Tolerance for cultural homelessness
Minna Jatkola is known for her big paintings that deal with social phenomena. Her artworks depict the spiritual homelessness of the generation that is seeking for its identity without permanent employment and has grown up in the world of superstars and icons of economic depression.
Minna Jatkola’s political paintings deal with spiritual drifting in this world where market economy has not only changed economical structures of the society but has also influenced on the cultural climate where human beings grow and become members of their own society.
In critical thinking modern human beings are understood to be alienated from their own body and social relations. The reason for this homelessness is seen in their objectivistic relation to the reality, which is seen to be separated from its context, as an object that is characterized and controlled regardless of the context where it has been constituted. As a result of this objectivism modern western human beings have divided their world to external and internal spheres that have no itimate connection.
The individuals depicted in Jatkola’s paintings do not belong to any concrete world. The characters are located in the context of conceptual icons by stretching and turning the perspective. They are located in porn movies, shopping centers, private rooms and other places where we achieve our character as social beings.
The significance of choice
One central feature in Jatkola’s works is the way in which she uses the large canvas to depict several separated and different events and spaces in the same painting.
”In the large size I am interested about the fact that a big painting in a way takes distance to its being a painting and is, in spite of its two-dimensionality, a massive, plastic element that can have more dimensions. Painting can create an illusion of real touch and an impression of depth on two-dimensional surface. Large painted surface continues beyond the limits of the visual field and opens up as a scene, like a landscape or screen. When you look at a painting you don’t look at one thing, the painting. When you look at a whole the eye moves on different parts of the painting, the spectator moves her head and often also moves around in front of the painting, closer or further or sideways from one edge to the other.”
The creation of spatial illusions belongs to the tradition of painting. With illusions one tries to give a possible picture about reality on the ground of experience. The picture does not imitate the reality; it illustrates social conditions that are always present. The surface of a painting is a surface of interpretation. There is no interpretation without an interpreter. During the last decades there has been lively discussion about the relation between the spectator and the artwork, about processes of interpretation. Artworks get their meanings only after the spectator has given meanings to them.
“There is no painting without a spectator, and so the space used by the spectator becomes a part of the space of the painting. Traditionally paintings are looked at from the outside, as an object, as a picture composed inside certain borders. As if perceptions were made from one fixed point. However, the viewpoint of the spectator moves with the spectator. It was thought about cubistic paintings that the spectator makes perceptions inside the painting. Among contemporary painters for example David Hockney has developed interesting thoughts about the use of cubistic space and ways of perception in painting, collage and photography. In actual perception the eye circulates within the limits of the movements of the eye and the body. In real life these conditions have an effect on how we perceive situations and objects in our environment. In a picture this context has to be constructed, and these processes of perception must be taken into account in the composition. The depiction of different themes on a painted surface and into the context of art creates new meanings. And the way in which we look at an artificial scene brings our own experience to the process of interpretation. In a big painting there is an element of experience connected to the time used for the experience.”
Communicating the experience
Our experiences will remain private if we don’t interpret communicate them further. The function of art is to communicate these experiences. This does not, of course, entail that our experience would be conveyed as such. Artworks try to communicate, bring forth experiences through which one wants to tell something about the everyday reality.
The size of the surface gives the picture a certain movement and power. In big paintings one can emphasize details that the artist considers important, even if this poses its own conditions and routes for visual perception.
”A painting that is full of various objects and events is not necessarily easy to perceive. To my mind visual perception is a possibility of different routes. It is possible to approach in different ways the figures and themes in a painting. If a painting contains several vanishing points and separate spaces, they will be perceived as a whole that is not, however, restricted to one point of time. The whole does not consist of simultaneous events. Things that happen at different times appear to be simultaneous when there is a common theme that unites them. These events are different points of view, shades that deal with substantial themes often in an inconsistent way. I want to conceptualize and question the visible world and accept the possibility of several points of view that do not exclude each other. I think that this is possible especially in painting where it is not essential to present things in a photographic way, to reproduce something that is thought to be part of reality. Instead, it is essential to depict how thing appear to be or could be from one or more points of view. Of course it is my own conception of reality, of the world surrounding me and of chaotic, fragmentary parts out of which the experience of the world and reality consists of.”
Crudely speaking reality can be divided to two parts: physical and social. Physical reality means that part of external reality outside of the individual, the part that exists independently of her as a physical fact. Social reality refers to how a human being experiences the rest of the world and its rules, practices, habits and so on.
As human beings we are necessarily parts of the social reality. When we act according to our own conceptions and when we try to form a conceptions about the things that are important to us, we inevitably collide with conciliated or irreconcilable contradictions with other people. This means that social reality is continuous reconciliation and communication of conceptions the purpose of which is to become understood correctly.
“Reality is experienced in different ways, it does not appear the same to everyone. We perhaps imagine that we live in the same world, but everyone experiences the surrounding things as a different whole. It is a need of a human being to belong to a group, to be socially accepted and get understanding from the others, and this creates the need of continuous mirroring. The significance of life consists of crossing points, where one seems to experience collectivity and attains achievements, commonly accepted elements of good life. A good life in itself does not necessarily guarantee happiness or make life more real. One has to live an especially good life, to succeed better than the others and to mirror this success through the others. A human being has a need to create inequality in order to bring forward one’s own superiority. This leads to selfishness, imprudence and to arrogant rudeness to take away imaginary happiness from those who cannot defend themselves and their needs.”
In her paintings Jatkola has been concerned with home and private spaces in relation to common, public spaces, the relation between individual and environment, different hierarchical social and power structures. She has examined human existence, social control and mental balance in the fragmentary and chaotic world, loneliness, displacement and other social problems, lack of communication and sense of community and, on the other hand, accommodation and entanglement to various false or imagined social practices.
”I deal with these themes from the female viewpoint, through being a woman. My purpose is not to do feminist art or to put any specific emphasis on the feminine. My viewpoint is chosen quite naturally. I am a woman, and this fact has an effect on everything I do and think. I am a subject, the central point of my life, and all the rest are others independently of sex. I deal also with sexuality, sexism and the increase of pornography in the society.
The themes of my paintings are not based on a conscious political program. The subjects that I paint can be perceived all the time in everyday life. I would be difficult for me to deal with themes that I don’t consider important.”
The world of pictures
The increasing amount of visual media has also changed the visual language of art. Art has appropriated elements from the visual expression of popular culture. Contemporary art evolves in the same rhythm with life. The pictorial language of media and the forms of expression in contemporary art have found the same sources of themes an subjects: identity, sexuality, wars, health, consumption. Art has become a part of the means of communication. We take stand to artworks that we have seen only in the exhibition catalogues. Contemporary art lives in the pictures of media and depends on it. The inflow of images is at the same time carefully selected and chaotic, depending on the context where we are.
”We live in the middle of pictures all the time, and all the pictures are artificial in some way. The pictures are detached from their context, carefully delineated (which means that things in the context have been left out) and presented in the context of other artificial pictures. I think that pictures that are presented in the context of art do not necessarily have special properties, which would automatically elevate them to a different category than other pictures. Art is not a value in itself. Pictures presented in the context of art are not necessarily creative, deep or valuable. Paintings can be associated with spiritual dimensions, but the same holds for any particular picture presented in the context of popular culture, market economy or information society. The spectator creates the meanings for the pictures on the ground of her own experience.”
Published (in Finnish) in Taide 1/04