Heidi Tikka (born in 1959) is a Finnish visual artist who lives and works in Helsinki. Her installations and participatory projects are the result of what she calls a curiosity-driven practice. “I’m really interested in experimenting with technology and different materials. My working process often has this speculative dimension: if I were to build this thing, what would it feel like, what would the experience be like?”
Heidi Tikka has examined the relation between the viewer and the work of art since the completion of her studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she got her MFA degree in 1992. “My studies back then were strongly informed by the theories in post-structuralism and feminism. I began to think about the place of the spectator in my work after completing my film On the Threshold of Liberty (1991) in which I questioned what I then understood as the limits of representation.”
“There was a lot of visual art that intervened critically in the representation of women, but I felt that they were missing something. They did not inquire into the apparatuses of representation.” Tikka says that she wanted to find artistic strategies that move the viewer away from the privileged position created by representational art, and felt that installation was the only possible form for this.
“My installations have been a direct continuation of the questions about the viewer’s position in relation to the image I explored during my studies. How can interactive technology be a part of a work that examines the relationship between the viewer and the artwork? I find working with technology highly interesting. It provides tools, but for me technology is also an object of study,” Tikka points out.
Updating an Artwork: Mother, Child
Mother, Child (2000/2011) is an interactive video installation in which a video of an infant is projected onto a white fabric. The viewers can hold the fabric in their arms like they would be cradling a real baby and the projection reacts to both the viewer’s and the audience’s actions in the exhibition space. “I was interested in seeing what would happen if the image came too close to the viewer, a part of the viewer’s own bodily being. The viewer and the audience together enact the image which appears to be alive,” Tikka explains. “My own child was a small baby at that time, so I also wanted to explore the possibility of sharing that bodily experience.”
Mother, Child also brought up a lot of issues related to documenting and preserving installations that rely on technology. Mother, Child began to gradually age during the years the installation toured in the US, in Canada and in the UK, because its different technical components were no longer compatible with the advancing device and software ecologies. “It made me realize that, in a couple of years, the piece could no longer be exhibited.”
Tikka tried to get funding to redo the installation for many years, but found out that people did not really understand the need to technically update an artwork. It was eventually reconstructed in 2011 and exhibited at the Finnish Museum of Photography. “We had to completely rebuild the technical platform for interactivity. It made me think about the issues related to preserving this kind of art, but also about the identity of the work.”
Although the technical configuration was completely reconstructed and Tikka worked with a new designer and a programmer, the visual appearance of the installation did not change conceivably. “Someone who had seen the old version of it probably would not be able to see any differences between these two versions,” Tikka says. “We also came to the conclusion that, with the technological resources we have, it’s impossible to build a version that would not age. But if the installation is documented well enough, updates or the rebuilding of it will become easier and less expensive in the future.”
Installations as co-performances of bodies and technologies
Tikka has a degree in textile arts, and some of her newer works have also been based on similar experiments with fabric and interactive technology. Untitled Prototypes 1-3 (2014) are knitted dresses that react to touch. The dresses were made for Tikka’s solo exhibition at Gallery Sculptor in Helsinki, in which she inquired into different figurations of touch. The touchable dresses are a part of an E-textiles series, which also includes Recording Dress (2013), a dress with embedded video camera and recording device.
Tikka’s artistic work is currently on hold as she is completing her doctoral dissertation for the Department of Media at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Her artistic research – evolving in dialogue with her installations – examines the concept of embodiment in human-machine interaction. “Drawing on recent studies in new materialism as well as in science and technology, I approach my installations as processes of materialization. I try to look very closely into those events in which bodies and technologies co-perform in my installations.”
“I have been interested in constructing encounters between a human actor and not-so-human system in my art. In my dissertation, I examine the conditions of these encounters,” she continues. “I also have to think about the terms of artistic research: how is this kind of work positioned in relation to other fields of knowledge production?”
Alongside her artistic work, Tikka has lectured at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, and she worked ten years in the Media Lab Helsinki, which is now a part of the Department of Media at Aalto University. She also worked four years for AVEK, the Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture. She is currently a board member of m-cult, a non-profit organisation that works to promote and develop new forms of media art and digital culture.
Credit for Heidi Tikka’s portrait: Sinem Disli
For more information and requests on Heidi Tikka’s works, please contact AV-arkki’s programme coordinator Tytti Rantanen, firstname.lastname@example.org