Review 5 years Meijburg Art Commission: Pasi Orrensalo

Since 2015, consultancy film KPMG Meijburg & Co, partner of Unseen Amsterdam, has been inviting exhibiting photographers at the fair to submit a proposal for the Meijburg Art Commission. This project fund allows the winner the opportunity to develop a work for the Meijburg corporate collection. During Unseen 2017, Pasi Orrensalo was chosen as the winner from five submissions, after which he was allowed to realise his submitted work. In 2018, the work was unveiled at the Meijburg headquarters. In this interview, you will read more about why his work is so remarkable and how he managed to interweave the history of Meijburg & Co into the resulting work of art.

Although the work of the Finnish photographer is marked by a certain lightness and humour, Pasi Orrensalo started photographing because of a rather emotional event that took place ten years ago: his daughter was born prematurely. She weighed only one kilogram and her vulnerability and his emotions during this period offered Orrensalo a new perspective, which he expressed in photography. He obtained a degree at the Institute of Visual Communication in the southwest of Finland and released his first book in 2016. Orrensalo's work is instantly recognisable and is usually characterised by waste, seemingly floating against a deep blue sky. Completely decontextualised, these objects almost become aesthetic. He uses mattresses, car tires, toys, washing machines and even a car that was involved in a car accident. The photographer invites us to look at waste in a different way, to see its beauty and to take a guess at the personal histories that are implicated in the waste. Orrensalo: “I realised they’re not just rubbish, they’re also stories. For me there is beauty and emotion in everything around us, especially that which we cast aside. Every object has its own intrinsic beauty, created during its lifetime, as well as through the relationship it had with its owner. Each object has a story to tell. So for me, a scrapyard is the ultimate library.”

Orrensalo was inspired when he drove past a landfill near his home in Espoo, a suburb of Helsinki, in 2014. On a spontaneous impulse, he asked an employee to hurl some of the objects through the air using a crane. Orrensalo picked up his Nikon D810 and captured the objects, which were thrown 45 meters into the air before hitting the ground with a loud bang. In the period that followed, the photographer did a lot of research into how he could influence the trajectory of the objects, taking gravity into account as well as the most ideal light and wind conditions. Yet, in the end, he can only influence the result up to a certain degree, which means that the final image always contains an element of serendipity.

Orrensalo: “For the Meijburg Art Commission I wanted to create a work that contained a strong link with the company and its employees. I asked them to collect as many ‘office related’ objects as possible. Objects that they have spent years using. Paper, books, manuals, printers, scanners. Objects that would have ended up on the scrapheap. The aim was to tell the story of office work evolution from paper to paperless office and also tell the history of Meijburg. Airborne every day office items, law books and company documents are a festive and positive way of saying goodbye to the old and welcome the future.”

The jury, consisting of Bill Hunt (collector of photography and curator from New York), Lady Susan Bright (curator and writer) and Wilbert Kannekens (chairman of the board of KPMG Meijburg & Co), was unanimously enthusiastic about Orrensalo's proposal. The jury report stated that “the jury [had] great admiration for the unique relationship with the firm that was incorporated into the proposal. In addition, the photographic aspect was quite prominent and the proposal was very clear and concrete. It is the kind of proposal that conveys a particular feeling: the longer you look at it, the more you will love it.” Orrensalo looks back on the project with great pleasure: "It gave me resources to implement new projects and dreams.

Orrensalo's work makes us think more deeply about the journey that waste makes, because although we often regard the landfill as the final destination of our rubbish - after all, it is no longer our problem - it mainly signals a new phase for the waste itself. At best, the material is recycled, at worst, the product starts a lengthy degradation process that, in the case of a Coke can, can take up to 200 years. Yet the project is more about the stories behind our waste than reckless consumption. Orrensalo: “The waste represents traces of our lives: stories of love, anger, resentment, loss. Seminal moments in people's lives or brief instances of interaction. This ‘junk’ used to belong to someone, it’s been played with, at work, on holiday. It’s been the cause of – or witness to – sorrow or joy, quickly discarded or cherished for years. So much history remains clearly visible in the waste. Smells, fingerprints, names, wear and tear. When you look at a discarded object you can see more than the thing itself: where it stood in a room, whether it was cleaned regularly. Stains, cigarette burns or scratches all hint at a past and a story that is hidden. They remind us that there was, and continues to be, life behind waste. One family's abandoned car, filled with the memories of a summer road trip, will become the raw material for a new one. Its story simply continues in another form, it grows and multiplies, and carries on living. Its current state is only temporary. Much came before, and even more is still to come.”

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