Photo: Mikhail Slavin

Keep Your Hands Dirty 0

Juste Kostikovaite

Photos: Mikhail Slavin

In 2005 Pikene på Broen (a company of art curators and producers based in Kirkenes, Norway, close to the borders of Finland and Russia) invited architect Sami Rintala to make a temporary project in Kirkenes for the Barents Triennale – “Border Dialogues”. Pikene commissioned Sami Rintala to make a new artwork. Sami suggested to make a useful artwork and came up with the idea of a hotel. As the budget was only 60.000 NOK, it had to be a small hotel, now said to have been the smallest hotel in Norway. It had two bedrooms and no electricity or running water. The 28 square meter minimalistic hotel received a lot of attention; it was nominated in the category “Architecture” by the Forum AID Award 2007 (Best Nordic architecture, interior design and product design).

Photo: Ilya Utekhin

During its existence, the small building was never given a proper place to stand in Kirkenes, and was moved around several times. This had damaged the construction so much that it had become impossible to repair it. During the 2012 Barents Spektakel festival in Kirkenes (February 8 through 12), Sami decided to have a ritual burning of the landmark he had built only seven years ago. The artwork – the hotel, and the performance – the destruction/burning of the hotel, contain many layers of interpretation of the physical, mental and poetic resources of the site and the surrounding community. interviewed Sami about the ideas that brought about his decision.

Sami Rintala (born 1969) is an architect and artist, with a long project list since finishing his architectural studies in Helsinki, Finland, in 1999. In 2008 Rintala, along with the Icelandic architect Dagur Eggertsson, established a new architectural services office in Oslo, called Rintala Eggertsson Architects. An important part of Rintala’s work is teaching and lecturing at various art and architecture universities. 

Finnish architect and artist Sami Rintala

What is your relationship with Pikene?

Pikene gave me a fantastic platform to make the work, and were crazy enough to support its making; now they want another project, which I will start planning soon – a public sauna. In regard to the process, contacts, and other details in Kirkenes, I am very content with it. Mainly because these kinds of projects are very hard to make in bigger cities where an abundance of “experts” (for lack of a more fitting term) easily stop them.

How do you see yourself in terms of the responsibility of the artist in a prescribed public situation?

I am not sure if I understand the question correctly, but I surely was responsible for the safety of the structure as people visited and slept in it, and even burned a fire in it. With this type of project, I have to think more about those kinds of things, really. And the public situation is sort of part of the project. There was nothing sited at that location before, so you invite people and try to take care of them, show them something, and try not to hurt them in the process.

Was your decision to burn the hotel an attempt to raise questions about the deep and murky waters that surround public art?

It was just a very good way to get rid of the hotel, and make this a happening. In the opening speech, I quoted Neil Young: “It's better to burn out then to fade away...” At the same time, it is also a way to point out that something that was there before, is missing now, and to see if there are any feelings about that. To work the positive feelings out with a negation, to take something away and then have the sense of  it belonging to you.

One could see the burning of the hotel as a somewhat theatrical, playful and partly absurd gesture. Do you employ burning because it may engender a better dialogue, function as a teaser for the media, or become an articulation of a desire to protest?

I don't think a house on fire is absurd enough to arouse much interest these days. This was not the strategy here; there are many more controversial ways to attract the media. I wanted to do this for the local people, so that they could reflect on the presence and absence of the project, see if it had any influence on their lives and ideas. On the other hand, I wanted to prepare them for the next project, to move the focus and energies toward that.

Generally, I think my job is rather to keep things simple, not complicate them. So in short, we made a hotel in Kirkenes. Now that they have a new and bigger one next door, we move on to the sauna business.

Finally, I am definitely not trying to protest against anything; I try to focus on constructing solutions instead of making negative comments from the sidelines. Life is too short for that. One can construct maybe, some 30-40 projects like this during one’s lifetime; it is not a limitless number and I feel it is better to concentrate on the game of creating itself – keeping your hands dirty, learning from reality through frequent failures and rare successes.