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  • Anette Frisch

Eyes as Big as Plates

Aktualisiert: 13. Apr. 2023

Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth are not only passionate swimmers - since 2011 they have been working as an artist duo on their long-term project Eyes as Big as Plates. For this, they travel around the world, embedding people into fauna, flora and funga on a continual search for modern human's belonging in nature.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Fiona (Scotland, 2022) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen

Fiona works for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Council of the Western Islands) and undertook an ecological study of this very beach. She slid in amongst the extremely fragrant mounds of seaweed and held a Yoga move called low cobra for a criminally long time.


While the artists were busy packing for trips to Salzburg, Stuttgart and Munich we chat via Mail about their project.

What about the name of your project? Where does it come from?

Riitta: Eyes as Big as Plates is borrowed from a folk tale. There is one with a dog that's living beneath a bridge and another version, where there is a troll doing the same thing. And this open-eyed and potentially risky approach to seeing the world around you, has become an emblem of the curiosity that guides our interactions.

How did your idea arouse to show people as living sculptures in nature?

Riitta: Back in 2011 we started with looking at personification of natural phenomenons, these were often camouflaged into cautionary folktales about deep and dangerous bogs like the Will-o’-the-wisp or treacherous seas and archipelagoes as a creature called draugen. The more we spoke with locals, the more we learned about these folktales and characters having moved out from the imaginations of the contemporary citizens. The relationships between people and their surroundings were more pragmatic and not at all as we had imagined. This keeps happening with the project, it sort of puts us in our place, we go out asking questions and our collaborators, including the weather, plants and fungi, keep reshaping the quest.

Karoline: We were wondering what’s happening with their imagination when they are connecting with their space. Part of this project’s quest is to go out with people who might not often do so otherwise, and just observe. Sometimes this means that the person camouflaged in 40kg of moss will look at their surroundings like they have never seen them before, question the existence of what has been around them for 50 years and take time to just be in amongst it all. It would be thrilling if our work could inspire folks to pay attention. This could happen at a parking lot behind your office, in a rainforest, on an ice float, main thing is to pause and witness. There is a definite urgency to the change in our environment and we hope that by noticing we might start caring, starting with the ‘little things’.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Inger (Norway 2021) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen

Inger grew up by the sea in southeast Norway with a father at sea who cursed like a sailor. She has recited poetry since she was eigth years old. From a prodigal start - performing poems while skipping along the shoreline - she went on to become a professional narrator for NRK, the Norwegian national broadcaster, and is still an active performer of poetry 77 years later.


You call the people you portrait collaborators. Why?

Riitta: Each image starts with a conversation, much like a casual interview. We ask our participants about their life, their environment, meaningful places or the material they love. Our wearable sculptures are born from the conversation and made from the material found in the surrounding. Our collaborators are as important as the weather, wind, vegetation, geology, the camera and the two of us, in order to create a final result.

Karoline: Over the last few years our focus has shifted, and with the goal of combining the powers of art, science and activism, we are searching for collaborators that is actively engaged in the climate emergency discourse. The portrait and its accompanying text aim to create a platform to enhance the reach and crystallise the pressing environmental issues around the globe.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Brit (Norway 2021) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen

Brit has been handling marine clay as far back as she can remember, first as her favourite plaything, later as her lifelong artistic material of choice. Brit attempted to summarize the experience: "The clay was confident today, of who was shaping who. I felt its weight, its smell, its humidity, its gurgling sound and it handling of me as a shape."


The photos in your new book Eyes as Big as Plates 2. give a good insight, how demanding your work is. For Brit for example you had to build a wire mesh beforehand.

Riitta: Oh yes. We always tell our collaborators to bring the warmest clothes they have, and then also pack about seven extra coats and pairs of boots. But we do break for food or a bit of whisky.

Karoline: I work with an analog camera, that means that the process can be slow and physically challenging. Sometimes our collaborators truly show extraordinary stamina by keeping their chosen pose for hours regardless of sun, insects, gale force winds or extremely ticklish twigs. We both find the unpredictability of each meeting fascinating. Probably why we have kept going for twelve years now!

Riitta: We let serendipity steer our course. Understanding the in-between state of nature and people, ages, cultures and borders is what continues to drive us: the absence of conclusions, just the interim, the space in-between.”

It really impressed me, how your contributors blend with nature, sometimes they are difficult to spot.

Karoline: We like it that way. It is not clear who or what is the protagonist in our work, whether it is the human figure or the nature around them.

Riitta: We really love this concept of blurring these boundaries. Is it a nations boundary or is it an age or a gender boundary? To one of our images people often say “I like the portrait of this grandpa”. Actually, it is a grandma. But it does not matter at all. When it comes to the fluidity of all these borders we have, it is what we enjoy the most.


Meet the artists in Stuttgart and Munich

Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth shooting Boubou, the legendary Grand Pêcheur of Dakar. Field Notes in Senegal © Jennifer Houdrouge

The works of the artist duo are currently on the posters and programme booklets of the Staatsoper Stuttgart. The Staatsoper will therefore hold a performance and a talk with the artists at the Württembergischer Kunstverein on 18 April 2023, 6 pm. Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth will also present their latest book Eyes as Big as Plates, published by arnoldsche Art Publisher. From 25 April to 15 May 2023 their work will be shown at the Rachel Carson Center with an accompanying artist talk.


High recommended: The book Eyes as big as plates 2. © arnoldsche Art Publisher

Order the book

The very beautiful and inspiring publication Eyes as Big as Plates 2. is published by the Stuttgart-based arnoldsche Art Publisher.

Each photo is accompanied by a short biographical text that creates a closeness to the person portrayed.

In addition the inserted field notes show how they find and work together with their collaborators. You can literally feel, that the large-format book is made with passion and love. Eyes as big as plates 2. contains 252 pages, 471 illustrations and costs 38 euros.


Buy the artworks

You can buy selected works from Eyes as Big as Plates. If you are interested, you are welcome to contact the artists directly: On the websites of Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen you will find more works.


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