Nature and Space in Kaija Kiuru's Art (2011)
The visual artist Kaija Kiuru (b. 1959) lives and works in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland.She made
her deput in the Annual Exhibition of the FinnishArtists in Helsinki Art Hall in 1990, and since that year,
her works have been displayed inseveral international and Finnish exhibitions. Kaija Kiuru is best
known for her installations and environmental art. Northern nature was present in her childhood,
because her father was a reindeer herder and she also learnt to know forests, bogs and rivers
during the family’s berry-picking and fishing trips. The relationship with nature in her childhood and
youth together with studies of environmental protection and education in the 1990’s created
the ground on which Kiuru´s art is based even today.
Small-sized works depicting fleeting moments and large, permanent landscaping works represent
the extremities of Kaija Kiuru’s art. The artist’s production includes several site-specific
environmental works. During the early part of her career, in particular, poetic and sensitive works,
a kind of place-related thoughts, were an important part of expression; one example of this is Path
(1998), which the artist made on a fell in Syltefjord, northern Norway. In this millennium, Kiuru
has mainly worked on topics arising from interaction between man and the environment like the
theme of shelter with different tents and roofs.
Variations of shelter
Shelter in Kaija Kiuru’s works of art is ambiguous: on one hand it refers to a tent-like sheltering
structure and on the other hand to the idea of a refuge. A physical shelter leans on materiality thus
providing concrete protection, like a nomadic tent protecting against rain and heat or a portable
home – a yurt, kota hut or tepee. A physical shelter provided by a certain material is active and
functional. The shelter acts as a shield, a piece of cloth against coldness or a vaccine against a
disease. Immaterial shelter for its part refers to a sheltered, safe spot or condition, caretaking or
a passive state of being protected. As to the materials used by Kiuru, wool and a blanket made of
it refer to a cultural tradition. Especially in northern cultures, a physical shelter against weather
conditions has been of vital importance, and wool, and in earlier times furs, have surrounded man
throughout his life.
Materials in Kiuru’s works of art can also be read in cultural contexts of feminity. Embroideries,
linen marking, crocheting and sewing refer to the craftsmanship of the past generations and
women’s traditional work. It is a long tradition to associate textile materials and their working
techniques with femininity and women’s everyday lives – textile work has also been considered
to be part of the process of becoming a social woman. Women’s handicraft works have often been
experienced to have a secondary position with no social appreciation. Kiuru’s art contains a variety
of traditional handicraft techniques and materials, which tells about the respect for traditions and
Kaija Kiuru’s works are referred to by the word quiet and she herself feels the definition describes
her works well. There are two kinds of quietness: external and internal. External quietness is easier
to perceive and approach. Internal quietness requires an intuition and it is often approached by
artistic means. There is something human and important in the dimension of internal quietness – it
is true that people recognize this area inside themselves. As a space, quietness is a place in which
everything to be present. It is timelessness. The role of quietness in art is both to hide meanings and
reveal them as happens in the work Private (2002), which consists of nine metal frames of tents
and pillows with marked pillowcases. Private is part of the theme of shelter, which Kiuru has been
working on since the year 2002.
Environmental art and site-specific works require the creation of a physical relationship with the
location. Kaija Kiuru studies the location, takes photographs, writes and examines the feelings and
ideas aroused by the place. She creates a bond with the environment, which thus leads her to the
basic idea and material of a work. Kiuru’s aim is to find a balance between a work and the space
surrounding it. The entity, i.e. the adaptation and merging of a work and the environment with each
other, is important.
Kiuru has not made environmental art only in northern Finland but also in northern Sweden and
Norway. She has realized her works in places varying from a built environment to untouched
nature. Only in the artist’s later production has the urban area obtained a steadier role but she says
that she still enjoys working in a natural environment more. Kiuru is fascinated by the barrenness
and vastness of northern nature. However, a work of art made out in nature is always constructed in
a place and under its terms both materially and at a conceptual level. The atmosphere of a place and
the associations aroused by it are the ground of the work. Kiuru says that environmental art placed
out in nature is search of a connection with nature.
Kaija Kiuru has realized large and permanent entities in her landscaping works. She has, among
others, designed landscape management works of art in the Pallas-Ylläs National Park in north-
western Lapland. Kiuru’s landscaping work by the Särkijärvi–Raattama road in Pallasjärvi covers
about 32 000 m2 of earth within a one-kilometre-long distance on both sides of the road. The sandy
or gravelly road slope has been replaced by Cover of the Earth (2000 – 2003), a landscaping work
consisting of forest soil plants, different trees and bushes, wild flowers, natural stone surfaces and
Materials and concepts
The materials used by Kaija Kiuru come from natural and urban environments, forests and jumble
sales. The artist combines natural materials with industrially produced objects; in the work
Management Affairs (2009), she has used birch bark and gnarls, upholstery nails and metal parts of
old office chairs. In addition to old lace tablecloths, she has used different textiles like sleeping bags
and blankets made of recycled rags. The artist has used sleeping bags in the works Pupa (2005) and
The Thread, which she made while working in Glasgow, Scotland for two months in the year 2004.
Kiuru’s production can be seen to contain features typical of conceptual art. She is one of the
Finnish artists who studied in the 1980’s and from the very beginning used words and texts as
a natural part of visual thinking. In the textual work At Home (2004), Kiuru used sentences by
immigrant women, which were pasted on shop windows. The text signs fastened to trees in the
work Nine Wishes (2000) belong to the same group, and so do the names of ships and boats cut in
steel in the work Lighthouse (2002). It is only when we read that pine tree beams and birch bark
have been used as materials in Birch Tree (2007) and its larger version Birch Forest (2008) that we
fully understand these works of art. The combination of the names and materials of the works opens
a viewer an ironic point of view, which the seeing of the works does not yet reveal.
Texts in Kiuru’s works make a viewer think about the sounds of words – even those of one word.
With her environmental work Longing (1995), which she made during her early career, she adopted
the tradition of environmental art and making of vanishing art. The work was also her conceptual
debut after her return to Lapland. The career as a professional artist started from this return home,
as if the idea of longing had carried her near both the old and a new starting point.
Kooste Kaija Kiurun taiteilijakirjan (2011) teksteistä / Edited from Kaija Kiuru Artist book (2011).
Tekstit / Texts: Sonja-Tuulia Hämäläinen, Suvi Konttaniemi, Anna Kouhia ja Minna Läntinen
& kirjan toimittajat / editors Tuija Hautala-Hirvioja, Jyrki Siukonen ja Sisko Ylimartimo
Käännös / Translation: Liisa Reinikainen