Local energy, archive and new activism

8.3.2021 Publication of  the article in artistic research, Ruukku-journal, Studies in Artistic Research


Marjatta Oja’s exposition “Pienenergia, arkisto ja uusi aktivismi” (Local energy, archive and new activism) challenges us to consider the scale and rhythms of artistic work in relation to energy consumption, both in its concrete meaning and at the level of the values ​​and structures that guide these activities. At the same time, Oja draws attention to the scale of an individual’s artistic, bodily and everyday activities and brings together, in an original and topical way, a critical ecological discussion of energy and the unsustainability of our culture, as well as experimental artistic work. At the same time, Oja challenges the models and structures of artistic activity with their practices committed to longevity.

The whole editoral part of the publication: http://ruukku-journal.fi/en/issues/15/editorial

Artist-activist in post-fossil revolution

Post doctoral research project in the Academy of Fine Arts

The current ecological and cultural situation requires us to change our understanding of such issues as experimentality, energy, experience and, ultimately, the subject itself, i.e. the creative individual. Various forms of artistic activism serve as the sounding board for the theoretical reflection of the study as well as the results of the critical thinking involved: for example, Aurinkogeneraattori (“Solar generator”, 2013/2015) and the Local Energy event (2017) concentrated on art from the point of view of energy. What kinds of critical works do artists create to draw attention to hazards of production? The research questions – ‘The contradictory situation and worry of the visual artist’ and ‘What are the new methods and modes of action of the activist-artist?’ – seek to deepen our knowledge of artists’ everyday possibilities for impact.

Hexagram UQÀM 2012

“Marjatta Oja has been producing and exhibiting videotapes and installations for over 20 years. Her work is shown internationally, most recently in a solo exhibition this year (2012) at the Gallerie Suvi Lehtinen in Berlin, and is in the collections of, among other institutions, the Modern museet in Stockholm and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki. She recently completed her Doctorate in Fine Arts at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts. Her doctoral project, Three-Dimensional Projection – Situation Sculpture between the Artist and the Viewer, brought together her extensive practice in video installation with a text which explores the topical issue of the relationship between the artist and the viewer. She asks : Can the new kinds of intermediate spaces of moving image works alter the role of the artist so as to facilitate a dialogue not only with the works, but also with the artist?’’

Merging Realms: Meet Marjatta Oja (2012)

by Nicole Rodriguez 

Oja’s situational sculptures, as she came to define her practice, struggle to resolve what the artist characterizes as visual situations or problems—referring to issues surrounding the reception of imagery.

The images exemplified are inevitably melancholic. As Hanna Johansson explains in her essay on the artist, the viewpoint adopted by the videos “double as another you,” begging viewers to engage and reexamine. Are these moments the site of meaning? They offer a chance to engage in a different kind of slowed deconstructed visual that acts mimetically more like dialog, blurring the lines between the internal and external, creating a third space of interpretation. The creation of this third space is perhaps what lends Oja’s work a surreal quality. Susan Sontag said of photography that “what is surreal is the distance imposed, and bridged, by the photograph: the social distance and the distance in time.” This is also true of video in the case of Marjatta Oja. Time, knowledge, observation and conclusion seem to be collapsed into one plane activated like a mirror within a mirror by viewer’s observation. Working in layers, perpetually splicing and dissecting moments the tension between planes opens up, yielding the inevitable third space between them. This middle ground between documentation and allusion is where Marjatta Oja’s practice is comfortably nestled—grappling with imagery, rejecting passive viewing and threatening two-dimensionality. 

On Marjatta Oja’s Art (2012)

by Hanna Johansson

Marjatta Oja’s career as an artist began at the end of the 1980s. She is the first Finnish artist to start using video and slide projection as a central element in her work. Her orientation as an artist was shaped by the year she studied under Luciano Fabro in Milan in 1988–89. Projection offered Oja a natural instrument to experiment with the techniques, attitudes and themes typical to the post-1960s international generation of artists. Central elements of new art of the time were intermediality and bold experiments with visual technologies, intentional dissolution of the boundary between life and art, use of the body as an artistic medium, and rejection of pure visuality and of ‘pure’ areas in general, as well as a new interest in temporality.

Oja’s works could be described as performance videos, video sculptures or, as she herself sees them, situational sculptures. In a situational sculpture, moving images and their presentation media merge with the given space and the three-dimensional objects in that space. Oja has a predilection for visual technology apparatuses, both archaic and advanced: cameras, projectors, reflecting mirrors, tripods, free-standing projection screens. These are accompanied by structures that belong to the ‘subject’ of the moving image: cubes, curtains and fans. The objects are combined into a whole where the space of cinematic narrative and the space of the performance form a continuous or at least a contiguous whole.

As I see it, Oja’s work is about connections between images, the vagrancy of images and their endless process of transformation, as well as the relationship between reality and visual representation. Her work demonstrates that visuality is far from being an independent sphere of representation. On the contrary, Oja’s art underlines the materiality of the image and also its emergence in different types of support and in joints. I like to think Oja’s installations as ‘thought works’.

Three-Dimensional Projection -Situation Sculpture between the Artist and the Viewer

Marjatta Oja’s practice-based doctorate in fine arts includes an extensive theoretical publication Sculpture between the Artist and the Viewer. The art of Marjatta Oja employs moving images, racks or stands, mirrors and projection materials to explore the dispersing of images in space and the new situation this gives rise to for the viewer. One of Oja’s aims is to map the spatial boundaries of the moving image. She also has a holistic interest in the process of art making, starting from the studio. She wants to construct a ’multi-situationalâ’ research-like process in which the viewer does not identify merely with the finished piece, but also with the possible states of mind experienced by the artist while making the work. At the end of the publication, Oja presents a selection of photographs of her works, as well as conclusions, in which she reflects upon the methodology and key goals and results of the research.