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Ilona Rista: KAISLA-puureliefi. Image Ilona Rista

The exhibition by an internationally known designer, Ilona Rista, showcases new kind of Finnish wood culture. The wood artist’s playful approach to digital materials has produced a fun, yet serious collection of material and immaterial works that combine wood art with technology. The exhibition will be held at the Craft Museum of Finland’s Lobby Gallery 12 September–5 December 2020. 

Wood has always been the material of choice to Ilona Rista, and her grandmother, sculptor Essi Renvall, suggested that she apply for a carpenter school. Rista saw great opportunities in wood art. Now she combines wood, which is considered to be the most natural and Finnish material of all nature’s materials, to modern light and computer technology. Wood and light together create wall reliefs that live and breathe. “In a way, I bring Finnishness to the global era while the work itself reminds people of the roots of the Finnish nation”, Rista describes.

As a result of latest development, Rista’s works utilise LED technology and digital light control. The relief features an integrated multi-sensory interactive event. In the KAISLA (‘Reed’) relief, the motion and light sensors trigger rain, a thunderstorm or a sunrise while the PLAYGROUND animation features dragonflies playing in a bed of reeds. Together KAISLA and PLAYGROUD offer two different perspectives to the same topic – the tangible, concrete material of the wood relief can be reflected in the virtual world through the means of animation and the soundscape. 

MÄNTYMETSÄ work (‘Woodland’) presents a living urban forest where the modern scientific and technical world view and urban culture are mirrored to our constantly changing relationship to forests. The play between light and shadow in the relief emphasises the theme, brings peace, and highlights the greatest characteristics of this material. 

Before, wood artists used axes and chainsaws to carve wood, and Rista still used manual tools as well for processing wood about twenty years ago. Then, information technology became part of wood processing, too, and Rista grew interested in it. “When I transitioned from manual carving to using an automatic milling machine, I thought for a long time about how to achieve as rich result as by hand.” She considered the alternatives to expressionless acoustic perforated boards and started designing multi-layered reliefs. The Finnish forest is a commonly-featured topic in them. Rista is continuously developing her use of wood. "Today, a whole new perspective has opened up for woodworking." Rista is also constantly developing the integration of wood art and digitalisation. 

Ilona Rista

Ever since the beginning of her career, Ilona Rista (born 1959) has focused on wood as a material. Rista has a style furniture carpenter’s degree from Jurva artisanal school, she has studied at the training centre of the University of Art and Design and had a sculpture internship in Leningrad. In 2014, Ilona Rista was granted the Ornamo Design Award and received the honorary of the Wood Artist of the Year. She was granted the silver medal of the Finnish Forests Association in 2017. 

Rista’s wooden artworks can be found at the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN, Fennia’s headquarters, Vallila headquarters of OP Bank, and the Finnish embassy in Paris. 

Ilona Rista was one of the artists selected for the music hall and expansion renovations at Paviljonki music  centre in Jyväskylä. “I was involved in the project as a partner invited by the architectural firm. Often developing the acoustic relief walls serves as an inspiration for me to create independent works of art. For example the KAISLA work in the exhibition Wood Relief and Digital Games was developed on the basis of the theme of the wall surface that was designed for the Music Hall. The idea of reeds in wood relief was born from the reeds, whose light dance in the wind on the shores of Lake Jyväsjärvi welcomed the traveler to Jyväskylä”, says Rista.

Wood Relief and Digital Games – Ilona Rista’s wood art 

Exhibition in the Craft Museum of Finland’s Lobby Gallery 12 September–5 December 2020

More information

Mikko Oikari, senior curator, the Craft Museum of Finland
t. +358 50 553 3880, mikko.oikari [at]