Finnish artist Salla Tykkä’s biggest-ever show hits Budapest
At an exhibition currently showing at the contemporary Ludwig Museum, powerful mini movies represent beauty ideals and how this phenomenon conveys an often distorted message in society. These filmic presentations by Finnish artist Salla Tykkä are beautifully immersive and almost painfully unsettling at the same time. The world perceived by Tykkä is defined by regulations, regimes and gender roles, all eventually influencing the individual pursuit of the ultimate achievement: perfection. “Short Titles” is on view until 6 January.
A series of engagingly composed mini movies is currently being projected on big screens at the Ludwig Museum, inspired by the recurring dreams and childhood memories of award-winning filmmaker Salla Tykkä. Starting with her most recent works, the artist’s enlightening oeuvre is presented around the spacious halls of the gallery in reverse chronological order. Often disguised behind sport-themed imagery, these films demonstrate in all their raw reality the process of growing up and how beauty ideals are forced upon humanity, even on animals.
“It’s not just one dream or a single memory that inspires me, but the mechanism of how images circulate in society and the human mind,” begins Tykkä. Attempting to capture how external beauty is manifested around the world, the beginning of her exhibition goes straight to the heart of the matter, demonstrating young gymnasts during their highly demanding training at two of Romania’s famous boarding schools. This is the Giant, one of the artist’s most famous works, which earned the Canon Tiger award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
“Romanian gymnasts were world famous, but back in the day this form of sport was also a manifestation of the Ceausescu regime,” explains Tykkä, also referring to the brief responses she received from the young gymnasts during her interviews with them. The well practised and professionally coordinated moves of these young girls enchant the audience and only the stomp of them landing on the vault jolt the viewer into realising that behind each step is real discipline. Revealing a code of behaviour that prompts control over the body becomes the driving force behind the artworks presented at this exhibition.
Another film by Tykkä, Airs Above the Ground, shows a different form of obeying rules. The movie follows the purposeful process of taming Lipizzaner horses, a historic European breed created with the support of the Habsburg monarchy as part of military training. Also brought to this Budapest museum as a nod to Hungary, the film presents how these powerful creatures are disciplined by their trainers to jump as high as possible by keeping their forelegs or all legs above the ground. Scenes showing the rigorous dressage of a slavering horse are in striking contrast with the team of stallions running free in the wild, juxtaposed within the same film.
“Similarly to the Romanian schools for gymnasts, the Lipizzaner is a product of a very powerful regime and without money the breed wouldn’t exist,” explains the artist. “Given its history, I thought that the Lipizzaner horses would be interesting for the Hungarian audience,” underlines Tykkä.
Coordinated moves are also the theme of Lasso, an early work by the artist, created for her university thesis when she was in her mid-20s. Enacted in a typical Finnish suburb, a young woman suddenly finds herself standing in awe while peering through the window of a house, where a man, fully focused on each motion, performs stunts with his lasso. She awakens from her delirium by the loud smack of the lasso on the floor, as the boy stops his routine. Prominent in this cowboy-style work is the duality of male and female behaviours.
Tykkä explains that as early as her university years, she was examining how mass media was able to affect the human psyche, including the Spaghetti Western movies that inspired this film’s setting. “As a young kid, I used to dream of being part of a Western, but I was never really able to relate to any of the characters that I liked as all of them were men. In this movie, I try to say something about this inequality,” she explains. “The protagonist is a girl and we can see a particular scene through her eyes.”
The presentation is supported by an Ennio Morricone musical insert known from film classic Once Upon a Time in the West. Soundtrack is deftly applied in most of Tykkä’s works as a universal language. Musical accompaniment taken from iconic sports drama Rocky also helps to ease the tension at the climax of Power, a perplexing four-minute feature of a boxing match between a beefy man and a bare-chested woman.
“I wanted to make a work about my mother, all I could think was my father.” This sentence opens Power, conveying an analogy of father-daughter relationships, and may also symbolise the rebellion of a woman against her father’s oppressive power. A fight that is repeated over and over again.
The audience can also look back at milestones of Tykkä’s career as she takes an inventory through monologues of her old cameras and filmic progress in Retrospective. Then two lots of footage, each just beyond a minute long, takes viewers back to the onset of the artist’s career, defined by a severe eating disorder. Like a home movie, these concise features let the viewer take an intimate glimpse into the artist’s life through her struggles with her body, fears and self-acceptance.
A series of experimental photographs complement the exhibition. Appearing as a negative, one image reflects back on the correlation between power and beauty, showing a giant water lily, the type brought to Europe from the Amazon by British colonists. These scenes were taken from the Tarzan movie, starring Austro-Hungarian born swimmer-cum-actor Johnny Weissmuller.
Looking ahead, the artist will soon unveil her next big project. “I was interviewing a group of Finnish-language scientists, working with a phenomenon invisible to the human eye,” explains Tykkä. “I transcribed and re-recorded these interviews and in a 70-minute movie I combined them with scenes of my hot-air balloon flight taken over Mont Blanc. I’ve been working on this for the past five years and the movie is due for release next February at a solo show in Finland. That display won’t be as comprehensive as the current exhibition here at the Ludwig. I think this is the biggest show I’ve ever made.”
See the Ludwig Museum website for more details.