The following article is taken from the site, Books From Finland. There you can find a book by Veli Granö (born 1960), a photographer, writer and producer of video works and televised documentaries. The © Copywrite of the text below is owned by Veli Granö.
Veijo Rönkkönen (born 1944) has lived all his life on an isolated, small farm in eastern Finland, Parikkala, less than a kilometre from the Russian border, where he has quietly built a garden inhabited by nearly five hundred human figures made of concrete. Entrance is free.Even if Veijo has always been keen to know the audience’s reactions, he has never talked to visitors voluntarily or asked their opinion on his work. Yet he meets people almost daily when working in his garden and never refuses to speak to them. His answers to any questions concerning the sculptures are, however, very curt so that the inquirer immediately understands his reluctance to continue the conversation.
Despite his withdrawn character, Veijo has always placed importance on the role of viewers. From indoors he observes those walking in the garden and looks for anything out of the ordinary. Should someone stray onto the flowerbeds, he will open the window and tell them to return to the path.
As a result of the break-up of the Soviet Union, life on the Finnish side of the border zone became a little easier. The first thing to go was the ban on stopping near the border, then the ban on using binoculars and cameras. Security cameras replaced the soldiers in the nearby watchtower. As the rules were loosened, the roadsides near the sculpture park filled with cars parked in dangerous positions. Thus for security reasons the road authority decided that a car park was required. A tourist information board and signs were erected. Since 1992, there has also been a little shop that sells refreshments and postcards of the sculpture park.
Veijo’s sculpture park is the most notable tourist attraction in Parikkala, and it is regularly advertised in various media. Numerous tourists visit the site every summer, and the busiest summer thus far saw some 26,000 visitors. Despite its status of an ‘official’ sight, Veijo has kept the park as his private garden and has nothing todo with the tourist business that surrounds him. He has no connection to the shopkeeper either, although he has paid the shop a visit at night.
His refusal to have any part in the business side arises from his overarching need to remain absolutely independent. ‘What if I decide, all of a sudden, to close up the park?’ goes his reasoning. Nevertheless, the local entrepreneurs and promoters of tourism need not be too worried. An audience is essential to Veijo, and there has never been an entrance fee, regardless of the season or the time of day. His reserved attitude towards publicity gives the sculpture park its extraordinary ambience, and the visitors can experience the dialogue between the public and the private space.
The line of statues, along with most of the other works, can be seen as Veijo’s private carnival. By turning everyday values upside down, the carnival serves as a form of therapy. The motley crew of the un-Finnish- looking figures brings medieval carnival processions to mind. It is interesting to try to figure out the origins of these strange characters. The artist himself says he simply tried to fit as many different sculptures as possible into the group.
Veijo’s sculpture park can be seen as a reflection of his own life. The various parts and works express the stages of his life, from growing up with the dreams and fears that he experienced, to some signs of ageing and mature giving up. In many parts, one can sense tones of a persuasive dialogue. Some of the sculptures are provocative, even aggressive, whereas others produce a sensation of thorough consideration and an aspiration to achieve spiritual harmony. The park is like a portrayal of a personality, with all its doubtful and conflicting characteristics.
In 2007 Veijo Rönkkönen, the artist of a self-made life, was awarded a state award, the Finland Prize, worth €30,000. John Maizels, the British author and editor of the art magazine Raw Vision, considers Veijo Rönkkönen as one of the masters of outsider art.
Other references: http://accidentalmysteries.blogspot.com/2009/07/veijo-ronkkonens-sculpture-garden.html