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Artist Feature

Every week an artist is featured whose single image was published by Der Greif. The Feature shows the image in the original context of the series.

Milja Laurila - In Their Own Voice

Nov 09, 2016

For the last ten years, I have been collecting archival – mostly scientific – images in old books and archives. I’m particularly interested in the history of medicine and pictures of patients. What happens to these photographs when they are removed from their original context? Do they still portray knowledge or something else?

For me, photographs often seem mute, as if needing words by their side. Faced with a photograph a viewer asks: What is this a picture of? Where does it come from? The need for an explanation feels particularly strong when looking at an archival image: you want to place it somewhere, to give it a context. By removing the captions from the archival photographs, I place them in a new situation – I give the images a chance to speak for themselves, with a voice of their own.

In this project, I use photographs borrowed from medical books dating to the early 20th century. When I look at pictures of patients, I identify myself with the subjects, thinking how they must have felt while being photographed. The scientific gaze is very different from any other. It attempts to de-personalize its subjects, turning their bodies into anonymous objects of observation.

In many aspects, the bodily experience is present in my work. I believe it comes from my own experience, since my body, too, has been photographed for medical purposes. As I was standing naked in front of the camera, I felt myself disappearing. Even though the doctor was photographing my body meticulously, it felt as if she was looking right through me – as if I wasn’t there.

The images in this series are printed on transparent acrylic glass, which makes the portrayed figures translucent, almost weightless. Placed on wooden shelves facing the wall, the transparent material enables the figures to be formed through chiaroscuro as three-dimensional reflections on the walls. These soft shadows are bound to the movement of the viewer. In some of the works, the glass plates are placed on a pedestal or on the floor, facing each other. When the viewer walks around these sculptural pieces, the image changes constantly depending on the viewpoint of the observer.

With the help of archival imagery, this series continues my research into the perception of femininity.


Artist Blog

The blog of Der Greif is written entirely by the artists who have been invited to doing an Artist-Feature. Every week, we have a different author.

Magnetic Sleep

Nov 14, 2016 - Milja Laurila

Magnetic sleep is a psychiatric term and treatment used in the late 18th and early 19th century, prior to the discovery of hypnotism. It was believed to reveal another state of consciousness underneath a person’s conscious self.

German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734−1815) began using “healing metals” in 1774. He gave an iron-encasing product to one of his female patients, after which he placed magnets on different parts of the patient’s body. The patient felt as if some unidentified liquid was flowing inside her body, and her symptoms were eased.

Soon after this, Mesmer gave up metals and started working with his bare hands. In order to transfer “fluidum” from one person to another, he moved his hands in the air near the patient’s body. It was also possible to transfer the energetic, liquid and invisible fluidum with hands into things and substances such as water, combining the human body and mind with the universe. Thus the cure of neuropathy was linked to the entire universe and cosmic forces.

Magnetic sleep was discovered in April 1784 by the French Marquis De Puységur, who treated his patients with magnetism. He noticed that one of his patients suddenly fell into a state of somnambulism, during which the patient’s personality changed and he was able to answer questions relating to the unknown. Among the first patients was a young woman who had lost her vision. The story tells that after magnetic sleep, she opened her eyes and could see again.

Later, in the late 19th and early 20th century, hypnosis was associated with supernatural phenomena such as spiritualism and occultism. The development of natural sciences and innovations such as X-rays triggered a growing fascination for spirituality and the invisible world – people discovered that reality was more than could be seen with naked eye.


Ulla Jokisalo

Nov 13, 2016 - Milja Laurila

At this year’s Paris Photo, Finnish artist Ulla Jokisalo will show new unique works from the Collection of Headless Women, a series which she has been working on since 2013. The collection is an on-going body of work, with 30 unique pieces so far – all of which have “found their new owner”, as Jokisalo puts it when I talk with her pre-fair.


Q: Ulla, can you tell me how your new works are done?
A: The works in the Collection of Headless Women are built in a collage-like manner, from cutout pigment prints and pins. I have found the image material in French fashion magazines dating to my childhood, the 1950s and 1960s, and in an animal encyclopedia of the same time. By re-photographing printed images and by image processing, cutting and attaching, I have created characters with double personalities, resulting in a dialogue between the human and the animal. Just as the images, also the titles create content and are an essential part of the working process.


Q: Which part of the working process do you enjoy the most?
A: I create my works through many stages. It’s a play of the imagination as well as concrete handcrafting. Perhaps the most fun, however, is when I take the time to explore all the image material, hoping to find a new, fun and surprising human and animal character for a pair. And then, all of a sudden, it appears quite naturally.


Q: What are your expectations for this year’s fair?
A: Of course, as in the past, it feels good if someone I don’t already know becomes interested in my work, and even buys it for him or herself. For me as an artist, Paris Photo has long been a unique opportunity to gain international exposure and promote sales. I believe that especially in Paris, my work has already an established audience.


Q: Has your relationship with fairs changed over the years?
A: For me, Paris Photo has for a long time been an annual tradition with Gallery Taik Persons. A special year in my own case was in 2006, when the Nordic countries were the Guest of Honour and I had the privilege to represent Finland in the exhibition curated by Andrea Holzherr. This event, of course, also strengthened my affection to Paris and to this particular art fair


Q: What’s your favourite place in Paris?
A: Paris is an artistically, historically and mentally recharged place at the heart of Europe. As a city, it inspires me. My personal favourite is the Rodin Museum, where I have been shooting for a long time. The project is still a work-in-progress, and I will not hurry a deadline for it. It is also a good reason to visit Paris, which I do almost every year.


