An insight into the experimentation of multi-disciplinary artist, Pekka Niityvirta
In conversation with Ellie Brown, June 14, 2023
People — Art, Photography
Pekka Niityvirta is a multidisciplinary artist working with photography, video and installation to deconstruct different constructed realities that exist around the world. The artist often combines video footage and photographs with digitally-rendered images in order to challenge, or subvert, what we accept as reality. In his trilogy of works, Monsters, Dark Mills and Angels (2014-2020), for example, it is hard to differentiate between what is “real” and what has been artificially created by Niityvirta - a distinction that he deliberately does not make clear to the viewer. In doing so, the series draws attention to the systems that we, as humans, create and accept as “natural”. Walls - as borders, as boundaries, as incomplete architectural projects and as barriers - recur throughout Monsters, Dark Mills and Angels, echoing the kind of societal structures put in place to create “order”.
Other projects by Niityvirta include the series Lines (2018 - present), made in collaboration with the Finnish sculptor and artist, Timo Aho, which examines the impact of rising sea levels on different communities around the world. The site-specific work was first installed in the Outer Hebrides, off the coast of western Scotland, and saw Niityvirta and Aho install LED lights, totalling 115 metres in length, that show the projected sea level increase in the area. Using sensors to track changing tides, the lights are activated when this reaches its highest point. Given the low-lying nature of this remote location, the impression that Lines creates is clear: as night falls, the singular ribbon of light demonstrates just how much of this area could become uninhabitable. Niityvirta and Aho have also installed Lines in Miami, and more recently, in Dublin, Galway and Wexford - all of which create a different kind of impression of how damaging global sea levels will be. In 2020, Niityvirta and Aho worked with Google Arts & Culture to bring the premise of Lines to a global audience. Using the Street View function on Google Maps, Coastline Paradox allows users to visualise the extent of rising sea levels across the world from the present day to 2300. Viewers can click on different glowing locations to see how high, and how quickly, sea levels will make human inhabitation impossible.
Calling from Helsinki, where Niityvirta works and lives, we discuss how the artist approaches working across different mediums and finding ways to dissect the ways in which we negotiate and navigate with the spaces - built, natural, social - that surround us.
[With Monsters, Dark Mills and Angels], the images are constructed realities. I mean, some of the pictures are [presented] as plain documentary, some of them are not. I’m not stating what is real, and what is not. Some of them are totally digitally generated images; they are non-existent in reality, and some of them are just slightly altered. And it's all about the production of reality in the photographic sense. I think the reality we live in has been heavily produced - whether we want it to be or not.
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