Milja Liimatainen
(Curator, Art historian)


My first encounter with Tuomas Linna’s work Distance Piece (2023) was characterised by deep emotion. I met the work via a carefully laid out, -custom made booklet that was waiting for me at work on one Monday. Encountering the artwork amidst the occasionally mundane work chores -was both surprising and somehow very fitting to the logic of the artwork in question.

The work is a manifestation of seemingly pointless work, a materialisation of a vast amount of precise repetition, something done over and over again. The starting point for the piece were twenty-one matchbox toy cars from Linna’s childhood found by accident. He built a ramp for the cars and developed detailed instructions according to which he rolled the cars down the ramp one by one photographing the stopping point of each car. The instructions guided Linna to roll down every car thirty-six times per day for twenty-seven days. At the end this resulted in over 20,000 rolls.

The photographs of the stopping points were processed by a tailored software which measured the rolled distances. It produced charts of the collected data listing the distance and for example the number of the car together with the date and the time of the rolling. These rather voluminous charts are published as an art book. Linna also elaborated the data further to visualise and explore it through monochromatic colour images. The hues in these images are chosen according to the colours of the toy cars and the tones correlate with the length of the rolled distances – the lighter the shorter, the darker the longer.

As an artwork Distance Piece consists of this all: of both the documentation, the charts, the colour images as well as the instructed and somewhat performative, yet unseen acts of rolling. The work contains references to conceptual art and more precisely Fluxus; it emphasises the idea over format, relies on intermediality, mixes art and life and utilises for instance found everyday objects as well as a moderate scale and playfulness.[1] The work seems to build on Sol LeWitt’s (1928 – 2007) conception according to which in conceptual art “… all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair”[2].

Linna’s way of working also bears resemblance to John Baldessari’s (1931 – 2020) List of Art Ideas in which Baldessari proposed art making ideas to his students at California Institute of the Arts[3]. The rather straightforward and pragmatic list of ways to make art suggests a similar kind of approach to the art making process as Linna’s work. Linna himself points out that, to him, the clear plans according to which the process is carried out, work as a means to make sense of the chaotic nature of the art making. The clean plans and the guidelines determined beforehand narrow down the set of choices and the number of parameters and in this case literally create an image out of the turmoil.

One of Linna’s predecessors and an exemplary figure in similar kind of visual thinking and repetitive format has been conceptual artist Stanley Brouwn (1935 – 2017). Brouwn, interested in the dematerialisation of the art object, was keen on the repetitive format and used walking and measuring as methods of his art making. His book 1 step – 100,000 steps consists of rows of numbers marking down all the steps from one to hundred thousand.[4]

The mechanical and mathematical repetition, the format of the chart or list can offer a way to bring the visual arts closer to everyday life. A list is a popularised format, familiar to many, which can appear approachable to someone with less expertise in the arts. Simultaneously, the artist can use this known form of presentation to communicate quite other meanings than the ones inherent to it.[5] For Linna the repetition and counting seem to offer one way to conceptualise time and duration. It serves as a way to return to his childhood play, rolling the cars, as well as to depict the time spent with his own child.6 The charts also visualise the amount of time used for making the artwork as well as the correspondence between distance and time.

The emotion evoked upon encountering Distance Piece had something to do with its resemblance to the everyday actions of us humans. Our way of living is characterised by a sincere urge to understand, to measure, to research. Perhaps this entuhusiasm leads to the countless earnest acts that we tirelessly perform, sometimes without fully realising why. On a cosmic level, our endeavors make little difference. The act of rolling cars makes as much sense as anything else. The artwork touches on these relentless diligent pursuits, the will to keep trying, working and doing despite the obscure bigger picture and in doing so makes me feel both despair and hope for the future of humankind.

[1] See e.g. Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss et al., Art since 1900: Modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism, (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2004), p. 456 – 460
[2] Sol LeWitt, Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, (Artforum Vol. 5, no. 10, Summer 1967), (accessed 21.10.2023)
[3] Emily Markert, Hands-Off: John Baldessari and the Early Years of CalArts, (accessed 22.10.2023)
[4] Jori Finkel, The late conceptual artist Stanley Brouwn would not want you to read this article, (The Art Newspaper, 3 April 2023), (accessed 18.10.2023)
[5] Silja Rantanen, Ulos sulkeista: Nykytaiteen teosmuotojen tulkintaa, (Helsinki: Taideyliopiston Kuvataideakatemia, 2014), p. 184 – 185
[6] The number of rolls per car (972) add up to the same number of days Linna had spent with his child by the time he began working with the artwork. Information from the artist August 2023