The Berlin- and Helsinki-based artist Pilvi Takala (b1981, Helsinki) has an established practice of filming performative interventions, often going undercover to reveal the hidden workings of systems that constrain or control our behaviours. For the 59th Venice Biennale in the Pavilion of Finland, her presentation Close Watch (2021) reveals the research she undertook into the private security industry, spending six months undercover as a Securitas guard in one of Finland’s biggest shopping centres. The work painstakingly exposes the multitude of subtle and overt strategies for controlling behaviour between guards and members of the public, but also between the guards themselves, and reveals the invisible boundaries of what we consider acceptable behaviour in what is supposed to be a public space but is, in fact, part of the privatised public realm.
For ethical reasons, Takala could not film the day-to-day experience of guards and members of the public, but she used the six months’ immersion to observe and record in her notebook issues of concern and interest, stepping over the line from being a performer to becoming a participant. As she says here: “I was actually doing the work, so there wasn’t any pretending in it. And it was … quite challenging. For me, the research was also about: What problems will I have doing that work? What are the ethical considerations? I was, of course, interested in my colleagues but also in myself, how to do this work well.”
Pilvi Takala, Close Watch, 2022 (still). Multi-channel video installation. Courtesy Carlos/Ishikawa, Helsinki Contemporary, and Stigter van Doesburg.
Takala worked with the architects Studio LA to adapt the original Alvar Aalto-designed Finnish pavilion to turn it into a space that articulates the dual nature of watching and being watched. The front half of the pavilion, where Takala reveals the methods by which, after her six-month work stint, she invited her fellow guards to participate (some were happy to get involved, others not) is screened off from the rear part by a one-way mirror, which obscures what is going on behind. The rear two-screen space shares the post-surveillance performances and workshops, but here the dividing mirror is clear so you can witness these communications, while knowing people are unaware that you are watching them.
In these workshops, Takala, along with several of her ex-colleagues and three actors, re-enact and dissect incidents from her field research, sometimes replicating incidents verbatim, sometimes improvising. Borrowing the participatory technique of forum theatre, she and the participants explore power dynamics, ideas of social justice, and alternative strategies for situations that can trigger or be triggered by use of excessive force, racist language and toxic behaviour. With insight and intelligence, for the most part, her ex-colleagues reflect on their behaviour, their roles and responsibilities.
Pilvi Takala, Close Watch, 2022. Multi-channel video installation. Commissioned by Frame Contemporary Art Finland for the Pavilion of Finland at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Photo: Ugo Carmeni / Frame Contemporary Art Finland.
As the communications unfold in the front room between Takala and her former workmates, one is struck by the openness and clarity of Takala’s approach – even in text or WhatsApp form - and her colleagues’ generally enthusiastic responses speak of the trust and respect that clearly built up between them.
Takala has made previous works looking into the security industry, but her field of investigation has also included the realms of Hackney hipster co-working hubs and the tightly controlled environment of Disneyland. For The Stroker (2018), she posed as a wellness consultant in the east London co-working office Second Home, observing people’s responses to her overtly tactile overtures. For Real Snow White (2009), in a work both sinister and playful, she dressed up as Snow White and filmed the disturbance that created at the Disneyland entrance when the guards refuse her entry, using a variety of excuses, but ultimately exposing the Disney brand’s tight control of their image and that of its characters, which must be protected at all costs.
Takala studied for her BFA/MFA (2001-6) at Helsinki Academy of Fine Arts, including a year (2004) studying Environmental Art at Glasgow School of Art. She has previously exhibited at Seoul Mediacity Biennale (2021), Moscow Museum of Modern Art (2021), Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki (2018), CCA Glasgow (2016), Manifesta 11, Zurich (2016), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2015), MoMA PS1, New Museum, New York (2013) and Künstlerhaus Bremen (2012). Takala won the Dutch Prix de Rome in 2011 and the Emdash Award and Finnish State Prize for Visual Arts in 2013.
Pilvi Takala: Close Watch
Finnish Pavilion, Giardini, Sestiere Castello, 30122 Venice
23 April – 27 November 2022
Interview by VERONICA SIMPSON
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY
To the Finland Station and Back: RUSSIA!
The same may be true of Russian art, as anyone who was lucky enough to see the recent exhibition, 'RUSSIA!', in New York from 16 September 2005 to 11 January 2006 might attest. The exclamation point says it all. It is a tough task to occupy that vast parking garage on Fifth Avenue known as the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Only an exhibition of the size and ambition of 'RUSSIA!' fills and fulfills it.
Axel Antas: Nature of Things/Marijke van Warmerdam: First Drop
During September it has been interesting to find two exhibitions, one in London and a second in Edinburgh, in which the artists individually focus on aspects of landscape art. At the Rokeby Gallery in Store Street, Finnish-born artist Axel Antas, who now lives and works in London, has revealed an oeuvre that is inherently multidisciplinary, ranging from drawing and photography through to video.
West Meets East in a DADAdventure
Just as the extensive exhibit, 'DADA', which revisited the movement, closed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, a small but appealing coda is being presented by the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York. According to Corina Suteu, director of the Institute, 'DADA ... born Romania' is a direct response to 'DADA', which premiered in February 2006 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and closed on 11 September at MoMA. 'DADA' proposed both Zurich and New York as the birthplaces of a phenomenon that claimed to have no boundaries or limitations and was, in fact, a truly international movement.
Nordic Dawn: Modernism's Awakening in Finland 1890-1920
This timely exhibition and catalogue can be accessed in Europe until 26 January 2006. It is timely because it appropriately adjusts the balance of influences upon Finland at this crucial period and thoroughly and effectively reviews the special influence that Finnish art gave to the wider European spectrum. Stephan Koja, an expert on Gustav Klimt, is currently a curator at the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere Vienna and co-ordinates important contributory essays from a wide range of Finnish scholars.
Book review: Pallasmaa phenomenon
Juhani Pallasmaa, the Finnish architect and theorist, has in the current period entering the twenty-first century become a major protagonist in the revision of modernism, and hence of postmodernism. To many architects today he has, through his lectures in China, Europe and the United States, provided a template for thought hitherto in urgent need.