Tommi Grönlund & Petteri Nisunen, The Music Box, 2004 © Tommi Grönlund/Petteri Nisunen

The 1st at Moderna: Grönlund and Nisunen, Sähkö and the Sounding Box

1.7 2004 – 25.8 2004


“It sounds like art” was a mantra a few years ago when an increasing number of artists started to work in the borderland between sound and image. The fact that it sounded like art was nothing new in itself. Throughout history, art has emerged in the passing from one to the other, by cross-fertilization and synaesthesia, among Russian Constructivists and Italian Futurists. No, “the new” was one of many expressions of a general trend at the turn of a century – the expanded field of art.

Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen, the artist duo who show The Music Box within the framework of the exhibition series The 1st at Moderna Museet, work in this expanded field. They are both trained architects and have since the beginning of the 1990s run an architect’s office,, with some associates in Helsinki, their hometown.

In addition, Tommi Grönlund is a record producer who releases electronic dance music on his own label, Sähkö (which is Finnish for “electricity”).

For more than a decade they have in their roles as architects, record producers and artists explored the acoustic conditions of spaces. The move from architecture to art and vice versa has not produced any radical breaches in the field but has rather formed links in a processlike chain.

What does the process entail? For Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen, the creation of an installation may constitute the actual process of familiarizing themselves with the space. They build walls, floors and ceilings of sound; they extend the ability of sound to define the space, into a technological echo temple of finely tuned tones. The resulting soundscape dislocates our spatial conceptions; out of the space between architecture and sound, art emerges. Is it magic? No, on the contrary, it is a strict, almost minimalist construction of sound, light, steel, aluminium, glass, and concrete – a concentrated and exactly balanced interaction between various elements – and an addition of something that might be characterized as chance. The result of the dissonance is that the space contain not only the tangible, that which is calculated according to the laws of natural science, but also the unpredictable. Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen open a trap door, an unexpected back door, and a wave of warmth sweeps through the construction, which at a first glance seemed so simple and obvious.

In 1998 in Stockholm I saw my first exhibition by Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen, Elements. Their CV was already then extensive: Manifesta, Rotterdam 1996, Young Artists of the Year, Tampere 1997 and Nuit Blanche, Paris 1998. Inside the gallery door they had placed a Geiger counter that measured the invisible but very real rate of radioactivity. The counter transformed the information into a sound loop that muffled its way down the stairs. On the gallery walls were large, white satellite dishes fitted with loudspeakers and microphones; in the middle of the floor shiny tape recorders rested, and between the satellite dishes and the tape recorders there was a mesh of electric cables. An intricate communication system for sound and echoes, amplifications of the unuttered, the intimate and the untouchable. Seemingly dissociative in their technical perfection, the objects instilled an almost touching willingness to communicate. Sounding silence, contradictory.

Since then Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen have continued to make us aware of our situation. Using scaled down, finely tuned installations, they increase our awareness of the relationship between the individual and the surrounding world. Low tech, or rather – if it wasn’t such an invective in today’s alacrity to affirm hybrid forms – “less is more”.

Simplicity, function, efficiency, a spatiality restrained by the spirit of enlightenment. At the same time they infiltrate the space with indefinable movements. The Music Box, recently shown in another version at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, takes place at Moderna Museet at the time of the year which is that of light. Blackness, impenetrable darkness, is set in motion by the sound waves. From the open lobby there is a tunnel into the cube-shaped black box. Here, walls and ceilings are set in motion, the body becomes an arena for the expressions of sound. The perception of the energy of the sound is ineluctable; from hidden sources flows an almost physically tangible undulation and up comes something that might be likened to emotional surprise.

It sounds like art? It sounds art.

About the artists

Tommi Grönlund, born in 1967,
Petteri Nisunen, born in 1962,
Both live and work in Helsinki.

Latest solo exhibitions

Centre dÁrt Contemporain la Synagogue de Delme, Delme, France

Galerie Schipper & Krome, Berlin
Galleri Andrehn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm

Latest group shows

Berlin North, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin

Snow Show – preview, Palazzo Zorzi, Venice
Disturbances, Charlottenborg Exhibition Hall, Copenhagen
Against all evens, International Biennale for Contemporary Art, Gothenburg Art Musuem, Gothenburg
Todos somos pecadores, Museo MAR, Monterrey, Mexico

Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen curated and took part in the Nordic Pavillion at the 49th Venice Biennale. They are both architects and artists. Tommi Grönlund has his own record label, Sähkö.

Curator: Ann-Sofi Noring