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Your window on Finnish Environmental Art / Ympäristötaide verkossa / Editor: Lea Turto

OLAVI LANU OF FINLAND: A MAGICIAN OF EARTH, by Jeff W. Huebner
 
Note: While recently revising this story, which I originally wrote in 2011, I learned of the death of Olavi Lanu, in his hometown of Lahti, Finland, on May 11, 2015.  He had been ailing for some time, and had been hospitalized since falling last October. He was 89.

Olavi Lanu, Lanupuisto; Harmaa tammikuu photo Jeff Huebner
Olavi Lanu, Lanu Park "Harmaa tammikuu", photo Jeff Huebner
 Walking through the Lanu Sculpture Park, located atop a wooded hill in Lahti, Finland, it’s easy to believe in the nature spirits—the forest gods, the sacred groves—that animate much of the country’s sui generis environmental art. The park of secluded, stone-like figures is one of the landmarks of Finland’s art-in-landscape movement, and perhaps the capping achievement of Olavi Lanu, the pioneering Finnish nature-based artist who has eluded the recognition accorded to many of his European and North American land-art peers. Living in an off-the-beaten-path country not known for drawing attention to itself or its art pretense hasn’t helped matters.
   While Lanu’s permanent public sculptures can be found throughout southern Finland—his hundreds of earthen figural installations have long since vanished due to time and the elements—there is a higher concentration of them in and around Lahti. The now-ailing 89-year-old master has lived here for over a half century, creating a body of work that sought to bridge the rift between humanity and nature, and that embodied the spirit of Finland itself--a spirit expressed in works from turn-of-the-century National Romantic painters like Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Eero Järnefelt to contemporary nature-based artists like Timo Jokela, Jussi Kivi, Kaija Kiuru, and many others.
    “Olavi Lanu’s environmental works from the end of the seventies are special, unique,” remarked Ulla Aartomaa, the former longtime curator of the Lahti Art Museum who’s written extensively on Lanu, in an e-mail message. ”In Finland there are no followers [to] what he has been doing. And I don’t know if there are such kind of artists anywhere else.”


    The beguiling Lanu Park is one of a few reasons to visit Lahti, a modern, industrious city of 100,000 located 60 miles north of Helsinki—about an hour by train. There are other cultural attractions in this former rough-and-tumble factory town--such as Sibelius Hall, home base of the celebrated Lahti Symphony Orchestra—but for me, Lanu’s sculptures are its defining features. Walking or driving around, you will encounter many of them. The sculpture park is about a half-mile from the city center, at the end of a winding gravel road to the grove on top of Kariniemi Hill.
http://www.phnet.fi/public/rope/lanu2002.htm

Lanu Puisto, Olavi Lanu,
Lanu Park, Olavi Lanu, "Hellä Kivi", photo Jeff Huebner

    Commissioned by the city in 1988 and completed four years later, Lanu Park is composed of 12 monumental, mostly figural sculptures up to 15 feet high, set along quiet birch-shaded trails. The artworks blend in with the wooded setting, and are meant to be discovered serendipitously; they stand like remnants of a lost civilization. Couples embrace and bodies intertwine; figures repose and meditate; they sit under (and even pass through) boulders, real ones; they emerge from rocks, from trees, from willow and birch heaps; tree limbs become human limbs. In the summer, they’re half-covered with foliage and dappled with moss; in the winter, they’re half-covered with snow.

