Interview by Antonia Hamberg | Portraits by Kaapo Kamu | English editor Julie Uusinarkaus | Gallery pictures by Jussi Tiainen, courtesy Helsinki Contemporary | Installation pictures by Hans Rosenström and Anders Sune Berg
Portrait of Hans Rosenström by Kaapo Kamu.

You are known for your sound and spatial installations – how have these mediums developed into your form of expression, and what is it about them that fascinates you?

A spatial approach interests me because this directly includes the viewer’s presence in the work. As a viewer you are not looking at something as detached from you; you become a participant. In some of my work I even try to turn the gaze inwards, so the artwork in itself is eventually about the viewer’s physical and psychological experience in that specific moment in time. Sound, which in my case is often the voice – and perhaps something else that marks a presence – has become a very useful tool; it is immaterial but tactile at the same time. Depending on how it is used, it can be very intimate but also take over an entire space.

Antonia Hamberg interviewing Hans Rosenström inside a ruin-like structure at his exhibition ground in front of EMMA museum, Picture by Kaapo Kamu.

Can you talk about your current exhibition a u g u s t that is currently showing at Helsinki Contemporary? What themes have been on your mind, and what have you been interested in exploring in these works?

The title a u g u s t refers to the final month of the Finnish summer – one of the most beautiful months and a time of harvest, a time to feast on all the fruit the summer has produced. But August simultaneously marks the end of summer and the transition to autumn, so underneath all the splendour, there is an underlying current of melancholy. A time when things still feel good but we know we are entering into a colder and darker period. This is quite close to how today’s society appears to me.

Exhibition view: Hans Rosenström, a u g u s t, 2017, Helsinki Contemporary, Picture by Jussi Tiainen.

Can you talk about the background to one of the a u g u s t exhibition’s works, The Sea – Chapter I?

I first started to develop a script for the ARoS Triennial, which took place in Aarhus, Denmark earlier this summer, in the exhibition titled The Garden, The Past, The Present and The Future, I was invited to participate in the future section, which took place outdoors by the sea. My piece was located furthest away from the museum, in a small woodland overlooking the shore, and as such it was most likely one of the final pieces the visitor would encounter during their visit.

Hans Rosenström, Shoreline, 3 channel sound installation, concrete, paint, view. Duration: 10’16” min. ARoS Triennial The Garden, The End of Times, The Beginning of Times Århus, Denmark. Comissioned by ARoS Triennial. Picture by Anders Sune Berg.

I constructed a ruin on that site, or a folly, that framed the view over the sea and the horizon. The ruin was derived from a fragment of a Caspar David Friedrich painting, Klosterfriedhof im Schnee, 1817/1819, a work that got destroyed during the Berlin air raids of 1945. Other works by Caspar David Friedrich were displayed in the museum at the beginning of the exhibition, so part of my intention was to loop back around and refer the viewer to the past as well as encouraging them to look forward.

The Sea – Chapter I incorporates a poem that you have written together with the Palestinian poet Farah Chamma. What spurred this collaboration with Farah Chamma, and how would you describe this working process?

Standing on the shores of Europe and thinking about the future, I quite early on knew that I wanted to involve a different voice than mine, someone who speaks from the outside. I’d met Farah Chamma in Sharjah a few years back, and being the brilliant writer and performer that she is, who in her own poetry deals with a sort of rootlessness and divisions, I realised that she would be an interesting person to involve. I invited Chamma to participate, but perhaps the more correct description of our collaboration is that I commissioned her to contribute to the work, meaning that we both wrote separately but did of course share our thoughts once in a while.

The text layers multiple stories using different voices over each other, which I liked. Wanting to continue that process resulted in the current script, The Sea – Chapter I, where I kept parts of the text from Aarhus but also wrote and recorded new segments to it. My idea is to keep on developing this text and keep writing new tentacles that add new dimensions and take over different sites.

Hans Rosenström, The Sea – Chapter I, 2017. Three-channel sound installation, duration 7 min 30 s. Picture by Jussi Tiainen.

This exhibition also includes two large series of photograms Jökulsárlón I and II. How did the idea come about for these pieces, and what interested you in this particular choice of material and process?

