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Pure Intervention

Piret Karro (4/2014)

Piret Karro analyses "Rõivad ja rühid" (Attires and Attitudes), a solo exhibition by Finnish artist Pilvi Takala.

 

4. IX–1. XI 2014
Tartu Art Museum
Curator: Rael Artel


A young woman in a bubblegum-pink dress sits by the wall. In the middle of the room, moderately overweight, elderly people in casual clothes dance to "Saaremaa Waltz." Every time a folksy tune ends and before the next one begins the woman claps politely. Finally, a man in a suit asks the woman to dance. They whirl across the almost empty dance floor and, as soon as the music ends, leave in opposite directions.

 

*

 

You feel you are not wanted there. You are wearing the wrong clothes as if you had no clue on how to dress or even feel at the event. No one will come to talk to you. If they did it would seem awkward, forced, or they might even come to say that you are not welcome.

Yet you will not leave – you are an artist and you are being filmed.

Pilvi Takala's videos and performances portray a combination of a person's dilemma mixed with deliberately awkward situations. The character in the video appears to be a city girl in a provincial town (or vice versa) who is not even embarrassed because she has no idea she has done something inappropriate. However, Takala is very much aware of her behaviour and what effect it may have on people around her – she does not create these situations by accident.

There is a tension between the apparent I-do-not-want-to-be-here and the actual this-is-exactly-where-I-want-to-be, as Takala is neither lost in the situation nor is she overpowered by traditions and customs. Rather, she acts like a double agent manipulating the game.

"My characters are like costumes I wear more than something I become. I'm always present in these situations and extremely aware of the discomfort I am purposefully creating. I think that professional actors really become the characters they portray, but in their case the characters have to be more whole. My characters are like sketches. They have just a few features and are designed for specific situations. My generally minimal attitude and straight face have to do with keeping the action clean. Not saying anything or doing anything unnecessary is as important as doing the right kind of thing."1

For example, Takala buys a Catholic school uniform from the Garnethill school-shop to get a reaction from the school children in the street and see what happens ("Event on Garnethill", 2005). In her piece of a performance titled "Real Snow White" (2009) we see a humorous situation in which a grown woman wearing a Snow White costume is seen as a danger to the existence of the real Snow White. In "Wallflower" (2006) Takala sits quietly in a cotton candy pink dress in the middle of the Pärnu Spa Hotel dance hall as amused tourists have fun looking at her.

In these works Takala plays with the tension between the shy, awkward public and the bold intruder. Her characters are sincerely oblivious to it all, a fact that confers onto them a rather unrelenting quality. Even more so, as her actions actually break no rules and rather teeter on the edge of social conventions, which is why Takala's behaviour seems out of place to those who do not question these norms.

In the interview with Rael Artel, published in the catalogue for the exhibition, Takala says that it is crucial to know the environment where she films. She lives in Helsinki but has filmed on location in Pärnu, Glasgow, Istanbul, Bangkok, and while preparing new works she will use her personal connections to study the environment and better understand those same codes of behaviour and dressing that she will later try to quietly shift.

Takala's subtle ways do not put people on the defensive. They do not try to stop her as a foreign element, they remain curious about her and even try to help her conform. The situations Takala creates are uncomfortable but safe, which is why the juxtapositions are so powerful.

In the video "Women in Kahves" (2005) Takala offers a more political approach when she invites some of her girlfriends to a teahouse in Istanbul usually frequented solely by men. Nevertheless, not staged as a protest, the situation is good-heartedly playful and in the interview with Artel, Takala does mention that she prefers it when the locals do not take her too seriously.

Takala always stays true to her principles and is therefore an incredibly strong performance artist – her actions have an immediate and visible effect on the public. Her actions are stripped of everything superfluous. The roles she plays have but a very few characterising elements and she does not create any more confusion than is needed for her performance. The shift she strives for may become apparent after a few hours or a few days, but it does eventually. Takala is not looking for symbolic expressions. She chooses her themes based on a human interest instead of ideas or concepts. Her work is based on her physical experiences, which explains why the use of her own body is essential. Much can be said about Pilvi Takala's stylistic purity and rigorous working methods. At the very least, they could provide great inspiration for many young performance artists in Estonia.

 

1 Pilvi Takala, Attires and Attitudes. Tartu: Tartu Art Museum, 2014, p 21.

 

Piret Karro is a semiotician, artist and art critic, whose focus in semiotics and anthropology is in non-normative family models, gender and sexuality.

 

Pilvi Takala / Wallflower

Pilvi Takala
Wallflower
2006
video, 10'25''
Courtesy of the artist

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