- Pekka Ruuska, Managing Director of Strata Project
First touch with Up and Under
While working as a co-director in Arteles residency program in 2010, a residency artist asked me that do I know that actually in Finland is located one of the most ambitious earthworks ever created. Up and Under designed by Nancy Holt.
As a Finnish citizen, specialized mostly in Finnish contemporary art, I had never heard about this work. My curiosity was caught. I got to know and learn more. So I started to search the location. There were no information available in Finland. My first access to the work was through a mysterious Strata Project title in the Destination Art written by Amy Dempsey.
There were no signs, no maps, nothing. But through a rumour, I finally found a bushy way to a small road. And at the end. There it was. And it was outstanding. The size of the work is still something I can´t describe well enough for the people who has not visited the site. In my awareness before, I could not imagine that a single artwork could take this size. The tunnels of the work: you could drive with a car through them. You could run and play on the artefact mountains.
Even it was exiting, it was very obvious that the condition of the work was in an alerting state. Plants and criminal actions had took over the place. Seemed like no-one had look after the piece for several years. I became even more curious. And furious at the same time. A variety of questions rose in my mind: Why this artwork is here? Why it is left alone and nobody seems to know anything about it? What was the intention and process of actually doing anything this big and extraordinary? Within the questions rose up a strong will. Something has to be done.
Story of Up and Under
To start with, I got to meet with artist and curator Osmo Rauhala. He had been part of a movement which had started in a small village of Pinsiö in 1986. The movement wanted to change the awful scenes, destroyed by the machines, as a nice and collective place for the people again using land and environment art as a tool for change. Earlier in the history small village have had a large resources of gravel. This gravel was born during the last ice age about 10 000 years ago. Roads, bridges, buildings. Even there are not natural desert areas in Finland, the village had been transformed by a man, a Death Valley like, collection of dry sand pits. It is a bit contradictional, because at the same time the actions for the industrial purpose created jobs and income which allowed the village to develop.
Osmo Rauhala, grown up in a farm in Nokia, had been always working with art and the themes connected with the nature. In 1987 Rauhala moved to New York to do his Master studies in the School of Visual Arts. Similar minds tend to meet each other sooner or later, and Rauhala got in contact with Nancy Holt. Rauhala represented to her the visions of the village inhabitants: Holt got interested and made the very first visit at the village in 1990. The city of Nokia liked the work to be located near the centre of the city but Holt saw the work being built in the village, about 15km distance from the city centre.
From 1990 to 1992, the vision of the work group of Strata was to bring more awareness towards land and environmental art. With the collaboration of the National Art Museum of Finland, Tampere Art Museum and private investors - an exhibition titled Strata was created. Artists invited to the show were Nancy Holt, Alan Sonfist, Lothar Baumgarten, Guillaume Bijl, Felix Droese, Peter Laurens Mol, Jan Håfström and Agnes Denes. Later on Agnes Denes was also invited to realize an idea of Tree Mountain within Strata.
In 1993 Holt presented the first 3D-model about the artwork and in 1994-1996 the technical department of Nokia made the scale model as a technical drawing and the needed preparations considering the policies in reflection of the current land and environment policies in Finland.
Finally in 1997 the work got started. Holt moved to the village of Pinsiö for several months to live and directed the process of construction. We need to remember that Nokia is a small town, around 30 000 inhabitants. A great number of volunteers and basically the whole city was working to make the miracle happen. Finally in June 1998 the work was finished and ready to be celebrated.
But something happened during the winter 1998-1999. Something in this magical get-together-process, had went wrong. My analyse now, after the years, and after hundreds of documents and interviews is that there were some problems in the communication between the artistic and the technical personnel in the process of producing the work. Obvious is that there were things which were not said straight. Also way too much little was put into thinking and designing the long-term plan. How this amazing artwork, one of the most ambitious works in the history of the whole land art would be managed during the next 10, 20, 50, 100 years. Well, for sure people who have worked with similar issues like this before, this is a major problem in public art productions in worldwide.
As a result, in summer 1999 the technical department of Nokia started to make some gravel works within a gravel pit near the artwork. Basically the artwork was not accessible anymore, at least not in the way Holt designed it. There were several requests promote the work but it was seen better not to do so until the industrial work near by would be done. In a way, I understand the technical department. The near by gravel pit had a great value (estimated 1 million euros). By selling this gravel the region benefits. The work lasted until 2002 and in 2003 Up and Under was re-opened for people.
Nancy Holt was invited to visit at her work in 2003. Having a conversation with Kaisa Kirkko-Jaakkola, the curator/cultural department director from the Nokia city, Holt was not completely glad with the results. The work had got some damage because of the trucks which had drive near by. Because these truck drivers could not care less about art, the negotiators lobbying from the art management side should be more hard on the direction of the owner, the city of Nokia. Or the problem was, there was not an organisation to look after and lob the values and benefits of public art to the people.
