© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
BEYOND THE REACH OF WORDS
The central feature of Kuutti Lavonen’s (b. 1960) works is the human face. Their stylised forms and inspiration are drawn from the idealised characters portrayed in Renaissance and Baroque religious art. Lavonen has also undertaken careful research on them and gained his Doctorate which was based on the works of the Italian Baroque-period artist Bernardo Cavallino (1616–1656). As he is not only a specialist in Christian art traditions but also a composer, Kuutti Lavonen was the natural choice as one of the artists to paint St Olav’s Church in Tyrvä, along with artist Osmo Rauhala. The large work created by these two is now considered one of Finland’s most impressive ecclesiastical artistic achievements.
“Le Silence” portrays the face of a woman with her eyes closed, reminiscent of the ecclesiastic style, under the theme of silence. The aim of thinkers over thousands of years has been to connect with a higher truth. Pope Kyrillos of Alexandria said, in 400 A.D., “What cannot be spoken of, can be adored in silence”. Modern philosophy has chased away mystery but Ludwig Wittgenstein, who analysed the mysterious relationship between language and reality, was of the opinion that ‘whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’
Lavonen’s work “Le Silence” is an artistic attempt at expressing the symbolism of man’s inner quiet. According to the artist, his works are frequently spiritual portraits of those in his inner circle. They communicate something that cannot be expressed in words.
Conceptual art in the 1900s tried heading in a different direction and leant towards the prime assumption that words create a visual imag(e)ination and therefore are more important than the work, if not making it completely redundant. Lavonen’s works go entirely against this premise. Their archetypical yet modern form disregards some of language’s correlations and clears the way for the wordless experience of silence. Silence, however is nothing like emptiness. Compare “Le Silence” with the American composer John Cage’s famous piece “4:33”. The composition is many minutes of no sound at all, in which the space fills with the small shuffling of the audience and other sounds. The silence in Lavonen’s work fills with reflections of the viewer’s feelings, allusions to art history, and with immeasurable questions to which it is difficult if not impossible to get answers.