FiR Artist Interviews: Janne Nabb & Maria Teeri

This interview with artist duo Janne Nabb & Maria Teeri, conducted and written by Tessa Aarniosuo, is a part of a series of discussions with artists taking part in the Frontiers in Retreat project at HIAP, Helsinki International Artist Programme.

– Jenni Nurmenniemi, Curator, Frontiers in Retreat; HIAP


NABB + TEERI on a Scavenger Hunt

Janne Nabb (b. 1984) and Maria Teeri (b. 1985) have been working together since 2008. They are participating in the Frontiers in Retreat project, so we met to discuss their work in relation to ecological issues. Maria finds the label problematic. Neither her or Janne see themselves as stereotypically ecological artists. Sometimes, by naming something ecological, we tend to attach certain expectations to the aesthetic and the materials used, and NABB + TEERI’s art has never been so predefined.

The ecology comes from the materials just being there. It is not about either Maria or Janne as individuals, or even the two of them as a collective. It is not about their particular beliefs. The nature of their approach to ecology is simple: in this capitalist society, we all need to consume less and make longer lasting, or even permanent, material choices. So, while creating their installations, they tend to use materials they find on site.

Sometimes the site itself dictates what kind of materials are available to use. For example, for the installation mesh/mɛʃ/ at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, they weren’t allowed to bring anything organic into the museum space, so they ended up creating, taking down and re-creating constructions made of aluminium and other construction site waste materials. It is a no-brainer, really. Why use up new materials, when there is so much waste waiting to be given a new life?

There is also always an element of surprise present when working with found materials. Janne is interested in the potential of every new object, every new piece of found material. “I sit in my studio, with an object in my hand, thinking about how to use it. I love that moment,” he tells me. Maria, on the other hand, is interested in the practical aspect of using found objects, not having to buy anything new. “We are down-to-earth people,” she laughs.

Usually, Janne and Maria do not work in a studio. Currently, they are living and working in a studio in Töölö, courtesy of the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation. As much as Janne and Maria enjoy contemplating over the destiny of objects within their own work space, having a studio is not ideal, they find. A studio changes the nature of their practice relevantly, as it ties them down to a specific space. More to their nature is a way of working they describe as scavenging: going to a place and seeing what they can find. That way, the idea always forms material first.

There is a contradiction to Janne and Maria’s way of living and their work, that seems to trouble Janne especially. They own a house in Närpiö in Western Finland, where they could theoretically live in a self-sustained manner. However, something draws them towards residencies and big studios with central heating. How to be an artist, yet manage to live self-sufficiently and ecologically? Janne and Maria are still working on solving this problem.

One thing about this contradiction is looking as it might just solve itself; Janne and Maria are not so keen to travel anymore. They feel like they are capable of doing the same things and creating the same art anywhere, whether it is the house in Närpiö, their studio in Töölö, or even a residency in NYC. “I used to think that a residency in New York was all I really wanted. Now, I wouldn’t say no, were someone to offer us one, but that burning desire is not there anymore,” Janne says. Maria believes that the desire to travel abroad should base itself on something more than just wanting to visit as many countries as possible. She finds it hard to justify the will to travel away from home to herself.

In November 2015 Janne and Maria visited Edinburgh for a month, as a part of Arts Promotion Finland’s residency program. The time spent in Edinburgh did not seem all that meaningful. The pair spent a lot of time on the beach, as they do in Finland. The tide held their attention, however. During low tide they would walk down to the beach, to find strange, uncanny mosh-covered rocks, shoes, and other alien objects. The objects, although interesting and beautiful in their own grotesque way, were nasty enough to be left there, on the beach. The idea of carrying them to Finland was not pleasant, yet their images remained lingering on in Janne and Maria’s imagination.

Once back in Finland, Janne and Maria started to create 3D drawings of imaginary minerals, based on the shapes and colours of the weird objects they encountered on Edinburgh beach. There is a sketchiness about them, that is intentional. “We are poets, not researchers,” Maria laughs. The imaginary minerals are not meant to look like scientific research. There is some science behind the idea, however. Janne tells me about the transition zone, an area inside the earth. Once seemingly still minerals go through that zone, they end up changing shape several times.

Janne and Maria’s minerals go through the metaphorical transition zone of 30 stages of digital modelling. Eventually, they will select 240 minerals, that will be projected through three slide projectors as part of an installation piece. The rest of the installation will comprise of chairs and metal structures crafted from materials found in their current studio.

At the end of our interview, Maria tells me that I have managed to avoid all the clichéd questions about what it is like to share your work with someone who is also your partner in life. I laugh and say that I didn’t need to ask that. Their collaboration seems so smooth, so seamless. They end each other’s sentences and talk on behalf of one another. “It is easy,” Janne says. “Wherever we go, whatever we do, it is always the two of us there. That is the one variable that never changes.”


In previous years and projects, your work has been strongly site specific. Is location still an important factor in your work? How does working in a residency shape your process?

Our works are often project-based, time- and site-specific and temporal. They form from the conditions of each site with the materials to be found there. We make use of a kind of a bricolage mode of operation, and at times, within the limits of the logistic possibilities we bring with us also some construction materials of our artistic toolkit including a variety of dismountable structures, found trade fair stands, or other fragments as accompaniments. Now, that we for a couple of years have access to a downtown studio with central heating, we have taken advantage of both the studio practice opportunities it provides, as well as the constraints of the studio institution. We now devote our time more to texts and to vices of the city.

To work in a residency is to always be violently put in a new location, situation, and material reality. Preconceived working methods must usually be rejected, just to be rediscovered again. However, the longer-term site-specific relationships that are embedded in the nature of working-in-residence are more meaningful than, say, the default operation of the exhibition organizing, in which the exhibitions and their makers most often only commute from an institution to another.

