Marjukka Vainio (1953–2019) spent her entire career exploring, observing, arranging, and opening up the silent world below our feet: the flora kingdom of roots, seeds, and flowers, and their continuous evolution. Beginning with her first book, Hommage à Ester Helenius, Vainio followed the entire life span of a singular plant from its budding seed to its withered, dying flower. This publication brought her the first of her two major awards with the Svensk Bokkonst Prize in 1998 and later the Finland Prize in 2003. Vainio’s unique forte was in how she used the photographic color bleaching technique to reduce and enhance the lively colors she is so noted for.
For over thirty years her personal universe lay in capturing and reawakening our understanding of the unknown macrocosm of plant life that lives underground and eventually finds its way to the surface. She translated the silent intermingling of roots in search of life into a language of her own. Carefully extracting them from their darkened resting beds, Vainio shined her light onto this quiet growth, reducing it to its most minimal form. It is as if these roots and seeds come from another place, as they lay barren on their unobtrusive backgrounds. Suspended in time, Vainio awakens them to life by using her applied light to reveal all their subterranean mysteries and struggles in their endless search for their own survival. She introduces us to another world where the viewer can sense the breath of a flower through the translucency of its petals. Much like the interrogating naivety of a child, these photographs radiate an innocence that dwells in the unconditioned nature of being.
Marjukka Vainio was a storyteller who reached far beyond her earlier predecessors, such as Karl Blossfeldt, whose photos were seemingly etched in stone, stoic in nature, lacking a lust for life. By contrast, Vainio approached her chosen subjects and their final placement in the picture with a minimal subtleness, much like Harry Callahan in his Weeds in Snow series from 1943.
In her later works Vainio created different types of floral combinations using a collage-like effect to unite elements of the plant by coupling the positive image with the negative. It may appear to the beholder as if the plants and flowers perform a dance, invisible to the eye, though genuinely experienced. Vainio’s magic lies in her sensitivity of exceptionally arranging subjects within the given picture, comparable to Andy Goldsworthy’s process of gathering elements within nature that he then allows to find their own voice through his artistic intervention.
Marjukka Vainio will be remembered as a pioneer, visionary, and mentor to many. Her personality was a ray of light to whomever she met and shared her stories with. As one of the first generation of artists of the Helsinki School her legacy will be one of hope, of discovery, of life.