Kaisa Karhu’s series of works, Landscapes and Self-Adaptations at Photographic Gallery Hippolyte, explore the relationship between self-portraiture, femininity, and landscape motifs. Thematically a continuation of her previous body of work, Herbarium of Emotions, Karhu examines the subordinate status of females within portrayals of nature.
Karhu’s exhibition, consisting of photographs and fabric prints, leads the viewer to sublime terrains and small performative gestures. Karhu’s interests in landscapes as a genre arise from the Romantic era and concepts of the “sublime,” notions of “greatness,” as well as the position of female artists historically, and the representation of nature. The series began at an artist residency in Greece in spring 2018, where picturesque views of mountain roads and olive groves awakened performative acts and images. Karhu’s works are born when she encounters scenery that speaks to her with beautiful and powerful, yet inexplicable, ardour. In the art of Romanticism, it was customary to depict phenomena related to sublimity. Confusion, awe, and wonderment are also associated with this concept of a momentous and intense experience. Karhu is intrigued by this confusion, which causes her to perceive the landscape as fragmented: a beautiful sum of its parts, however always partial, and completely incapable to access in one glance.
Typically for Romanticism, for an artist to reach and express their true feelings, they had to establish a profoundly personal touch and connection with nature, often far from civilisation. The general assumption of the time was that female artists couldn’t contend with their male colleagues—landscapes and self-portraits were perceived as the “big themes” that a woman’s intellectual capacity couldn’t sufficiently comprehend. The rules and boundaries set by the male artist community of the Romantic period determined how female artists were supposed to look in self-portraits to be taken seriously. With her self-portraits, Karhu aims to break and make visible the gendered and built-in meanings found in art history.
Karhu’s work focuses on seriality and the use of her own body as a functional part of the work. Unlike a single image, a series creates a sense of motion and time—guiding watching like in a storyboard. Karhu’s three-part series of photographs are results of changes in bodily positions and gestures while interacting amidst her environment—the subject of self-portraits momentarily becomes part of the scene. Instead of garish images, gestures in Karhu’s works can be as underappreciated as those of 18th-century female artists’ paintings, or as exalted and conventionally supported as the more easily recognisable movements that emphasised the power of self-portraiture. The change that Karhu’s body, gaze, or motions draw in the landscape disappear over time, and the backdrop continues to change slowly—though, held in each photograph is a shared imprint of the artist.
Kaisa Karhu is a Helsinki-based photographer, whose artistic work is based on combining performative acts and photography. Through personal events, Karhu reflects female “artisthood” and the female gender’s historical subordinated portrayal in nature. Karhu’s previous solo exhibition Herbarium of Emotions (2016) was on view at Galleria Uusi Kipinä in Lahti 2016 and at the Photographic Centre Nykyaika in Tampere 2017. In 2017, she earned a Master of Arts degree from Aalto University’s Photographic Department.
The Finnish Cultural Foundation kindly supports the exhibition.
Landscape and Self-Adaptations
Photographic Gallery Hippolyte
Open: Tue-Fri 12-17, Sat-Sun 12-16
image: Kaisa Karhu, Self-portrait, 2018