The histories of materials and engagement with the sites but also speculative matters interest us. Living with materials produces different types of situations than the faster encounters with site specific or found objects. This studio practice is to a great extent what artist Simryn Gill has said to be ‘filling time’. This filling time takes place in the residence, too. The feel of novelty doesn’t usually have time to change to mundanity during short term residencies, but longer periods eventually lead to the same kind of sensory numbing than any other earthbound repetition. Working requires in many cases this boredom and the frustration welling forth from it.


Discuss the juxtapositions of nature with culture and technology. The minerals from your most recent production seem hand-picked straight from nature, but are created with human technology instead.

Divisions between 'nature’ and its various counterparties such as 'culture’ and 'technology’ are problematic. The cultures or technologies of humans and others are not in any way detached from their environment. Sculpting speculative minerals is a bodily, machine-assisted event. The movements of the optical mouse follow the hand’s range of motion on the table; learned, experience-based knowledge of various substances and their feel guides the fantasy. The programmed algorithms carry out the forming and merging of selected articles and textures, the process being partly moderately aleatory. The mineral drifts in the transition zone deep in Earth’s mantle can take place at the same inevitable randomness, yet also defined by certain physical parameters. The pictures of the minerals are at the same time pictures of the technology and its limits: /Background /Bend /Brush /Clay /Crease /Deformation /Dissolve /Drag /Draw /Flatten /Grab /Gravity /Inflate /Iron /Knife /Light /Magnet /Metaball /Mirror /Cloner Object /Paint /Particle /Pinch /Random Effector /Reflector /Rotate /Thinking Particles /Twist /Scale /Scene /Sky /Slide /Smooth /Sphere /Stitch and Sew /Weld /Wind


You tend to use found materials in your works. The new minerals seem to fit the bill, but are crafted instead. What is this all about?

The world of 3D has always solidly included the creation of parallel, virtual realities that have an authentic feel. There is and has been some kind of slot for them as is shown, for example, in the revival of VR glasses. To counterbalance the collection and sorting of the tangible and often dirty surplus we have felt unconstrained with 'making ourselves’ some speculative, slightly transcendent 3D chunks, as well as to frame their representations in the way art documentation works. The deliberate deception happens with the speculative minerals quite plausibly in many degrees, from raw material to final documentation and to the final presentation of the work. If anything, the only things that have been found in the conventional sense are a few Youtube-tutorials.

Speculative minerals are linked to several contemporary discourses, such as depleting resources, neo immaterialism of the internet, as well as the preservation of the digital and analog data. The geodiversity of the fantasy is combined with the illusion of the network connected, seemingly immaterial existence through a simple gesture. After all, we are not online nor are our files in the cloud but everything is bound to hardware, minerals, micro-wave radiation, the data centers of the subarctic climate.

Once again the low tide reveals temporarily hectares of slimy wilderness on the outskirts of Scotland. Underwater sand dunes, stepped boulder fields, a squid, a petrified shoe. I lift up a stone, some smelly waterplant is growing from its other end. We sigh deeply and reminisce aloud the stony beach that consisted of 3D printed pebbles.


Tell us a little about the way you work, your processes. Is it difficult to combine the intuition of two artists?

Working is undulation between consideration and intuition. Sometimes we use a variety of constraints in making the work. The starting point can also be a piece of text or any finding. Once the outset has been determined some rather resolute research can follow. On the other hand, a thought-out project may at any time slide back to the zone of free association if so desired. Two people comb or sieve the surrounding fields of meaning in more ways than one. Also, sieve size varies with both of them. The significance of chance gets palpable when decision-making includes two instead of one and the control must in any case be partially given up. Intuitions can’t be properly reconciled, but their use can be practiced. It’s important to learn to trust the other’s intuition and to give it space.


During your presentation of your work at HIAP (18 April 2016) Maria read out loud a short story by Virginia Woolf. Does the story describe your practice? Do your works often rely on cultural references?

The short story we read, Woolf’s ‘Solid Objects’, tells of a person who’s stranded to spend his life occupied with completely irrelevant things from the point of view of the status quo. The protagonist’s promising political career that is taking form is changed to the passions of a hunter-collector, when he finds a super mundane piece of glass buried in the sand that the tide reveals. Gradually the human communities peel off from around the protagonist, when he begins to focus all his attention on the universes of otherness that open up for him in the found pieces of iron or broken china.

The story speaks to us as artists, as readers and as humans. We would like to think of the artist’s work to include a certain kind of immersion in the reality of other vibrant bodies and the fascination beside them. ‘Solid Objects’ showed up while we roughed out the concepts of deep time for ourselves, thematically it seemed to fit subtly in the world of speculative minerals. For example, one extraterrestrial piece that glows cold and weighs disproportionately for its size is imagined in the text. In the story the beach is constantly present, as is the case with speculative minerals, whose role models were the November caches in the Scottish tidal beaches. The fundamental strangeness of affairs combines both the world of the text and that pseudo-geological, seeming diversity we have accumulated.

Our work intertwines around found bodies of objects as well as texts that come to us. Site-specificity might be an important element for us, but so are also the things we read, hear, or witness. Often the relationships between our works and the meaningful texts form long, invisible continuums reaching out through many years in different directions. To name a few, we have used texts by J. G. Ballard, Antti Salminen, Jane Bennett, and Timothy Morton as starting points for some of our work. One could think that everything we read will in some way become part of our practice. When naming works, we use and borrow all the material at hand; the names or the exhibition texts link the spatial entities and the excerpts of text to each other.