Eija-Liisa Ahtila: Studies on the Ecology of Drama, film still, 2017
A gigantic spruce, it’s branches swaying gently in the wind, which is blowing through myriads of very fine needles. The video installation Horizontal (2011) is the portrait of a single tree, almost large as life and tilted by ninety degrees. This is not the only work that gives anyone willing to open themselves up to the multi-dimensional complexity of Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s art a pleasant sensation of dizziness.
Faced with the self-imposed challenge of fitting a spruce more than forty meters high into the square of a camera viewfinder, Ahtila saw only two options at first: to capture it from some distance in the context of a landscape, or from right up close. But in that case, the beautiful, even form of the tree would have come too short because of the distortion such a perspective brings with it. So the artist decided to film the tree in six sections using a lifting platform. The result is a cinematic portrait that is as simple and natural as it is alien. The example of the tree shows that it is a specific human ‘distortion through perspective’ that determines how we see the world.
As part of her multi-layered work, the Finnish film and video artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila has repeatedly made the relativity of our perception as the subject of her work. Film as a medium allows us to show the world as we see it. And yet, at the same time, it has the potential to open up simultaneous perspectives of one and the same reality.
Anthropocentrism places human beings at the centre of the world. But how far can our understanding of the world reach when our perception is restricted by senses that are specifically human? It is precisely this question that Ahtila’s newest work Studies of the Ecology of Drama (2017) examines. Stylistically reminiscent of a film used for teaching purposes, it playfully presents ‘exercises’ in a new way of seeing – and takes us step for step out of our anthropocentric certainty and into a fascinating ‘terrain vague’. As will become apparent, even a small and unassuming tree nursery in Finland is home to an entire microcosm of alternative perceptions of the world.
Me/We, Okay, Gray (1993) shows three relationship dramas condensed into a few seconds using the aesthetics of Film Noir and, with it, the exhibition narrative takes us back to the beginnings of Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s artistic praxis. In the almost 25 years of her creative work, the artist has found very different ways to break open our restrictive, all too human subjectivity and to open up to us with her camera a kaleidoscopic diversity made up of very different worlds of perception.
Text: Katharina Weinstock