Kaisa Karhu’s series Variations on the Landscape and the Self leads the viewer to encounters that emerge between sublime landscapes and performative gestures. The exhibition, which consists of photographic and fabric prints, explores the relationship between self-portraiture, femininity, and landscapes. The rules and boundaries set by male-dominant artist communities have long defined what female artists should look like in their images in order to be taken seriously. Karhu’s self-portraits and landscape works aim to break and make visible the gendered and built-in meanings that appear in art history.
Kaisa Karhu’s interests stem from historical artworks, women artists, and landscape imagery—especially paintings from the Romantic period. During the Romantic era, the pursuit of the sublime, or its experience, was popular with artists. To reach and express their “real” feelings, artists had to seek an intimate connection with nature away from civilisation. This period held deference to such “grand subjects” like these, and a woman’s intellectual capacity was regarded as utterly insufficient to both comprehend or create such content.
The concept of a tremendously intense, or sublime experience was associated with confusion, respect, and wonder in the Romantic period. The confusion associated with experiencing such scenery intrigues Karhu, as it makes her appreciate the landscape as fragmented: a beautiful sum of its parts, inaccessible with a single glance alone. Also, Karhu’s works arise when she encounters an environment that speaks to her, not only through its beauty, but also as a strong, inexplicable feeling. Karhu’s landscape works do not seek to command the terrain and control the view, but instead, convey the experience of its fragmentation.
Working with a series is vital to Karhu’s work because, unlike a single image, a series promotes the idea of movement and time. Adjacent to the landscapes are Karhu’s triptychs of self-portraits. Here, her positions and gestures change and interact with the view so that the object of the self-portraits–both the spectator and the seen–momentarily becomes part of the setting. Gestures in Karhu’s works reflect self-portraits from some 18th and 19th-century female artists who utilised certain poses to assert their artistic agency. Like in the paintings that inspired Karhu, small-scale gestures, subtle but conscious hand positions, or larger, more perceptible body movements emphasise her desired self-image. By re-enacting and creating these actions, Karhu’s self-portraits record a shared imprint that the artist’s body, gaze, or gesture draws together with the landscape. Ultimately, both actants will return to moving and changing at different paces, the traces soon disappearing from all links of contact.
Kaisa Karhu is a Helsinki-based photographic artist whose work combines performative works and photography. Through a self-referential approach, Karhu’s works investigate being a female artist and the history of women subordinated as portrayers of natural themes. Karhu has dealt with this theme in her previous solo exhibition Tunteiden kasvio (Herbarium of Emotions) (2016), shown at Galleria Uusi Kipinä in Lahti 2016 and the Photographic Center Nykyaika in Tampere in 2017. Karhu graduated with an MA in photography from Aalto University in 2017.
image: Kaisa Karhu, Self-portrait variations with violet flowers, 2019
installation photos and virtual exhibition (below) by August Heinonen
Variations on the Landscape and the Self
Photographic Gallery Hippolyte
9 July – 1 August 2021
Open: Tue-Fri 12-17, Sat-Sun 12-16