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On Art and Science
Leena Reittu Turns Logging into Art
Puinen veistos lattialla
Reittu’s work will be exhibited at Nature Centre Ukko until 28 December 2022.
Nature contributes an element of surprise to the work of visual artist Leena Reittu.
Nainen tekee puista veistossa lumisessa metsässä.
Leena Reittu and the sculpture "Look, come closer".

Nature Centre Ukko in Koli, eastern Finland, has small wooden sculptures on display, and more can be seen in photographs on the walls. Despite being shown in North Karelia, the works have their roots in the forests of the Helsinki district of Pirkkola. A few years ago, lively debate was sparked by plans for a multipurpose hall to be built in Pirkkola Park. Many locals objected to the plan, which involved felling old-growth forest.

As part of her Master’s studies in art, Leena Reittu took an activism course that included an exploration of the feelings evoked by the felled forest in Pirkkola. Digging tree stumps out of the snow there gave her the idea for a performance, in which all the stumps in the clearing would be revealed to let the bark see the light of day for a final time, as it were. Since then, forest clearings have formed a part of her art. 

Reittu’s work will be exhibited at Nature Centre Ukko until 28 December 2022. Reittu works in the region herself and is active in a local cultural association, which among other things runs an artists’ residence in the village.

The photographs and works in the exhibition illustrate Reittu’s work process. She picks up logging waste from clearings, turns it into a sculpture and returns it to the clearing, where it will live on. The shapes of the sculptures are inspired by the microscopic curves on lichen.

The sculptures in the clearings are unmarked and there are no signposts leading to them. Still, Reittu does intend them to be viewed. “I enjoy the element of surprise – that you might randomly walk or hike to a place and find an odd-shaped lump there.”

Nature itself can contribute surprises. “At some point, someone had tried to move one of my pieces and it had got wet, and started to grow a rot fungus, which was really cool. So thanks, vandal!” Reittu laughs.

Puinen veistos lattialla

Wood has been an important material for Reittu since her studies. Having graduated from Saimaa University of Applied Sciences in 2015, she bought a tree trunk and turned it into a series of works. So far, the same trunk has yielded four series – each with slightly smaller works than its predecessor.

“This kind of recycling feels like my thing,” Reittu says. “I want wood to have another purpose; it is a living material, after all. I have read a lot about trees and found out about their life cycles. It has led me to feel greater empathy for them. At least I try not to add to all the messes we have created in the world with my work.”

Reittu mentions the vehemency of movements to defend even small forest plots in the Helsinki metropolitan area. This contrasts with the situation in North Karelia, even though certain places of personal importance to people might arouse debate. “The scale of logging in this region is tragic. There are very few opportunities for influencing decisions,” Reittu says.

She sees her art as a form of activism. “I have to process my own frustration with deforestation in some way. There are no good ways of having an influence, but it gives me some satisfaction to be doing something, however small. If I am an artist, then why not use that as a channel for expressing my views.”

Leena Reittu received six-month grants for her artistic work from the North Karelia Regional Fund in 2019 and 2022.