Jenni Toikka (b.1983) graduated from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2012. She works mainly with moving image. We discussed her works, her inspirations and her future installation on Helsinki’s Music centre’s media wall, the largest digital screen in the Nordic countries.
Jenni Toikka’s films explore the technical characteristics offered by moving image as an art form. She is drawn to moving image, because it allows the artist to present changes and create a narrative. Video is also a versatile technique, as Toikka says: “You always find new things to pay attention to.”
For Adaption (2009), Toikka found inspiration from the shooting location itself, Paimio sanatorium, designed by Alvar Aalto. Adaption, or atonement, refers to redemption of past events, making amends. The film depicts its main character going back in time to make up for something. “There’s a moment of actual fixing up or adaption, when the character fits a fallen piece of the stairwell back into its place,” Toikka explains.
The work is in 9:16 format, filmed vertically, instead of horizontally. The form is common now, in the age of smartphones, but in 2009 it could have been considered strange. “It strongly limits what is visible in the image,” the artist points out. “I was interested in using images in a way that the frame stays in place, but the character may quickly move out of sight. The image can tell things through space and the setting.”
Circle (2016) was inspired by the winter sport, biathlon. The work shows us a short version of a competition setting, also focusing on the different signs related to the event. The elements seen in the sport reminded Toikka of paintings. “It started with the sports world and the idea of winning yourself. There’s the main character who is competing against themselves,” she describes. “I wanted to connect the athlete’s ‘flow’ to the artistic process.”
(Self)Portrait (2012) depicts a stage-like space, where a character builds and edits the set pieces around her, building a picture. Toikka wanted to make a multiple-channel installation depicting authorship and being an artist. Through building they also slowly move out of the picture themselves. Toikka tells us that often when making a piece, at some point the work begins to move along by itself: “The work drives itself forward, I’m just more of a moderator.”
Reel (2019) continues the theme of theatricality. It is a portrayal of a memory disorder, that uses video art to display how memory functions, or dysfunctions. The main character, a young woman, performs tasks that are only partly shown to the viewer. A set piece separates the character from the viewer, limiting our sight to what happens in front of the two doorways. The perspective then turns around and we are shown what happens behind the wall. The actions are different, which raises the question of the reality – when the character thinks she is doing something, she is actually doing something else. The actions get disorganized in her memory.
Toikka researched memory disorders for the film and was interested in the structure of memory, how different actions and events can get mixed up – how one can have a conception of being in two places at once, for example. She points out that memory works in the same way as moving image, it relates to time, space and duration. The film explores these structures.
Lighthouse (2020) was made in collaboration with painter Eeva-Riitta Eerola. The inspiration for the piece was Maison Louis-Carré, a house designed by Alvar Aalto, where the work was filmed and originally screened. “Aalto’s architecture is exceptional in contrast with the idyllic French countryside,” Toikka says. “There’s a utopian atmosphere, it’s almost as if the place was frozen in time. It isn’t attached to the present, or any time, for that matter.”
Toikka began collaborating with Eerola, when they noticed their working processes were similar. “When the responsibility of creating an artwork is shared, one’s own authorship disappears a little,” Toikka explains. Thus, the pair wants to explore ideas of authorship and creating as a duo. Toikka describes their collaborative work as experimental and intuitive. “Decisions come out of interaction. The other might understand something you’ve said in a different way than you meant it, and it produces a whole new idea.”
Parts of Lighthouse were born during the process. “Intuitively, the idea of an outsider’s perspective also became part of the work,” she explains. “It’s linked to the building, the house is viewing the characters. ”
Virginia Woolf is brought up in the work as well, as one of the characters reads her novel, To the Lighthouse: “There’s a voiceover of a passage in her novel, that you can perceive as the woman reading, but at the same time the camera pans to a different location, and the text connects to that other situation as well.”
“Woolf is often linked to feminism, and although it is a subject we are interested in and concerned with as women, in this work we were more intrigued by her literary means. Her writing can be linked to modernism in painting, there are multiple perspectives in her works.”
A visual prelude
Toikka’s idea for the Music centre’s media wall, Prelude Op. 28 no 2 (2021), was chosen to be funded and displayed in a project by AV-Arkki, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Kiasma and AVEK. The visual prelude will be displayed on the Music centre’s large media wall before the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra’s concerts in September 2021, the premiere taking place on September 10.
Prelude Op. 28 no 2 will handle questions related to sound and music, and the roles of the artist as well as the listener. “I thought about how to use silent images to describe the musicality of the Music centre. Can an image convey a sound?”
Toikka was also inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film Autumn Sonata (1978), particularly the scene in which the mother, Charlotte, and the daughter, Eva, play the piano. The daughter plays first, after which the mother shows how the piece is played correctly. “The perspective changes, the player becomes the listener,” she says. “I thought about that. Is it possible to imagine yourself playing a piece, when you hear someone else playing it?”