Marikki Hakola (born in 1960) is a Finnish media artist who has worked with video for over 30 years, and is considered a pioneer of the field. We met at her studio in Hakaniemi where she was working on post-production for her film project, MIRAGES. We discussed the importance of music, why working at the boundaries of disciplines is interesting, as well as happy accidents and the power of collaborative work.
“I was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts, but the studies were very traditional. I interrailed all summer and winter breaks, and tried to get to every visual art show I could around Europe, and many times considered this was my main education.” Hakola found video when the student-founded Turppi Group she was part of got a hold of some video equipment by accident. “I found the editing process a revelation. Before visual art, I’d been doing music. I was interested in the animation of a painting, and the time-based dramaturgy present in video.”
She proceeded to create a video installation for her graduate show called The Time Is Right For… (1984), a commercial and news-reel video collage. “I ended up doing it myself, nobody taught me that. Movie schools were completely different. In The Time Is Right For…, we lived in a time where I thought ads are the news of our consumer society, and news are the advertisements for a world view, and when these things start to mix together, of course this has an impact on how we see and experience ourselves and our role in the society.”
Hakola thinks back to when video art was just starting out as a form. “After I graduated in 1984, I was one of the first to teach video-based art, and took groups to Europe to attend festivals. Back then, the amount of video artists was small: when you went to a festival, you almost met everyone who was interested in it! Now it’s completely different. My work spread very fast on the festival circuit, but appeared on television sooner abroad than in Finland. The Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE was not interested; they would show my work PIIPÄÄ over their dead body. That’s a long time to wait, I said.”
The idea of the information society was a topical discussion when Hakola was working on PIIPÄÄ (1987). “We were looking at how it affects our psyche, how identity is formed in a new kind of situation where information is coming from every angle. This was before the internet. Finland was very monocultural and it was mostly one thing, one at a time, that was talked about.”
Collaboration and happy accidents
One quickly notices that music plays a big role in Hakola’s work. “To me, music is essential. I get a real kick out of working with amazing music, thinking of it through visuals and story.”
What type of music would Hakola like to take with her on a desert island? “Free jazz— you get the shape and structure, but within that there are micro-events that are spontaneous and improvised. Equally, I’m interested in the dynamism of real-time improvisation and the possibility of co-incidence in all arts.”
Hakola also often collaborates with performing artists, dancers, musicians, and choreographers. “I’ve always done interdisciplinary work, it’s a working method that fits me. The moment when the characteristics of one type of art are taken into account in the other creates a fascinating synthesis.”
Hakola is completing her doctorate in art philosophy and semiotics at Aalto and working as the director and scriptwriter for her next work MIRAGES. “MIRAGES is an theoretically uniting piece—I feel my past experience and vision are well-worked into this project. There is also a sense of community, as a theme as well as a method of creating it.”
“MIRAGES definitely has some feminist themes. It looks and starts with a closed, psychological situation of a middle-aged woman, but ends in a point where she has moved forward with her thoughts, and recognised her own strength. It asks how can you get empowered from a community, and at the same time pay that power back to the community.”
Hakola seems thoughtful. “If there are other clear themes in my work, they would be strongly political. It’s an aesthetic experience, but equally a political one, where different kinds of boundaries—also personal—are investigated.”
Fully realised at a green-screen studio, the performers interact with the motion capture animations of their surrounding world. “We created a new way to do this, instead of the traditional way motion capture is used to create animated characters.” Various visual tests were done prior to production starting. Among these were scenes with video-projections streaming visuals from live cams around the world—a wave crashing on a shore in South Africa, gondolas sliding along the canals in Venice—while the performers are in the enclosed space of the studio.
We watch a video from her computer. The screen is divided into two: Below, the performer stands against the green screen, the optical markers that activate the motion capture visible on her sleeves. Above, we see the video in its final form: the dark, abstract world around the performer is fully realised. As she moves, her gestures alter the environment around her.
Hakola believes a lot of interesting things can come through co-incidence. “I am interested in what happens when the conventions of one discipline meet the conventions of another, and there’s some kind of friction or tension there. And to me that friction is the most interesting, and the ideas that are born of that.”