Jamie Thomas

Elsa Salonen

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.

Location

Southwest Finland

Born

1984

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Featured artwork

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 x 260 cm, 2019. Photo: Joe Clark.

Elsa Salonen, Influence of the Moon on Bodies of Waterseashells, coral skeletons, and limestone collected from various shores on glass (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. 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.) 2020, a series of eight paintings, á 35x25 cm

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

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.), dimensions variable cm x . cm, 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. 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.), dimensions variable cm x . cm, 2022. Photo: Joe Clark.

Elsa Salonen, For the Queen of the Southern SeasElsa Salonen, Elsa Salonen, For the Queen of the Southern Seas, powdered corals, corals, glass, sea water (The symmetric pattern of the installation For the Queen of the Southern Seas (An Offering to Nourish Her Charming Blush) was created with powdered corals. Some of the pieces of dead corals used for the installation were found drifted on the beaches of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. According to Javanese and Sundanese myths - originating from prehistoric animistic beliefs - the local sea is the kingdom of Nyai Roro Kidul, the Queen of the Southern Seas. The deity is traditionally celebrated with offerings, for both as an act of propitiation and worship; to incur divine favour and avoid divine retribution. Global warming and the rising sea water temperatures are killing the vital algae living inside coral tissues. This leads entire coral reefs to starvation, turning them deadly white in a process called coral bleaching. ), dimensions variable, glasses 180 cm x 70 cm, 2018. Photo: Jere Salonen.

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, Flower Painting, the Act of Immortalisinga bleached bouquet and its distilled colours, isomalt, glass (The artist distilled colours from the various flowers of a bouquet (roses, dianthuses, snapdragons, safflowers, alpine delphiniums, chinese delphiniums). 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), 2017, 62x183x25 cm

Stories Told by Stones (Lepidodendron)Elsa Salonen, Stories Told by Stones (Lepidodendron), stone and earth pigments and alum crystal on glass (With stone and earth pigments, together with alum crystal, the artist painted images of extinct plant species on glass. The paintings resemble the tropical forests of the Carboniferous Period, which around 300 million years ago greened the present northern hemisphere. The stones that were used as colour pigments for the paintings existed already back then - unlike humans), dimensions variable cm x (three glass sheets, each 180x70 cm) cm, 2018. Photo: Björn Siebert.

Stories Told by Stones (The Narrators)Elsa Salonen, Stories Told by Stones (The Narrators), mineral stones, earths, pigments ground from them, laboratory glasses, two tables, cm x each 45x100x100 cm cm, 2018. Photo: Björn Siebert.

Elsa Salonen, Stories Told by Stones (Late Paleozoic Era), detailstone and earth pigments and alum crystal on glass (With stone and earth pigments, together with alum crystal, the artist painted images of extinct plant species on glass. The paintings resemble the tropical forests of the Carboniferous Period, which around 300 million years ago greened the present northern hemisphere. The stones that were used as colour pigments for the paintings existed already back then - unlike humans), 2018, dimensions variable (five glass sheets, each 180x70 cm). Photo: Ludger Paffrath

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, 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

Elsa Salonen, Eighty Modest Statements About the Impossibility of DeathElsa Salonen, Elsa Salonen, Eighty Modest Statements About the Impossibility of Death, ash from burned fox bones on plastic, fox skull, brass bowls (Fox bones were burned. With the resulting ash the artist painted images of eighty different plants on transparent plastic. In the exhibition space, the painted herbarium is shown together with the remaining fox skull and ash. 'Eighty Modest Statements about the Impossibility of Death' ponders the circle of life.), dimensions variable, here 120 cm x 400 cm, 2013. Photo: Jere Salonen.

Curriculum Vitae

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Events

6.8.–5.11.2022 Elsa Salonen – BODIES OF WATER Kunstpavillon, Innsbruck (AU)