Eija-Liisa Ahtila

Raum Aktueller Kunst Martin Janda

Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s three-part video projection If 6 was 9, 1995, deals with young girls’ conversations about sex. The combination of video, youth, and sexual content in work that reflects on the quotidian is hardly unusual, and those who remain skeptical about the art world’s current tendency to privilege the personal won’t necessarily be swept away. Ahtila’s films, however, distinguish themselves by dealing with issues of identity and self-discovery without making any claim to “authenticity.”

If 6 was 9 involves a fracturing of representation that derives from a disjunction between sound and image. What one sees (young girls) does not correspond to what one hears in the voice-over, or reads in the English text provided: adult women describing experiences, emotions, and dreams. The disjunction is not immediately noticeable, but when it becomes apparent, one is led to reflect on what is usually expected from the conversations of young women or girls, and to compare these expectations to the representation of young girls in teen magazines or in art. What is a “problem” for the individuals involved often becomes a form of entertainment for the spectator or reader—or at the very least an object of curiosity. One of the strengths of Ahtila’s work, however, is that it avoids talk-show-style voyeurism by operating on two different levels. Through the reflective distance in the voice-over, the young girls depicted lose the youthful “innocence” that might otherwise render them vulnerable to prurient curiosity. What is at stake is not a factual account but the conventions used in intimate narratives.

Alongside this large-format video projection, Ahtila presented three short films on video monitors, entitled Me/We, Okay, Gray, 1993, each of which reflected on conventional patterns in filmic narrative. In these works the relationship between the visual and the aural was continually ruptured in a way that suggested a fracturing of identity. Me/We, for example, presents a family in which different members speak, but all with the voice of the father. One doesn’t notice this immediately (the film is only 90 seconds long), but something just seems off. When one finally does, one detects a pointed critique of patriarchy based on a general principle of filmic narrative: an assumption that the spectator will choose one character with whom to identify.

These three films are so condensed and technically refined that they recall advertising, and in fact Ahtila has often shown the films on television or in movie theaters between short commercial spots. Brief, claustrophobic domestic dramas like the one in Okay, 1993, (in which the voice of a woman speaking about a relationship gradually changes into the voice of her male partner) elicit an awareness of the cycles of power and dependency in personal relationships. The films’ frustrating brevity, however, hardly allows for a clear entry into the particulars of these relationships; perhaps for this reason, Ahtila shows the same works again and again.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.