Salla Tykkä

Kunsthalle Bern

A young woman boxes with an older, much larger man, the vulnerability of her naked torso in stark contrast to her aggressive punches. An adolescent escapes from a building in which she has been suffocated by a triangular relationship with an older man and woman; she runs deeper into the forest until she reaches a summerhouse and freedom. The same girl, older now, spies on a young man practicing lasso tricks; she's moved to tears by the beauty and purity of his actions.

At the heart of Salla Tykkä's work is a series of highly condensed visual metaphors expressing physical and emotional vulnerability, specifically that of female adolescents. In the earliest of the videos shown here, Power, 1999, the fraught relationship between father and daughter is alluded to in the single, visually dense activity of a boxing match acted out by a professional fighter and Tykkä herself. The collision of past, present, and future is intimated by the grainy black-and-white photography and the change of speed as the characters walk away from the match in slow motion. Like their relationship, the bout's result is left open-ended. Tykkä expresses psychological tension through movement and timing. The counterpoint between the choreographic fluidity of the boy with the lasso and the girl's stilted emotional response to him made Lasso, 2000, one of the most compelling works at the 2001 Venice Biennale. In Thriller, 2002, the girl's frozen expression of anticipation as the older man's hand lingers on the door to her room follows a classic cinematic suspense strategy, but the contrast of this fear with her subsequent run through the forest also conveys her initiation into self-awareness.

Tykkä incorporates the sober modernist architecture and homely landscape of her native Finland into her work. In both Thriller and Lasso the young woman's silent perceptions of and exclusion from male power are emphasized by the role of doors and windows as barriers. Like the mirror the girl studies before shooting a sheep (a stand-in for the man?) at the end of Thriller, images of doors and windows also convey the voyeurism of sexual awakening—not only the curiosity about others but also the inherent narcissism of adolescence. Seduced by this and other familiar cinematic devices, such as the girl's dramatic transition from inertia to action and motifs like her discovery of an empty building and illicit use of the shotgun, we start looking for narrative dues. Although there is no story, we find intimations of relationships and suggestions of both previous occurrences and possible future events.

The dichotomy in each video between its underlying emotional mood and the stylization of reality is underpinned by Tykkä's choice of accompanying music (instrumental scores from popular films), which functions as a structuring device. But any suspicion that the power of the videos relies simply on the rousing quality of the sound track is dispelled by the five photographic series in the show. Shot during the making of the videos but intended as an independent expression, these silent thoughts on female identity—the fear conveyed by the artist's concealed head in Pain, Pleasure, Guilt, 1999, and the unnerving depictions of women acting like animals in The Rabbit, The Pony, and The Ape, all 2002—demonstrate the growing formal complexity and emotional directness of Tykkä's work.

Felicity Lunn