More or less, years from 2004 to 2010 went in silence. Year after year, people started to forget the existence of Up and Under. There were a strong will but not enough resources from the side of the city of Nokia to bring up the artistic importance of the work. Let´s remember this: It is a town of 30 000 inhabitants. Still, a poor lobbying of the artwork could end up in a great damage of the land art and contemporary art because the condition of the work started physically get in an alerting condition.
Revitalization project begins
In 2011, with the starting impulse coming from the city of Nokia, three cities were drawn together to negotiate the development and earthworks located in the region. With Up and Under, also the works from Agnes Denes (Tree Mountain) and Erik Van Hoorn (Bowl & Kuhilas) were in a condition that something should be done. Within the process, it was noticed, that the region of three small cities were not alone.
The problem was obvious, not only with Up and Under, but in whole Finland (and also all around the world). Public art is often built with a big effort. But a way too little is put effort and resources is to design how the public works are managed since the works have been established. Maybe the times after latest economical crisis, the media-awareness of y-generation, the alerting state of the nature, have also made the world ready again to confront the same questions what were relevant in the 60´s when Land Art movement was established. (What happens after Land Art? My answer is the new arrival of the movement, Land Art 2.0.)
The small cities started to plan a proposal for European Union. In late 2011, the proposal became ready and it had three main goals considering Up and Under:
1. To conservate Up and Under as close as possible as it was in 1998
2. Create a long-term marketing strategy for the piece and ways to share information
3. Create a fresh start, a new institution which could carry on the maintenance and promotion of the artwork
In August 2012, the positive news from the proposal arrived from EU Government regional officers (Council of Tampere Region) and a one year project was ready to go. I needed a break from the residency rhythm and was invited to take the directorialship of the new project. The first thing to do was just to gather all the information (everything I am now, so far, able to tell you). The next steps was to invite the best available specialist to evaluate and say what needs to be done in the purpose to conservate to work as it was in 1998.
With the conservation, the major problem was to make three water pools to function as it was originally planned. The pools had designed with very sharp measurements and rock materials defined by Holt.
The other major problem was the grass areas. Some of the specialists said that the green was not ever going to grow again on the artwork anymore. The desert conditions could not allow anything to grow there. And the original watery system was broken down during the years and would cost way too much to rebuilt it.
After the analyse of the water systems, the best thing was to renovate completely all three pools. In a long run it would be more sustainable system than fixing the old ones. Carefully selected rocks by Holt herself were put in aside and as the video shows, a new thick bottom layer set below the pool. The same treatment considered all three pools.
Fortunately the development happens simultaneously with gardening industry and what was not possible in 1997-1998, is now possible. There is now a special grass type developed by the Finnish Transport Agency which is responsible for all the roads in Finland. The grass is designed for extremely dry conditions and needs only heavy watering while it is rooting for the first 2 weeks.
The angles how the soil is modified in Up and Under, are extremely steep. Just normal planting did not work (we tried at first) because the seeds just would not stick on these strict, almost vertical depths. So we needed to use a tractor to lift the great gardeners of Strata: Minna Sihvonen and Joni Ahonen, with shovels to tamp the grass seeds deeply into the angled ground.
The volunteers were also enormous help with the project. With a group of 20 lumberman students we harvested the nature which has started to take over the place. With the help of local inhabitants we built a small cottage on a hill where you can see a magnificent view over the art work, spend a night and make a camp fire (kuva). With a local designer, a guide signs to lead to the artwork were established).
This all is just a small part what the raised good will towards Up and Under has encountered during last years. The same intonation has also been focused towards Agnes Denes´s Tree Mountain, located only three kilometres from Up and Under.
"A trip to Pinsiö provides a rare opportunity to see major pieces in close proximity by two pioneering environmental artists." - Amy Dempsey, Destination Art
With Spiral Jetty, managed nowadays by Dia Foundation, the conservation is basically done using documentation. With Strata Project, we decided more physical way, because the nature of the work is also very different. Holt designed Up and Under as a communal place and as amphitheater. With this thoughts, we came to a conclusion that actually - organizing events at the site means conservation of Up and Under.
Future of Strata
The maintenance and conservation works continue further on Up and Under. We are a small but networked organization with other institutions who share the same values as we do. Within the maintenance and development of the existing artworks, we aim:
A) To use the gained knowledge within the Strata project to help cities, art organizations and private corporations to design sustainable massive scale earthworks/art parks. In the process also the future of the art works is taken into the consideration as much as the creation part. We aim that the artworks will last and function at least 100 years.
B) To be a well networked European organization which takes a position to develop ambitious contemporary art projects in public sphere
C) To be an organization which evaluates and conservates art works that are still “in silence” through inspiring, encouraging and education
D) To bring the enthusiastic next generation artists and curators to develop new artworks, develop the ideas about "Land art 2.0." with the communal angle. Transforming public spaces, as Nancy Holt´s visions was about what art should be, into a places for people to gather and practice collective decision making.
Written by Pekka Ruuska
Managing Director of Strata Project