How a Finnish Sculptor Tries to Reconcile Humanity and Nature

Pekka Jylhä’s large-scale metal sculptures have been shown around the world since his career began in the 1980s, with significant works in collections and in public installations in his native Finland, Russia, Norway, and Italy. Much of his work uses enlargement, strange juxtapositions, refracted and reflected light, and anthropomorphism to inject everyday objects with imagination and creativity.

Jylhä has worried that humans have a “warped attitude towards nature,” but considers the sustaining role that nature plays for humans, both physically and emotionally. His recent work calls attention to the textures, relationships, and images found in the natural world by displacing them within the context of human goods.

Jylhä has included animal skins and taxidermied animal parts in several of his sculptures made in the past few years. Express Loan (2013) is a large coin purse made with reindeer hide. Large beads on wire (similar to children’s play jewelry) protrude from the clasped mouth of the purse, extending up the wall in loops and swirls. The soft, off-white-and-brown animal fur is opulent, but so large that it carries with it the connotations of the complete body it once was. It cannot be divorced or abstracted from its formerly live state. The viewer is encouraged to contemplate the relationship between the luxuriousness of a living creature’s body, and that of the commercial goods that the animal has been made into.

Similarly, When I Pronounce the Word Silence, I Destroy It (2014) uses the ears of a hare to mimic the soft, cradling portion of a pair of headphones, suggesting that a user would meet ear-to-ear with the rabbit. The sculpture’s title runs in an arch of calligraphic text, connecting the two ears, and a string of steel beads resembles a cord connecting the surreal device to the wall. In addition to the relationship between a living creature and the inanimate object the hare is used to produce, here Jylhä also introduces the contradiction of a word incapable of being spoken without cancelling the condition it verbalizes. This metaphor also serves to describe the artist’s activism in that his work, in describing a condition, might hope to change the world for the better.

Arguably one of Jylhä’s most beautiful and poetic sculptures is The Walls Have Ears and the Ears Have Beautiful Earrings (2012); it can perhaps be viewed as a metaphor for his other work. Using painted aluminum, the artist has molded an oversized ear protruding seamlessly from the wall. From it dangles a line of sparkling glass and crystal beads, like an earring, catching and breaking the light over the wall in colorful patterns. The work interacts physically with the world around it, and with the viewer. Jylhä’s work is not confined to crafting attractive objects, but is an intervention and a call for his audience to speak and listen, to help make the planet a more beautiful, artful, and humane place.

 —Stephen Dillon

Discover more artists at Vanessa Quang Gallery.

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