What happens when you combine the imaginative world of Finnish folklore with the idea of the apocalypse and the themes of William Golding’s seminal novel “Lord of the Flies”? If you’re a highly imaginative artist and radically innovative ceramist like Kim Simonsson then the answer is “Moss People”, an eerie troupe of moss-green, life-size children whose deceptively innocent demeanour belies upon closer observation a disconcerting sensibility. Crafted in glazed stoneware using a combination of handiwork and industrial fabrication in his studio in Fiskars Village, Finland, Simonsson’s sculptural series stands out both for their formidable verisimilitude and meta-narrative symbolism.
Conceived as the protagonists of a post-apocalyptic world where nature has taken over, Moss People have been making a splash in our own world lately with two solo gallery shows and three major installations this year alone. Early this year, they appeared as giants in a monumental public installation in Lille in the context "UTOPIA", the 6th edition of the French triennial arts and culture fair lille3000; in the late summer, over two dozen Moss Children decamped to Lyon for the 16th Lyon Biennale, which runs until the end of December; and finally, last week they took centre stage at Jason Jacques Gallery’s booth at Design Miami 2022. Ensconced in a large-scale, two-storey installation, courtesy of innovative scaffolding manufacturer Urban Umbrella, the gallery’s presentation brought together recent work with a never-before-seen Moss Giant allowing visitors to step inside Simonsson’s beguiling universe.
Shrouded as much in mystery as in allegory, Moss People, most of whom are children, raise a lot of questions. Where do they come from? Did they initially form a tight-knit group that eventually dissolved due to internal strife or did they grow up alone, each one finding their own way amid a hostile environment? Were they perhaps raised by animals or maybe adults that have since perished? The artist provides no answers; he is more of a documentarian than a historian, chronicling how each one copes in a disaster-stricken world.
Similar in colour and size, Moss Children nevertheless constitute a very diverse group of individuals. From sedentary children like the “Resting Giant Girl” displayed at Design Miami and “The Thinker, to more ‘authoritative’ characters like “The Doctor”, “Kindergarten Teacher”, “Musician”, “Botanist” and “Astronaut in Camouflage”, to the more symbolic figures “Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc)” and “Good Shepherd”, each sculpture hints at a different back story and rite of passage. One thing is for sure, they are all very good at camouflage. “The moss green figures blend perfectly into their natural surroundings”, Simonsson says, “just as a soft carpet of moss covers the ground, rocks and tree trunks and acts as a sort of protection”.
Finnish folklore is full of mythical creatures lurking in the country’s dense forests and myriad of lakes, from benevolent and helpful elves, to human-shy leprechauns and tiny fairies, to fearsome trolls and god-like bears, so it’s no surprise that Simonsson finds inspiration there for his fairy tale creatures. What distinguishes his work though is that it also references pop-culture, science fiction, consumer culture and children’s games. From their poses, to their outfits, to the ‘survival’ tools they carry with them—the latter oftentimes consisting of found objects that the artist seamlessly incorporates into the stonework—Moss Children have their own symbolic visual language that they use to communicate with each other. At the same time, their enigmatic semiology bestows the series with its narrative complexity and elusive meaning.
Combining sculptural ceramics with industrial fabrication methods, Simonsson’s unique technique is as complex as his visual language. Each figure is hand-sculpted in extraordinary detail with stoneware clay, fired to 1,200 degrees Celsius, and then covered in epoxy and flocked with nylon to mesmerizing effect. As much the result of experimentation as luck, the artist stumbled upon the plant-like texture as he was experimenting with various combinations of nylon fibres, while the hyper-saturated green coloration came about when he accidentally combined a neon yellow flock with a black background colour. The result instantly captivated Simonsson as it perfectly complemented the fairy tale creatures he had been creating.
Experienced up close in immersive installations like Jason Jacques Gallery’s booth at Design Miami, or viewed ‘in the wild’, courtesy of photographer Jefunne Gimpel who has evocatively captured them in the Finnish countryside, Moss Children strike a chord. Melancholic yet unyielding, destitute yet resourceful, solitary yet not lonely, they speak to our existential angst, fears of ecological catastrophe, and inner child in equal measure.