Eija-Liisa Ahtila / MATRIX 212
Intention to Fail
July 11, 2004 - September 5, 2004
Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).
Intention to Fail is the first one-person exhibition on the West Coast of internationally acclaimed film and video artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila, who lives and works in Helsinki, Finland. Rethinking the conventions of cinematic and televisual forms, Ahtila explores the possibilities of narration in multiscreen installations and split-screen projection. Through multiple perspectives, simultaneous performance, and the revelation of the filmmaking process itself, her powerful works relate what she calls “human dramas,” highlighting doomed relationships, dysfunctional families, and the ordinary things (attraction, obsession, fear, denial, indiscretion, taunting) that divide people and can bring on insanity.
Ahtila’s fictions are loosely drawn from extended research (including interviews with psychiatric patients) as well as personal experience and observation. An impeccable blend of realism and fantasy, her work investigates a penetrable border between “self” and “other.” Highly stylized sets and costume design make physical the rapidly unraveling mental state of her characters. Multiple screens allow a dramatic flow between fractured time and space, past and present. Simultaneously employing and subverting traditional cinematic strategies, Ahtila’s work represents an ongoing analysis of the constructed image, narrative composition, and film installation.
For her MATRIX exhibition, Ahtila will present the U.S. premiere of two works that bracket her career: Me/We; Okay; Gray (1993) and The Wind (2002). Me/We; Okay; Gray is a short film in three episodes, each about ninety seconds long, shown on separate monitors installed on and around furniture in the gallery. Me/We focuses on a bizarre incident involving a family of four. The father’s voice speaks his own and the other characters’ lines as their mouths move. The narrative ultimately asks, “What is an individual, and where are the boundaries of the self?” Okay uses a physically intimate relationship to explore evolving definitions of sexuality, self, and symbiosis. While only one person appears on screen, the voices are both male and female, rendering gender a question. The subject of Gray is a catastrophe that prohibits three characters from going home. Here, the “other” is in the very air they breathe.
The Wind is an engrossing film installation with three simultaneously presented mural-size projections, edited to unfold in and out of synch, each showing a different view of the same apartment space. A strong wind blows into the apartment through an open window and wreaks havoc. We see a woman perpetually rearranging the entire contents of her room, reassigning the function of objects. The Wind depicts the slow onset of psychosis with its altered interaction with the “real” world. The logic of the narrative is upset through repetition. It begins: “Shut the door please!” “It is shut.” “Where is the draft coming from then?” “Your imagination.”
The subject of a survey presented last summer at Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and at the Tate Modern, Ahtila’s work was also a highlight of the 2003 Documenta, included in the REEL Sculpture exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and featured in the Nordic Pavilion at the 1999 Venice Biennale. A screening of her film Love Is a Treasure will be presented at PFA in conjunction with her MATRIX exhibition.
Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator
The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by the generous endowment gift of Phyllis C. Wattis.
Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Art Berliner, Glenn and April Bucksbaum, Eric McDougall, Sonja and Michael Saltman, and Christopher Vroom and Illya Szilak.
Eija-Liisa Ahtila/MATRIX 212 Intention to Fail has been supported in part by FRAME Finnish Fund for Art Exchange, Tecoah and Tom Bruce, and the Jack and Martha McFall Fund of the American-Scandinavian Foundation.