Lanu Park, Olavi Lanu,
Lanu Park, Olavi Lanu, "Kaksi kiveä", photo Jeff Huebner 

    Lanu first made his mark in the international art world at the 1978 Venice Biennale with his installations of human and natural forms made largely with organic matter. But the Lanu Park sculptures are not made of earth—of wood or stone. Like many of his works, they were created with materials such as reinforced concrete, polyester resin, and fiberglass molds. (In fact, several pieces in the park--or rather, versions of them—had originally been exhibited at other places years before.) You’d swear, at first glance, you were seeing carved stone. 
“’Life in the Finnish Forest’ was the name of one of his exhibits [in Venice], and it is a good name for all his work,” said his wife Tarja Lanu, who’s in her 50s, as we strolled through Lanu Park one lovely summer day. Olavi, who never learned English and was in ailing health, rambled ahead. “These were like gifts to the people. The main idea was to give some warmth to this place, to make people smile. It gives people hope, makes them feel alive. It makes them find out something about nature and their surroundings. It makes them look.”
    Later, Olavi told me, as Tarja translated the best she could: “If I would have warmth in me, I would like to put it in my works, so that other people can get some enjoyment.” He went on, “I just wanted to do sculptures, indoor, outdoor—it didn’t matter.”

   Environmental art, Finnish style, is ympäristötaide--“art of the surroundings.” Like all such work, It makes you look more closely, heightens your awareness of nature’s forces and processes, makes you reflect on where you are—a quiet, sympathetic distillation of space, place, or landscape. It can surprise, inspire wonder, and mystify. In Finland, “eco-sensitive” art can be endowed with an almost shamanic significance because of people’s closeness to nature, landscape, and myth (through the Kalevala national folk epic).
    This connection is reflected in all Finnish art—literature, music, design, and architecture--but it “is perhaps most evident in environmental art,” Lapland-based professor of environmental art and art education Timo Jokela has commented. “Even at the present time, a work of art placed in the landscape challenges us to ponder, who we are, where we belong, and what our place is in the great universal cycle.” The country teems with environmental-art sites, parks, exhibitions, degree programs, and Web sites.
    “We are very close to the past, and all the myths we have inherited,” said Markku Hakuri, the leading environmental artist, sculptor, theorist, and retired professor of the Aalto University School of Arts, Design, and Architecture. “Our myths and our history are actually quite present still today because they are bound to the forest, especially the forest. We still have a lot of words [related to] the forest. We used to have gods in the forest, in the water and the trees. Although people don’t think about it daily, it’s somewhere here quite close to the mind.”
    “We have lived so near nature, and so long, but we are ashamed about it,” wrote Lea Turto, a Jyväskylä-based environmental artist and creator of
www.environmentalart.net. “There is a conflict between high civilization and the emotional bond for nature.”
    Lanu’s first site-specific nature installations in the 1970s coincided with those of such European artists as Nils-Udo, David Nash, and Andy Goldsworthy (though the latter two were born a generation later). Tarja, who began working as an assistant to Lanu in the 1980s, told me that he’d been unaware of those artists—and of the American Land Art movement as well. Lanu was more influenced by Arte Povera artists like Antoni Tapies because of his use of natural, non-artistic materials like sand in his paintings. “That was very important for him,” Tarja said, because he worked hard to create lifelike surface textures.

Tarja Lanu and Olavi Lanu yard piece
Tarja Lanu and Olavi Lanu yard piece, photo Jeff Huebner
   I first met Olavi, or “Olli” as he is also called, on July 10, 2007--his 82nd birthday--after having visited the Lanu Park the previous winter. (Snow-laden, I’d thought, was the ideal, quintessentially Finnish way to see the sculptures, and I wasn’t disappointed.) I’d made arrangements to visit the Lanus through letters and phone calls; in one letter, Tarja told of Olli’s old age and failing health, writing that he “wants to speak more about his days of youth than his artworks.” Outside the train station, I couldn’t match the street address with a map, but as it turned out, it didn’t matter. “He was my art teacher in [secondary] school,” said the taxi driver who picked me up. “Everyone knows where the professor lives.”
    I visited again in June 2011, and spent another couple days in a rental car exploring Lanu’s magical world, both close to home and out in the country. In between those times, I’ve driven around Finland and seen other works, at least what’s left in the landscape.

