Piia Suomi

28 July – 20 August 2017

New terrain

Piia Suomi: Presence, 2016, acryl on canvas, 24 x 31 cm

The wind from the Sahara, the reddish colour of the soil, the burning heat of the sun, the face of a stranger. These are the elements I’ve worked with while staying in artist residencies in the countryside of Italy and the West African country of Benin during the last year. I’ve painted landscapes and people in order to describe something about that “new and unfamiliar” which I didn’t culturally belong to. At the same time, I’ve explored my own identity and surroundings, for meeting the unfamiliar requires also understanding of the self and taking a position in relation to the other. Stuart Hall (1999) writes about the constantly changing nature of identity, born and adjusted by facing the other. Identity is formed in the partly imaginary stories which we tell ourselves and others. Hall thinks that identity exists inside of these representations: in culture, manners and the effort of representation. When painting the other, you need to define what that other means in relation to yourself.

The more unfamiliar terrain you travel, the more complex the depiction of the culture of the other becomes. While travelling, the idealization of the new and exotic is connected to the awareness of the self as an outsider, but also to the questions concerning the way one depicts that culture of the other. How should you depict a West African culture, when you yourself are a visitor in that culture? If the standpoint is that of a Westerner, is it inevitably distorted and seen from the centre towards the periphery? Certainly the world shouldn’t be viewed only from the Western viewpoint. In this sense it feels more neutral to paint landscapes than people, for they don’t carry similar meanings of segregation that are easily connected to representations of people. A landscape in painting remains open to many kinds of viewings, while also better avoiding the hierarchical power-positioning of painter to subject. I like the abstraction of the landscape, the way it escapes precise definitions.

Rational thinking requires the classification of things using invented and simplified concepts. We often use opposing words of the language to mark the differences between us and others. But in painting, you can forget the rational conventions of thought. Instead of language-based segregation it is possible to emphasize similarities and connections between things. The oppositions of language – such as domestic/foreign, I/you – don’t exist in the world of painting. The impact of pictorial representation on cultural identity and the conception of the other are clearly seen in Hall’s text. Visual representation can either renew, confirm or convert our conceptions and prejudices towards the other. By means of representation it’s possible to choose how and what to show, and on the other hand, what to leave outside. By painting you can evade cultural stereotypes that keep repeating certain traits and inevitably leave so much unsaid. Painting escapes words, since it always possesses more than one meaning.

Piia Suomi (b. 1979) is a visual artist based in Helsinki. She has graduated from the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 2007: since then she has worked in artist residencies both in Finland and in other countries. The works in the Gallery Å exhibition were painted in the SabinARTi Cultural Association residence in Italy and Villa Karo artist residence in Benin.

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Welcome to the Opening on Thursday 27th of July at 6 – 8 pm!

Meet the artist on Sunday 20th of August at 3 – 4 pm.