Katja Syrjä has made numerous trips across the world in pursuit of her passion for natural pigments. In this exhibition, she follows researchers on field trips to the natural laboratory of the Åland islands. The result is a multifaceted body of boundary-defying graphic art. The exhibition also features Syrjä’s account of the fascinating process of creating the works.
Working on her stone lithographs by painting and stitching, Syrjä combines medieval painting traditions with the contemporary context of art. Meticulously following the methods of 14th-century Tuscan painter Cennino Cennini , she creates unique works with natural pigments that she makes from soils, minerals, plants, mushrooms and mussels collected or grown by herself. Meanings conveyed by the pigments are a vital part of the content of the works.
The holistic nature and use of age-old methods in Syrjä’s process speak of her profound respect for nature, craftsmanship and the traditions maintained by women in particular. The title of the exhibition, Miss Veronica, is a reference to the Latin name of the spiked speedwell, Veronica spicata L., but also to the artist’s alter ego as an explorer. Her role models include women artists of the past as well as female explorers from different centuries. For example, Margaret Mee, who is known to have drawn exclusively from life, spent 24 years in search of a perfect specimen of the moonflower, which she eventually found the Amazon rainforest. Syrjä is just as fascinated by her own subjects from the Åland islands, which include the decades-long metapopulation study of the Granville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) and its network of meadow habitats, the spring larva census, the growths of powdery mildew on host plants, or the diversity of the underwater world. She also takes a stand in defence of small and common species when she photographs nettles or celebrates biodiversity by portraying the scarab beetle Nimbus contaminatus, the hover fly, or the Calocoris roseomaculatus bug .
Katja Syrjä (b. 1973) is a visual artist based in Åland. She graduated from the Turku School of Drawing in 1997 and from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2003. Her principal mediums are stone lithography, natural pigments and handmade paper, but her methods also include painting, stitching, photography and video. Syrjä’s practice is distinguished by her collaboration with biological field research stations and researchers in the Åland islands. Her process is not unlike scientific research: its temporal duration is typically long and it involves engagement with the conservation of species and protection of biodiversity.
Syrjä’s work is supported by the Kone Foundation.