Tarja Lanu and Olavi Lanu yard piece, photo Jeff Huebner
Tarja Lanu and Olavi Lanu yard piece, photo Jeff Huebner
    The Lanu property sat in a pleasantly shaded, semi-rural section of southwestern Lahti. The master greeted me outside the rambling three-story house—I couldn’t be sure he remembered me from last time—that was surrounded by a large yard, a garden, and sculptures. There were several large mossy rock-like formations in the yard, sitting amid vegetation; while it’s not freakish in Finland to have boulders in your back yard, these stood out--literally. It turned out they weren’t boulders at all but fiberglass clumps of intertwined human bodies, one of his specialties, both laying on the ground and standing up. Some had been there so long—perhaps several decades--that plants were growing on and around them. They looked a natural part of the domestic scenery. I also noticed Lanu works in adjacent yards, gifts to the neighbors. The more I looked, the more they seemed to be everywhere.
    Later, Tarja gave me a tour of the house and the basement as Lanu rested on a couch and watched dramatically sculpted clouds floating by through a big picture window.
    Lanu and his first wife, Tutta, a painter and teacher, bought the house in 1970. She died in 1988. At that time, he was a professor at the Lahti Institute of Design, where Tarja also taught art and worked as one of Lanu’s assistants; she’d earlier been a student of his at the Lahti Institute of Art. (Tarja continued to teach at LID.) Lanu taught art at a Lahti secondary school earlier in his career, and earned the title of professor in 1987; he retired from teaching in 1989. He and Tarja married in 1994. (He has two daughters from his first marriage, one in Lahti and the other in Savonlinna.)


Olavi Lanu yard piece, photo Jeff Huebner
Olavi Lanu yard piece, photo Jeff Huebner  

Olavi Lanu Sculpture in storage
Olavi Lanu Sculpture in storage, photo Jeff Huebner
   Lanu wasn’t always a sculptor or environmental artist: In the late 1940s and early 50s, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki (where he met his first wife) and at two academies in Paris in the late 1940s and early 50s. (In Helsinki, Lanu had roomed with now-renowned colorist painter Rafael Wardi; they were also fellow students in Paris.)
Olli and Tutta moved to Lahti in 1956. On the walls of the house were a sampling of the kind of pictures he’d exhibited in numerous group and solo shows in Finland and Europe in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, when he was a member of the experimental artist group called Dimensio. There were early abstracted landscapes that showed the influence of early 1900s renegade expressionist Tyko Sallinen, monochromatic oils with pictograph-like marks, Informalist paintings (a European variant of Abstract Expressionism), sand tempera and “newsprint” collages, as well as wood, metal, and plastic wall reliefs.
   The basement-like first floor was a jumbled, maze-like repository of dozens of larger works, including a series of relief sculptures, some made with stacked and cut-out lumber, others with wooden pegs. Dating to the mid-1970s, they depicted nature scenes and human figures in an illusionistic way. “The first radical break in his work was when he went from abstract to the figure, with the wooden pegs and the cut-out lumber pieces,” Tarja told me. “Then the figure came back.” (On an earlier visit, there were hundreds of fiberglass molds—along with a few large-scale unfinished pieces--stored in a shed-like addition to the house. The annex was razed after its roof collapsed in 2009 because of heavy snow. The garden now occupies the space.)

     There were also a few photographs of Lanu’s ephemeral works outdoor works, taken by Tarja and other photographers. Documentation has been a key part of the process, because the figurative pieces—made from vegetation growing on the site and cut or twisted into shape--last only fleetingly before they change with the seasons and then decay back into earth. Many were done in remote sites, remaining mostly unknown by people. They were here and then they were gone—like life.
    In early 2008, the Lanus gave 13,000 slides of his work to the Helsinki-based Finnish National Gallery Central Art Archives. “The Lanu donation is among the biggest slide donations to us,” said pictures curator Veikko Pakkanen in an e-mail. “And, from a single artist, it is the biggest.” In addition, the FNG’s Ateneum Art Museum, the repository of Finland’s historic masterpieces, owned two Lanu works, an older aluminum relief and the 1987 sculpture group Resting Patch of Willows I-III.
    “His philosophy…is that we people are part of the nature,” said Ulla Aartomaa, the Lanu expert who became a curator with the FNG’s Sinebrychoff Museum. “We are as valuable as stones, trees, animals. For him art is also part of nature, and at its best it is not very easily to be seen separate of trees, stone, grass…The most important thing as an artist for him was the process, doing. It was not a question of the piece of art itself.”
 

