Born 1959 in Hämeenlinna, Finland Lives and works in Helsinki, Finland

Eija-Liisa Ahtila is a visual artist and filmmaker noted for her experimental approach to narrative storytelling. In her earlier work, Ahtila dealt with the unsettling human dramas at the centre of personal relationships, addressing family relations, mental disintegration and death. Her interests include the processes of perception and the attribution of meaning, at times considering larger cultural and existential themes such as colonialism, faith and posthumanism.

Since 2005, Ahtila has been working in eco-cinema, addressing how we should picture the world in light of global warming and other ecological crises. Ahtila posits an understanding of the environment that recognises these changes, and acknowledges the rights of other living beings on this planet as well as our responsibility to the environment. Consequently, her concerns have shifted towards rethinking the nature of drama if it were to move beyond the anthropocentric perspective, as in Horizontal, 2011, for instance, which positions a tree as the protagonist.

Ahtila’s new installation, Potentiality for Love, 2018, deals with the potential for empathy and love towards other living beings. It turns attention to those human emotions that could serve as a foundation for dismantling the hierarchical structures between living things, thereby engendering a turn towards non-humans and the recognition of other beings. Ahtila explores the origins of these emotions, how we define them and how we conceive of their function as part of a larger continuum of living beings.

The first element of the installation is a hybrid work combining sculpture with moving image technology, focusing attention on the point where love is born. Using outdated LED modules, it re-creates an image of a distant memory, of mother and the primal unity. It also touches upon the memory of loss and distance, the moment when the possibility for love that rests as potentiality first emerges.

The second element asks whether our love and empathy is reserved only for our own kind, or whether we are capable of extending these emotions towards other living beings. This question is approached by addressing the historical divide between humans and non-humans. This is achieved by creating a situation questioning what it is to be a human being and how the ‘Other’, the stranger, is constructed in our culture. It manifests as a modified setup similar to that used to treat phantom limb aches. In Ahtila’s piece, however, the mirror is replaced by a thin LED monitor showing the arm of another primate. The installation is also accompanied by a sound landscape with dialogue.

Commissioned by Serlachius Museums, Mänttä with support from AVEK; the Biennale of Sydney; Frame Contemporary Art Finland; Alfred Kordelin Foundation; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris and London; M-Museum; SES; and SKR