Critics’ Picks

Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Horizontal, 2011, 6-channel digital projection with 5.1-channel audio, six minutes, 10 x 34 1/2'.


Eija-Liisa Ahtila

Carré d'Art - Musée d'Art Contemporain
Place de la Maison Carrée
October 12, 2012–January 6, 2013

A portrait of a tree is a fairly straightforward concept. Realizing this image photographically, Finnish video artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila discovered, is easier said than done. While filming The Annunciation, 2010—wherein an all-female cast rehearses and enacts that biblical scene—Ahtila wanted to include a shot of a single tall tree. This vision, however, proved problematic. At close range her camera would capture only a section of the tree, from afar she would wind up with a landscape, and a wide-angle lens would cause distortion. Her solution, Horizontal, 2011—a lateral presentation of six video projections showing consecutive segments of a spruce from roots to wind-blown branches—is emblematic of Ahtila’s innovative cinematic storytelling.

Ahtila’s stirring multichannel video installations (this show brings together seven made between 1993 and 2011) are immersive, typically encircling the audience with three or more screens. Often a single scene will be shown from multiple perspectives, or else the action passes seamlessly from one monitor to the next—a magical effect that feels like being inside a zoetrope. For example, the climax of Where Is Where?, 2008—a fatal roundup during the Algerian War of Independence—unfolds terrifyingly in the round. One after another, armed men enter a door at one side of the circular installation and advance until they have fully surrounded the victim (and the viewer.)
In addition to jumping from screen to screen, Ahtila’s narratives skip through time, across multiple locations, and between reality and fantasy. This Faulkneresque style is particularly well suited to the exploration of agoraphobia in The House, 2002. As a young woman’s psychosis worsens, her suburban home becomes invaded by increasingly surreal imagery. When a cow escapes her TV set and lumbers through the living room (as embodied by three large screens), the viewer’s sense of spatial reality is tested as well.