    Later, Tarja drove us in her white Citroën van about 20 kilometers to rural Orimattila, where, around 1990, Lanu bought a soaring Quonset-like barn for additional storage. (She also mentioned that the town was the birthplace of Aki Kaurismaki, Finland’s greatest living film director.) Surrounded by tall grass and weeds, the structure also was filled with fiberglass molds, and moldering earthen figures, including some that had been shown at the Venice Biennale decades earlier. Swallows flew in and out of the open windows. It was disarming to see much of Lanu’s lifework consigned to ignoble, heaping, castoff anonymity.
    “He was not a traditional sculptor,” said Tarja. “When people found out how his work was done, with concrete and fiberglass, they didn’t like it as much because it was less natural…He was less interested in form than surface. He wanted his surfaces to have textures like nature.”
    Aartomaa was eventually won over as well. She said she used to find Lanu’s use of concrete, polyester resin, and other artificial or industrial building materials in outdoor projects “odd” because they were unnatural. “But now, I think I have gotten used to them, and when large sculptures get moss and other natural materials on them, they seem to be more part of nature,” she said. “The forms produced by man are equally as valuable as those produced by nature.”
    The same criticisms were leveled at Arte Povera (Poor Art) artists like Piero Gilardi, a key figure in the 1960s and 70s Italian movement that promoted the use of found or unorthodox materials, and an early Lanu model. Gilardi also used “industrial materials to evoke organic forms and natural environments,” wrote David Ebony in a June/July 2010 Art in America article, to call up the ambiguous relationship between nature and culture, and ultimately between art and life. Gilardi now directed the Park of Living Art in Turin, a link to earlier types of “Bio-art” practiced by artists like Lanu.
  
    Every once in a while, Lanu, sitting in the back seat of the van, would sing and talk a little of his early years, as Tarja translated. She told me how he loved to be driven around, and you could tell he clearly enjoyed being in a car, almost like a kid again.
    Born in 1925, Lanu was raised on a farm outside Viipuri in what was then southeast Finland, the country’s second largest city. As a school youth, he enjoyed watercolor painting and making clay works, which teachers encouraged. Tarja explained that during the Continuation War (the second of two wars fought between Finland and the Soviet Union during World War II), Lanu served in the army and helped build reinforced concrete bunkers on a defensive line outside the city in the Karelian Isthmus circa 1944; that’s how he learned to work with concrete structures. When most of Karelia was ceded to the Soviet Union after the war, Lanu’s parents were among the 80,000 Finns evacuated from the Viipuri commune to eastern Finland. (It was now called Vyborg.) The family resettled in Kotka. Returning home, he decided to head to Helsinki and study commercial art.
    Lanu still had ties to Kotka. He has contributed works, including Resting Willow Girl, to the city’s famed, kilometers-long Sculpture Promenade, and was honored there in 2004.
    Tarja recalled how, even up to the early 2000s, Lanu enjoyed riding his bicycle and walking outdoors every day. But in his later years, he could only go for long drives in the country. “When we used to walk a lot in the forest, he was all the time looking, and telling me what he was seeing in nature —the plants, the animals, the trees,” she said, wistfully. “He wanted to see and see—it was so important to him. He was sunny and positive in his work and life.”

