Hugh Nicoll's Blog

patterns, poetics, polytexts

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Eija-Liisa Ahtila

August 24th, 2007 · No Comments

One of the unexpected benefits of my short stay in Copenhagen is having discovered the work of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, a Finnish video artist and photographer, awarded the Artes Mundi prize in 2006. Ahtila describes herself as a slow worker, and shows new works at longish intervals. Her current exhibition at Copenhagen’s GL Strand, runs through October 21, and includes her prized installation from the 2005 Venice Biennial, The Hour of Prayer and a new work, Fishermen which makes its debut with this show. In the interview with Anne Kielgast published in the exhibition catalog Ahtila notes how she is drawn to telling stories in in her works, but that she aims “at breaking the usual chronology of events and try(s) to structure things in a new way.”

One of the way she does this is using multiple screens. In The Hour of Prayer, for example, she uses four screens, sometimes showing different scenes, sometimes show the same scene, and at other times showing in two or more screens panoramic views. The Hour of Prayer is scripted in English and the narration done by an actor, the text and images complementing each other, but the text and the image sequences do not lead viewers to closure, rather requiring us to construct our own readings of the narrative. She concludes the catalog interview by saying,

I don’t think my works are especially painterly – no. What probably comes from the art side is that I trust the audience’s ability to see, hear, and think.

More than anything, Ahtila’s installations have become poetic mysteries for me. I knew after my first visit yesterday that I would have to return, and would return again and again, just as I re-read my favorite poems. Made my second visit today, but will be moving on the UK tomorrow, so have to mediate on the stored up images, and on the catalog stills from here on out.
I’ve made a small effort to learn more about Ahtila’s work on the web. There are a few good things out there:

  1. an Adrian Searle article from The Guardian (2002);
  2. a BBC Wales piece reporting on The Hour of Prayer and the Artes Mundi award; and,
  3. most impressive of all, her collected Cinematic Works on DVD, and a study of her works by Taru Elfving, et. al. – both from Crystal Eye, Ltd. – are available from Amazon.

Tags: poetics

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