Critics’ Picks

Anni Puolakka, Diamond Belly, 2018, video still.

Anni Puolakka, Diamond Belly, 2018, video still.

Espoo

Anni Puolakka

EMMA Espoo Museum of Modern Art
Exhibition Centre, Ahertajantie 5
June 2–September 27, 2020

Finnish artist Anni Puolakka’s video Diamond Belly, 2018, opens on a comfortably disheveled bedroom. A tuxedo cat nestled among rumpled white sheets is soon joined by the artist, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. They kneel on the unmade bed and begin to paint a wall mural, partly abstract and partly a depiction of a mosquito’s wings. The camera abruptly cuts to the artist again, now wearing holographic lizard-eye sunglasses. Puolakka converses with an AI bot, the coauthor of the film’s short script, who leads the dialogue through a series of questions, instructions, and koan-like statements as they discuss an ex-partner, a dream of mushroom spores, and the ethics of killing mosquitoes.

Despite the fact that the video was made in the spring of 2018—practically an aeon ago, given the pace of today’s news cycle—Puolakka’s treatment of loneliness, estrangement, and digital mediation feels current in the Covid era. But even more resonant in a global pandemic is the porous feeling of connectedness with, and vulnerability to, nature. After the bot prompts them to look up and describe the ceiling above, Puolakka reflects on the bloody smears of swatted mosquitoes that had once feasted on their arm like it was a “fleshy, veiny baguette.” In a voice-over accompanying a picture-in-picture video of the artist set inside footage of a blossoming tree, they say: “I can care freely, carefully look at the mosquito belly mutating into a red diamond when the insect is sucking me.” Drawn from the artist’s experiences of solitude and heartbreak, Diamond Belly seems at first like a portrait of isolation. But Puolakka’s words convey what is perhaps a more uncomfortable truth: Even in our loneliest moments, we always have company.