Olavi Lanu
Olavi Lanu, Venice Biennale 1978, Life in the Finnish Forest remnants,
photo Jeff Huebner
    Lanu started making wood sculptures around the mid-1970s at the family cottage in Punkaharju, in the scenic Lakeland area northeast of Lahti, according to Tarja. He would spend summers there every year, largely working without electricity. In early 1978 that led to an invitation by art historian and curator Erik Kruskopf to create a sculptural nature environment for the Nordic Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Since Lanu didn’t think he had enough time, he started gathering materials outdoors.
    The title of the biennale was “Dalla Natura All’Arte, Dall’Arte Alla Natura,” or “From Nature to Art, From Art to Nature.” Debuting July 1978, Lanu’s “Life in the Finnish Forest” consisted of 20 human figures inside and outside the pavilion made of earth, straw, moss, birch bark, and other organic materials as well as chicken wire, molds, and resin to give them form. Its centerpiece was a canoe with two rowers. (This and other Venice figures were still stored in the Orimattila barn.)
    
    It attracted a lot of notice. Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes wrote, somewhat sneeringly: “Granted that these quaint vegetative trolls would have looked better if met by accident in the woods, rather than spotlit in a gallery, they were still banal as sculpture—but children who visit the Biennale will love them.”
    Beginning in the late 1970s, Lanu did make perhaps hundreds of works that were meant to be discovered by accident in the forests and fields, in water and snow, but mostly in the woods around Lahti and Punkaharju. Few people ever saw them, so photographs provided the only record. While it was a time when Finns were becoming more aware of ecological problems such as deforestation and air and water pollution, Lanu wasn’t explicitly trying to make political installations. Whether using heather, hay, grass, reeds, moss, lichens, dandelions, tansy, pine needles, juniper and willow bushes, etc. (along with man-made materials), the standing, sitting, or lying figures seemed to grow out of living matter; he’d even place them under water or allow them to accumulate snow and ice. Still, these gentle interventions reflected nature’s cycles of growth, decay and renewal, speaking quietly yet insistently for themselves as ecological statements.
    “Lanu shows how we are born and how we co-evolve with our surroundings,” wrote artist and critic Antero Kare in the catalog to Timescape: Finnish Contemporary Art, an eight-artist survey that toured the Nordic countries and the United States in 1995-96. “Lanu wants to find our ancestors inside of us.” Kare, who curated the show, and others have commented on Lanu’s longing for a world peopled with mythical, Kalevala-like figures: a landscape of “tree people” or forest spirits or sprites made visible.
    (For a short poetic, affecting film, which shows him driving, hiking, boating, and biking with sculptures and placing them around the Lakeland landscape in summer and winter, see the short doc by Bruno Cusa that aired on French TV in 1991: “Portrait du Sculpteur Finlandais Olavi Lanu: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXPPcQ-UIiA)


 
    International demand for his work in museums, galleries, and sculpture parks led Lanu to work in more durable materials. Experimenting with a crew of students and assistants in the mid-1980s, he began using reinforced concrete, fiberglass, polyester resin, and even stone cladding to make his forms, often mixing in earthen materials. He built a number of commissions on-site throughout Finland as well as at nature art parks in Italy, Switzerland, and Sweden; also, his work was included in several international expositions as far away as Brazil and Australia.
    Lanu employed many assistants during this period (besides his future wife Tarja), mostly students recruited from the Lahti Institute of Art. They included Lasse Lassheikki, an artist in Lahti, and Pekka Syväniemi, an artist in Lapland, two of the founders (in 2001) of the remote, wondrous Oranki Art Park above the Arctic Circle near Pello, Lapland, one of Finland’s premier, and most primeval, environmental-art sites.
    Lassheikki, who ran the Taidepanimo alternative art center in Lahti, recalled Lanu’s boundless discipline and energy, how hard he worked to make his surfaces look natural. He also explained that Finnish artists of an earlier generation like Lanu were brought up and schooled not to talk about their work. “The art should do the talking,” said Lassheikki.
(This attitude is at least partly an outgrowth of the Finns’ natural reticence.)
    Another former assistant, the Oulu-based Jaakko Pernu, is an internationally exhibiting environmental sculptor who works with natural materials, often willow branches. Pernu told of assisting Lanu on a week-long trip in 1985 to the Fattoria di Celle (Celle Estate) nature art park outside Florence, where they installed Lanu’s giant fiberglass and stone figures, The Three Stones. Pernu recalled having lunch with Lanu and the famed British land artist Richard Long (who was there creating Grass Circle). “I have to say that I remember the time working for him [Lanu] rather than my studies,” Pernu said. In 2008, he said in an article published by the Embassy of Finland in Belgium that Lanu gave him “the passion and confidence to produce large-scale works.”

