Elsa Salonen connects metaphysical dimensions to those biological truths that form our basic concepts of the world. Her work is situated somewhere between installation, painting and conceptual art and marked by the influence of alchemy and especially the idea of a ‘quintessence’ or an eternal force running through and connecting all humans and nonhumans.
Alchemy has led her to experiment directly with natural materials. Now she distils colours from flowers, processes the colours further and bleach plants to make them appear entirely white. In addition, she prepares her own pigments from a range of specific natural materials – from meteorites to volcanic ash – according to the various conceptual requirements of each individual work.
Her practice is based on a notion that most organisms, both in the plant and in the animal world, seem to lose their colours in death – flowers wither and bodies blanch. Thus, all the colours in nature become signs of the presence of essential life energy. In cycles of nature, this energy doesn’t disappear but changes its form of manifestation. Mouldering organisms become a matter for a new life. Furthermore, almost all of the elements of living organisms are known to have originated from ancient, dead stars. According to the best scientific estimate, our atoms will also, in the distant future, return to space and possibly form new stars. Both in short and in immeasurably long time frames, life energy manifests itself as eternal.
The work with natural materials deepened her interest in old Finnish beliefs about nature. Which she then compared with the local animist traditions in artist residencies both in Indonesia and Colombia. In her research, deep ecology, the rights of all forms of life to live regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, is united to animist recognitions. Animal and plant beings aren’t only equal to human beings, but at times wiser than us. Rather than marvelling only at our own skills to find the right medicinal herbs, why not change perspective to explore how it is that plants themselves have developed within them the remedies to cure humans and animals alike?
These ideas aren’t certainly in contradiction with the contemporary scientific view but potentially supported by it. In fact, one of the main goals of my practice is to bring together science and mysticism and to move towards a holistic balance as in alchemy in its original, uncorrupted state. Through art, we can keep alive the discussion about thoughts, that can give us hope and meanings.