Severe depression brings contemplations of death and dying into everyday life. Virpi Stjerna’s exhibition Leave Them All Behind tackles her individual experience of depression and the impetus of self-harm it carries. Photographing possible methods of suicide, and the people consequently left behind, has been a means to process the ever-present awareness of death.
By depicting the complexity of cognitive self-harm through photography, Virpi Stjerna has used the medium to address her entanglements. She was able to approach a situation difficult to overlook while being amidst the struggle itself. In her images, Stjerna symbolically goes through various methods of taking one’s life by positioning herself with familiar objects of violence, such as a rifle or noose. When photographed, each option is carefully explored and for her consequently exhausted. However challenging the images may be to look at, and considerably onerous for the artist to realise, in their repetitiveness Stjerna’s approach suggests an element of morbid humour.
The lateral part of the exhibition is the artist’s attempt to place herself in relation to the people close to her and speculate a preeminent responsibility faced with irreversible actions. Concurrently, working on this series has proven how difficult defining a permanent relationship with others can be—friendships sever or diminish, and mental health issues have surprising effects on interpersonal relationships. The work consists of 168 portraits of friends, family, and other significant people, the lives of whom a possible suicide would affect in various measures.
Though depression and suicide continue to affect many people in Finland, the topics remain socially challenging and stigmatised, notably when speaking of personal experiences. One of Virpi Stjerna’s motivations to exhibit this work is to present an artistic methodology that has enabled her to deal with a subject not only of private but also social importance. Virpi Stjerna recognises a disconcerting contradiction—despite a seemingly raised awareness of multitudes struggling with mental health, the problems are inadequately discussed publicly, and even then only rarely by those directly affected.
Virpi Stjerna is a photographic artist based in Helsinki. In 2008, she earned a BA in photography from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. After graduation, she has taken part in several group exhibitions in Finland and abroad. Virpi Stjerna’s previous solo exhibition, The Autumn Takes, was shown at Gallery Sinne in Helsinki in 2010. The exhibition at Hippolyte is the visual portion of her MA thesis in photography for Aalto University, School of Art, Design and Architecture. The works were shot in Helsinki, Stockholm, Berlin, and London between 2010-17.
Leave Them All Behind
2–25 February 2018
Photographic Gallery Hippolyte
Exhibition open: Tue–Fri 12:00–17:00, Sat–Sun 12:00–16:00
image: Virpi Stjerna, from series Leave Them All Behind, 2010–17