Olavi Lanu, Retretti,
Olavi Lanu, Retretti,"Stone Sleeper", photo Jeff Huebner

    Another ambitious ensemble, done over several years in the mid-1980s, can be seen outside the Retretti Art Center, in the Lakeland’s Punkaharju area. Retretti has to be one of the strangest art museums in the world: galleries and a concert hall are housed in man-made caves up to 100 feet deep, covering some 12,000 square feet. Following an exhibit there in 1984—among the center’s first—Lanu and assistants built a giant supine figure by the entrance drive, a “stone sleeper” as they’ve been called, nestled in birches and pines. It could easily be mistaken for another rocky outcropping—as I did, until I returned a year later and looked more closely. Nearby was the unmistakable Retretti Railway Stop, a 20-foot-high boulder-like crouching figure whose open legs and protective arms provided shelter beside a flag stop. As I discovered, it was also an effective and novel place to wait out a brief rainstorm.

Olavi Lanu, Retretti, Railway Stop, photo Jeff Huebner
Olavi Lanu, Retretti, Railway Stop Shelter, photo Jeff Huebner

    There are no Olavi Lanu sculptures in North America, as far as is known. His presence in the United States has been limited. In 1983, his concrete Tender Stone was part of the International Water Sculpture Competition in New Orleans, prior to the city’s Louisiana World Exposition (or World’s Fair). It didn’t win, and it’s presumed lost. A later version of the piece, which showed two large figures sitting and embracing, appeared in Lahti’s Lanu Park, where it still sat, the first sculpture you see as you venture up the gravel road. The only time Lanu had been in America was in early 1996, for the stateside opening of “Timescape” in Flagstaff, Arizona, at the Northern Arizona University Art Museum. It later traveled to art centers in Kansas City, Missouri and Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Olavi Lanu, Hollola, Woodland Spirit Scuplture
Olavi Lanu, Hollola, Woodland Spirit sculpture,

 Olavi Lanu with braided stone, Pyhaniemi manor
Olavi Lanu with braided stone, Pyhäniemi manor, photo Jeff Huebner

We soon came to Hollola, a historic town just to the west of Lahti. It had one of the country’s biggest medieval stone churches, the Church of St. Mary, dating to the late 15th century. Tarja—who’s quite an expert on Eastern Orthodox churches, many of which she and Olli had visited in Russia and Finland--took me inside and showed me the 24 wood-carved figures and saints made in the Middle Ages in Lübeck, Germany. This Lutheran church was built over a pre-Christian Iron Age settlement, which was not uncommon in Finland. It was among the last European nations or provinces to adopt Christianity. The new bishops began taking possession of sacred groves and other nature-based sites of pagan worship in 1229, but the roots to its pantheistic past were never completely buried.
      So it was only appropriate that a dozen of Lanu’s portable environmental sculptures had found a temporary home on the sprawling pastoral grounds of the nearby Pyhäniemi Manor, a famous estate house that dated to the 1780s and had also been built in an ancient settlement area. The location for many popular Finnish films in the 1930s and 40s, the manor has been a retreat owned by banker Mika Lehto and his wife Maria since 2009. A year later they opened it as a site of annual summer art exhibitions; in 2011, the Lehtos and curator Riika Latva-Somppi honored Lanu with an indoor and outdoor exhibit, which brought his work a new audience and renewed critical and popular attention.

