Introducing Ars Fennica candidates of the year
Elina Merenmies is one of the four candidates for the Ars Fennica award, Finland's foremost distiction in the visual arts. The winner of the 2007 Ars Fennica award will be chosen in January by Glenn Scott Wright from Victoria Miro Gallery.

What does being an artist mean to you?
EM / In financial terms, and in terms of health, the pace of work and many other things, a commitment to art means giving up a certain amount of comfort, humane working hours and often even making allowances in terms of occupational safety. On the whole, however, being an artist means enjoying one's work.

Where do you get the ideas for your works?
EM / From enthusiasm. It has very little to do with inspiration, but enthusiasm and my faith in what I do remain constant. I take a great interest in the reality of people in this world, and on the other hand I have a lot of visions that are connected with it or to some specific part of it.

How do you work?
EM / Like crazy, ha ha. I do try to work in a way that allows me to retain a strong feeling that I am also living my life. That I have the ability to live my life. That includes being able to enjoy what I do, coffee breaks, the sound of the rain, for instance, and everything that an artist's work is. In other words, I live when I work.

What is the significance of the technique you use?
EM / It has great significance. I use a number of different techniques. The use of a specific paint, material, binding agent or colour is a very tangible thing. The way the material spreads, or some other particular characteristic that affects the coincidental movement in the picture is crucial. Especially in tempera paintings, an organic feel is essential.

When is a work finished?
EM / Somehow that's always different. Maybe when a work looks like itself, that's when it's finished.

How do you name your works?
EM / Generally I try to outline the subject or somehow expand it, and there's poetry in the naming, too. My works almost always have names. I've noticed that many subjects reappear. Sometimes even the name is the same.

Does your art have a goal of some sort?
EM / I admit that there is a certain ethic involved.

What is the artist's role in society?
EM / I don't really know, the role of an outsider, that carries certain advantages, too. Working long days for 15 years without wages, without an income… well, it isn't easy, that's for sure, and there is a high risk of social exclusion. Most artists live in terrible poverty. I have also gathered from the bureaucracy that many artists are forced to somehow justify their choice of occupation over and over again. I remember an incident from when I lived in Brussels; it was four o'clock in the afternoon and all the civil servants were leaving their offices when I was just setting out to go to my studio. A vast wall of people with briefcases moved towards the central railway station and I had to somehow dodge through them against the current. It was positively Kafkaesque and it may be a simple but apt reflection of the artist's role in society.

Extract from an interview published in                             Kiasma magazine no 33 – 2006 vol 9