Reflecting the female bodily experience and perspective has always been the starting point in Marika Orenius‘s video art and photography. During the past few years, however, she has consciously elaborated her style and methods towards revisiting the pre-existing and fragmented materials for new ends. This February, Orenius defended her doctoral dissertation in the Aalto University. In her research, she discusses the concept of art as “unlearning”, a way to forget what has already been learned.
Marika Orenius (born 1971) is a Finnish media artist whose works include installations, performances, video art and photography. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1999 and is currently based in Helsinki. Originally from Jyväskylä, her interest in art began in her teenage years and, as is often the case, “It was a way to escape reality,” she laughs.
Having worked mostly with video art and photography, she became involved in performance art in the mid-90s. “At the beginning of 2000, I studied in Sweden and realised how difficult it is to express myself and be funny in a foreign language, so for the time I stayed there, I stopped working with performance art.” Even after momentarily abandoning performance, the physicality of the artist’s body that is so central to the medium still seeped into her photography or video art, which often features her presence. Using her own body also has a practical reason, she jokes. “I don’t want to force anyone else to stand in freezing water for hours.” Orenius has continued to work with her video art, but she says that she now prefers the bodily experience of an installation over video art.
Orenius’s work is not necessarily autobiographical, but it has a certain female perspective that she feels is unavoidable to some extent. “I’m a woman, so naturally I experience the world through my own female body, and it is reflected in my art.” Arc-en-ciel (2007) is a two-channel video installation where women’s thoughts about pregnancy are mixed with farewell notes from women involved in suicide attacks. The themes of birth and death seemed especially topical during the time she worked on this piece, as Orenius was pregnant herself.
This kind of physical, bodily experience and its sensory relation to the surrounding world is present in all her works, but particularly in Domestic Disorder (2012), an installation which explores the psychological concept of embodied cognition and how it is connected to our perception and memory.
Depicting Fleeting Moments
While body and space still play a significant role in her art, there has occurred a noticeable stylistic change in Orenius’s newest pieces, and it has been a conscious decision.
“I wanted to show what is happening in the world, but there are horrible things happening, and I didn’t want to repeat things people see on the news.” Instead, she focuses on portraying the world through an individual’s bodily experience in it, whereby emphasis is placed on movement and places. This change is particularly evident in Parousia (2016), a three-channel video installation, depicting places and fleeting moments around the world, shot with a moving, at times even an unsteady camera.
The change is not simply stylistic, however. Her whole method of working has changed. “I used to follow a set pattern: write, film, edit. It became boring and uninspiring in the long run, so I started to explore other ways of creating.” She has now worked with what she jokingly calls “found footage”, as the footage is her own. “I wanted to see how I could use old, already filmed, fragmented material to create something new.”
Doing by Unlearning
“Unlearning” old ways of creating and working is one of the themes Orenius also examines in her doctoral dissertation that she just defended at Aalto University in February 2019. Her research concerns artistic process and an artist-teacher’s art pedagogy on a university level, and the concept of art as “unlearning”, forgetting what has already been learned, is one approach to art education that she discusses in her dissertation. “I applied this concept to my own art as well and my work became more experimental. The first piece I made was a horrible disappointment to myself, though,” she laughs.
New ways of working also include trying new media: Orenius has experimented with drawing and creating short animations, but her next project won’t be an animated film. “I think the final result will still be an installation, but I’m exploring ways to incorporate drawings into them,” she explains. She has also been practising new filming techniques as a part of her more experimental approach to art. Currently writing new pieces, she notes that her research has had an impact on her artistic work as well. “I’m interested in scientific motifs: ideology, pedagogy, neurology, psychology, the concept of hysteria, and so on.”
Along with her work as an artist, Orenius has also taught at the Valand School of Fine Arts in Sweden and Aalto University, and she currently works at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, where she has lectured for several years. “I always have to have a project underway,” she notes when asked about her other plans for the future. “I am never completely satisfied, and there is an aspect in all my works that I’m not happy with, something that could be improved. Nevertheless that is what drives me, keeps me going.”
For more information and requests on Marika Orenius’s works, please contact AV-arkki’s programme coordinator Tytti Rantanen, firstname.lastname@example.org