Maisa Majakka is a Helsinki-based fourth-year student at the Academy of Fine Art's Sculptor department who evokes thoughts about human encounters, connection and closeness in her lustrous and intimate work. Soft spoken and considerate, Maisa is as detailed in her way of communicating, as she is with the richly textured and wonderfully animated works she creates out of clay.
Maisa Majakka, End of Summer, 2017. Glazed Stone Mass and Plywood. Photo Tarmo Valmela.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
You could say that I am an art ceramist, but as I don't have a degree in ceramics, I prefer to call myself a sculptor. As a creator of art, I am laborious and precise. If it would not be for my family, I would probably be a workaholic — I do something related to my work whenever I can. My work progresses from piece to piece in a wave-like continuation. The materials I work with changes in a slow pace, as does the themes of the work. I love what I do — there is no part that I don't enjoy. I am very lucky that I know what I want to do and that I get to do what I love.
What themes do you work with?
My work focuses on subjects such as what it is to be human, identity, attachment, everyday freedom, loss and love. The work acts like a stage for a moment frozen in time that you can read into as much or as little as you want. The pieces invites you, like a game, to construct a story around them. Recently, I have been examining relationships through my work, especially friendships, and I would hope for my work to communicate the importance of finding companionship. On the other hand, the dynamics between the characters in the work is not always harmonious — reflecting the nature of relationships.
Maisa Majakka, A Sign, 2018. Glazed Porcelain and Lustre. Photo Tarmo Valmela.
How did you find your vocation?
As a child I was already drawn to modelling animals out of mass. I was very precise regarding my choice of toys and I examined the facial features of the toys to make conclusions about their personalities. We used to visit flea markets with my father, who had to cut away all the details of the plastic animals that I didn't like. Later, I begun making my own animals in the oven from polymer mass. At that time, clay did not speak to me; I found it dirty, bleak, easily broken and difficult to work with.
Much later I hit a rough patch in life and I spent the year after high school on sick leave, which took me into a back-to-work rehabilitation program where I got to work with clay. At this point I had already applied to the Academy of Fine Arts; I knew where I wanted to go, but I wasn't ready yet. The program taught me immensely: I got to work in a proper ceramic studio, which gave me a great foundation for working with the material. Since then I haven't seen a workshop that is as professional and rich in materials. Here I got to do a large amount of functional objects for sale: I painted unique cups, I made small animals out of porcelain and also some larger work. I would have liked to buy some of the stuff myself, but it always sold well. Then I studied to become a visual-artisan, but I had to take ceramic courses outside of school because there was no ceramic department. When I graduated in 2013, I got into the Academy of Fine Arts. At the time I was pregnant, and during my mother leave, I made ceramics at Septaria. Now at the Academy I have finally been able to create as much ceramic works as I want.
How do you work?
I plan different surface combinations and I do a lot of tests. Variations in the surface textures are important: something glossy, something mat, the natural colour of clay, different streaks, gold. Usually the interesting combinations and solutions happen haphazardly — not when I am trying too hard to rationalise what I am after through tests. When I was younger I drew cartoons: grids and lines fascinate me and translating this to the work is meditative. Mostly I work with my hands, however, to create lines and scrapes I use knifes and spikes. In addition, I also create the surfaces through layers of glaze. Scraping the surface is monotonous work that has to be executed in one go when the clay is dry to a specific degree. Sometimes with a big surface, the idea of scraping for hours feels tedious but then I do the first line, and I get into the flow of making.
How do you get the ideas?
Most ideas come to be like a sort of vision. It is often about a yearning for another time, a personal nostalgia. Sometimes I look for things in my memory or I look at photographs. However, I don't look for a scene to copy or illustrate, but rather for a right atmosphere or a certain friction between people. I also go back to my old diaries, which tend to have the kind of moments that have not been brought to life in a picture. Sometimes the idea comes through a dream and I read somewhere that if you see something interesting in a dream, there is a certain obligation to bring it to life; that if I don't respect my dreams and give them a chance, I might miss out on seeing something important.
Lately I have also been into the Anders Meder porcelain store's ancient decals. I am touched by the romantic roses and animals; I see them as a window to another realm, or perhaps a repetition of what is going on in the work. It is a borrowed element with a very different handprint than my own.
Maisa Majakka, August Indoors, 2019. Stone Mass, Porcelain, Glaze, Decal Technique and Lustre.
What is your work process like?
My ways of working follows ceramic methods: I start from the bottom upwards and by attaching the pieces together — only the really small pieces are not hollow. My work have very thin walls; it is both a trademark of mine and a question of choice. Right now I am working with the combination of earthenware clay and porcelain attachments. I like to work with a piece in one go to see the shape of the work already in an early stage. In addition I sometimes glaze the work two-three time until I am satisfied. I am not particularly keen on the glazing phase, however, it does contain an element of risk and an opportunity for surprise that I want to embrace, but that might also destroy the work. In the last phase I add the decals and gold. A lot of the works have been in the oven five times before they are done.
What does art mean to you?
As a creator, art is enormous happiness to me. Observing art is to seek beauty, comfort and inspiration. Art is an invitation to dream and explore the world. At the same time it is fascinating to get to look closer at artist's life through their art as people tend to reflect in one way or the other their life in what they do. It is quite rare to get to peek into a stranger's world on that level. In society, art creates a space for dialogue around emotional experiences and soft values. Art can also be political, opening our eyes and be a vehicle for change. With the help of art, we can express ideas that might otherwise be difficult to bring into the spotlight. Art evokes feelings and offers rest.
Maisa Majakka was part of Marcy's Sensual Closeness exhibition in May 2018.