The Female Gaze: Anna Reivilä
AALTO and multidisciplinary art collective The Community both share a Finnish heritage, and a desire to merge the Finnish and Parisian viewpoints. "The Female Gaze" is a project curated for AALTO by The Community with the aim to explore the contemporary photography scene in their common homeland: Finland.
"I started my series ”Bond” in 2014. The name implies both bondage and the bonding between humanity and nature. In Japan, ropes traditionally symbolize the bonds between gods and humans. They were used in religious ceremonies, and different types of ropes symbolized different relations, connections and meeting points.
In Japanese culture lies also a strong tradition of using ropes to bond people, also known as bondage. Bondage as an artform has always intrigued me with its aesthetic aspect and the beauty found therein. For me, it ties together both the big and the small things: life and death, shame and power, love and hate. Bondage is intertwined in my work. The meditative approach and deep, focused relaxation found in bondage is something I also recreate in my own work.
My work process starts from the moment I travel to the area I have chosen to work in. I begin with carefully researching the area. It is important that a relationship is established between the space and myself. The reason I want to go to the outer archipelago and work there, might be because of the photographs of the location, markings on a map I’ve seen or inspiring descriptions by other wanderers. If the area feels like it is asking for my attention, I will begin mapping out a trip there.
The most important aspect at the very beginning of my process is the feeling of curiosity to explore the terrain. I don’t know how to work without this curiosity--the area needs to draw me towards itself, so that the will to work there is born.Even though my acquaintances continue to suggest new and inspiring places for me to situate my work, I have learned that it is merely a waste of time to visit these places unless I feel an inner, personal desire to explore the terrain. It just doesn’t feel natural to work in an environment where I struggle to grasp this feeling.When I stumble upon an interesting element in the landscape I’m exploring, such as a stone, I get overwhelmed by this strong feeling that this is what I want to work on, and this is what I want to interpret. This feeling is best described as something intuitive.
The process of bondage and the act of sketching holds many similarities. When sketching a live model for example, it is hard to describe the exact feelings and thoughts one is having at that precise moment. It is an instinctive act between the eye and the hand and a state of symbiosis where conscious attention is erased. The brain continuously visualizes and fills in what we see based on previous perceptions. It is like watching without seeing.
When I tie a rock, I observe and take in its form, its rhythm, its body, its size, its volume and its relation to its surroundings. But this process doesn’t end there: it reflects back onto myself. I become aware of my own being, of my physicality and of the limitations I possess as a living being. When I bond the rock, I become aware of my own body. I notice how tall I am, how strong I am. Bondage serves as a physical experience that enhances the awareness of myself and of the possibilities I have. I notice how a rock can be too high and too steep for me to climb.
I also tend to work near water, where the most primitive and essential feelings, cold and fear, can be felt at their strongest. This kind of feelings serves for me as a key to meditation. I acknowledge myself, and at the same time I am in state of forward motion, a state of flow, where all thoughts run fast. And in this state I feel I can truly let them run wild and free.
When a bondage session has reached its course, I notice that I distance myself from the piece. It’s like I take a few steps back from the piece I was on top of just a short moment ago. I can feel that just within this moment, a distancing takes place. Seeing becomes watching. This also gives space to the viewer to project himself and his feelings onto the piece.
After taking the photograph, I feel the piece is sort of falling apart. I dissemble the ropes after having shot them. Dissembling differs completely from tying. It is the final necessity of the process and is in itself detached from any feelings. The only proof of what I have done is found in my camera. Only the trace left on the photograph proves that the piece ever existed.
I feel that photographing is a natural continuum of my work, because I often work in places that are challenging to access. Without a photograph only a few people would see the places and the pieces. I want to show my work to people, shed light on my pieces and exhibit them. A photograph suits this need perfectly.
I’ve noticed that for me, it is important to meet people and talk about my pieces with them. These encounters stay in my mind and I carry them with me on my travels. In a way, they become a part of my process. Many have told me that they see themselves in my work. At an art fair in Stockholm a lady once came up to me and told me how she saw her brother and his wife pictured in Bond #1. The brother and his wife had suffered from cancer during the same period. This experience almost tore their relationship apart, but now that they had conquered the cancer and worked through the issues, they felt their marriage had grown stronger than ever before. In my piece, the lady saw them, and all of what they had been through, and where they stood now. A personal feedback like this is perhaps the most important kind of feedback for me.
My aim is to shed light on things that no one can see until I bring them forward. I strive to create space, rhythm, and volume. This is like sketching: I create something on a blank canvas that wasn’t there before the drawing began. I want to show sculptural forms, use the landscape as my studio, and find connections between the different elements. I catch myself aiming for a balanced esthetic. In this aim I find similarities with a mindset of Japanese art history. In many Japanese traditions, such as ikebana, the art of binding flowers, and in kinbaku, the aim is an end result that is highly esthetic and achieved through a meditative process. From this point of view, my work resembles the ikebana. A slow, meditative process, with an end result that hopefully is aesthetically balanced with clear attention to even the smallest detail. I wouldn’t say that I consciously aim for beauty, but I do aim for a certain aesthetic. For me, the most important thing is to find a form and to achieve it.
Another important element in my work is the rhythm in it, and finding a rhythm that echoes an element that is found in nature. Abnormalities or oddities in nature is what attracts my attention the most. If there is a rock in an otherwise vast and empty scenery, I fall for it immediately. If I see two trees growing almost attached to each other, I feel the urge to look closely at their branches, how they are intertwined and how they differ from each other. It is important to me that the subject is strong and individual. Even though my works are silent and static, I reckon they are strong, and often even tend to dominate the landscape. It’s important for me to see how the landscape changes through the ropes, or, in other words, to see the landscape change through my actions.
Nature is important to me. Despite it not being the starting point of my artistic work, it is very relevant to me from a personal perspective. There lies the reason why I want to work in nature. I have a bad feeling about the human connection to nature--it is as if the men are alienating themselves from nature. When I was in Paris, I met the curator of the Kunsthalle Wien, Verena Kasper-Eisert. She had curated my work for a show at the museum, and she told me that when she looks at my work, it makes her reflect upon man’s relation to nature. She also told me, that her 5-year-old daughter has never seen the stars. They live in the center of the city, where the light pollution covers the starry sky. The curator went on to say that she finds it extremely hard to even try to describe the stars, and her wish is to be able to take a vacation in order to show her daughter a starry sky. This is what I hope that my work does; that it spikes a curiosity and a will to stop and look at nature. I often wonder how the little girl is going to feel when she sees the stars in the sky for the very first time. I am sure it will be something to remember for the rest of her life."
Text and photography by Anna Reivilä
Translated from Finnish by Avin Jarjis