- Losing It: Politics of the Other (Medium)
- Journal of Visual Culture
- Volume | Issue number
- 10 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
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.
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