Minna Långström (b. 1974) is a Finnish media artist and filmmaker, whose works include 3D animations, short films and participatory installations. “I cannot help thinking spatially, but there are some things that can be expressed better in the linear form of a film,” she explains. “Usually films and installations complement each other nicely.”
Minna Långström‘s fascination with films began already in her childhood, but she originally imagined her career to take a quite different direction: “I thought that I was going to become a painter, since that was what I had been doing for years.” Långström started to gravitate towards video and media art after the first year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, and the final push she got during three years of studies and practical training at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA.
“My studies in the US were strongly interdisciplinary,” she says, “and that was where I also learned 3D computer animation.” Långström was able to do a large part of the animation herself for her first and currently only animated short film, The Chinese Room (2003). The film revolves around two characters who constantly observe each other on various screens, and it reflects themes that Långström has explored in many of her works. “I’m interested in how technology affects our lives, what we can – and cannot – know about each other with the help of technology.”
The Chinese Room’s installation version allows viewers to switch between different views, but also includes them in the material: the viewer is being filmed with a surveillance camera and that footage is occasionally shown in the screens that the characters watch in the animation. The viewer’s interaction with the installation is a central aspect in Långström’s work. “I want to figure out how people interact with the piece intuitively, without being instructed or told what to do.”
“Art should not be interactive just for the sake of it”, she also points out, “participation should always bring something to the work.” Her four-channel video installation To Melt (2014) is particularly effective because it draws viewers into mimicking the seemingly endless loop of the characters’ movement from screen to screen with their own bodies. “I got feedback from a viewer that part of the realisation came from walking with the characters around the installation.”
The Joy of Interdisciplinary Collaboration
Continuing with themes of technology and science, Långström is now working on a documentary film about a woman who works as a Mars rover driver, engineer and roboticist for Nasa, and has worked with robots on Mars for years. “I went to interview her in 2015 and became interested in what her reality is like, since not many deal with that environment as intensively as she does.” The film was shot in three weeks outside of Los Angeles and is currently being edited.
“This has been a long project and a huge learning process for me,” Långström says. “Of course only a fraction of what I’ve discovered during my research makes it into the actual film. It’s heart-breaking that sometimes you have to leave out possibly the most interesting aspect of the story because it cannot be discussed in the space of one film.”
Långström has recently also worked on a project on Hilma Granqvist, a Finnish anthropologist who spent a few years living in Palestine during the 1920s. Långström visited the small village of Artas where Granqvist had lived and documented her time there in great detail. The result is an installation Being Increasingly (2017) that was exhibited at Elverket in Tammisaari as a part of the Finland 100 project.
“Still, when we tell stories about historical women and their work, too often there is a catch like, ‘oh, she was so unhappy, she was lonely’ and so on, and I wanted to avoid that kind of narrative. I wanted to focus on Granqvist’s work and the joy she got from it, and not portray her as a poor little thing, because she was in no way a tragic character. She enjoyed her work immensely.”
In addition to her artistic work, Långström worked as an assistant professor in Moving Image at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki for five years. She has also organized film festivals, and is currently a member of the Finnish Bioart Society, which promotes cooperation between artists and scientists. “The lines we draw between art and science are often quite artificial.” Mutual respect towards each other’s skills and area of work in this kind of interdisciplinary collaboration is crucial, she notes.
“I can’t just go to a sleep laboratory and think that I can instantly understand everything about it,” she says, referring to her multidisciplinary installation The Sleep Lab (2007), in which she utilized actual sleep analysis material and technology. This kind of technological approach to art is often both a collaborative and educational process for Långström: applying interdisciplinary methods “creates a dimension of delving into new things so that you know enough about them to be able to work with others.”
For more information and requests on Minna Långström’s works, please contact AV-arkki’s programme coordinator Tytti Rantanen, firstname.lastname@example.org