Critics’ Picks

Camilla Vuorenmaa,Ripley in my dream, 2022, paint and carving on wood, 94 1/2 x 80 3/4".

Camilla Vuorenmaa,Ripley in my dream, 2022, paint and carving on wood, 94 1/2 x 80 3/4".


Camilla Vuorenmaa

Helsinki Contemporary
Bulevardi 10
October 14–November 13, 2022

Carved and painted on four wooden panels, Camilla Vuorenmaa’s Ripley in my dream (all works cited, 2022) depicts a dreamscape that borrows both from the tradition of fantasy landscapes and from pop culture. The female character sitting in the foreground of this enchanted forest is based on the character of Ellen Ripley from the film Alien (1979). A note of horror pierces the otherwise bucolic setting: Toward the center of the painting, a hound leaps after an escaping bird, a fragment that the artist has borrowed from the visual vocabulary of European Gobelin tapestries.

Vuorenmaa sculpts her paintings into three-dimensional objects, “coloring” or sketching her compositions through intricate carving work. She often portrays film heroines, such as Ellen Ripley, or women athletes, such as the soccer players and wrestlers she has previously depicted. Her latest body of work has gained an additional dimension; the artist invests these surfaces with the mixed emotions of becoming a mother, as well as with her own childhood memories of abstract imagery. For example, in I promised to come back for her birthday, one can still recognize the face of Sigourney Weaver, the actress who played Ripley, dissolving into the negative space carved out around her. It is hard to say if this gesture represents a forgetting on the part of the artist or reemerging memories.

The title of that painting and the exhibition as a whole is a line Ripley utters upon returning from her space travels and realizing that in her absence her daughter has grown old and passed away. In the film, the alien is a predator that develops inside a living host as a kind of surrogate, only to then kill its host by bursting out of its chest. Vuorenmaa’s work embraces this theme of corporeality and rupture, eliciting an almost violent bodily reaction. Her more abstract paintings, such as This is a tracking machine, depict images reminiscent of fragments of tissues, muscles, or sinew. While blending with the beauty of her radiant palette, these figures seem to remind us of the ability of our bodies to carry life and loss simultaneously.