The “Eija-Liisa Ahtila” exhibition
is organized in partnership with
the Finnish Embassy in Paris, À Nous Paris,
aufeminin.com, Beaux Arts Magazine,
evene.fr and Télérama

Born in 1959 in Hämeenlinna, Finland, Eija-Liisa Ahtila lives and works in Helsinki. She studied art in Helsinki and London, and finally, from 1994 to 1995, at the University of California and American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where she developed the competence to handle the different forms of the moving image, including video, digital images and, most importantly, cinema. She uses these to construct narratives in which she conveys situations and figures that are representative of contemporary alienation. Ahtila defines her works as “human dramas.” Certainly, the emotional universe fleshed out by her depictions of adolescence, sexuality, family relations, exclusion, separation, suffering and death is a powerful one. Suffused with the intimate and the irrational, Ahtila’s works describe states of extreme inner tension and disrupted communication, a world where the distinction between real and imaginary no longer applies.
Eija-Liisa Ahtila occupies a unique position on the contemporary art scene, between the heritages of the conceptual and alternative work of the 1960s, in which video was a tool for recording and experimenting, and those of documentary and experimental cinema, but also commercial cinema, television and advertising. She moves freely between different formats and contexts, from museum spaces to large-scale projections, from small screen to big. Her work also takes on board the spectacular, both through the sophistication of its staging and in its use of multiple screens. For Ahtila, illusion is a “working material.” The precision of the screenplays, the handling of actors, editing and special effects are all used to develop the complexity of the situations she presents and to set up narrative procedures that disconcert the spectator. This formal approach places beholders in an active position as they try, or not, to fit together the fragments of a story played out on several levels.

The exhibition at Jeu de Paume is the first retrospective by this artist in France. It features an ensemble of sculptures, two series of photographs, and four film installations including Where is Where?, which was produced specially for the occasion.

Me/We; Okay; Gray
1993, 3 x 90 seconds, DVD installation for 3 TV monitors on wooden furniture
Three short films between advertising and fiction

Me/We is about the way individual identity is controlled and achieves balance. The film centres on an absurd family episode, related by the voice of the father while he, his wife and their two children are hanging out the washing in the garden. He speaks directly to the spectator, but soon his voice appears to start coming from the mouths of other characters too.
In Okay, we see a single character/narrator on the screen, but hear a multiplicity of voices both male and female expressing the moods, desires and inhibitions experienced by that person when making love.
Gray evokes a moment when reality is suddenly transformed by a catastrophe, questioning the well-defined boundaries between Self and Other.

Where is Where?
2008, HD installation, 6 screens

Where is Where? is a film about colonialism, based on a true event that occurred in Algeria in the late 1950s when, incensed by the atrocities committed by the French, two young Algerian boys killed their own friend, a French boy. This incident is treated as a fiction and re-enacted in a set, as if in the theatre. Based on the texts of Frantz Fanon, the West Indian psychiatrist and campaigner against colonialism who discussed the event in one of his books, the work is highly poetic in form. It meditates on the murder in relation to the situation in today’s world, and, more generally, on the questions of time and death.

The House Sculptures 2004, 4 sculptures, various materials

With these four sculptures the house theme is handled in a very different way from in the installation The House, although as Ahtila says, “in both case, the house is a metaphor of the human mind.”

Scenographers’ Mind I to IX 2002, series of 18 photographs

All but three pieces in this series of photographs framed in pairs are based on the principle of opposites, such as near and far, interior and exterior, or portrait and landscape. They function in the manner of working notes.

Consolation Service 1999, 23’40’’, DVD installation, 2 screens

The themes of Consolation Service are death, separation and passing time. The film shows a young couple in the process of divorcing. At the start, the narrator expresses her thoughts on the situation we see on the screen, thus establishing a second level of interpretation that runs all through the narrative. The style of the film combines documentary realism and fantasy.
The work is designed for two screens: the image on the right concerns the story and describes the course of events, while the screen on the left dwells more on the surroundings, emotions and small details that reveal the unspoken side of the story.

The House 2002, 14’, DVD installation, 3 screens

The House is about a woman who hears voices, an experience that radically transforms her sense of time and space. Conceived on the basis of interviews with psychotic women, the film offers a deep insight into the advance of irrationality through its account of the loss of temporal and spatial coordinates.

Fishermen / Études no. 1 2007, 5’34’’, DVD installation, 1 screen

Somewhere in West Africa, fishermen set out for the high seas, braving the violent wind and huge waves. Their boat eventually keels over and their fishing equipment is scattered over the water.

Dog Bites 1992-1997, a series of 8 colour photographs

In this gratingly humorous series a naked woman model mimics the behaviour of a dog.
This project is neither a self-portrait, nor a piece of social critique; it remains highly enigmatic.

The Hour of Prayer 2005, 14’12’’, DVD installation, 4 screens

Inspired by events in the artist’s own life, The Hour of Prayer is a short tale about attachment and death. Here, the death of a well-loved dog introduces the theme of the suddenness of death and the feeling of loss, as experienced within a family. The installation comprises videos made when the actual events occurred, combined with re-enactments. The action takes place in New York and Benin, respectively in the months of January and December.

Publication / Eija-Liisa Ahtila
Texts: Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Elizabeth Bronfen, Régis Durand, Doris Krystof
Éditions du Jeu de Paume / Hazan
192 pages; 26 x 23,5 cm bilingual French / English; 35 €.