Glossy surfaces don’t interest Carolin Koss – she would prefer to be taken to a garden or an abandoned building instead. “I have a passion for abandoned places, because [every abandoned building] has so much history,” she talks dreamily. Briefly visiting Malta to exhibit her film, Emerald Green, at the Found ă mentalism II exhibition, the German-Finnish artist also gave a talk about this dystopian three-set work of contemporary art. In her work, she focuses on environmental destruction and is trying to imagine the worst case scenario, such as life without trees. Personally feeling uncomfortable without nature, the artist defines her work as ‘deeply rooted in German Expressionism and strongly drawn to Finnish Minimalism.’
The three story lines of her film, The Fragile, The Obedient, and Plastic Child, deal with imagined worst-case scenarios of environmental destruction.The first one is filmed from a perspective of a sick person and presents a future where the disappearance of natural food is taken to the extreme. The second, a sequence reminiscent of horror films, follows a character who is collecting berries for the vaguely defined system – and manipulated like a marionette. In Plastic Child, the character breathes oxygen from the only remaining flower.
“The film plays in total darkness, so you can imagine that we have polluted the world so much that there is no sun anymore, because there’s such a thick layer of dust,” she explains the disturbing work. “I just kind of exaggerate things in this movie. I thought of the worse case environmental scenario, if we really stretch boundaries and instead of getting better it keeps getting worse. And I made a surreal comment on our real issues. It’s usually the way I work. I get inspiration from real issues, such as pollution.”
However, the artist’s greatest fear is that this imaginary future is not so far ahead. “I’ve been living in Finland for ten years, and I can totally see climate change,” she has observed, adding that Finland is blessed with a combination of beautiful nature and a robust system for supporting artists, making it an attractive country to live. “Before there used to be four months of thick snow and snowfall, but now it’s just a couple of weeks and it’s gone. The Finns are kind of happy in a way, because it’s so warm, right now it’s 29 degrees – almost the same as here.” What’s not to like, one would think. “It’s scary at the same time. I can suddenly see Finnish people turning brown, which I had never seen that extreme in the past years. We can grow many more vegetables. It kind of serves us well, but what happens in the South, where everything is drying up?”
Carolin Koss in Valletta. Photo by Daiva Repečkaitė
What would be her message to her Maltese audience, given that Malta ranks so low in terms of environmental protection (air pollution, refusal to recycle waste, and destruction of the natural environment)?
“I have to say, I don’t feel well here in that sense when there are no trees. It’s something that put me off in Malta. I really miss the greenery,” she admits. “I live in Helsinki, and there are so many trees and forests. I think it impacts your mental health. You have to understand that a tree provides us life energy, it gives us oxygen. If you chop them, air quality will be much worse. Luckily you have the ocean, so you get some fresh air. But it would be nicer for the city, for city planning and architecture if there could be some green in between. This tree outside St James Cavalier – it’s beautiful. I took so many pictures there. Without it it would be just a beige block of concrete, and this one tree makes a huge difference. It has a story, it connects to our origins,” the artist regrets having found out that the few trees in Malta are being annihilated at a rapid pace.
“In Plastic Child, I exaggerated [the imagination] if there were no trees. First of all, you will lose oxygen – it’s really hard to breathe in this world. There is already this trend in big metropolises like Beijing. They start ordering air in bottles, so they can breathe fresh air. It’s insane,” the artist explains.
Would she be inspired to tackle environmental issues on these islands? At the moment there are other projects in the pipeline for Carolin Koss – collaboration with a snow researcher to magnify and display the different snow particles, as well as a documentary on the environmental impact of copper mining near Ural mountains in Russia. “I want to keep the audience diving into [the work], when you almost feel like holding your breath. It’s a bit like a daydream when you watch a film,” she compares, confident that the rich imagination of her audience further elaborates the imagery of her work. “I’m not doing this on purpose, but I’ve seen it happening to people – it’s almost like a meditation as they go into the work. I like when that happens.”
‘Found ă mentalism II’ is throughout Spazju Kreattiv, St James Cavalier until Sunday 29 July 2018. Entrance is free.