Emilia Ukkonen was born in Manchester, England, the daughter of a British sportswear designer and a Finnish school teacher.   When Emilia was 15 the family left Manchester for Germany, where Emilia later studied Digital Media at the University of Bremen.  After graduating, Emilia took an entry level job at Nokia’s Berlin headquarters where she quickly distinguished herself by updating Nokia’s iconic “welcome” ringtone and handshake motif, a work for which is not credited and which, in some sense, anticipates the artistic philosophy for which she is now known.

Despite her success at Nokia, Ukkonen became increasingly concerned by her involvement in the corporate world while a climate of economic instability and wealth inequality flourished.  After resigning from her job, Ukkonen left Germany for the USA and spent 2007-8 living in the now legendary Two Pines commune in Virginia, a community which strives for independence from the capitalist system and lays emphasis on manual skills.  It was during this time that Ukkonen met fellow resident, Anja Lanfranci, the German-Italian ceramics artist.  Lanfranci acted as a mentor to Ukkonen, encouraging her to become an artist after noticing her aptitude as a potter.  It was here that Ukkonen constructed her break-through work,About Last Night (2008), an hourglass containing used condoms, ticker tape and an assortment of every-day objects recovered from local buildings, whose residents had been recently evicted.  Standing at 8.5 metres and constructed from perspex, porcelain and steel, About Last Night was originally constructed to stand within Two Pine’s livestock enclosure but was acquired by Tate Modern in 2012.

The period 2009-2012 saw many changes in artistic style.  After leaving Two Pines, Ukkonen travelled the USA, initially with Lanfranci and later with her then lover, the performance artist Bed Down.  At each stopping place the group attempted to engage the local people in collaborative artistic activity, producing the works for which she is best known, including We Told You Love Would Never Last (Bisbee, Arizona 2009), POW! (Eudora, Kansas 2010) and what is currently believed to be her final collaborative work, A Resting Place for Kimbie (Danbury, Connecticut 2012).

Since December 2012 four unsigned and untitled works alleged to be Ukkonen collaborations have been discovered in Michigan, Colorado and North Carolina.  In a statement read by a spokesperson Ukkonen refused to confirm or deny that she is responsible for the works.  Due to the extreme variation in Ukkonen’s artistic style, authentification has not yet been possible.

Alice Schmid