Artist family Isorättyäs, 30 min documentary by Jonni Roos , Yle (Yleisradio, Finnish Broadcasting Company)  

Machines with soul

Written by Helena Sederholm 

Translated by Silja Kudel

Pekka and Teija Isorättyä first captured the popular imagination a few years ago with their Zimmer frame-pushing Invalid Robots. Since then, they have created a diversified array of kinetic sculptures of various forms and identities that pose questions about the connection between people, art and technology.

Their fusions of art and technology are a far cry from modernist machine aesthetics. Best defined as ‘electromechanical bio-art’, their sculptures are fashioned out of organic materials such as tanned hide, stripped bone and fish skin, to which they add a retrofitted second-hand motor.

To the contemporary eye, human-machine hybrids seem stiff, passive and soulless. But the roots of their posthumanist art trace back to the automata commissioned by the church and the court during the late Renaissance. These human simulacra were ‘living machines’ that seemed to act unpredictably, playfully, interactively, as if they had a mind of their own. Pekka and Teija Isorättyä thus justifiably pose the question: “For how long will mechanics and electronics look forward to the future – or do they already hark back to the past?”

The fusion of technology and organic materials invokes the idea of man playing God, a theme that inspires dread but also hope. The artists are the modern-day equivalent of Prometheus, breathing life into inorganic matter, endowing it with a human soul. The meticulous design and hand-crafted finish adds a poetic dimension to their technical contraptions.

The artists choose their materials by meeting people and searching for stories. They take the arte povera tradition of refashioning everyday materials one step further than their precursors: by adding moving parts, they infuse the materials with new significations, yet their art is also rich in allusions to art history. For instance the shape of The Mermaid is borrowed from Hokusai, but the metal studs connecting its plates hark back to Sirpa Alalääkkölä’s Ainotriptych.

The themes of their works are decided by the material and its history, and the trajectory of movement is guided by the theme. The presence of humans is always implicit, even when we see nothing but infusion tubes, plastic bottles, tuna leather or bio-oil. The artists raise social issues with their oeuvre, yet without making overt political statements.

Pekka and Teija Isorättyä have spent many years working around the world, in Mexico, Germany, Japan, aboard a sailing boat on the Baltic Sea, in their home town of Tornio and, currently, in the US. They work as a family unit, throwing themselves into making art that transforms not only the viewer’s perceptions and the environment, but also themselves as artists.

Pekka and Teija Isorättyä (both born 1980) are from Finland but are engaged in travel from site to site with their child, Iisakki.  They collaborate on the creation of kinetic and electromechanical sculptures, often constructed from organic materials and discarded or outmoded objects.  

 

Their automata often include medical and bodily references, probing the boundaries of what it is to be human, or organically alive, or not alive. “In our work,” they have stated, “we investigate the contemporary status of humanity as a kind of in-between or liminal state. It embodies both fear and hope, future and past.”  

 

The Isorättyäs previously ran the art space Invalid Robot Factory in Berlin until 2013.  They have held residencies at Gängeviertel of Hamburg, C.A.P Kobe in Japan and the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York, and have exhibited internationally at a number of galleries, museums, and institutions, including Galleria Sculptor, Helsinki, Kobe studios, Japan, Finnland Institute in Deutchland, Berlin; and most recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki where they had been nominated for the 2017 Ars Fennica Award.

 Dr. Patricia Berman

Artist Interview at CONNECTORTV, JAPAN