Finnish cinematographer Eija-Liisa Ahtila makes video installations of a particularly griping intensity, staging a contact
zone for encounters with otherness. They also deploy other media, such as literature, and other genres, such as documentary,
along with other states of being, such as murder, maidenhood, and madness. This multiple otherness, I argue here, is crucial
for the understanding of the way this artist uses a medium that is ostensibly visual to make environments that are political
through encompassing engagements with otherness as other media.
In the reception of her work, this heterogeneity
is largely ignored in favour of interpretations of the installations anchored in a single medium - video installation - and
a political individualism. This is most clear in the reception of The House, Ahtila’s best-known work. This is consistently
interpreted as a representation of schizophrenia. That such negligence of a sophisticated heterogeneity has political consequences
becomes obvious once we see that the ‘madness’ of the character in that piece is the symptom of her alterity, and is staged
through a discrepancy between image and sound - the schizophrenia of the medium.
In this essay I briefly revisit
three of Ahtila’s best-known pieces in relation to an ‘other’ discourse: literature, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. In each,
both the other media and the otherness of people take very different forms. In each case, though, the alterities of medium
and subject matter coincide to reinforce the point that is basic to all of Ahtila’s work: the encounter with otherness on
a non-exclusionary basis, as, also, an encounter with the otherness without ourselves. In the last section I also bring in
two works by other artists, to make a case for a political potential inherent in the art form of video installation.