Kiasma, Mannerheiminaukio 2, 00100 Helsinki, Finland

Liisa Lounila: Shadow Zone


28 February 2020 - 10 January 2021

Review by Selina Oakes

There’s a stillness in Liisa Lounila’s moving image works that inspires an urge to slow-down, to sit-down and to stay put, for a while. ‘Shadow Zone’, a collection of Lounila’s works from 2008 to 2020, challenges the viewer to observe the slight nuances in a seemingly repetitive world. Though spanning over a decade, the pieces selected remain relevant today; reflecting on broad themes such as the environment and consumerism, while providing a space in which to reinvigorate our relationship with the screen and digital media.

It’s as though ‘Garden’ (2017-19) was intentionally made as a respite from the months at home in front of our computer screens: the film pans slowly across a luscious, overgrown allotment, cross-fading between day and night, and spring, summer, autumn and winter. The scene, though moving, is grounded in one location: the viewer is invited to observe the subtle changes in colour, shape, light and moisture as the garden – passed down through Lounila’s family – grows, fades and revives itself throughout the year. Time is both sped up and slowed down; as a viewer, we are engulfed by the summertime greens and the rusty reds of autumn, before the foliage recedes under winter’s touch and makes visible the headlights of passing cars – the dull glow of which visually and metaphorically disrupts this seemingly non-human realm. The ticking of a metronome – a sound installation which runs throughout the show – further intrudes upon the previously non-mechanised scene, rising and falling amidst ‘Garden’‘s audio-track of songbirds, and draws us back from the dreamy flora to remind us of the technology used to foster this exchange.

A flashing of light and rumbling of thunder seeps in from the neighbouring room. ‘7BPM’ (2013) documents a thunderstorm crackling in the Arizonan night sky. Taking its name from the average frequency of lightning flashes captured in the film, ‘7BPM’ reiterates the presence of cycles which appear to have no beginning or end, and yet, when we look closely, contain subtle differences. While lightning pounds the canyon in the distance, the foreground remains still; the golden grass does not shake, a central, leafless tree stands solemnly, resembling somewhat the Grim Reaper. With each strike, the dark sky illuminates into a shifting spectrum of deep mauves, soft lilacs and neon pinks. And the toads and cicadas, which keep count, do so with opulent variation.

With the addition of Lounila’s sculptural works – though slightly incongruent to the filmic pieces – the viewer is able to consider not only the tensions between motion and stillness, but also of the passing and suspending of time further. These three- dimensional works help to make visible the frictions between manmade and ‘wilder’ worlds. ‘Timekeeper’ (2017), consisting of time-stamped bread clips pinned to a stark background and displayed in a vitrine, illustrates a human-centric mode of documenting time. Emulating the cases of a natural history collection of insects perhaps, the clips, which do not biodegrade, show the ordering and suspending of retrospective dates.

In contrast, ‘Passing By’ (2008-), a cylindrical Tower of Babel piqued with monitors, shows little regard for horology. It resembles Cildo Meireles’ ‘Babel’ (2001), which stacks analogue radios to flood the audience with multiple voices; here, Lounila brings together a decade-long archive of visual landscapes, but the viewer is not quite as inundated. Despite their boxed-in content, the displays of disparate scenes – of vast canyons, dense tropical and woodland forests and open roads – meld together into a monochromatic travelogue. It reveals both multiplicity and singularity: these landscapes are distinctive and yet nondescript, collected together in a tangible format which encourages the viewer to walk around their circumference. Similar to a tornado, ‘Passing By’ has a central vacuum, devoid of screens, but packed with snaking cables, left visible as though to recognise the technology that powers this experience.

Throughout ‘Shadow Zone’, Lounila’s works do not shy away from the visual tropes of nature – of lightning, crashing waves or desert-scapes – nor from the presence of technology, but instead embrace and play with the tensions which the two components provide when paired with elements of slowness, stillness and continuous motion. As the metronome continues to tick, another type of timekeeping – the clicking of crickets – resonates through a speaker as we depart the show.

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