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In the work of the 34-year-old sculptor Essi Korva, originally from Pello, Lapland, emotions, fears, plants, animals and human bodies come together, creating dreamlike and powerfully visual new forms.

After graduating from the Lahti Art Institute in 2010, Essi Korva returned to her native Lapland. For a workspace, she later found an old school building surrounded by nature in Kolari, about a 20-minute drive from where she was born. She converted the building into a studio that is today known as Willa Korva, including the artist’s home, workspace as well as a residence for artists. So every once in a while, there is also a visiting artist staying and working at Willa Korva, often from abroad.

– One of my friends described the place as artists’ paradise. The old classrooms provide enormous working spaces in the middle of the forest. Right behind the building open spectacular cliffs and a crag of rocks that was formed during the Ice Age. The scenery is so beautiful that I never thought existed in the region where I spent my childhood, says Korva.

Environmental art on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean

Close to Willa Korva, surrounded by the wilderness, is also the outdoor exhibition Oranki Art which gets its artwork from an annual environmental art symposium, organized every summer with multiple artists participating.

– Oranki Art was the first environmental art symposium I participated after graduation. Since then, I have had the pleasure of participating many international environmental art symposiums, and it has become an important dimension of my work, Korva says.

– In 2014, I got the opportunity to create a piece of environmental art on the shores of the Hardangerfjord, in front of the Hardanger Folk Museum that is located in Utne village in Norway. The piece became known as the Little Mermaid of Utne. I wanted reference the famous Little Mermaid of Copenhagen, but at the same time completely reinvent it as a piece of environmental art. Because of this, the Little Mermaid of Utne is quite different from the work it references. It has a dress made of dead blue mussels and seashells which I collected myself from the shores of the fjord. 

– Environmental art is rarely made to last, and this was the case also with the Little Mermaid of Utne, originally supposed to be on display only for a year. Now, over five years later, the piece is still there. It is a bit of a miracle considering that the piece, consisting of renovation mortar and mussel shells, has been standing there all these years unprotected from the weather of Northern Atlantic. Last year the Hardanger Folk Museum planned to finally take it down, but the locals petitioned for the piece, which is still in great condition, to stay where it is. It is fun when a piece begins to live its own life like this one has, Korva laughs.

– In one of the pieces I was commissioned to do for Design Hotel Levi you can see a certain familial resemblance with the Little Mermaid of Utne. This work is a woman that is formed by leaves and that is open in the middle. It is kind of like a shell of a humanbeing that resembles a dress and at the same time forms a figure that consists entirely of plants, says Korva.  

Creating miniature worlds while being materials savvy

In Korva’s work, environmental art, recycled materials, sculpture and painting blend into each other seamlessly.

– Reusing materials is very important to me as an artist. Most, if not all, of my work incorporates recycled materials. If it is not an old cooking pot, bathtub or a sports trophy, then it is recycled plastic or scrap metal or similar. It is not always obvious in my work. A piece may include cow’s tail hair, moss, the trophy, as well as some cement, and yet look like a semi-realistic child, says Korva.

– I also reuse the materials from some my old work. If I have a piece that I am not entirely happy with, or the work has been damaged somehow, and I know that it contains a good structure, I may disassemble it and reuse the materials. Or I construct a new piece straight on top of the old one. I think it would be a waste of good material if I did not.

Nature and the environment are a major inspiration to Essi Korva’s work. 

– Nature has always been very important to me. Already as a child, when I was playing outside, I was building tiny little worlds among the roots of trees, the kind of stuff that kids like to do. I feel that I have never really stopped doing that. When I work, I still build these miniature worlds, small universes that deal with various different topics, says Korva.

– I am inspired by life – and by my feelings and experiences of life. I often describe my work as portraits of emotions. It is a kind of internal exploration that incorporates my experiences of the world around me.

– Most of my work is at least somewhat figurative. It includes almost always – that is every single time – a strong emotional charge in one direction or another, if not all directions. My work also often includes play between the darker and lighter aspects of life, as I do not think that these extremes are in any way exclusive of each other. 

– It would be great if my work could provide the viewer with a pinch of hope – acceptance of the viewer’s own feelings and experiences. The kind of hope that springs from the fact that things merely are as they are, says Korva.