Elsa Salonen prepares the pigments for her works by grinding a wide variety of raw materials, such as meteorites and seashells, as well as by extracting colours from plants and algae. She views the pigments as collaborators whose ‘experiences’ define the conceptual message of each work. For example, she has used stones which are millions of years old as pigments, to depict the lost landscapes of the Carboniferous Period (Stories Told by Stones, 2018), and burned fox bones to paint a herbarium that reflects on the circle of life (Eighty Modest Statements About the Impossibility of Death, 2013). She gathered many of the materials herself at natural sites around the world, where the more unique materials are collected with the help of specialists.
In addition, Salonen distils colours from flowers and bleach plants to make them appear entirely white. The technique is based on a notion that most organisms, both in the plant and the animal world, seem to lose their colours in death – flowers wither and bodies blanch. Thus, all the colours in nature signal the presence of life energy.
Salonen’s practice draws on the traditions of painting, installation, and conceptual art. The works are marked by the influences of science, animism, and alchemy. Medieval alchemists studied natural materials, which they also used to make colours. Through the materials, they sought to understand the surrounding universe as well as the interconnectedness of everything in the cosmos and the individual’s role amongst all others; oneself. One of the most important steps in alchemy was repeated distillation, which left the purest essence of the substance – and the alchemist – in the glass flask. Through art, one has the possibility to keep alive a discussion about thoughts that can give us hope and meanings.
Salonen’s studio is based in Berlin, in addition, she regularly works at the Finnish archipelago and at number of international artist residencies.
Still Life with Flowers (from Pink to Red)Elsa Salonen, Still Life with Flowers (from Pink to Red), a bleached bouquet and its distilled colours, isomalt, glass, metal, cement (The artist distilled colours from the various flowers of a bouquet (chinese delphiniums, alpine delphiniums, eucalypti, safflowers, roses). After this, the very same bouquet was bleached. The distilled colours were preserved as isomalt mixtures in glass bottles and shown next to the bleached bouquet.), 150 cm x 150 cm x 30 cm ,2022-2023. Photo: Joe Clark.
Pyhästä lehdosta vuodatettu väriElsa Salonen, Pyhästä lehdosta vuodatettu väri, stones, animal bones, plants, and mushrooms collected from the Finnish forests, colours distilled or ground from them, glass, metal (From the forests of Southwest Finland, the artist collected stones, animal bones, plants, and mushrooms. From the collected materials Salonen distilled or ground colours with which she then painted the glasses. In Finnish folklore, the forest has been a sacred place for enjoying festive meals and sacrificing to the sprites of the woods. In 1229, Pope Gregory IX of Rome legitimised the sacred forests used for pagan worship as the property of the Church of Finland. Sacred trees were cut down until the 19th century, and many of the oldest churches in Southwest Finland were founded on or near sacred groves - places that were used to being experienced as holy. The title in Finnish, ‘Pyhästä lehdosta vuodatettu väri’, Colour Shed from the Holy Grove, is a wordplay; ‘väri’ meaning colour, and ‘veri’ meaning blood.), 300 cm x 400 cm x 30 cm ,2021-2022. Photo: Joe Clark.
Pyhästä lehdosta vuodatettu väriElsa Salonen, Pyhästä lehdosta vuodatettu väri, detail, 300 cm x 400 cm x 30 cm ,2021-2022. Photo: Joe Clark.
Pyhästä lehdosta vuodatettu väriElsa Salonen, Pyhästä lehdosta vuodatettu väri, stones, animal bones, plants, and mushrooms collected from the Finnish forests, colours distilled or ground from them, glass, metal (From the forests of Southwest Finland, the artist collected stones, animal bones, plants, and mushrooms. From the collected materials Salonen distilled or ground colours with which she then painted the glasses.), 300 cm x 400 cm x 30 cm ,2021-2022. Photo: Joe Clark.
Influence of the Moon on Bodies of WaterElsa Salonen, Influence of the Moon on Bodies of Water, seashells, coral skeletons, and limestone collected from various shores on glass, metal shelves (works painted at different stages of the lunar cycle). (Limestone, seashells, and pieces of dead corals drifted ashore at the northern and southern seas were collected at different times of the tide. From the collected materials the artist ground pigments with which she painted an adaptation of old alchemical illustrations on glass; a female figure with a lunar head inside of a flask. Each work in the series is painted at a different stage of the lunar cycle; a painting depicting the full moon at the time of the full moon, a painting depicting the new moon at the time of the new moon, etc. The moon controls the movements of the tides, and in Finnish folklore, it also defined the lives of the people. The different stages of the lunar cycle influenced the choice of a favourable time to do different jobs. Also in alchemy, the correct position of the celestial bodies was essential for the success of the working phase.), 35 cm x 25 cm x 5 cm ,2020. Photo: -.
Influence of the Moon on Bodies of WaterElsa Salonen, Influence of the Moon on Bodies of Water, seashells, coral skeletons, and limestone collected from various shores on glass, metal shelves (works painted at different stages of the lunar cycle), a series of eight painting 35 cm x 25 cm x 5 cm ,2020. Photo: -.
