Loving the Grid
Ola Kolehmainen’s Minimalist
His elements are repetition, architecture,
and the camera: Ola Kolehmainen's photographs of structures, patterns, and
grids adhere to the austere minimalism of a Donald Judd or Dan Flavin.
Despite this, his brilliantly colorful images radiate something
mysterious. Yet where does it come from? Alistair Hicks decided to
investigate and visited the artist in his vacation home on an island in
the Gulf of Finland.
Kolehmainen in front of a poster
his work Super Composition
"Space! Colour! Light! That’s
how I choose the locations for my pictures," explains Ola
Kolehmainen, a leading photographer of the Helsinki
School. His choice of buildings betrays his deep love for Minimalism.
He still has the note a workshop teacher, Christie Johnson, once slipped
him advising him to look at three artists he’s still looking at: Donald
Judd , James
Turrell , and Dan
Flavin. There is a strong sense of structure in his pictures, often a
very obvious grid, yet invariably he subverts these clean, repetitive
patterns. The same goes for his use of colour and light: the light sources
are frequently a mystery, while the colours often undergo change.
Untitled (Panton Vol I), 2005,
Deutsche Bank's ad for the Frieze Art
featuring the work
(Panton Vol. I)" by Ola Kolehmainen
Architecture supplies the subject matter for all his work,
but when I interviewed Ola on the terrace of his wooden house on his
island in the Gulf
of Finland, there was no other building in sight. Indeed, the very
occasional boat skimming between the archipelago was the only evidence of
man’s intrusion. Despite the elegant, modernist lines, there is little
indication that this is an artist’s vacation home. Stacks of neatly packed
logs are Kolehmainen’s most evident contribution to island life, but
rather than as intimations of Judd’s work, they could equally be read as a
leftover trace of his military background – he is the son of a general.
Ostensibly, he does most of his work in his new home in Berlin and during
his travels, but the peaceful island does supply a perfect base for the
conceptual thinking that underpins the Helsinki School.
See What You See, 2006,
Bank Collection, Courtesy Galerie Anhava
Courtesy Galerie Anhava
a child, Ola showed little indication of becoming an artist. He worked his
way through various sports before he went to California on a school
exchange at the age of eighteen. His best friend was a skateboarder who
was starting to enter competitions. Ola was induced to take photographs of
the budding champion, which featured large in Thrasher,
the skateboard magazine. On his return to Finland, he studied journalism
at the University of Helsinki;
he was into new jazz at the time and started taking photographs for music
magazines and festivals.
- Trappan, 1996/99,
In 1992, Kolehmainen
switched to the University
of Art and Design to study photography. He found the image that set
him on his present path in 1996: his photograph of a staircase in Tokyo
contains strong horizontal and vertical lines gently challenged by curves.
He further developed his concerns the following year in 1997 in his degree
at the Gallery
Kluuvi. The main work consisted of seven large photographs of a
deserted Russian barracks in Paldiski
in neighbouring Estonia. "Everything, including the window frames, had
been stolen from the place, so all that was left were black gaping holes
in a red brick wall," said Ola before explaining how he went about making
the piece. "I was interested in continuing the space – to get a sense of
the whole panorama. If I kept the position of the camera stationary, gaps
would appear in the panorama, so I moved the camera to exactly the same
distance and angle from another window further down the wall. I altered
the space by going round the corner of the building to take a further
couple of windows, and then I repeated one as I wanted a seventh image."
Kolehmainen implements continuous repetition to build up the image. This
is one of the main reasons why he likes to make his photographs large and
inserts them in sheets of Plexiglas: to emphasize their existence as