Creative Conversations: Santtu Mustonen

Artist Santtu Mustonen has lived in New York since 2013. By combining abstract, handcrafted visual imagery with three-dimensional technology, Mustonen creates animated paintings and installations. His recent works are on show at the New York City Ballet until February 26.

You were FCINY’s artist-in-residence in 2013 and decided to stay in New York after the residence ended. What made you stay?

New York felt like an adventure especially because it had some familiar subculture twists. But most of all, it happened to be the right place to develop my artistic career. In my previous hometowns, Helsinki and Amsterdam, it was bit of a struggle to maintain a stable income through making art. In New York I’ve been able to find the right collaborators. After receiving a temporary artist work visa I was able to concentrate on working as a visual artist and to take on commercial artistic services from my own studio.

How has your time in New York changed you professionally?

I slowly evolved into somewhat of a professional. The City has taught me to maintain a business. It has also forced me to both compromise and to be stubborn. I admire how New Yorkers define themselves in whichever way they like. It’s been easy to embrace that mindset.

Santtu Mustonen in his studio. Photo: Liisa Jokinen

What have been the biggest rewards and the biggest challenges in New York professionally?

I’ve experienced both success and bitter failure, and learned a lot through both. The biggest reward has been the possibility to work with prominent, respected cultural organizations, such as Brooklyn Academy of Music and New York City Ballet, whose focus is on supporting music and performing arts. These collaborations have enabled me to express my ideas to the right audiences. On the other hand, New York is intense and demands a lot, so I’ve also taken on jobs that weren’t as interesting. It’s always hard to put a lot of energy into a project that doesn’t excite you that much.

You are the New York City Ballet Art Series Collaborator of 2017. Tell us a bit more: how did the collaboration start, what kind of artworks did you make for NYCB, what kind of experience was this for you?

I was thrilled to have the opportunity. Although I was familiar with the NYCB’s program and especially the Art Series (an annual collaboration between New York City Ballet and a contemporary artist), the invitation to become their residence artist of 2017 was a big flattering surprise. It was overwhelming and stressful to work on such a grand scale. Everything happened quickly and I ended up working long hours until the last minute. The body of work I created features a series of c-prints at the orchestra level and large-scale video installations on the promenade of the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center. NYCB has been the best people I have ever worked with and I wouldn’t have survived without the amazing help from my producer team at Hugo & Marie.

How do you see your future? What will you be doing in 5 years, and where?

I couldn’t imagine myself building an installation for the New York City Ballet five years ago. So, the next five look interesting but blurry. Currently I’m renovating a house that is completely off the grid.

Text by Liisa Jokinen

Santtu Mustonen for New York City Ballet Art Series, 2017. Photo: Santtu Mustonen

Santtu Mustonen for New York City Ballet Art Series, 2017. Photo: Santtu Mustonen