Veden VäelleElsa Salonen, Veden Väelle, natural elements collected from the Finnish Baltic Sea and its shores, colours distilled or ground from them, glasshouse, glass, silver, lights (For the installation, various natural elements were collected from the Finnish Baltic Sea and its shores; such as algae, aquatic plants, seawater, seabed sand and pieces of cliffs as well as shells and fish bones which had drifted onto the beach. From the collected materials the artist distilled or ground colours with which she then painted the walls of a glasshouse. The remaining algae were dried, powdered and used to create the symmetric pattern in the middle of the installation. ‘Veden väelle’ (For the Water Sprites) is dedicated to the ancient sea sprites. According to Finnish mythology, each natural environment is governed by its own sprite, who guards the region affecting its well-being and prosperity. To ensure good fishing fortune various offerings, such as silver, were brought to the mighty Water Sprites.), 350 cm x 260 cm x 260 cm ,2019. Photo: Joe Clark.
Elsa Salonen, Study of Eternal Cyclea bleached rose and its distilled colours, glass, metal, light (The artist distilled the colours from the petals and leaves of a red rose. After this, the very same flower was bleached. Using only the strong red pigments of the petals and the weaker, yellowish pigments of the leaves, the artist painted three rounded laboratory glasses. In the exhibition space, a spotlight illuminates the painted glasses. In this way, the colours are reflected back to the bleached rose, which again appears vivid and red), 2014, dimensions variable. Photo: Jere Salonen
Elsa Salonen, Everything Vanishes, Except Life Itselfbleached roses and delphiniums, their distilled colours, acrylic glass, glass (The artist distilled colours from red roses and blue delphiniums. Using only these colours created, she painted a splash of colour on a white table. In addition, the artist bleached the very same flowers. They are shown in a glass vessel next to the painting), 2014, 60x100x100 cm. Photo: Jere Salonen
Elsa Salonen, We Are All Made of Stardust (Northern Hemisphere), detailstone and iron meteorite dust on glass (Stone and iron meteorites were finely crushed into dusts. From stone meteorites, achondrites and chondrites, an ocher brownish dust was crushed, whereas from iron meteorites, pallasites and mesosiderites, a dark gray dust was crushed. With the meteorite dusts the artist painted various animal, plant, and human figures from 17th-century star atlas illustrations of constellations on glass), 2017, 100x245 cm
We Are All Made of Stardust (Northern Hemisphere)Elsa Salonen, We Are All Made of Stardust (Northern Hemisphere), stone and iron meteorite dust on glass (Stone and iron meteorites were finely crushed into dusts. From stone meteorites, achondrites and chondrites, an ocher brownish dust was crushed, whereas from iron meteorites, pallasites and mesosiderites, a dark gray dust was crushed. With the meteorite dusts the artist painted various animal, plant, and human figures from 17th-century star atlas illustrations of constellations on glass), 100 cm x 245 cm ,2017. Photo: Björn Siebert.
Elsa Salonen, I Dive in the Ocean as in a Prayerochres, plastic debris and sea salt collected from the shores of the Caribbean Sea - Colombia, alum crystal on glass (From the Colombian beaches of the Caribbean Sea, the artist collected ochres and plastic debris drifted ashore. These materials she ground into pigments that were used, together with sea salt and alum, to paint an underwater landscape of a bleaching coral reef on glass), 2021, dimensions variable, here 180x250 cm
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Elsa Salonen – Abundance
Finnish Painter Elsa Salonen participates in the exhibition Abundance, the 45th Tendencies Biennial for Nordic contemporary crafts
The exhibition is presented in collaboration with Gallery F 15 and Ki Nurmenniemi, a Helsinki-based art curator, art writer, and doctoral researcher in interdisciplinary sustainability science. The 45th Tendencies Biennial embraces abundance, a way of perceiving the world that cherishes the plurality of lifeforms, relationships, and stories. Abundance is both a conceptual framework for sparking cultural change and an aesthetic approach that celebrates layeredness and boasts all the colours of the rainbow. The broader cultural context for the exhibition is the need to reshape values in the era of climate breakdown and ecological collapses. True sustainability cannot be achieved through preservation only; it also calls for transformations and the mindful reinvention of traditions.
Abundance features newly created artworks by 14 artists living and working across the Nordic countries and the Sápmi region. Through varied conceptual starting points and a broad range of materials and techniques, their artworks make tangible the invisible natural phenomena and delicate co-dependencies that weave the webs of life on our planet. Many of the featured artistic approaches reach beyond westernized aesthetic conventions and ways of understanding. The overarching question that the exhibition addresses is How do contemporary art and crafts practices converge to create more meaningful, livable and lovable worlds?
The Artists taking part on this edition of Tendenser are:
Lene Baadsvig Ørmen (Norway) Ask Bjørlo (Norway) Hanne Friis (Norway) Ellen Grieg (Norway) Sasha Huber (Finland/Switzerland) Kristin Larsson (Sweden) Kim Laybourn (Norway/Denmark) Germain Ngoma (Norway) Outi Pieski, Biret & Gáddjá Haarla Pieski (Sápmi) Pearla Pigao (Norway) Elsa Salonen (Germany/Finland) Anna Ting Möller (China/Sweden) Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir (Iceland) Man Yau (Finland)
For nearly 50 years, Tendencies has been one of the leading platforms for contemporary crafts in the Nordic region. The biennial was first presented as an annual exhibition in 1971 at Galleri F 15 in Moss, Norway. Since then, the exhibition has expanded from its initial focus on Norwegian contemporary crafts to incorporating trends from across the Nordic countries. The 45th Tendencies exhibition and the adjacent symposium, both entitled Abundance, are organised in partnership with Norwegian Crafts and The Finnish-Norwegian Cultural Institute (FINNO). The Abundance symposium is generously supported by The Nordic Culture Fund and Kunsthåndverkernes fond (The craft fund, by the Norwegian Association for Arts and Crafts).