Esa Pajulahti

Padasjoki (1949)

Esa Pajulahti, a retired carpenter, keeps his family’s farm in Romo, Padasjoki. He comes from the forest and also enjoys spending time there. He has built a second home, complete with a sauna and outhouse, on the nearby heath. Surrounding the buildings is his Promised land, a complex of fascinating constructions that stretches all the way to the ridge, to the forest church, which is by no means his only one: Pajulahti has three churches, the other two are located in his garden.

The buildings are incredibly skilfully made, a bit tongue in cheek, and form a miniature village, where topical and timeless tableaux have been erected – a kind of life-sized diorama. They feature characters and animals from global politics, history and the Bible.

Pajulahti’s first work, Eden, created about ten years ago, depicts one of the classic subjects of ITE art: the tree of knowledge of good and evil, this time with a giant apple and snake. The sculpture was inspired by the majestic tree stump, an impressive object shaped by nature, which, according to the modest artist, “is the real work of art here”. Pajulahti is deeply touched by nature, and he has made dozens of animal sculptures. Animal motifs, such as numerous owls, decorate the buildings and create a fairy-tale atmosphere in places. A sculpture has been made for the late ‘deep ecologist’ and hermit Pentti Linkola.

In addition to the surrounding nature, Pajulahti has been hugely inspired by US politics, popular culture and history. There is, of course, a saloon and a casino in his village, and the controversial figure of former President Trump and his cronies are the protagonists of several humorous tableaux. A prison cell awaits Trump after his term, and bears carry him there on a stretcher, in imitation of the painting Wounded Angel.

The forest church stands on top of the hill. It was Pajulahti’s third church, a beautifully built little chapel that appears to grow out of the arid ridge slope. The rich interior decoration reflects the world view and life view of its creator. There are seashells from two pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in pride of place on the wall.

Esa Pajulahti’s works invite numerous interpretations; they are carnivalised expressions of the absurdities of the modern world, but beneath the surface there is deep concern about the environment and the world’s future. Doomsday machinery in the hands of those in power will not leave him in peace: heads of state flex their muscles with weapons and missile systems in the Square of Heavenly Peace. One work features a cow breastfeeding a polar bear whose habitat has been ruined by humans.

Text: Paula Susitaival. Images: Juho Haavisto.

Esa Pajulahden Luvattu maa, kuva Juho Haavisto
Esa Pajulahden ITE-taideympäristö, Padasjoki