artworks :: Kirsi Tiittanen  
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On the Absence of Presence – The Art of Kirsi Tiittanen

In a large colourful photographic print, the main role is given to two rocking chairs in a space resembling the porch of a house. The concrete nature of the chairs is reinforced by the fact that they are empty and facing each other, as if they had been placed in interaction and to demonstrate their belonging together. With their own presence, the chairs appear to represent the absence of people, thus stepping symbolically into their place. The same situation is repeated in the next image – now with chairs of different colour and material, on the porch of a different house. As the pictures increase in number, the chairs increase in pairs to become a small community, a mute group of chairs turning their empty seats towards the viewer.

These images are part of a series works photographed by Kirsi Tiittanen in the villages of tobacco farmers and workers in West Cuba. The world of colours of this environment reinforces the foreign feel of the starting point of the images. The series ends, however, with two pictures of a Finnish rocking chair. In one of them, an old woman is sitting in the chair, the artist’s mother according to the title of the piece. The picture of a person close to the artist both cements and breaks down the presence, distance and the symbolism associated with the chair.

Entitled “ Rocking Chair Journey”, the series of works represents in various ways Kirsi Tiittanen’s method as a multifaceted whole involving travel, photography, materials and the working of themes. Geographic mobility is natural for her, but not only for a renewal of subjects. The world can be defined as an open space, where everyone finds his or her routes. Along the journey, images, memories, transitions and meanings accumulate. The meanings of cultural distinctions, however, find their way into the images indirectly and at different levels. Combined with a variety of choices and parallels of materials, the works become visual clusters of meanings, the opening of which can simultaneously be intuitively direct and a multi-level discussion of concepts.

On her travels, Kirsi Tiittanen records both photographs and moving images on film and in digital memory. The photograph alone, however, rarely remains in the finished work. With the aid of graphics, painting and photography images are linked to a variety of materials: hand-made paper, thin curtains, pillowcases, vinyl, wooden panels or PVC sheeting. The properties and meanings of the materials are intertwined with the objects and paces represented in the images. Where a pillowcase tells of rest, its lace border, as the result of meticulous craftsmanship and concentration, is associated with industriousness and the activities of women. An image printed on a thin curtain of buried children ritually dressed in aprons is reinforced by the transparency and gentle swaying of the curtain. The works are often presented in series or as installations spread out in a space, and they may include light, lightweight structures, or salt as additional materials. Thus, the spaces appearing in the images enter into a dialogue with the viewer’s space, forging unseen connections through time and geographic distance with those who move in the spaces.

Many of Kirsi Tiittanen’s works have come about in far-off places and symbolically laden settings. The architecture and garden design of Japanese temple, the 17th-century Villa Katsura in Kyoto with its paper walls, Buddhist cemeteries or Arashiyama, a leisure site of scenic beauty, are visually interesting physical spaces. They are also strongly associated with the innate human need to stop and to set aside time to meditate and experience silence. The origin of the images, however, is not underlined as the principal theme in the final works.

The transition from space as depicted and the space of the image is particularly prominent in ”Ulkopuolinen” (Outsider), a series of works by Kirsi Tiittanen from 2003. In these pieces, black and white photographs present the built environment, the interiors of buildings, nature in a park-like setting, or seemingly untouched landscapes in their natural state. They consist of different places in two cultures completely alien to one another, two different worlds. In the work, however, they appear paralleled in pairs joined by a matt, soft hue. In all the works of the series, a photograph appears next to a coloured, painted panel. These comparisons not only underline the various properties and references of acrylic paint and the black and white photograph. The coloured panel between two photographs also is a mediating factor, a calming bridge along which the viewer’s eye, as a gaze and seeker of meanings can move from one place to another.

Through Kirsi Tiittanen’s different methods and choices of material, the views recorded by the camera are transferred into the spaces of the works themselves. To quote Friedrich Nietzsche’s aesthetic concepts, these spaces can be called Apollonian images. The power and beauty of the Apollonian image is not based on any representation of reality but on the right to be in itself, a free form of expression removed from it, a level that can produce illusion. Armed with this right, reality appears to us as an image and an opportunity to immerse oneself in the space of the image. The space of the image permits us to perceive distances with regard to the world, ourselves and what we experience via the image. Images arouse pleasure by virtue of their recognizability but also through the distance that they establish with their subjects. As is known, the opposite of the Apollonian is the Dionysian. While pictures create a visual illusion, thereby making us more sensitive, they cover the abyss of life.

Kirsi Tiittanen’s works are often associated with rest, community, situations between nature and culture, sacred places. They deal with the boundaries of life and death, the differences of presence and absence. Immersing oneself in their space, a visual universe and an enigma in which everyone has to find his or her own fixed points and routes.

Maria Hirvi