Timo Rytkönen is a longtime visual artist, a gardener in his spare time and an enthusiastic resident visitor. Rytkönen spent October living in the Valóság residence in Budapest as a visiting artist of FinnAgora. We met Rytkönen at our office and had a conversation about Hungary, art, creativity and a bit about the future, too.
To begin with, could you tell us what brought you here to Budapest?
This spring, I was in Athens at the institute’s residency, and after the trip I looked at what other opportunities the institutes offered. I noticed the excellent opportunities provided by the institute in Budapest, Hungary, and that is how I applied. I have planned to come to Budapest, but I had not managed to come before now.
Your visit here is about halfway through, and as you are in Hungary for the first time, what thoughts and feelings have Hungary and Budapest evoked in you?
There were some prejudices of some sort due to the political situation. Orbán's behavior and opinions are probably supported by some Finns as well, but I don't share those opinions. I have not come across such opinions yet, however, I have not been in much contact with people other than a few residents of the house where I stay.
Budapest itself is much bigger than I thought. Busier, the houses are big, magnificent and old. I kind of assumed that maybe there would be more ruins here because of the war and maybe also after the liberation buildings would have been demolished, but it seems that they have rather been renovated. And I must separately praise Budapest's amazing public transport.
You describe the environment very clearly and in detail, what role does the location play in terms of creativity in your work, is this environment one that brings you some new influences?
It does influence, the processes themselves are pretty much unconscious. I have also participated in quite many various public art competitions. The thinking process is a challenge itself, but something always comes up, and whether the roots of the works are in Budapest or elsewhere, one does not necessarily know that in the end.
Indeed, when visiting your webpage I noticed that you have participated in the logo and slogan competition of the Italian city of Lissone. Were you in Italy at the time or how did you end up participating?
I was actually in Finland at the time. I was in the library browsing through magazines. I think I was looking in an Abitare magazine, anyway it was an Italian furniture magazine and I understood enough Italian to realize there was a competition. I then copied the program from there, as it was a time when online things did not even exist yet. I also participated in the slogan series of the competition, when I was not sure if I could participate with just a logo, I made up the slogan with the help of a travel dictionary. My logo did not make it in the competition, but the slogan I came up with ended up winning.
Timo Rytkönen's slogan "Fatto ragione, fatto a Lissone!" (meaning "Made right, made in Lissone") won the slogan competition.
This example reflects the versatility of your work very well.
And maybe attitude, too. I received a telegram about winning the slogan contest and I did not understand what it said. I went to the Design Forum in Helsinki, and a person I knew there, with their Italian language skills thought that it meant that I had won. I then went to the Finnish Italian Cultural Center, and there they translated the message, and I indeed had won. This made me laugh and with a smile on my face I happened to run into some colleagues, and they said that "Timppis has made an international breakthrough".
So, is a change of scenery important to you in terms of work and creativity and is one month a good time to visit the residency?
Definitely a change of scenery is important and then also a detachment from everyday life and solitude to some extent, knowing I can be alone even though I'm married.
Usually a month is a suitable time, but the longest stay was a three-month residency, and there I had the opportunity to do bigger works. Budapest is more of a writing place because I have one room. Therefore, there is not much space for carving or painting. Also, I would have to bring suitable equipment with me. So one month is really good, you can get to know a new city and also do work. When it comes to a new city, familiarizing yourself with it is quite important or remarkably important. I am also open in terms of creating, that if something comes to mind, I do it, or at least sketch it out. Working as an artist is very free in terms of working hours and everything.
You described Budapest as a place to write, what does this mean?
This is not a big write-up, but announcements of my upcoming exhibition. The works will be those where there is a descriptive text next to each piece that tells a little about the work. I will write those texts, and some for the website. I will also translate them into English because I have a bilingual website. I have also photographed the works that are finished, and now I am selecting the images I will use and editing them. So what I do here is a lot of what I call ’mouse work’ (smaller, yet important tasks).
When you work or start making a new piece, are there any particular values you take into consideration or that guide your work?
Of course, environmental issues are constantly in the background. Recycling became important to me even before today's environmental thinking. Recycling came about because it was financially possible to do something when you got the material for free. That is, from the very beginning I often had recycled material in the work and nowadays it is actually in the center, because I would not necessarily want to produce more new ones. Last Thursday I went to the Art Market event in Bálna. It was a bit depressing. I did not really see very interesting things there, maybe there were a few technically interesting works, but nothing inspiring. Perhaps the environment also influenced the fact that perhaps even excellent works did not get the space they would have needed. I am trying to defend my own critical position.
Speaking of recycled materials, you have made the piece 'Muistamme' at the Malmi cemetery, would you like to tell us more about this?
I do not remember how I knew, but I knew that when old gravestones are removed, they are crushed. I somehow felt a pity about it, even though the removed gravestones may no longer have emotional value for many people, they still have some kind of emotional value. I somehow wanted to save them, and at the same time it is a recycled material, I wanted to think about the environment. Crushing gravestones is also a cost issue, cemeteries have to get a crusher and pay for it. I then reached an agreement with the chief gardener of the cemetery and made the piece. I found a place where you could saw stones, for the first time I saw with a circular saw the size of a room.
Timo Rytkönen's work 'Muistamme' can be seen at the Malmi cemetery. You can read more about the work on Rytkönen's own website.
For many artists, it is important to find their so-called 'own thing' or their own style, how do you feel about this? And who do you primarily make art for?
I mean, to be able to make a living it is important to brand yourself, make yourself known and so on, but I have probably inherited a lack of ambition and I have really only done art for myself. I also want to show my work, but it is up to the recipient whether they like it or not, and whether they are interested in it or not. The fact that I do it for myself is maybe some kind of therapy also. When you like doing something, it makes you feel good and gives you a feeling of success.
If we go back to the present moment here in Budapest, do you still have any plans, what are you planning or hoping to do or see, do you have any direction or do you just let the flow take you and see where it takes you?
Mostly I let the flow take me to places, but there are still a couple of museums I want to see, like the main museum is yet to be visited. In the north, there is a city I would like to visit, the name of it is hard to pronounce, Szentendre I think it is called. And I already asked at the train station how the trains go to Vienna. I could go there for a day and visit a few museums. But of course exploring Budapest and Hungary comes first.
Thank you Timo for the interview, is there anything else you would like to say?
This is somewhat related to Budapest, but perhaps more to widening of the worldview, that in the poorest moments residencies were the only way for me to travel. There were places where one did not have to pay for anything other than the food, and sometimes even the food was included, so that is how I have learned and been inspired to make use of these international opportunities. Most of the time I have applied directly via international organizations and then been offered a stay.
Name: Timo Rytkönen
Occupation: Visual artist
Hobbies: gardening and forestry at the summer cottage
What I will miss about Hungary: at least the feeling of the big city life of Budapest
Timo Rytkönen's exhibition "Kehyskertomuksia" is displayed in Helsinki,
at Kaapelitehtaan Konttori 3.1.-30.1.2023.
Mon-Fri 8:30-19 and Sat-Sun 11-18
(on Epiphany Friday 6 January 2023 from 11 am to 7 pm)