If in Paris, you can see Ulla’s new works at Gallery Taik Persons booth.


Paris Photo with Niko Luoma

Nov 12, 2016 - Milja Laurila

If you’re going to Paris Photo, you can see Finnish artist Niko Luoma’s new works at Gallery Taik Persons’ booth. I had a chance to have a quick talk with Niko pre-fair.


Q: Hey Niko, which of your new works will be presented at the fair?
A: Adaptations of Van Gogh 14 Sunflowers (1889) and Adaptations of Hieronymus Bosch The garden of the Earthly Delight.


Q: How are your works done?
A: They are multiple exposures on film, with light as material. The works are adaptations of Van Gogh’s and Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings. In the Van Gogh, there are exactly 28 exposures and in the two Bosch pieces, a couple of thousand. The exposures are done in the studio.


Q: How do you choose the paintings?
A: I have always been interested in space, but as photography is so closely related to memory, it’s interesting to work with paintings that are quite well-known. Even though Van Gogh’s sunflower series is quite a cliché, there are great spatial possibilities that can be found when you chop the works into pieces and then put them back together again. When successful, each adaptation is a surprising dialogue with the original artwork.


Q: Which part of the working process do you enjoy the most?
A: Each part is important. I’m a process artist.


Q: What are your expectations for this year’s fair?
A: Paris Photo has always been extremely important for me in establishing contacts. Anything can happen, and that’s what makes it exceptional. Paris has also become an annual meeting place for me and my gallerists. I can’t say I especially enjoy art fairs, except for Paris Photo!


Q: What are you going to see this year?
A: Carl Andre at The Musee d’Art Moderne.


Q: What’s your favourite place in Paris?
A: Hotel Bristol Piano Bar.


Thanks Niko, and have a great time at the fair!


At the studio

Nov 11, 2016 - Milja Laurila

I use images found in old medical books and encyclopedias as material for my work. When working on new pieces that will be printed on acrylic glass, I like to first print all the image material on transparency film and then make sketches with the small transparent prints. Here are some pictures taken at my studio during the working process for the exhibition In Their Own Voice, which was at Gallery Taik Persons, Berlin, in March-April 2016.


Women, Medicine and Photography

Nov 10, 2016 - Milja Laurila

“Take your clothes off”, the doctor said to me, as she was getting her camera ready. She wanted to take pictures of my body for medical purposes. I was left standing naked in front of a white wall as the doctor and her assistant were wondering how the hospital’s new SLR camera works.

When they found the correct settings, she started shooting. The nurse lifted my arms, turned my shoulders and thighs into a better position so the doctor could get a good picture. It was as if I wasn’t there.

This was ten years ago. Could it explain my interest towards medical photography and pictures of patients?

I look for image material for my works in old books and archives. During the years, I have seen hundreds and hundreds of medical pictures, mainly from the 1900s. Why do most of them portray young, naked women?

The images often demonstrate a damage or deviation of some kind. However, it is the female patients who are pictured naked even when the damage or deviation would not require it. For example, an injury to the neck is demonstrated in a photograph where the young woman is shown from waist up, with bare breasts and covered eyes. What is the purpose of these photographs?

It’s my guess that at the time, the photographers as well as the doctors must have been older men. This leads me to the act of looking and being looked at. What lies behind the medical image? Whose is the medical gaze? ​​And how are women viewed through the history of medicine?

Åsa Slotte, philosopher conducting research on diagnostics, medicine and ethics at Åbo Akademi in Finland has said in an interview for the Finnish Broadcasting Company, that women and men have been considered in various ways since antiquity. Aristotle believed that the woman was a colder and less complete version of the human, but that her biology and genitals corresponded those of man: they mirrored each other. Some scientists have suggested that a such “single sex model” dominated medical thinking until the 1700s.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 1700s, that women began to be perceived as radically different from men. The woman parted in principle like a different species, a deviation from the male norm. She began to be determined by her gender, that is, of her reproductive functions.

In the late 1800s diagnoses such as hysteria, neurasthenia and chlorosis flourished, and this perception of the weak and frail woman is also seen in medical science at the time.

According to Slotte, there are many scientists today who assume that medicine and psychiatry are patriarchal because women’s life experiences are often medicalized. Diagnoses such as eating disorder or fear of childbirth are examples of this.

Old medical photographs remind me of how photography was used as a power tool in the late 19th century, in particular in images of criminals and in eugenics, the most famous example being Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911) and his composite photographs.

During Galton’s time, and for years and years after (!), sexually active and unmarried women were seen as a danger to the community and could be labeled as mentally ill or criminal.

In Finland, Amanda, a vagrant and a sexually active young woman wrote in her diary in the late 19th century: “They say that I am insane, but I am merely contemplating”. Amanda was diagnosed with “menstrual insanity”, and was taken to Seili Island, a former leper hospital that was transformed into a secluded institute for the mentally ill. Like most of the patients – or inmates – at Seili, Amanda spent the rest of her life there.

The symptoms, diagnostics and treatment of illnesses reflect the views of their time. What is regarded as “normal” or stated as a scientific fact changes during the course of time. In the early 20th century, the hereditary of mental illness as well as degeneration was a topical issue. It was believed that mental illness manifested itself as physical signs, meaning that it could be seen. Common practice was to describe the appearance of the patients meticulously. And what could be a better way to do this than photography, which had lent itself to the use of science ever since its invention?


Jonna Kina: Foley Objects

Book signings at Paris Photo

- Milja Laurila