Gestures Towards the Self

Ars Nova

The exhibition Gestures Towards the Self focuses on contemporary Finnish photography through the work of ten artists. The exhibited works discuss the playful and political side of self-photography, as well as the ethical, objective and documental aspects of the photographic image.

Artists in the exhibition are Elina Brotherus, Antti Laitinen, Aino Kannisto, Heli Rekula, Iiu Susiraja, Marja Helander, Kari Soinio, Marko Karo, Erica Nyholm and Harri Pälviranta, who is also the curator of the exhibition.

Gestures Towards the Self presents ten Finnish photographers who base their art on self-portairts. The works presented in this exhibition were all created with the artist´s own bodies as their artistic tools. The artists are present in these works as both subject and creator, sometimes proud and secure, often a little bewildered and ashamed. They frame themselves in imagined or reconstructed environments, in contexts that are potentially both playful and humiliating.

The curator of the exhibition, photographic artist Harri Pälviranta, describes the process of self-photography as follows:

"The artists in this exhibition use exposure as a source of power. Framing yourself in an image can be a tool for examining both personal space and public perception. The artists here are highly trained professionals of photography, but their approach is playful and quirky."

"The works of the exhibition have little to do with the contemporary culture of Selfies; selfies are a tool for producing an idealized depiction of the self, for others to consume, while the works presented here aim to deconstruct the self-preservative, unbroken notions we have about the private self. The relationship to the photograph and camera is also fundamentally different."

The long tradition of artistic self-portraits

Artistic self-portraiture as a theme has endured in the world of visual art for centuries. Historically, especially in painting, self-portraits have been seen as a reflection of the artist´s emotions and self-image. Replacing this mirror with a camera creates a situation where the artist is no longer necessarily depicting his or her own persona or thoughts.

Taking a self-portrait in photographic form is an act of performance. It is a process of thought and categorization. It can include elements of stage design, disguise and changing of roles. Taking a photograph is an uncertain and haphazard event, no matter how carefully planned and executed. Pose, expression and movement are beyond our complete control.

The exhibition includes photographs that range in theme from absurd to political and deeply personal. "The self" is present in many ways and in many roles. The artists leverage themselves on a metaphorical level, referencing questions of body politics, femininity and masculinity, or illustrating a carefully constructed fantasy. A photographed self-portrait can be a lens to view general questions of humanity or a tool to depict the more private side of life.

The wide range of different works on display is brought together by a common sense of complete immersion and focus on the act of photography itself. Aino Kannisto and Erica Nyholm demonstrate this through their finely-honed set designs and compositions. Kari Soinio, Iiu Susiraja and Harri Pälviranta throw aside all shame as they let loose in poses that many of us would find far too embarrassing. Marja Helander´s performance required precise preparation in extreme conditions and Antti Laitinen displaces a lake while exerting his body to its limits. Elina Brotherus has devoted herself to careful observation of the small town of Mänttä and enacted small performances with the power to transform its everyday atmorphere. Heli Rekula offers a fleeting presence and a subtle nod to something profoundly personal. Marko Karo ridicules everyday roleplaying with the help of banal masks.


Heli Rekula: In Sooth (11 March), 2012, digital C-print, 36 x 30 cm.
Aino Kannisto: Untitled (Telephone), 2012, pigment print, Diasec, 90 x 130 cm.
Marja Helander: To Have a Campfire (still from the video), 2016, HD video, 05:48 min.
Antti Laitinen: Lake shift (still from the video), 2016, 4K /HD video, 16:03 min.
Erica Nyholm: Woman and Girl in Church, 2016, pigment print, 80 x 100 cm.
Elina Brotherus: Tango Trousers (still from the video), 2015, HD video, 19:21 min.
Harri Pälviranta: Pit #9, 2015, pigment print, 24 x 18 cm.
Iiu Susiraja: Ketchup (still from the video), 2016, HD video, 00:54 min.
Kari Soinio: Still a Hero #2, 2016, digital C-print, 70 x 105 cm.
Marko Karo: Untitled (Minotaur), 2017, pigment print, 136 x 118 cm.