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Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen, Framed Sea Cow, view of work in progress, durational performance and sculpture, 2022. Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

Juha Pekka Mathias Laakkonen, Buoyancy, Installation view, 2022. Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen, Framed Sea Cow, view of work in progress, durational performance and sculpture, 2022. Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

Juha Pekka Mathias Laakkonen, See Through The Golden Eye, 2019. Installation view at Gasworks, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Corvi Mora, Photo: Andy Keate

Juha Pekka Mathias Laakkonen, Buoyancy, Installation view, 2022. Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen, Framed Sea Cow, view of work in progress, durational performance and sculpture, 2022. Commissioned snfd produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

Gasworks presents Buoyancy, the first UK institutional solo exhibition by Helsinki-based artist Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen. With a focus on process and experience, Laakkonen’s work uses nature as a raw material to reflect on the impact of human interactions with the environment, while also tackling wider existential questions around time, death and the limits of scientific knowledge. 

At Gasworks, Laakkonen presents a durational performance where he recreates the skeleton of giant sea cow, killed on 12 July 1742 in the Bering Sea. To guide him in this colossal task, the artist will rely solely on a written account of this creature’s bones, taken from the zoological notes of the German explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller, who first described the species. Shortly after his ‘discovery’, the sea cow’s entire population was wiped out by sailors and fur traders. Weighing up to ten tones, this gigantic relative of today’s manatees disappeared by 1768, when the last recorded sea cow was hunted, thus making it the first historical extinction of a marine mammal at human hands.

Laakkonen’s major new commission, Framed Sea Cow, is a time-consuming effort to bring this extinct creature back into existence. Over an undetermined number of weeks, the artist will be in the gallery crafting a large-scale wooden replica of the beast’s skeleton as audiences wander in and out of the space. Working without preparatory drawings, the artist relies on a basic set of hand tools and his own understanding of the imprecise notes left by Steller in the 18th century, where the sea cow’s skull is described as being “like that of a horse”. The only given parameters informing Laakkonen’s work are the skeleton’s total length and width, determined by the gallery’s dimensions. Everything else is uncertain. 



This sculpture is presented in dialogue with See Through Golden Eye (2019), a miniature work created by meticulously deconstructing and reconstructing a dead goldeneye duck, which in Finnish mythology is said to have laid the egg that created the world. Delicately weaving together its myriad bones with a single thread of fishing line, Laakkonen obtained an intimate understanding of this animal’s body and its way of inhabiting the world. The resulting work is an uncanny marionette displayed in precarious balance—an amalgam at once organic and artificial. Adjacent to the bird, a pair of stilts made from driftwood lean against a wall, suggesting the ghostly presence of a human puppeteer.

Expanding on his durational and process-based approach, Laakkonen will present his first ever musical performance at the Montgomery Hall Community Centre, located a five-minute walk from Gasworks, on 28 May. Entitled Flock of Birds, this consists of a short, repetitive composition written for an ensemble of non-professional wind instrument players. Conducted by musician Hannah Catherine Jones, the performance is divided into simple steps so that each musician plays a single note in sequential order, therefore drifting in and out of sync like a flock of birds—a movement evoked in its title.

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About Your Visit

Gasworks is open from 12-6pm Wednesday to Sunday and admission is free. A audio guide of the exhibition is available here, and large print versions of the Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen Exhibition Guide.pdf are available at Gasworks. Gasworks is fully wheelchair accessible, though the space in which the artist is working is small and the view may be a little restricted.

Please ask our friendly front of house team for an introduction to the work during your visit. We are happy to facilitate group visits and offer introductions to the exhibition - please book in advance

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Artist Biography

Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen is an artist based in Helsinki, Finland. Recent solo exhibitions include Kunstverein München, Munich (2019); Kohta, Helsinki (2017); Corvi-Mora, London (2017 and 2015). He has exhibited internationally at organisations including Kiasma, Helsinki; Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; Ystads Konstmuseum, Ystad; Lofoten International Art Festival, Svolvær; MHKA Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp; and KHM Gallery, Malmö.

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Supported by

The exhibition is commissioned and produced by Gasworks with generous support from the Finnish Institute of the UK and Ireland and Corvi-Mora.

Gasworks commissions are supported by Catherine Petitgas and Gasworks Exhibitions Supporters.