I started to become nervous of the local authorities when Air France’s flight started to descend to Cotonou’s International Airport. My suitcase had bags of pigment and dyeing material. My visa was a tourist one but luckily my bags were not opened.
The idea for the sculpture to be built on Villa Karo's front yard had taken the form of two lenticular shapes, only five centimetres thick in the centre. The initial idea was to meet two distinct cultures and coexist. For some, the sculpture might bring about the idea of plant leaves or shoots rising from the ground seeking refuge from one another. Or friendship. That became the name of the work: “Rinnakkain” (side by side.) Although the sculpture is made of concrete, it needed a support and a right one at that. The chloride clouds from the sea are insidious, thus, the concrete support must be made from stainless material. The old doctor’s reception opposite of Villa Karo is a good example, its rusting irons have broken pieces of the concrete and the once beautiful building has crumbled into an unrepairable condition. Thus, a piece of local history has been lost.
Surprisingly, the problem was cement. Despite being the most common building material in Benin as in the entire Western world, we could not even find the first sack. Rumours of the Benin government’s intention to build its own cement plant had reduced the desire to supply cement in neighbouring Togo, thus causing a large wave of hoarding. But after negotiations, a moped appeared on the scene. The driver had a much-wanted cement sack on his lap, and we were able to make coloured concrete castings into mould recesses. Due to the cement hunt, time was running out, so castings were made overnight. Fortunately, keeping moist concrete during curing is not required in Benin’s humid weather, and the heat took care of the rapid hardening. When I knocked down the drain the next day, it spilled beautifully like clear metal. I honed the unevenness of the sand casting, but I wanted the rudimentary process to be visible after a rough work, for it to not be so smooth.
The shapes of the sculpture are not actually aerodynamic, and the sea brings in wind sometimes so that the tops of the palm trees are slamming the sand. Although the sculpture is not very high and is made of concrete, it needed a decent foundation. The villagers watched in silence as we dug a tomb-shaped pit. They asked how Juha Vakkuri was doing as the man had not been seen for a while.
Carl Becker, who acted as the technical supervisor of the work, gave a keynote speech at the unveiling of the statue. That is when I first saw him in a tie and white party attire. The event was crowned by Petra Hinkkanen's horn fanfare, as if anticipating the upcoming Grand-Popo horn orchestra.
Side by side