Kim Simonsson is a sculptor based in Finland who crafts utopic worlds through his creation of a community of sculpted figures. From an idyllic forest, surrounded by a community of artists, Simonsson’s Moss People emerge as emblems of childhood innocence, forced to fend for themselves in a world without any moss adults. As the community of moss people expands, the children grow into giants and become residents of a dystopia-turned-utopia that appears in contrast to the human world. We talk to Kim about the origins of this community, the development of his craft, the honesty he values in the process, and his vision for the future of his sculptured utopia.
You have always been interested in creating art, though only fell into sculpting when you got accepted to the Department of Ceramics and Glass at the University of Art and Design Helsinki. How did your artistic interests before university inform your transition to sculpture?
I wanted to be a painter and didn't really have much interest in sculptures if I recall correctly (our memory is not something to rely on). I remember reading a book about African masks that my godfather used to own, and it ended up in my possession. I think I made a mask in that style from a piece of wood when I was around 15 years old. I also enjoyed sculpting Disney figures from snow.
What possibilities does sculpture allow for an art piece that two-dimensional forms do not? What changes by the addition of a third dimension?
A sculpture is an object that demands space; you can feel its presence. When you create a sculpture, you must think about it in three dimensions, as it needs to work from every angle. An object has true substance, whereas a two-dimensional image is an illusion.
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After leaving University, you took up a residency in Toronto, where you attended a talk by Takashi Murakami. You said you were inspired by his combination of anarchy and craftmanship. Do these terms still resonate in your work today?
When I first encountered Takashi Murakami's work in the early 2000s, I was blown away by his bravery in creating art inspired by Japanese popular culture, which wasn't commonly seen as sophisticated. He pursued his vision without concern for the norms of contemporary art, resulting in something very personal and unique. I also admired the craftsmanship he invested in his work. Inspired by his philosophy, I endeavoured to create my own world but ended up losing sight of my own identity. However, when I began the Moss People series, I realised that I shouldn't focus solely on perfectly executed objects, but rather on creating more expressive and rougher pieces. This approach aligns better with my true self, emphasising the expression of feelings over mere conceptions.
Your most recognisable work is your Moss People – moss-coloured forest children, textured with flocked nylon, who appear like spirits of traditional folklore and fairy tales. They appear like ambient figures of innocence, yet simultaneously embody a kind of ominousness. You mention an imagined narrative that situates these children in a future world where only they exist and are forced to depend on themselves and one another for survival. Did this narrative inspire the sculptures, or did the sculptures inspire this narrative?
Around 2012, I purchased a flocking tool along with various colours of flock. Initially, I was dissatisfied with my experiments, and I considered it a waste of both time and money. However, I had an epiphany when I decided to apply neon yellow flock to a black sculpture that I wasn't happy with. To my surprise, the neon yellow transformed into an unusual green shade. The fine strands of flock resembled moss, and this revelation coincided with my residence in an artist residency within a protected old forest adorned with beautiful moss. It was then that I decided to create inhabitants for this forest. Since that moment, I have been crafting these inhabitants, and they are nurtured by the forest.
The world your moss children inhabit: is it a dystopic or utopic vision of the future? Or is this up to the viewer’s interpretation?
I believe that the moss people inhabit a utopia born from the aftermath of a prior catastrophic event. In a paradoxical turn of events, dystopia has given rise to utopia.
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You have recently been constructing giant models of your moss children. In 2022, they lined the French streets at the Lille3000 Utopia Festival, seemingly transgressing the boundaries of the forest. What inspired you to start creating larger models?
I was invited by Lille3000 to be the artist for the Rambla. It felt like the perfect opportunity to create giant versions of my moss people for the street. I had been dreaming of making a single large version at some point, and now I had the chance to create ten! It was a surreal experience. I designed the models, and a workshop in Lille, Atelier St Roch, brought the large figures to life.
Where do these giant models figure in your narrative of the moss children? I like to imagine the children gaining power, rebelling and infiltrating the world of the human!
The giants live in a world parallel with the normal size moss people. They are rare to spot but friendly. They use sounds only at sunrise and at sunset. That’s when they sing a song, different for morning and evening. I am working on the songs or sounds at the moment for a project with the giants happening in Helsinki, Finland, next summer. In my installation in the exhibition Toucher Terre in Espace Monte-Cristo in Paris, the moss people have found a sleeping moss giant.
Nature has long been an artist’s muse, and your moss people take significant inspiration from the forests and grasses of the natural world. Why do you find yourself inspired by nature? What does it signify to you? (A power, purity, romanticism or isolation, perhaps.)
As I come from Finland, we are surrounded by a wealth of natural beauty. I don't need to imagine an ancient forest; I can simply step out my door and find myself in one. Nature is deeply ingrained in the Finnish psyche. When I was younger, I found it somewhat dull and sought inspiration in popular culture. However, I now realise how unique and vital our wild nature is, and I've learned to embrace it. I believe that, as animals, we are ultimately just a part of the food chain for nature, nothing more. The idea of becoming, for example, a beautiful leaf or branch in a tree after I have decomposed is a comforting thought.
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I really like how you described your work as honest. I interpreted this as placing a value on the process of creating art that is equal to, if not greater than, the value placed on the final creation. Could you expand on how you seek to communicate honesty in your work?
I love sculpting, I think I have some type of craftsman gene. My aim is to evoke an emotional reaction, one that arises from a sense of familiarity and memories.
Sometimes it feels like contemporary art is pressured to have some greater political or sociological import. Do you ever feel this pressure to politicise your work?
I was raised in a Seventh Day Adventist family, and we used to pass judgment on ordinary people. According to our beliefs, if you didn't adhere to the teachings of the Adventist priest, you were destined for hell. However, during my teenage years, I came to realise that we weren't inherently superior to others, and it was all unfounded. We are all the same. As a result, I feel that I have no right to dictate to others how they should live their lives. Most people have an inherent understanding of right and wrong and act accordingly. Nonetheless, as humans, we often hold a misguided notion of our significance in the universe.
Finally, what are you currently working on? Do you have plans for the creation of a new community of fairy-tale beings? A new generation of moss children, perhaps?
I am working with glazed sculptures at the moment that I call Memorials.
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