Fotograf Magazine

Annika Larsson

As well as in most of other Larsson’s works, the central theme of these two approximately 16 minute long video works, entitled Dog and Poliisi, is a depiction of certain behavioural patterns, characteristic of contemporary postmodern culture, and especially of the diverse, often hidden or obscure manifestations of power and dominance, which are encoded in the most common and simple actions (especially in the case of Dog).

Dog shows two well-dressed male figures, one of whom has a dog, reduced to a mere object, on a leash. During the enirely wordless scene both men only exchange a few glances. The viewer’s attention is drawn especially to their faces, from which it is impossible to read even the sligtest sign of any emotions – on the contrary, these faces, seen in extraordinary close-up, catch the attention of the viewer because they seem completely expressionless. The artist’s camera also focuses on both men’s accessories, such as a gold chain, leather gloves or a belt, the symbols of masculine world – the world of success, power and dominance. The figures are shown against a gray sky, creating the illusion of an empty space, so that the whole scene looks as if both men and the dog were enclosed in a kind of vacuum, which the spectator may even evoke the feeling of claustrophobia. But at the same time, this environment and the cast does not lack a certain tinge of monumentality, enhanced particularly by the compelling music of Tobias Bernstrup, the flow of which is never interrupted by any dialogue. The look and the minimal external expressions of both men, together with the music, create almost heroic signs that stand in sharp contrast to the inner emptiness of the figures, demonstrated for example in their behavior, which obviously lacks a specific goal. It is possible to say that they perfectly present “the heroes of nothing”.

Poliisi, shot at night in Senate Square in Helsinki, also does not lack the atmosphere of monumentality – in the background we can see an imposing classicist cathedral, and sometimes catch a glimpse of the statue of Alexander II. This is where Larsson sets her four characters – three men dressed as riot policemen in full gear, wearing helmets, protective vests and batons, and a figure dressed in a jockey’s riding boots, yellow jacket and white knee-pads, about whom we cannot be sure if he is a victim of an aggressive attack by the three policemen, or their protégé. Through the careful choice of costumes, decorations, contrasts of color, details of faces shot from different angles and the total composition of this night scene, again accompanied by very suggestive music by Tobias Bernstrup, whose repetitive and compelling rhythms only heighten the tension of the depicted scene, Annika Larsson invents a kind of artificial, symbolic world that easily
drags the viewer in (this is of course supported by the large-size projection in a dark room).

In both cases, Larsson creates an image of a reduced, artificially constructed masculine world, vacillating between dream and reality, with its own existence and autonomic rules. This world is inhabited by men who seem to be completely absorbed by minimal actions, sometimes exchanging a few glances and looking as if celebrating some mysterious ritual or playing a strange game with self-imposed rules, which perhaps only they can understand. It is quite difficult for the spectator to predict their behavior, as it somehow rejects the conventional causality, and also cannot be derived from the context of some linear and developing narrative – in this case, the whole plot falls into cyclical time. The concentration and silence of the figures evokes an impression of a certain participation in the ritual, but they are at the same time passive, and present merely vicarious symbols or aesthetic icons, and from their posture, gestures and mimicry we can tell that they lack individuality or deeper personality. As in most of Larsson’s works, all the characters are reduced to functional entities without specific personality or character. The artist herself says: “The people I use in my works, rather then creating characters, become figures lacking individual history or depth; they are mere ciphers. I do not mean just to represent Everyman, rather each one of them is the carrier of a wider dialogue strictly related to myself and my intimate being.”

All elements of the video images, from men’s clothing to the slightest variations of mimicry, are under the absolute control of the artist, so these at first sight seemingly cold, aesthetically perfect images are to be understood also as a largely personal expression of the artist, who proves in this way her ability to experience and depict the masculine world as if from inside, to express her own ambiguity through the ambiguity of the figures shown in her works. Though only the artist herself has the power to control the development of the narrative, the viewer is of course also invited to take a part in this “game”. His participation is supported by the extreme use of details and close-ups as specific semantic elements of these works, since a perfectly and carefully shot detail can possibly have the capacity to suggest quite diverse interpretations and hence to open completely new possibilities for reading the given scene. In the video installations of Annika Larsson, moreover, the details succeed one another in very slow motion, so apart from their aforementioned ambiguity and almost dream-like character, these works also have a kind of voyeuristic spirit.

Though only male figures feature in Larsson’s work, all the motives and even the symbolic language of these images are entirely masculine and deal with questions of power, control, dominance and submission or violence, interpreting them only as a critique of these pre-established structures or codes of masculine culture would be reductive. The artist aims to relativize these norms, rather than to develop any “objective” analytic discourse, seeking to create an ambiguous symbolic world that enables viewers to immerse themselves in it and face their own ambiguity, concerning the subliminal desire for power, control, seductive power and eroticism undeniably present in Larsson’s work. In an interview about her video Dog Larsson explains: “The video Dog is a work that follows closely my earlier works in which reduction, power and control play important roles. … The work also deals with seduction and my ambivalence toward image.“

One of the undisputed qualities of both of these video works of Annika Larsson is the fact that while using minimal means of expression, she is able to express diverse forms of ambiguity at once – if we could find a concept that would really characterize these symbolic images, actions and even the overall impression of these works, it would be simply ambiguity. A certain type of dark stories does not lack for comic elements; as for the artist herself, we could suppose with qualification that she seeks to present critically certain power structures, but at the same time she herself plays with power and authority, as she makes the viewers aware of the power she possesses, since it is in fact she who has the role of the only dictator. Her images are at first sight neutral, but in fact they symbolize the most personal inner experiences; social, external aspects mingle with individual, inner ones. The exclusive settings and the business-like look of the men hide perverse erotic undertones, as we can see the beauty of cruelty and cruelty of beauty, but also for instance the indistinct boundary between signs of heroism and absolute inner emptiness. So these very suggestive video works of Annika Larsson are literally inflated by manifest but almost always ambiguous symbols, so that in any case, once inside you they will definitely leave more questions than answers.

Irena Aimová