Shift. Marko Vuokola


What is the actual difference between a screen saver and a work of art? To be frank, not very much.

This difference equals the tiny but nevertheless crucial difference between nothing and just a little. Or, speaking in parables of recent times, between zero and one, the famous digital dichotomy.

So, if you are facing one of Marko Vuokola's diptychs from the series The Seventh Wave, you might be looking at two more or less identical landscapes, or two more or less identical views of the sales room of a car vendor, or just two monochromes of the same shades of grey, or yellow, or green. Same-same, but different.

More or less is a point here. More and less. Not the only point, not that it is a matter of likeness or comparison, even if comparison is unavoidable. The images are a unit, intended to be displayed as one. There might be a small difference in time when the two shots of the landscape were taken. Click, and then just some moment or minute later, click again. The difference, if we continue considering it a matter of simple arithmetic, is a glitter in the water, or the rays of the sun falling more directly into the camera lens, or just a different haze in the air. The difference in itself is minute, even unimportant. But it implies time, it creates a tension between these two images, something that must remain unsolved. They are one and the same, and different.

How about the two related yellow screens, with the title On the Spot (2000), but still from the same family as the other diptychs? Both are covered by a glossy panel of glass; one consists of paint on a slick aluminium sheet, the other is a photograph of a printed surface with the same colour tone, pasted on the aluminium. That's the constellation: reflection, paint, and photographic emulsion. The reflection drags the spectator and the space around it into the image, while the paint and the photographic grain juxtapose two modes of representation. But since whenever the word painting is mentioned, everyone, myself included, stumbles into this eternal question of painting and photography, authenticity and reproduction, and since that has very little to do with Marko's work, let us not talk about it any more. Except from just stating, that all those photographs and monochromes that followed, started out from these works.

Let us instead talk about the two grey ones, or green, or yellow – all early diptychs from the series Pictured – Lightand The Seventh Wave. One of the two is a photograph of a coloured surface. The other is a print from a computer-generated image of the same colour. They are the same and different. There is a tiny displacement. We can't really point exactly to any specific difference. Or maybe we can, but the difference as an isolated effect or phenomenon is absolutely beside the point, in these monochromes as well as in the landscapes. It is not the kind of difference you would find in old stereoscopic images. There is no fiction embedded in it, no minute change of angles. The only emphasized narrative element in the works is the title, The Seventh Wave, which implies the old saying or physical fact, that at sea, the seventh wave is always the biggest.

Instead of difference, let us just use another term for what is happening: shift. This shift represents a general process, which does not look at one image at a time, but considers both. It might help us to look beyond the little differences, and realise that the two images are actually one.And while leaving comparison aside, let us instead talk about time.

If you find yourself all of a sudden somewhere by the great deserts or half-deserts in the Southern United States, you would have to accept that time is represented in several modes already in the vast landscape itself. First, you have the aspect of time as distance, travelling in imagination or reality from one end of the view to the other. Then there is geological time, obvious in the withering cliffs and the ever-changing dunes and plains. The photographer adds time to it all by his presence. Present time, which is the moment of the actual photograph as well as the time of the viewer. A blink of the shutter, and an extended view in the gallery, during which you might blink as much as you like. And finally, the shift within the diptych contains a distinct yet still unknown amount of time.

The shift brings about a tension that never leaves the images alone. While one image alone is finite, final, these two together keep questioning one another, opening one another as if each of them was attacking the other with a can-opener, involved in a constant process of coming to grips with one another. Like crabs, locked in each other's claws.

These particular semi-deserts are from Marfa, Texas, just as the two shots of the empty, clear-blue sky. Anyone with some knowledge of modern art knows that Marfa was the half-abandoned town in the desert where Donald Judd finally found a proper playground for his minimalist art of ever-increasing scale. Marfa is today a huge monument to Judd, attracting tourists and artists from all over the world to this place in the middle of nowhere, close to the Mexican border. Judd was considered a minimalist; his art, though, was never minimal. Not in aspiration, nor scale, and certainly not in its demands for space.

Marko Vuokola is for sure minimal, but not a minimalist. Actually, he elaborately avoids classifications like that. If you try to paste the word ”conceptual” on his work, he will soon eliminate also the discursive element of it, just as he shunned the whole discussion of painting vs. photograph or authenticity vs. reproduction. In fact, he is a sculptor by education. This might give a hint at some of the roots of his interest in processes and time, as well as his subtle way of turning his images into objects, however flat they might seem.

Any sculptor knows that material is inseparable from light. Any physicist knows that light has material qualities. By using optics, light can be transformed into matter, or at least be trapped in material form. It happens in the camera, when the light passes the shutter and the lens, and hits the emulsion of the film or the sensors in a digital camera. It also occurs in the new works by Marko Vuokola, like Been There, Seen It, Done That (2007) where three convex glass shapes refer to the functions of a lens (in cameras, telescopes etc), but also quietly involve themselves in a play with the light in the gallery space. Another recent work, Hehku (2006) consists of a fewlarge copper plates placed horizontally on top of each other, with a small distance of about an inch between them, which traps the light between its surfaces and starts to emit an intense glow. It is not an illusionistic work, rather a factual and material one. You might consider it a photograph, since it is about catching the light, and transforming it into a state where it is seemingly materialized. But still it remains a sculpture, where light and material are inseparable.

Returning to the landscapes of The Seventh Wave, they might be about something as debated, questioned and charged as Beauty. Landscape is a genre brink-full with conventions, to the point that we think it is emptied of any possible other content than the sheer conventions. And certainly, Marko Vuokola deliberately places his landscapes on the inside of all conceivable conventions, not the least the highly charged conventions of the Nordic landscape tradition. The Finnish lake in the late winter, or on a midsummer afternoon, has been painted and over-painted, crossed over and burnt by generation of artists since the National Romantic movement of the 19th century. So have also been the American plains and deserts in heroic panoramas by painters and photographers. In the 70's you could buy landscapes, Nordic birch-trees as well as American cliffs and canyons, and mount them as wallpapers. Real size, kind of.

Instead of avoiding conventions, which would ultimately push you into a corner of mannerism, the conventions of Beauty are embraced in Marko Vuokola's landscapes. He treats the landscape as he treats the monochrome: respecting the agreements, regardless of whether they are a colour code or landscape conventions. Nothing is added. But this nothing is a point. It certainly makes a difference. And when the camera is tilted some 45 degrees above the landscape, the difference is suddenly stated as two new monochromes. The sky of Marfa, Texas, which could be the sky almost anywhere, or just two more monochromes, framed in time between the first and the seventh wave.


Pontus Kyander, writer and curator