The works in Milja Laurila’s exhibition are based on the 1930s English language edition of the non-fiction book “Woman. An Historical Gynæcological and Anthropological Compendium”. The over 1000-page work, first published in German in 1885, was one of the most influential texts in its field and of its time. The book, which describes a woman’s physiology from an anthropological perspective, contains hundreds of photographs of nude women and children from around the world. The book paints the impression of a confusing combination of sexual and epistemological desire, with the women and girls presented like samples found by scientists in nature. The captions in the book speak of the attitude of the researchers: “An Indian girl displays her charms.”; “Firm resilient breasts in a Tunisian.”
The exhibition features photographs and a sound piece. The photographs in the series Untitled Women examine viewing and being viewed, as well as relative power positions. In the original scientific context of the time, a detailed assessment of a woman’s appearance and body parts was central to looking at the images. However, in Laurila’s exhibition, the viewer does not see them clearly, because a translucent paper placed under the frame’s glass obscures the view. As a result, the closer you get to the image, the less accurate the body’s shape becomes. Conversely, Milja Laurila turns the viewer’s attention to the women’s eyes. The subjects in the images look closely at the viewer through an opening left in the sheet of paper, inviting one to ask themselves how it feels to be the object of the gaze.
The sound piece Woman. With more than 1,000 illustrations in black-and-white and seven colour plates includes some of the original captions from the anthropological book, translated into Finnish. As in many of the text works in Milja Laurila’s previous exhibitions, the content here is made up of individual sentences that are like tiny poems or flash-like visions: Man and woman. Adam and Eve.; Stoning of two women; Fertility magic. It is still about photography – missing or imagined images that a voice invites the viewer to form in their mind.
The sound piece has been created in collaboration with sound designer, visual artist Joonas Siren and actor Teijo Eloranta. It contains descriptions of anatomy and violence that some listeners may find disturbing.
Milja Laurila is a photographic artist based in Helsinki. She graduated with a Master of Arts degree from Aalto University’s photographic art program in 2010. Laurila approaches photography as the material for her works. She is interested in the relationship between images and words, and in her works often places scientific archival material, both images and texts, in new contexts. During 2021, Milja Laurila’s works have been on display in exhibitions at the LACMA Museum in Los Angeles, Kunsthalle Helsinki, and at the Paris Photo Art Fair in Paris. Milja Laurila has previously held solo shows at Hippolyte in 2007 and 2016.
The artists has been supported by the Arts Promotion Centre Finland and the exhibition by the Finnish Cultural Foundation.
Woman. With more than 1,000 illustrations in black-and-white and seven colour plates
4–27 March 2022
Photographic Gallery Hippolyte