Lönnström Project 2

Flatlands

Jani Ruscica | 2017–2018

Flatlands is cross-disciplinary work that is based on three ambiguous pictures from different historical periods and contexts, each containing a musical instrument. All pictures reflect the social values of their day, and they share an underlying theme of silencing. In the project, the pictures were used as models for three unique objects of art: a bamboo instrument, a glass instrument, and an instrument of readymades. The Flatlands project also included musical performances by Ruscica and musicians, presented in Rauma, Helsinki and Riga in 2018.

Musicians developed novel techniques for playing the unique objects. In the project performances, the glass instrument was played by saxophonist Linda Fredriksson, the bamboo instrument by keyboardist and harpsichordist Matias Häkkinen, and the instrument of readymades by electronic musician Sara Milazzo.

The bamboo instrumentThe glass instrumentThe readymade instrument

The imaginary instruments were built by artisans in collaboration with the artist. Each instrument matches the original as closely as possible.

The title of Ruscica’s project is a reference to the social satire Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, published in 1884 by the English mathematician Edwin Abbott.

Jani Ruscica (b. 1978) frequently works in creative collaboration between several artistic disciplines. His works combine performativity with sculpture, moving images and sound.

The bamboo instrument

The bamboo instrument was modelled on an instrument that appears in Warner Brothers 1938 Merrie Melodies cartoon The Isle of Pingo Pongo. Rife with colonial stereotypes, the racist film is a prime example of cultural misrepresentation. The instrument in the film is a piano replica made of bamboo. The film has been banned since 1968.

The bamboo instrument in the Flatlands project is made using the keyboard and strings of a 1960s clavichord, with a frame consisting of bamboo pieces of various thicknesses and quality. The instrument was constructed by Czech wood sculptor Jan Kolář.

Still image from the Warner Brothers animation The Isle of Pingo Pongo.

The glass instrument

The glass instrument is based on an instrument appearing in Steklyannaya garmonika (Glass Harmonica, 1968), a Soviet-era short animation by Andrey Khrzhanovsky (b. 1939). The film is a satire of a bureaucracy, and the instrument symbolises a counterforce to corruption and structures that curb the freedom of expression. The film was the first animation to be banned in the Soviet Union.

The body of the Flatlands glass instrument is made of 3D-printed transparent Plexiglas, and it acts as a sounding board for a set of 12 glass tubes functioning as pipes. The sound is generated by tuning forks mounted at one end of the glass tubes, causing the air columns inside the tubes to vibrate. The instrument was designed and built by Finnish flutemaker Matti Kähönen.

Still image from Andrei Khrzhanovsky’s animation Steklyannaya garmonika.

The readymade instrument

The readymade instrument is based on a caricature of composer Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) and his experimental Symphony No 6. that appeared in the Die Muskete magazine in 1907. Mahler’s symphony violated musical conventions by employing sounds generated with unusual instruments such as a hammer.

The Flatlands instrument consists of objects mounted on a wooden frame, such as a broom, a cowbell, a ratchet and a horn, as well as a kettledrum from the late 19th century. The wooden parts of the instrument were made by carpenter Antti Salmela and it was finished by Niko Rissanen.

Cartoon of composer Gustav Mahler