 Olavi Lanu Woodland Spirit scupture´
Olavi Lanu, Hollola, Woodland Spirit sculpture

    Outside, Lanu’s sculptures—single or intertwined figures reveling in the enjoyment of themselves and of nature--stood like sylvan folk-spirits sprouting from the surrounding landscape of gardens, woodlands, forest groves, and manicured grounds. In lieu of encountering them in remote sites—he last exhibited several pieces at the Oranki Art Park in 2005—this setting of nature and culture offered the next best way to see Lanu’s figures. The Pyhäniemi exhibit was the capping, ultimate tribute to one of Finland’s art masters and master teachers, one of its first and foremost magicians of the earth. (The sculptures have since moved back to the Lanus’ yard, house, and storage areas.)   

    Back in Lahti city center, Tarja pointed out Lanu’s permanent concrete-and-fiberglass sculptures. There were totemic, tree-like columns of embracing human bodies—one outside a school, the other in the downtown pedestrian mall, which just happens to be named after the artist (Lanu-aukioksi). There was a sitting, enclosed figure on a street corner outside Nuovo Gallery, the last place to have a Lanu art exhibit, in 2005. Tarja said that the city had removed the sculpture some years ago, but that people who’d gotten used to seeing it there advocated to have it returned. Lanu later donated it to the city and people of Lahti—and it would stay where it was. 

Olavi Lanu, Gallerie Nuovo, Sculpture, Lahti
Olavi Lanu, Gallerie Nuovo, Sculpture, Lahti

    In the plaza outside the City Theatre was Lanu’s landmark 1983 Kivettymä, translated either as “Fossil” or “Petrification.” What first looked like a mass of rock-like shapes soon morphed into a flowing organic clump of figures, eerily reminiscent of the petrified remains of the Mount Vesuvius volcano’s human victims in Pompeii nearly 2,000 years ago. Lanu’s figures seemed to be either waking or reposing together, to be either rising from the earth or returning to it. The sculpture was either an expression of ecstatic communion or unexpected apocalypse. It was hard to tell. But Lanu wasn’t talking. Now, he walked around it and sat down, and seemed satisfied.
    “Some people thought his figures are in pain, but there is no pain in his works,” Tarja explained. “They are not crying, or about [bad] things. There is only hope and gladness. He has always loved doing everything and he has done it with big joy. He has had happiness in enjoying everything.”

Olavi Lanu, Lahti City Theatre Kivettymaa
Olavi Lanu, Lahti City Theatre Kivettymää (Petrification)

    Yet his sculptures’ associations with mortality—and immortality—were inescapable. As he sat there, among his own figures, I couldn’t help but think of the ephemerality of life—Shakespeare’s “players who strut and fret their hours upon the stage and then are heard no more,” an appropriate theme for a theatre sculpture. I thought of Lanu’s astonishing 65-year career as an artist and professor, and how even though most of his art-in-nature installations had disappeared forever, becoming part of the earth’s eternally recurring cycles, a number of his works were still perpetually petrified in space and time. As nature decays, art renews.

 Olavi Lanu and Petrification, Lahti
Olavi Lanu and Petrification, Lahti  

Here is Olavi Lanu’s obituary from YLE Uutiset:
http://yle.fi/uutiset/kuvanveistaja_professori_olavi_lanu_on_kuollut/7986263
 
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Jeff Huebner is a Chicago-based art writer and journalist with a special interest in public art. In recent years, he has also been exploring and writing about art and nature in Finland. He’s a longtime contributor to the Chicago Reader, Public Art Review, and many other art and culture publications. His articles on Finnish art have appeared in Public Art Review, Sculpture, Art Papers, New World Finn, Finnish American Reporter, Nature Art Education (Aalto University), and Greenmuseum. He has also written or co-written several books on Chicago-area community murals, street art, and public sculptures.