Having studied in Italy under a UNESCO grant, Laila Pullinen felt that she had an obligation to bring back what she had learned to her native country. In Nissbacka she recognized a project that wold allow her to put her craft as a sculptor into locally and nationally promoting values that she’d learned as an UNESCO scholar.
Together with her husband Magnus Ramsay, she became convinced of the need of conserving this part of the local history from the rather aggressive style of town planning which was prevalent in Vantaa in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Nissbacka was seen as a Fenno-Swedish relic, an reminder of a distant past and one that certainly didn’t fit with the progressive nature of “The Airport City”. Vantaa in its youth was a city where history would begin from the year 1970.
Pullinen and Ramsay thought differently. As a neurologist, Ramsay proposed that it was unhealthy for the new inhabitants to simply come an live in the middle of a field with no link to any kind of local history. Pullinen saw her collection as a tool through which the ancient manor and it’s grounds could be conserved. Thus Nissbacka Manor Sculpture park was born.
Nissbacka’s history stretches back to the 1540’s, and at it’s largest it has been 356 hectares. 24 different owners are known in literature, and the Manor is counted among one of the largest in eastern Vantaa. Historically Nissbacka is linked with the village of Sotunki, which is the second oldest village in the county of Uusimaa.
The existing buildings date from the early 1900’s (all built by Axel William Ramsay [1867-1944]), although the oldest architectural structure in the area, a wooden barn, is reportedly from the late 18th century. The main building was decimated in a fire in 1935, having been completed in 1922. The caretaker’s lodge, which has since then functioned a the main building, is from 1924.
The architecturally striking granary, built out of natural stone, is from 1912, and is the only conserved building in the area. It houses the permanent part of the collection, works from 1955 to the present day. The artist has made the remaining portion of the stables her studio, renovating it considerably in 1986.
During it’s first decade, Pullinen set aside her own career and made Nissbacka a priority. This can be seen as a ten year gap in solo exhibithions, ranging from 1988 to 1999. During these years she exhibited exclusively in Nissbacka, allowing the collection to grow from 30-40 sculptures in and around the conserved granary to 80+ pieces covering 2/3 of the area.
Town planning and developing in the area was very aggressive in the 80’s and 90’s. Pullinen campaigned for a more humanistic approach, which would take into consideration the historical nature of the area. She managed to stave off many intrusions, first by getting a conservation act for the granary in 1986 and by making a large land art piece, an earth-relief called The Ancient Sea onto the south field in 1987, in essence transforming the location into an artwork and getting it conserved under copyright, as a work of art.
The most notable intervention into the aggressive planning surrounding Nissbacka came in 1997, when the Minister for the Environment, Pekka Haavisto (presidential candidate for the Green party, 2012) stepped in and acknowledging Nissbacka’s value as both an artistic and environmental and cultural oasis, forbade the construction of a block of flats on the western ridge of the Sculpture Park.
Having begun working with rarer types of Finnish granite in the 90’s, Pullinen invited three similary-minded colleagues (Ukri Merikanto, Matti Peltokangas and Matti Nurminen) to take part in an exhibition raising awareness of the beauty and multiplicity of Finnish granite, “Granitas”. The exhibition also raised awareness of some of the more exploitative facets of the granite industry in Finland.
During this exhibition, the area surrounding the artists studio (the “north field”) was reclaimed and made a permanent part of the exhibition. The conservationist aspects of this included the uncovering of the 17th century stone foundations of the massive stables, which now form a part of the exhibition. The unearthed stones that were discovered in the process were used in the Helsinge 650th Anniversary Memorial Wall (2001). The landscaping in the area also picked up on the theme of The Ancient Sea, forming wave-like structures on the perimeters of the area.
Looking from a European level, Pullinen has raised awareness on the importance of local (minority) culture on a national level. In doing so, she has created an unique amalgam of history and contemporary art, a sculpture park whose closest relatives are Ian Hamilton Findlay‘s Little Sparta and Niki de Saint-Phalle’s‘s park near the Argentario, in Italy.
Some quotes on Nissbacka:
“The sculpture park changes and breathes from summer to summer. The latest arrivals include the massive Helsinge 650th Anniversary Memorial Wall (2001), built out of the foundation stones of the old stables.
The works have had their originating ideas in Nissbacka, and lived and evolved there – made it their home, even. Nissbacka has thus grown into an artistic monument of its creator, an environmental gesamttskunstwerk.
Nissbacka is not only a collection of sculptures and environmental pieces, but an ensemble created by these works, the grounds of the manor and the surrounding landscape, both close and far.
Some of the works are site site-specific and even so impossible to move physically, like the earth-relief The Ancient Sea (1987), which traces the prehistoric shoreline. The works artify the environment, the works and the grounds of the manor become a symbolic focal point, the visual peak of the area.”
Academy Professor (Environmental Aesthetics, University of Joensuu)
“It is not simply a question of the park and the trees, but of the ‘spirit of the place’, which is born out of the long history, significant events and the work of generations. Our keen-eyed forefathers chose the most beautiful locations as the place where they settled. The same appeals to the artist, in whose other works – situated elsewhere – the shape and shaping of the landscape are an integral part of the work even so far that it is justified to talk of environmental art…
The area created by the artist Pullinen should be seen as a work of art in itself (gesammtkunstwerk), and as such it is rare in Finland. We have in total eight ‘artist-residences’ in Finland The are characterized by the artists’ attempt to flee into the wilderness. Nissbacka is different: it includes the historical cultural landscape and the hundred year old presence of the Ramsay family on this spot.”
Dr. Marja Liisa Rönkkö
(former) Director General (Finnish National Gallery)