photographer: Angela von Brill
Horizontal is a video portrait of a living spruce tree. The simple-sounding idea of the work was to show the tree in its entirety, retaining its natural size. But of course a life-size tree does not fit in a standard-sized human space. Therefore an alternative media form had to be chosen: in the form of five successive projected images. The work inevitably shows the difficulty of recording such an everyday organism, essential to human life, with the methods of visual documentation invented by humans. The horizontal format of our moving image media is utterly unfit for showing the entire tree in one picture: if you use a wide-angle lens, the tree appears distorted and oversized compared to the rest of the picture. If the camera position is moved too far from the portrayed tree, it is no longer the tree but the forest that becomes the subject. Any attempt to portray a tree inevitably exposes it to be a highly human-centred undertaking, showing once again that photography and video techniques are not objective or exact, but anthropocentric: rather than explaining, the technique squeezes the environment to such an extent that the human eye can grasp it. This also became apparent during shooting: the tree had to be “dissected”: five cameras each filmed one part of the spruce in parallel to avoid distortion. The location also had to be as “neutral” as possible: a lifting platform had to be placed at a suitable distance from the tree, no other trees were allowed to be in the field of vision of the camera, distracting the viewer, and the spruce tree had to be well-proportioned, i.e. the proportion of the width to the height of the tree had to be perfect to enable it to be portrayed optimally distributed over five projection fields. It became obvious that the more the spruce was to fit into the format of a portrait, the more the environment and the technology surrounding the object portrayed became apparent.
Eija-Liisa Ahtila launched her first major solo exhibition entitled Ecologies of Drama at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in A Coruña in Spain in 2017, among other things, and participated in the 21st Biennale of Sydney in 2018. For more information on Eija-Liisa Ahtila, visit https://crystaleye.fi/eija-liisa_ahtila.