Irene Suosalo never set out to be a video artist. Instead, it was something she fell into naturally, having grown up in the countryside of Finland sewing with her mother, studying classical piano, and building furniture and a darkroom with her grandfather. “He also helped me build surreal settings and stages for photographs,” she tells It’s Nice That, “as I was really inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s films.” After studying photography at Lahti University of Applied Sciences, she developed the technical skills needed to excel in the medium, yet found herself yearning for something more – an outlet that could cater to her passion for bright colours and shapes.
After toying around with a scanner and some old photographs, Irene unearthed a love of abstraction and play. Her friends suggested she try out animation – they also work a lot in techno and events, so knew exactly what they were looking at – and she subsequently landed a VJ gig at Club Kaiku in Helsinki. “My first animations were really simple and minimalistic, but somehow I felt that people responded to them in a positive way,” she adds. “Something I never felt with my photographs.” Excited by her new-found prospects in animation, Irene began posting her daily works on Instagram, and her style soon evolved. Over two or three years, her portfolio has equated to over 5,000 animations, each of which are mesmerisingly trippy and fun in their unusual compositions, colours and structure.
Irene is inspired by all sorts of things, most notably Finnish children’s animations from the 1960s – like Czech animated series The Mole – old arcade games, painting and sculpture. You can certainly get a sense of nostalgia running throughout her portfolio, as if you’re looking at the screen of an old Nokia and one of its archaic cubic games. “Lately, I have been really inspired by the circus, old toys and board games,” she adds. “They are often very visual and joyful but sometimes a little creepy. I usually take some elements from different sources and bring them together in my work. But in the end, it usually still evolves into something completely different.”
These days, you can expect to find Irene working on a mix of commissions and personal animations. She’s had work published in The New York Times, Helsinki Design Week and Post Bar, and when she’s working on the more commercial side of things, she’ll adhere to a more straight forward approach; one that involves a brief, research and a theme. When it’s her own animation work, she’ll usually begin with experimentation and follow her intuition. “I might start with a specific shape, colour or scanned image,” she explains. “I might have an idea on the animation but it usually gets lots in the process.” Once the preliminary idea is formed, she’ll bring it into Photoshop to start the edit, before switching things up in After Effects to create the animation. “The work really begins when I mix things up. This phase can take a whole day: I add layers and effects, and I move the animation between computer programs and synthesisers. I’m just trying to find new things. In the end, I might have 20 different versions of the animation, all looking very different.”
Talking us through a couple of recent pieces, Irene points us in the direction of a New York Times commission where she was asked to illustrate alongside the article, The Problem With Vaccine Websites, by Shira Ovide and published on 12 January 2021. Reminiscent of an old pinball machine, the result is a retro-looking piece that sees syringes orderly placed at the bottom, with yellow and blue spots moving across the frame as a nod to the vaccination liquid. “Here, we tried to visualise the problems with the vaccine rollout in the USA,” says Irene. “I came up with a ball game that shows droplets of vaccine trying to reach syringes, but there are some obstacles in the way. For me, games are often a fun way to visualise complex problems.”
Next, there’s an animation loop named Loom, created this year. A vibrant concoction of square graphics and patterns similar to a Persian rug, Irene explains how this one first started off as a simple square. “And as I added movement, colours and layers, the animation began to look like a factory line or a machine creating fabric” – hence the name, Loom, which references the machine that’s used to produce yarn. Nonsense Reality is another piece from last year, which is 20 minutes long and consists of 60 animations, with sound created by Mikki Joensuu. Built as a video installation for Art Rotterdam, located in CitizenM Projections Solo Booth with Gallery KANT, the work is construed from a vibrant palette of greens and yellows, and features bold, graphic shapes. “I thought about the timeline of a movie or an opera; there is the beginning, story evolving, a ’crisis’, and the solution. So I usually work with imaginary themes and emotions as I create the timeline. The name Nonsense Reality came from the idea of visualising a made-up world.”
There’s no real message behind any of Irene’s transfixing creations, instead, they’re just a bunch of “silly or awkward” and “beautiful shapes and fun movement”. However you interpret them, hopefully you’ll enjoy watching her repetitive, looping animations just as much as we do.
Irene Suosalo: Bunny HOP (Copyright © Irene Suosalo, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.