Heli Rekula, Skein, 2000, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen.

Article: From Monitor to Gallery Space – Spatialisation of the Moving Image in Finnish Video Art in the 1990s

Kati Kivinen, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

 

One of the main trends in both the video art and photography of the 1990s is related to spatial works of art rapidly becoming more common in both domestic and international contemporary art. In video art, the projected and multi-screen video installation quickly replaced earlier sculptural video installation art, which still depended on monitors as the image source. In the video art of the 1990s, the partner in dialogue was more often cinema rather than television, and the emphasis shifted from the political video art of the 1970s, which had used TV aesthetics, to more experiential video art that returned to cinema aesthetics (Iles 2003; Kotz 2005/2008). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, photography turned to installation’s new ways of presenting and interpreting in an effort to break away from the documentary tradition, and to pursue the fine art dimension of photography in particular (Rinne 1997, 11; Elovirta 1999, 199–201).

The new spatial trends in the field of art soon also inspired various attempts to compartmentalize and define the new spatial forms of expression in both moving image and photography. At the turn of the millennium, terms such as gallery film, used in Anglo-American discourse, and cinéma d’exposition (cinema of exhibition), based on French research, established their presence in the discourse on spatial forms of the moving image, while in photography, the discussion was situated somewhere between the points of fine art photography and fine arts. In Finland, these fields had only just started to move towards one another at the beginning of the 1990s. The outbreak of photography into space mainly took place through conceptual art, when the photograph – no longer merely a pure aesthetic object, but now a part of a process – broke out of its frame, expanding the traditional boundaries of the medium and seeking to find new ways and forms for the expression traditionally imposed on it (Hietaharju 1992). Later, photography also showed signs of moving towards cinematic representation in the works of significant photographers of the 1990s such as Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky. One of that decade’s central phenomena in photography became the monumental ‘cinematic tableaux’, which, in art-historian Liz Kotz’s opinion, brought together the high culture aspirations of painting and the pop culture appeal of Hollywood (Kotz 2005, 105).

This development started around the same time in both art forms; however, in photography, it withered quickly. In Finnish art large-scale projected video installations – often in multi-screen format – had great exposure at the turn of the millennium in both domestic and international exhibitions, and were often accompanied by Finnish photography. The significant difference was, however, that coming into the new millennium, photography abandoned installations and ‘returned to the walls’. Director of the Finnish Museum of Photography Elina Heikka sees signs of ‘business economic rationality’ in this development, which, in the internationalization of the art world, shuns the more experimental forms of art and favours easily movable pieces that can be placed in different kinds of spaces (Heikka 2004).

Featured image: Heli Rekula, Skein, 2000, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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