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Kari Kola sets Connemara Aglow in 2020

27.02.2020

Kari Kola is a light artist hailing from Finland – a nation whose long, dark winters would teach anyone the value of light.

In March 2020, Kari will illuminate the mountainous Connemara landscape for his project, Savage Beauty.

Kari Kola has directed over 2,000 projects, in dramatic settings including Villa de Laak, the Saana Mountain (sacred to Finland’s indigenous Sámi people) and the Stonehenge UNESCO World Heritage site. Kari sees his work as a literal and metaphorical spotlight, placing emphasis on the subjects that matter to him. In March 2020, this spotlight will focus firmly on Connemara, as Kari illuminates the mountainous landscape for this new Galway 2020 commission.

Though Kari’s tools remain specific, the context varies widely, from dance and classical music to exhibitions and festivals. In light, he sees unlimited possibilities. With a contagious smile, he explains, ‘Since I can’t paint, I paint with light. I’m also interested in light beyond its artistic value. Everything on the planet is based on light. So, I’m working with scientific projects and new, futuristic techniques – always, of course, with technical difficulties.’

Image courtesy of Kari Kola

Kari is not one for didactic art. For him, abstract light lends new life to familiarities and meets the viewer on their own terms. ‘I don’t work with video because I don’t want people to see exactly what I see. With abstract light, there are as many stories as there are viewers.’

Some of Kari’s installations cast soft light through woodland, creating a hazy, twilight effect. Others splash well known landmarks in vibrant colour. Often the light moves to a meditative tempo. ‘I believe in slowness because, in a digital world, everything must be done faster, ’ says Kari. ‘There are a million commercials telling us to be more effective. I work in opposition to that. When we’re sat around a campfire, everyone loves to watch the flames.  Well, we can also do that with light.’

However Instagramable, quality of Kari’s spectacular works have an interesting technique of fighting digital FOMO (fear of missing out) with analogue FOMO. ‘I used 17 images for the half-kilometre ‘Frequencies’ installation at Durham Lumiere,’ Kari explains. ‘The tempo was so slow that if you watched your phone and looked up intermittently, like people do nowadays, you wouldn’t see anything happening. Halfway through, people started to realise that the image wasn’t static – it was dynamic. That’s when they finally get off their phone.’

And where might Kari direct our attention? Towards climate change, it seems, and the greed that drives it. ‘Climate change is a big issue that isn’t  discussed often enough, and a topic that I will hone in on in the future’ he says. ‘In northern Europe, I can see things changing fast. It’s not only getting warmer, it’s getting more extreme in everything.’ Kari will highlight Connemara’s mountainous landscape in 2020, much of which contains specially conserved habitats and species listed under the Annex I/II of the EU Habitats Directive. Asked about this choice of site, Kari replies, ‘If I can choose, I always work with nature because that’s the best art that we have. We will play with scale in Connemara. The light from the installation will be seen from 50 kilometres away, at least.’

“If I can choose, I always work with nature because that’s the best art that we have. We will play with scale in Connemara. The light from the installation will be seen from 50 kilometres away, at least.”

Of all his projects, Kari remarks that his Stonehenge installation ‘really was something’. In the site’s 4,500 years of existence, no artist had gained that kind of creative access. Other sites do not have the privilege of such care and precaution. ‘I’ve visited around 100 UNESCO sites, and 90 of them have undergone little to no restoration’, he says.

‘The problem is based on a government trying to make money off these places without up-keeping them,’ says Kari. ‘With light art, you can put the focus on these topics. If I do an installation in (the Roman amphitheatre) El Jem, for example, the coverage will go global. Then I can raise the issue and ask:  why don’t we preserve?’

‘Savage Beauty takes on a more celebratory tone, as a work inspired by the vibrant greenery that endures in Ireland. Kari works off first impressions, and the rich landscape struck the artist as soon as he arrived. He adds, ‘There are a million ways of making the work, but I normally know in ten seconds what I’m doing.’

There is little that surprises in the digital age but natural beauty and scale continue to move us. This is clear to Kari, whose Savage Beauty will occupy an area large enough to fit hundreds of stadiums. ‘This is out of the normal scale,’ he says. ‘People won’t expect it.’

Savage Beauty


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