Rainer Paananen uses project grant to develop a new instrument

The art of visual artist Rainer Paananen is characterised by a desire to try new things. Supported by a project grant for photographic art, he designed and built an experimental string instrument.
Henkilö istuu rantakiven päällä. Taustalla näkyy järvimaisema.
Photo: Rainer Paananen

Rainer Paananen says that he gets inspiration for making art from the time he spends in nature. A close relationship with nature has been present in his life for a long time.

– The forest was always nearby in my childhood. I get a lot of strength from nature, and my relationship with nature has only strengthened through my artistic work.

Paananen, who studied photography at the Turku Arts Academy, found his own path as an artist already during his studies. Before then, he focused on documentary photography, but during his studies he became interested in experimental photography.

– The school made me an artist. That’s when I started thinking about the boundaries of a photograph. I became interested in abstract photography and whether a photograph can be abstract, since it is always tied so closely to its representation.

These reflections can be seen concretely in Paananen’s art.

– In my artistic work, I have insisted that a photograph should be a snapshot of a certain moment and represent something. It is paradoxical, because the composition plays with the documentary nature of the photograph and the fact that a trace is drawn on the analogue material. In my case, that means a line made with a musical instrument.

Creating visual art with a string instrument

In 2021, Taike awarded Paananen a project grant for covering the costs of creating and exhibiting his artwork. With the support of the grant, Paananen presented his solo exhibition Sound of Alchemy at Kunsthalle Turku in 2021.

The exhibition featured works produced by Paananen during the previous four years.

– I have high quality standards for my own work. The exhibition could not have been realised in the same way if I had not been awarded a project grant. With it, for example, I was able to build an experimental string instrument.

Many of the works in the exhibition were created by Paananen using his experimental instrument. Pigments were applied to the strings that, when plucked, released the pigments onto the surfaces of photographic paper, creating straight lines, circles and rectangles, for example.

The exhibition could not have been realised in the same way if I had not been awarded a project grant.

At the closing of the Sound of Alchemy exhibition, the artist presented a performance that combined music and visual art. In the performance, Paananen used the string instrument that he had designed and built with the designer and instrument maker Hemmo Honkonen to produce notes and visual art at the same time.

– Years ago, I made sketches of my photographic works using a marking tool known as a chalk line. The sound of the line made me wonder if it could be a musical instrument. I built the first prototype on a plywood sheet by combining electric guitar parts. I wanted to build an experimental string instrument that could be used as a tool but also displayed in an exhibition space.

During the performance, Paananen produced an artwork from a chromogenic colour print with grooves burned into the surface. At the same time that the instrument was drawing a line on the photo paper, Paananen was using it to play meditative music.

– The artwork was on top of the body of the instrument throughout the exhibition, and I then completed it during the performance. It was clear that I had to actually play the instrument so that people could grasp my method. I challenged myself, and that’s when I realised concretely how much making art can give. It felt good when people liked it.

Taidetoksia seinällä.
Rainer Paananen: Playing a Round, 2021 & Reordered String #1, #2, #3, 2021. Photo: Rainer Paananen

Inspiration from the change in seasons

During the grant period, Paananen sought inspiration for creating new art from nature, spending a month at the Mustarinda residency. Situated atop the second highest summit in Kainuu, Mustarinda is surrounded by primeval forests in their natural state.

At the residency, Paananen saw nature come to life as winter began to turn into spring. Observing the change in nature fuelled his creativity.

– At the same time, I rebuilt myself as an artist. This resulted in new artworks in which I used a new form language, such as a circle, which reflects the natural cycle.

I want to create sculptures that run on electricity and works that utilise robotics.

Paananen admits that new ideas pop into his mind all the time. In the future, for example, he wants to create a work where the entire gallery is transformed into a musical instrument.

Paanasen also aims to use more technology in his works.

–  I want to create sculptures that run on electricity and works that utilise robotics – simple things, such as claws that lift a string and slice up photographic paper.

”Meet Our Funding Recipients” is a series of articles that introduces you to artists, working groups and communities who have received funding from Taike. In these interviews, funding recipients discuss their art and the projects they have been able to implement with the support of funding.

Read more interviews with funding recipients