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Hanna Haaslahti Interviewed by Claire Mander Part 1

CM: Who are the artists, thinkers, theorists from any field of endeavour that you most admire and which have had the greatest impact on your thinking and your work? 

HH:  Many people influence my work and thinking as research is an important part of my working process.  At the moment, Timothy Morton, an English philosopher who writes about object-oriented ontology (OOO) is of particular interest. The idea that objects comprise both surface and essence – the surface/appearance being easily comprehensible while the essence can never be seen or known is somehow magical and endlessly sought after.  
Discovering gestalt psychology was a revelation for me. It explains how brain processes our perceptions of the world by filling in missing gaps and creating whole forms, before our cognitive mind has a chance to intervene. Our minds are constantly produced by our brains.   I am also fascinated by studies around the psychology of the group and phenomena surrounding the ‘herd mentality’.  
Malevich is an artist whose work and manifestos, are for me an iconic turning point in thought and image.  The utopian architectural constructions of Haus Rucker-Co made in the 1970s at a time of increased fear of environmental issues incorporated plastics into their pneumatic air structures interest me for their use of material and for the way they wanted to provide creative solutions to environmental and social issues.  Today we do not have room for utopias – we are the generation that has to clean up the trash from the past and move on.  I also admire Bjőrk for her energy and her imagination. 

CM: You have created work which responds to historically important places in the past for example Sincere Lies, 2013 at Sinebrychoff Museum of Old Art in Helsinki.  What aspects of the historic appeal to you?

HH:  Certain ideas are associated with certain historical periods – there has always been a manipulation or control of what we know, what is passed down, what is revered and what is not discussed and in this sense history is a perceptual formula. I am interested in the ‘back streets of history’, not the official line.  Our age, the digital age, is characterised by a flow (or flood) of information stated quickly and simply – which does not describe a true or fair view of the complexity of an event. I am interested in presenting the possibilities of alternative narratives – not necessarily based on research or re-presenting facts – new information does not help – after all information is not communication. I am talking about different ways of perceiving the world.  The images you see every day in the media make you blind and powerless, but sometimes you catch a glimpse of something revealing. Take the image of the new Chief Executive of BMW who dramatically fainted at the conference – an image which went viral.  The pose is almost religious, the fall so out of place, it revealed human fragility so carefully hidden inside the machineries of power.  

CM: Tell me about the importance of digital technology and the possibilities it opens up in the visual world?

HH: Digital technology introduced instability as the unexpected side-effect of high-tech society.  Objects are no longer solid and enduring, buildings are made to last a decade rather than millennia, events seemingly take place here, on the other side of the world and on various platforms simultaneously as do images of ourselves.  Instantaneous, ephemeral, speeded up digital world – we are not sure how to understand this new dimension of immateriality.   Concepts of physical presence and absence have dissolved – now we are present all the time in different ways in different media – images of ourselves are on social media, sent back and forth, selfies everywhere.   Our paranoia about surveillance cameras seems to have disappeared and now we suffer from FOMO; we throw ourselves into the proliferation of images and now we live with our own digital images constantly.  Next year I am embarking on an art+science research project in Aalto University, Helsinki called ‘Life as an image’ to explore new technologies around image making and 3D sensing and their social reverberations.  The relationship between human perception and computer vision – how computers see the world - is fascinating.  3D sensing technology adds another element to the RGB of image creation - the D of Depth – also called point cloud - which dispenses with traditional perspectival systems of vision.  3D sensing moves around the object and builds up an image from all angles.  Liberating image making from the chains of perspective is exciting and contains many possibilities. 
I am positive about digital technology - we cannot turn back the clock and it is here to stay so there is no point being negative about it or yearning for analogue technology.  But we can and should try to take control of it.  We are in a honeymoon period of intense love with our social screens, creating a generation of young iPhone zombies as we say in Finland but I am hopeful that technology might lead ultimately to a new understanding of time, presence and materiality. 

28.10.2015

  • Oase no 7, Fridericaianum, documenta 5, Kassel 1972. Photo: Hein Engelskirchen

  • Hanna Haaslahti, Potrait of a man, projection on the damaged painting by Lucas von Breda, 17th century

  • Hanna Haaslahti, Holy Family, projection on the sketch by unknown artist, 18th century

  • Chief Executive of BMW falling at the 2015 conference

  • Immigrants at the edge of a security fence, 2015