, sheets of computer paper, zeros clipped from advertising flyers, and a collection of circular objects. I repositioned and arranged these humble materials to make collages, photographs, and installations.
I have long been inspired by a work by Yoko Ono, one of my favorite artists. She drew a horizontal line on the wall and under it wrote, “This line is a part of a very large circle”. We complete the circle in our imaginations. Ono shows that line and form can reside beyond the physical world. It speaks to the shared relationship between artist and viewer. Everyone completes that circle in their own way.
Most of the work created for my November 2020 exhibition was made in the early months of the pandemic. Art saves! After the first lockdown began, it was very useful to have the purpose and direction of preparing for an exhibition. I used this time of isolation to continue my research and production. Ultimately, it allowed me to communicate and connect with people through art.
CP: Let’s talk about the reception of your work. Artist Frank Stella famously said about his work “What you see is what you see”. What do you hope viewers come away with from your work? What experience do you try to offer to the public?
KL: For me, the power of art is to make the invisible, visible – to see something completely differently.
I ask the viewer through my work to recognize art in the most humble or common materials. With From a Straight Line to a Curve we are confronted with a huge geodesic sphere made entirely of vintage yardsticks. Although overwhelming in scale, we see the elegance and restraint found in this form first made famous by Buckminster Fuller’s pursuit of utopian architecture. The yard sticks are connected at precise angles set out by a strict geometry, at the same time are imbued with warmth, as the yardsticks clearly show the patina of age and use. Collected from flea markets and antique shops, these promotional items from days-gone-by are revived in this new formation. Geared toward the do-it-yourselfers, the yardsticks were branded by familiar enterprises, such as lumber yards, hardware stores and paint shops. The yardsticks, newly positioned in this spherical form, bring to mind the ever-so–human inclination to measure and make, to define, and to make sense of the world.
CP: When describing your work there is a tendency to associate it with certain characteristics rooted in obsession. What do you think about this? Are numbers and measurements elements that can be controlled through your pieces?
KL: My work is carefully thought out and intentional. I study my materials and decide upon a process or alteration that reflects the origin or use of the chosen materials. For me, repetition is about a commitment to process, a way to emphasize a concept. It is devotional, like a daily ritual. Repetition is also a result of a conceptual process. I set out the parameters and then follow them to completion. It speaks to intentionality, like Sol LeWitt said, “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”
Measurement is a dichotomy for me: I rely on it, at the same time I don’t trust it. I am aware of the inconsistencies and slippages that can occur with measurement, miscalculations and such. Measurement is a rule, and as they say, rules are made to be broken. I think it is good to be wary of the rules.
CP: You also have a parallel background working in museums – particularly in collection management and exhibition design. Can you share more about this?
KL: At the museum I’m sort of a librarian of precious objects. I love being close up with so many interesting artifacts and great works of art. I take inspiration from these objects in a way that is first hand, immediate, not behind glass.
This work informs my practice but is very different as well given that in my art, I highlight objects that are not normally considered special. I make art from cast-offs, discarded objects or even junk, things that would never be considered worth collecting in a museum.
CP: Last time we talked you mentioned your interest in combining your previous working experience at museums into a new body of work. How’s this project going?
KL: My vantage point is behind-the-scenes in the museum. I partake in the aspects that are intended to be hidden or invisible when displaying ancient artifacts or great works of art. I am the one who performs the smoke and mirrors, from behind the curtain. I use my sculpture skills to build display supports, bending wire, carving foam, sewing padding, and creating protective storage boxes. I want to celebrate and consider these hidden aspects, highlighting them through photography, sculpture, and installation. In a sense it will be art for shy people.
CP: What is one art lesson that you wished you had learned in art school but you learned through your practice?
KL: I used to think that an idea could only result in one artwork. In time, I realized that you can make many variations from one idea. Also, it’s good to flush out your research and try different approaches, different versions, and explore new possibilities. It will develop things into a more in-depth conversation.
CP: What’s your favorite instrument of memory?
KL: I think an artwork can bring you back to a moment in time like a song or a scent. I can recall where I was and my state of mind when I first experienced an influential sculpture. I was blown away the first time I saw To and From (Walker), 1991 by Jac Leirner at the AGO. She made a sculpture using hundreds of used envelopes addressed between her and the Walker Centre during a project. At the time, as a young artist, it was affirming to see how a rigorous method and concept can be achieved by making sculpture with found objects.
Kristiina Lahde is an artist from Toronto, Canada. She alters and re-formats ordinary objects and materials to make collages, photos and sculptural constructions. Lahde received her BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1999. Since then she has been exhibiting across Canada and in the USA. Recent exhibitions include PLAY/GROUND in Medina, NY, In and Out of Order at OBORO in Montreal and at MKG127 in Toronto. She has also exhibited at the Koffler Gallery and The Power Plant in Toronto, and at La Biennale de Montréal. Her works are held in several private and public collections including the Canada Council Art Bank, and she was long listed for the 2013 Sobey Art Award. Kristiina Lahde is represented by MKG127 in Toronto.
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