Solve et coagula
Elsa Salonen’s works emerge from her artistic interpretation of alchemical knowledge. The artist distills colours from flowers, processes the colours further, and bleaches plants to make them appear entirely white. In addition, she prepares her own pigments from a range of specific natural materials – from meteorites to fox bones – according to the poetic concept of each work.
Seeking to understand the surrounding universe, medieval alchemists studied natural materials, which they also used to make colours. Their phrase ’Solve et coagula’ (Latin for dissolve and coagulate) refers, in the realm of nature, to the cycle of life and death; to the endless decomposing and recomposing of organic matter.
The cut flower works shown at the Gallery Jochen Hempel are based on a notion that most organisms seem to lose their colours in death – flowers wither and bodies blanch. Thus, all the colours in nature become signs of the presence of essential life energy. In cycles of nature, this energy doesn’t disappear but changes its form of manifestation. Mouldering organisms become matter for new life, as the herbarium painted with fox bone ash ‘Eighty Modest Statements about the Impossibility of Death’ suggests.
In the long run, an entire species might become extinct, but the life energy itself continues to thrive. The painting series ‘Stories Told by Stones’ resembles the extinct plants of the tropical forests of the Carboniferous Period, which around 300 million years ago greened the present northern hemisphere. The stones that were used as colour pigments for the paintings existed already back then – unlike humans.
Furthermore, almost all of the elements of living organisms are known to have originated from ancient, dead stars. According to the best scientific estimate, our atoms will also, in the distant future, return to space and possibly form new stars. This theory was the inspiration for the body of works painted with meteorites and entitled ‘We Are All Made of Stardust’. Both in short and in immeasurably long time frames, life energy manifests itself as eternal; endlessly dissolving and coagulating in the laboratory flask that is the universe.
Elsa Salonen (b. 1984 in Turku, Finland) graduated from the Italian academy of fine arts of Bologna in 2008. During the last decade, she has been mainly working in Berlin. Works by Salonen have been widely featured in many different institutions, including Schwartzsche Villa and Kunstverein Wiesbaden in Germany, Viborg art hall in Denmark, and the Miguel Urrutia art museum in Bogotá. Her work is held in international private and public collections, including Finland’s Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, Turku, and Italy’s Lissone Museum of Contemporary Art, Milan. At the moment she is part of two group exhibitions; ‘Landscapes of Belonging’ at KINDL Centre For Contemporary Art in Berlin and ‘MMM4’ at Art Sonje Center in Seoul, South Korea.