ON THE BORDERLINES OF THE VOID
The involvement of the viewer in defining a work can at present be regarded as a general truism in contemporary art. As noted by E. G. Gombrich on the premises of viewing images, the images of art can be convincing without being objectively realistic. Though readily subscribed to, this statement finds a completely different light in the paintings of Päivi Takala (born 1970). They namely arouse the idea that the aim of artworks in general is not to convince with visual means, but rather to question this influence. The works envelop their viewer in an incomprehensible groping, where things do not fall in place but instead something is dislocated. Figures turn away from the viewer. The landscape is mistily blurred in the field of vision. Details that are almost exaggeratedly enlarged obscure their origins.
Neither is there any reason to mistakenly imagine that Takala depicts an objective world in her paintings. The identifiability of an object or thing is present, but the artist's nihilistic treatment forces the viewer to question his or her own images of memory. Things and objects merge into their background; the compression of their boundaries abstract a work initially appearing to be figurative. The artist makes absolute use of an earlier plane of reference, but wishes, as it were, to eradicate from the painting the ballast of things seen and experienced: We regard ourselves to be experienced viewers of landscapes and we also recognize other depicted garbs and themes. We even sense the feel of the materials worn by the painted figures. But at the same time we also recognize that we have not seen the thing as it is now shown in the painting. We look at these paintings with interest and feel how something is missing of what we were supposed to be looking for in them. This leads to a number of questions: Have I perhaps previously refused to note the essence of the thing? Have I even seen the whole thing in the sense that I had imagined? The viewer's reality is questioned.
Takala's painting operates in the borderlines of the real and the invisible, and the imaginary and the incomprehensible. In the spatial void of a white background, the viewer realizes the difficulty of encountering figurativeness when the connections of a figure with the visible and empirical world are disturbed. In the paintings, objects, landscapes and compositions of groups of figures constitute a continuous state of pursuit. Regardless of the choices of visual representation (which may vary in the artist's work), the recognizable distances itself from the viewer in Takala's paintings. The painting and what is represented in it are something alienatedly distant. The ordinary becomes strange, and the mood turns unfamiliar.
Gore-Tex fabrics, hooded jackets, backpacks, tents and other high-tech accessories are the material manifestation of this world of thought, but at the mental level they represent the simultaneous presence of the identified and the unidentified, the negation of something perceived. Takala thus paints via a kind of negation. We can consider that to be connected, for example, to consumerist models of thinking, but in fact only in ways in which consumerism is embedded in the forces contrary to it. Although these counter-forces could be the ethical considerations of consumption, such a direct interpretation does not seem to be relevant in Takala's case. The depicted theme, the material, becomes questionable with different means. On the one hand, a technological garment developed to the utmost protects human beings against the cold. On the other hand, the use of such materials and accessories appears to be a hopelessly anonymous way to manage in the present world, where real threats are related to issues of perhaps a completely different order. Matter itself becomes a cold element in the artwork, and the related absurdity creates a factor that supports Takala's visual world.
The viewer senses this contradiction in the painting, being drawn into a kind of anonymous situation; painting constructing a generally neutral, impersonal, minimalist and non-expressive space. With their compositions of backs turned, the figures leave a feeling of the viewer's own outsiderness. On the other hand, the viewer perceives the painting as a situation created in relation to something private and intimate. Even in its whiteness, the space is not empty. Instead, this arrested situation contains something that has taken place or is about to do so.
The artist herself has compared her relationship with painting to cinematic representation: the individual works are like film shots related to each other and jointly forming the event. The image into which the viewer projects the situation is not in a void, but on the borderlines of experience. The space of the paintings is a kind of residue of the real, organized world - in the words of the spatial researcher Francesco Careri something that can be called a nomadic, flowing space. The viewing of paintings is thus a kind of passage in space organized at the moment of seeing and experiencing through correspondence and identification, and as their counter-operations.
Takala's paintings also seem to touch upon time, being fragmentary instead of timeless. But as they still keep to the mechanism of negation, they deny the feeling of the passing of time. The presence of objects and things is arrested and static. The time of the paintings is unlocalized slowness. Slowness with which the works are viewed and with which the viewer's straightforward realization is obscured. The painting is like a shady secret that still remains to be unravelled.
Takala's works deal with time as a narrative rather than ontological experience. No beginning or end can be read from the paintings. Before them, the viewer becomes part of a temporal state of reading an image, which in everyday experience could be described as "killing time", a situation in which time passes, but its duration finds concrete form rather as a feeling of coming to a halt. But that which is 'now' is also a bridge between past and future 'now' moments. The opening up of the work thus creates recollections of the past and expectations of the future in an endless 'now'.
Experiencing Takala's paintings involves not only a conceptual investigation of the idea of negation, although it seems to be an apt opportunity to avoid laying down the explanations of a painting. Takala's works namely evoke a genuine feeling that the world treated by her cannot be explained solely through the visual content of her works. But negation as a method is also associated with the content underpinning the works. Operating via it makes it possible to address human paradoxes, which is most obviously the aim of the works. Without trying to convince, Takala appears to ultimately believe that in the world we simultaneously feel both yearning and belonging. This entails something highly typical of contemporary man - the simultaneous presence of opposing emotions and desires.