Meet the Artist: Mox Mäkelä

“We live in the era of indolence, and people want to transfer that spiritual laziness over to art. In this case, I’m on a completely different planet.” Challenging traditional forms of art has defined Mox Mäkelä’s (b. 1958) work throughout her career. Her new feature-length audio play movie Strange (2018) will have its premiere this Autumn in the film theatre Orion, Helsinki and Kultuurikatel, Tallinn.

Artist Mox Mäkelä lives in an old house on the south coast of Finland. Mäkelä’s artwork Night Ship – a ship completely covered in reflectors taken from traffic signs –  was originally exhibited at the Maritime Centre Vellamo in Kotka, but it now rests on her property. The ship has been placed on top of a small cottage, and it is a part of Mäkelä’s new project going by the working title A Guesthouse for Those Who Travel Without Fuel, a follow-up piece for Night Ship. “It will be a small guesthouse, but it’s not a business of any kind,” she explains. “It’s an artistic project where I can accommodate a few people during future summers.”

The criterion for being able to stay at this guesthouse – travelling without fuel – reflects the artist’s ecocritical approach to both art and life. “I have always lived ecologically and sparingly. When I lived in Helsinki, I walked a lot and everywhere. I did not spend much, so I was already a bad person in a market economy system,” she says. Nature has been an important element to Mox Mäkelä throughout her life, and she now lives surrounded by it. “I have always felt that nature is the only truly fair area I have.”

Mox Mäkelä: Night Ship (2015)

Mox Mäkelä: Night Ship (2015)

“Although I am a part of humanity, I don’t understand the many unwise interests of humans. At the cost of my social being, I have made the decision to critically examine the actions of my own species, and side with nature that cannot speak for itself.” Mäkelä’s respect for nature also translates into concrete action: a part of the land she owns has been set up as a private nature reserve called Turkkilo.

Mäkelä’s long-term artistic project Shepherd’s Bank also addresses many issues connected to the relationship between people and nature. In addition to Night Ship, the series of works includes Mermaid’s Vomit, 30 plastic bottles filled with plastic waste collected from the sea, exhibited at the Finnish Maritime Museum in 2009. The bottles were displayed in boxes, and these boxes were later turned into birdhouses in Mermaid’s Vomit – Boxes New Life, and used on her nature reserve Turkkilo. Shepherd’s Bank also includes several other ecocritical installations, which the artist has documented in her single-channel video works.

Mox Mäkelä: Mermaid's Vomit (2010)

Mox Mäkelä: Mermaid’s Vomit (2010)

She has also been working on idiot ibidem, another extended artistic project, for more than a decade. The project is centred around a literary historical chain of events, and it was inspired by her ancestor. “I found a person in my family tree who was a prototype for the character of Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.” Among exhibitions, installations and films, idiot ibidem includes the audio play Invisible Pictures of Non-existent Things, which Mäkelä made for Yle Radio.

Strange – Everything Else but a Traditional Film

Another one of Mox Mäkelä’s current projects goes by the working title Hospitality, which is the latest addition to idiot ibidem. As the name already suggests, the project examines people’s motivation for hospitality, generosity, and charity, and eventually moves on to larger issues. Part of the Hospitality project is a new feature-length audiovisual work Strange (2018) that will be screened in September 14 in the legendary film theatre Orion, Helsinki, and in October 9 in Kultuurikatel, Tallinn.

Strange is divided into two parts: the first part is centred around absurd events in the Finnish countryside, while the second part takes place in a big European city. “It will be a combination of drama and satire. Using satire allows me to also address issues that I have witnessed in real life, partly in the field of art,” Mäkelä says. “It begins as a satire and goes on to address many ecological themes and issues. From a satire to a tragedy, essentially.”

As is the case with many of Mox Mäkelä’s artworks, the format of presentation is rather difficult to pin down using conventional terms. Describing Strange as an audio play would be only half of the truth: although the audio part alone works as a traditional audio play, the piece also includes a cinematic visual element, which accompanies, comments on, and at times even affronts the narrative of the audio play. “I have thought a lot about how to describe this project, and I have decided to call it an audio play movie,” she explains. “The visual part is basically everything else but a traditional film, where the image and the sound are in sync.”

Mox Mäkelä: Strange (2018)

Mox Mäkelä: Strange (2018)

“It’s Never Too Late”

Challenging traditional forms of art has defined Mäkelä’s work throughout her career. “When I went to art school, I had already done a lot of traditional stuff, like painting and drawing. I still painted during my studies, but that was kind of the end of it. I started to do these weird collages, which already indicated that I was searching for an alternative approach. I have probably been difficult to understand as an artist, because I use unconventional methods and I have never wanted commercialise myself or my art,” she notes. “We live in the era of indolence, and people want to transfer that spiritual laziness over to art. In this case, I’m on a completely different planet.”

“I do a lot of stuff online, not because I love it but because often it’s the only possible publishing platform for me,” Mäkelä mentions as she talks about her deep-seated disappointment in the institutional hierarchies and power structures that allow power-drunk people to dominate the world and dictate people’s place in it. “I have so much motivation and drive to make things,” she says. “I have a bright mind, a just soul, and a mission to create, and I’m not going to apologize for that.”

Although various electronic devices and the internet are now an essential part of Mäkelä’s working process, she is also critical of technology and how it has been utilized. “I use a lot of different tools in my art, but only to serve a certain purpose. I don’t use technology for the sake of it. I strongly agree with many computer scientists who say that we as humans don’t really understand what we have invented, that we are building a world that we soon cannot control.” So, is it already too late to change things?

“It’s never too late. As long as we still have our planet with wild nature, we have quite a lot. It’s just that we are headed to a disastrous direction, and have been doing so for a long time. All my life I have heard how we use too much natural resources, plastic, and so on, and what has happened? There’s even more disposable items and waste now,” the artist points out. “But the thing is, changing our habits is not the solution when it’s our existence that is the problem. The only thing standing in the way of change is stupid and proud people. But I think everything is going just as it is supposed to. If our existence is bound to come to an end, then maybe it’s better we accelerate the process.”

For more information and requests on Mox Mäkelä’s works, please contact AV-arkki’s programme coordinator Tytti Rantanen,