Monday 21 October 2019

What Lies Beneath: Tallaght Classroom by Kirsti Kotilainen

Tallaght Classroom by Kirsti Kotilainen, Ink and gesso on found board; courtesy of the artist and the RHA Annual Exhibition

Tallaght Classroom by Kirsti Kotilainen
Tallaght Classroom by Kirsti Kotilainen

Niall MacMonagle

School's out and busy, buzzy classrooms stand silent. Artist Kirsti Kotilainen has just completed her first year teaching in Tallaght and this artwork captures the space where she worked with her 20 students. "The Irish curriculum is better." In Finland art is not examined, it is seen as a hobby, but she still admires the Finnish system. Her background is working-class and yet "there was no question that I wouldn't go to college. Finland's a social democracy... I grew up in a block of flats next to a middle-class area. We all went to the same school, we all played together".

In Finland it is kindergarten until seven, fully-subsidised school meals, few private schools and no make or break exams. "The psychological age for reading is seven and if half the class can read, the other can't, they're all at the same level by Christmas."

Tallaght is a different world, "a world I like to connect with". In her art room with its "white walls and grey lino" Kotilainen says "you don't just pour information in. Every student is different, some have baggage, In Tallaght you see the world. They draw horses, fast cars, nature. They love seeing their clay pieces come from the kiln".

Kotilainen grew up in Loviisa, a coastal town east of Helsinki, and all she had heard about Ireland, before she spent a Gap Year in ceasefire Belfast, were the Troubles and the X Case. Returning later, she worked as a legal executive then signed up for NCAD.

When she was young she drew cats, a copy of the Mona Lisa, photographed romantic dilapidated buildings. Now her own art "is about belonging". One installation featured migrants' coats because "migrants are invisible".

This work, Tallaght Classroom, she made "at her dinner table" which she prefers to "a self-referential studio space". First, the piece of found wood is given a light sanding. "Then gesso washes to give a chalky, rough feel. Blue Quink ink meets the brown of the wood, more gesso washes and blocking fluid to create those light-filled windows." And she incorporates the cracks in the wood because "every moment has a history". And why does she like to work small? "I am small and quiet." But as this work proves, small is deceptive and Kirsti Kotilainen certainly has something to say.

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