These two series came from my fascination with the properties of glacial ice, which is formed during a long period of time under immense pressure. The small fragile piece of ice that I collected in Iceland and used for the photograms contains in itself a longer period of time than all the materials that made the creations of these images possible. Even the photographic process in itself was developed long after this small piece had started to find its form inside the glacier. Still, during the process of exposing these pictures, everything around me felt more concrete, so eventually I think the work is about the meeting between these two time scales – my time that is part of a human time and the geological, longer time that the ice contained.

Hans Rosenström, Jökulsárlón I (detail), 2017, photogram, framed, 41,6 x 31,6 x 4 cm, Picture by Jussi Tiainen.
Hans Rosenström, Jökulsárlón II (detail), 2017, photogram, framed, 41,6 x 31,4 x 4 cm, Picture by Jussi Tiainen.

Your recent public work 2066 that you created for the roof of the new Silja Line terminal in the Värtahamnen port area of Stockholm in 2016 is intriguing. How was it to work on such a seemingly big project, and what did you take away from the process?

Having been asked to propose a sound installation for a public space, I was curious to find a way to create something that would be an intimate experience and that the viewers could choose to listen to. The other question, equally important, was what would make sense in this specific location and could hopefully be interesting to listen to in the future as well. These were the underlying currents that steered the process.

I decided to involve multiple people from various professions: people who in their own work, in one way or another, also affect or resonate how our collective future will be formed. My question to all of them was how they, through their personal or professional point of view, imagine that the world will look like in 50 years (2016). From these answers I wrote a loose dialogue for two voices that speculates on the question. The time aspect came from the notion that the old terminal building that this new one replaced was built 50 years ago.

These stories can be listened to lying on granite boulders and laying your head on a small metal plate inserted in the stones’ surface. These plates transmit a vibration that creates the sound inside the listener’s head, resulting in a sound that could be described as listening to your own thoughts – a weird sensation since the voices are someone else’s.

Perhaps if there is something I might have learned from this process is that if I ever get the chance to make a permanent public artwork again, I hope I develop something technically easier.

Hans Rosenström, 2066, public sound installation in the newly built Värtapiren harbour terminal in Stockholm, Sweden. 5 Granite Boulders, 3 Transducer Speakers.
 Duration 24’33’’
 Commissioned by Stockholm Konst and Ports of Stockholm 2016. Picture by Hans Rosenström.

Your Off Seasons sound work will be displayed outdoors at the Emma Museum as part of the Helsinki Festival from August 17th to September 3rd. What is the background to this work?

Off Seasons is a collaborative project that really was started by the Danish musical group Stormglas. Stormglas is Andreas Borregaard and Mikkel Sørensen. The group had commissioned new compositions about the seasons from four Nordic composers. The resulting works are contemporary classical pieces for a quintet that have been performed in concert halls around the Nordic countries. Longing to find new ways of sharing these sounds with people, they got the idea that they wanted to give the material to an artist to use and interpret. They had reached out to the Chart Art Fair in Copenhagen, which reached out to me. Off Seasons is a work that mixes all four original compositions into one half an hour loop that begins and ends in the human breath. Currently at EMMA it can be experienced inside a ruin-like structure, surrounded by pine trees and perhaps laying down on the grass- and flower-covered berth that is part of the work.

You said in an interview with curator Mika Hannula that: “One of the most important roles of art and culture is to create a space for free thinking, metaphor and collective dreaming. It maintains complex narratives that challenge our way of seeing, experiencing and understanding.” How do you challenge your thinking, and where do you look for ideas to expand your own creativity and point of view?

As an artist one hopes that one would continuously challenge one’s own limits and medium by pushing oneself into slightly unexpected and uncomfortable situations. This in turn makes me re-evaluate my way of working as well as hopefully also my way of thinking. Creativity and ideas come from many different places: often from culture – from books, dance and art. It comes from various places: from beyond the humane, from nature.

It seems that you have been quite busy lately – what is up next for you? Will you try to get some time off, or are you off to the next project right away?

When I return to London I will start working on a public art show that I was invited to contribute to. The show is called Salon 63 and takes place in hair salons along the 63 bus line, a line that drives from King’s Cross all the way south to Forest Hill, a route that cuts through many different demographic areas. This project is curated by Galizine Mackenzie and will take place in November.

Hans Rosenström

a u g u s t

11.08.-03.09.2017

Helsinki Contemporary