Gasworks presents Buoyancy, the first UK institutional solo exhibition by Helsinki-based artist Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen. With a focus on process and experience, Laakkonen’s work uses nature as a raw material to reflect on the impact of human interactions with the environment, while also tackling wider existential questions around time, death and the limits of scientific knowledge.
At Gasworks, Laakkonen presents a durational performance where he recreates the skeleton of giant sea cow, killed on 12 July 1742 in the Bering Sea. To guide him in this colossal task, the artist will rely solely on a written account of this creature’s bones, taken from the zoological notes of the German explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller, who first described the species. Shortly after his ‘discovery’, the sea cow’s entire population was wiped out by sailors and fur traders. Weighing up to ten tones, this gigantic relative of today’s manatees disappeared by 1768, when the last recorded sea cow was hunted, thus making it the first historical extinction of a marine mammal at human hands.
Laakkonen’s major new commission, Framed Sea Cow, is a time-consuming effort to bring this extinct creature back into existence. Over an undetermined number of weeks, the artist will be in the gallery crafting a large-scale wooden replica of the beast’s skeleton as audiences wander in and out of the space. Working without preparatory drawings, the artist relies on a basic set of hand tools and his own understanding of the imprecise notes left by Steller in the 18th century, where the sea cow’s skull is described as being “like that of a horse”. The only given parameters informing Laakkonen’s work are the skeleton’s total length and width, determined by the gallery’s dimensions. Everything else is uncertain.
This sculpture is presented in dialogue with See Through Golden Eye (2019), a miniature work created by meticulously deconstructing and reconstructing a dead goldeneye duck, which in Finnish mythology is said to have laid the egg that created the world. Delicately weaving together its myriad bones with a single thread of fishing line, Laakkonen obtained an intimate understanding of this animal’s body and its way of inhabiting the world. The resulting work is an uncanny marionette displayed in precarious balance—an amalgam at once organic and artificial. Adjacent to the bird, a pair of stilts made from driftwood lean against a wall, suggesting the ghostly presence of a human puppeteer.
Expanding on his durational and process-based approach, Laakkonen will presented his first ever musical performance at Montgomery Hall Community Centre, located a five-minute walk from Gasworks, on 28 May. Entitled Flock of Birds, the performance consisted of a short, repetitive composition written for an ensemble of non-professional wind instrument players. Conducted by musician Hannah Catherine Jones, the performance was divided into simple steps so that each musician played a single note in sequential order, therefore drifting in and out of sync like a flock of birds—a movement evoked in its title.
The exhibition is commissioned and produced by Gasworks with generous support from the Finnish Institute and Covi-Mora.
Gasworks commissions are supported by Catherine Petitgas and Gasworks Exhibitions Supporters.
About Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen:
Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen is an artist based in Rovaniemi, Finland. Recent solo exhibitions include Kunstverein München, Munich (2019); Kohta, Helsinki (2017); Corvi-Mora, London (2017 and 2015). He has exhibited internationally at organisations including Kiasma, Helsinki; Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; Ystads Konstmuseum, Ystad; Lofoten International Art Festival, Svolvær; MHKA Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp; and KHM Gallery, Malmö.