Meet the Artist – Nastja Säde Rönkkö

Nastja Säde Rönkkö (b.1985) was the recipient of Finland’s Young Artist of the Year award and title in 2019. Rönkkö works across media, including video, performance, installation, participatory art, and text. We discussed her background, her most recent projects, and impending global catastrophes. 

Nastja Säde Rönkkö studied painting in London, after which she began making performances and installations. She had always filmed her performances, but after a while, she felt the actual work was often in the recording. “Video art has been something that brings together everything I’ve wanted to make – painting, moving image, performance… It makes sense in relation to the themes I’m interested in,” the artist says.

Rönkkö finds her inspiration from everywhere, from places she’s visited to things she’s read or seen in art. While traveling, she brings a video camera with her, to be able to record things she finds interesting. Rönkkö often begins video works with writing a text, around which the film is construed – but the text is not an absolute final script. 

Rönkkö was part of the Rönkkö, Turner & LaBeouf collective, whose #alonetogether project was a part of the Ars 17 exhibition in Kiasma. Each artist spent a month in Lapland in secluded cabins, where their only human connection was through a video link in a small cabin inside Kiasma. Having worked both solo and in collaboration with others, Rönkkö finds pros and cons in both methods. In a collective, she has the support of the other artists, and responsibilities are divided between more people. The artists’ different backgrounds bring out versatile ideas. Working solo, however, has the positive side of being able to decide everything alone, and not having to compromise with your own ideas. 

The Digital Age 

Rönkkö feels art is a product of its time, and cannot be removed from the reality it is created within. She herself often deals with the idea of presence and being present, and although she does not specifically want to depict global warming, she feels it is a significant part of the reality we live in. “What my works investigate is our current era, as well as the different futures we might be heading towards to. Climate emergency is the reality we live in,” Rönkkö clarifies. “I am interested in exploring that reality and different ways of being in this world.”

Rönkkö’s work for those yet to be (2016–2018) features places in the world which have been altered by human intervention, such as nuclear accidents, mining, frecking, deforestation and such. She stands in these places holding a cardboard sign, as if participating in a demonstration. The project investigates possible futures of our planet, things that might or might not be here for future generations.

In ICELAND (Nighttime) (2019), Rönkkö reads a text she has written, engaging the most fundamental of human experiences: love, hope, fear, solitude and togetherness. Set in Icelandic landscapes that are romantic yet inhospitable, ICELAND (Nighttime) deals with the sensibility that we are close to the end of the world as we know it.

Nastja Säde Rönkkö: ICELAND (Nighttime) (2019)

The distressing and uncomfortable feelings described in the text inspired Rönkkö to find visuals that would emit similar emotions. She is interested in places and spaces like Iceland, islands that have strong mythologies and are somewhat separated from the rest of the world. She describes a moment of inspiration: “I was listening to a podcast, and a philosopher – I don’t remember their name – said that humans are like islands. And the idea of humans as small islands, lost in the vast ocean with millions of other islands, was a really beautiful one and resonated with me.”

Rönkkö also thought about how people live their lives through mobile phones and the internet. While 15 years ago watching TV was tied to the timing of programs, nowadays we have a never ending stream of shows and films available to us through our devices. Rönkkö was interested in the way reality seems to shift during nighttime, how people use their devices to pass the time and to distract themselves from the darkness of our lives. “Sleep problems have increased a lot because of the light from our screens. The fear of darkness, darkness being both an idea of something sinister or enigmatic, as well ast the physical absence of visible light,” she elaborates.

The End of the World

A theme seen in many of Rönkkö’s works is the transformation and destruction of our planet. The end of the world is a slow process, with multiple, smaller endings happening all around us: “It’s really bad for us, but beings like cockroaches and coyotes might make it. There are beings that will survive, but for us humans and other mammals, survival is unlikely with our current way of living.”

Nastja Säde Rönkkö: Milk and Decay (2019)

In Milk & Decay (2019), Rönkkö describes wild dogs, cockroaches and worms soon being able to roam the wastelands left after humans have been wiped out. “Milk is something that gives and sustains life. It’s the first thing, for humans and most animal babies, that keeps us alive for a long time. It’s essential to new life and growth,” Rönkkö explains. “And as for decay, there’s the idea that as soon as you are born you begin to die, your cells begin to die and start getting older and everything gets worse, which is kind of a weird idea, at the same time you are dying while you are being born, becoming a human.”

Rönkkö tells us she is interested in the relationship between the digital era, power, humanity and the future of our planet. She is particularly fascinated with how concepts such as love, intimacy or empathy can be radical ways to be and act in the world. She feels the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how quickly society and people can change. “It’s interesting to think about why we can’t change our ways of life with the same urgency in relation to global climate emergency.”

For more information and requests on Nastja Säde Rönkkö’s works, please contact AV-arkki’s programme coordinator Tytti Rantanen, 

“Meet the artist” is AV-arkki’s monthly series of interviews with our artists. The interviews are conducted by Milla Jylänki who is doing an internship in AV-arkki from September to October 2020. Milla is completing her B.A. degree in Film and Television studies at University of Helsinki.