Gill Crabbe, FNG Research
The Finnish National Gallery’s senior conservator for contemporary art, Siukku Nurminen, has turned her hand to the most unexpected tasks during her 35-year career, as well as developing the field of Finnish conservation, as she explains in an interview with Gill Crabbe
When I was young, perhaps seven or eight years old, I wrote a story at school, describing how when I grow up I shall study at the Ateneum. On other hand I was also dreaming of becoming a schlager singer, so that I could buy Porsches for my elder brothers.
– Siukku Nurminen
From conserving the 16th-century panel paintings of Lucas Cranach, to repairing a sculpture by contemporary artist Anni Rapinoja of a handbag made from bog whortleberry containing moose droppings, the senior conservator at the Finnish National Gallery Siukku Nurminen has seen some big changes in the kinds of works entering the conservation room over the four decades she has been working in the field. Having finished school in 1977, there was no dedicated training course in conservation available in Finland at the time. But once she gained her Diploma in the Conservation of Works of Art in 1987 from Vantaa Institute for Arts and Crafts, Nurminen joined the Fine Arts Academy of Finland as a conservator at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Five years later, she moved to the Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery. As her career developed, she gained a BA from EVTEK Institute of Art and Design in 2004 and a Masters in Culture and Art in 2009. She has now worked at the FNG’s Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma since 1997.
When I contact Nurminen to arrange an interview and mention some of the background research I have done, she replies: ‘I see you have been doing some detective work.’ As they say, it takes one to know one, and perhaps of all the skills required in her profession it is the forensic attention to detail in piecing together how materials endure, as well as a persistent curiosity, that are the most essential requirements in her field. ‘Being a conservator is indeed like being a detective,’ she says. ‘We must solve what the criminals (artists) have done. It is like the criminals (artists) are always a little further ahead of us,’ she smiles.
One approach that Nurminen certainly brings to her work is a sense of adventure. Following the principle that there is no better way to understand how an artist uses their more unusual materials than to engage in the actual making of the piece, Nurminen lights up as she describes burning the incense in the process of installing an artwork that was shown at the recent ARS22 exhibition at Kiasma. The installation piece, Collateral (2007), by Sheela Gowda, consisted of dozens of burnt incense cakes, their residual heaps of ash in various shapes presented resting on low wooden tables covered in steel mesh.
 There were two schools at the Ateneum then: Finnish Art Academy School, now the Academy of Fine Arts, Uniarts Helsinki and the University of Art and Design, now Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture.
Featured image: Senior conservator for contemporary art at the Finnish National Gallery Siukku Nurminen (front) lights incense cakes inside an enclosure during the installation of Collateral, by Sheela Gowda, for the exhibition ‘ARS22: Living Encounters’
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen
Read more — Download ‘A Life in Conservation’, by Gill Crabbe, as a PDF
To see an excerpt from the installation process of Sheela Gowda’s Collateral at the ARS22 exhibition at Kiasma, click ‘play’ below. Video: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen