On Jaakko Kahilaniemi's 100 Hectares of Understanding
In Jaakko Kahilaniemi's Property Weight, one of the central pieces in the series 100 Hectares of Understanding, the viewer encounters a piece of wood on an old scale, like a newborn being weighed. Us humans do this all the time, consciously and subconsciously – we categorize, compartmentalize, analyze, organize. A baby is measured, weighed, scrutinzed for resemblance to parents, all within its first hours outside the womb. In an equally meticulous and loving way, Kahilaniemi approaches his most ungraspable possession – 100 hectares of Finnish forest.
It's impossible to overstate the significance of forests for Finland, both historically and economically. 78% of the total area of the country is covered by forest – that's over 20 million hectares. With numbers like that it's hardly surprising that Finnish artists have always found themselves drawn to the forests. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw Finnish painters and photographers picturing landscapes dominated by forests and in more recent times, Antti Laitinen has represented Finland in the Venice biennale 2013 with deconstructed trees.
Kahilaniemi is also working with the method of deconstruction, but rather than creating physical work out of the results of this private ritual, he unveils the result through the medium of photography. Thus the dimension of time is added to his works – the viewer sees the fresh piece of bark or the green pine needles in Kahilaniemi's Picked Fragments #1-21, but knows that the moment is forever gone, as are the pictured fragments of nature.
In a way, Kahilaniemi is a contemporary incarnation of a land artist, a land artist of the rapid digital age in which the photograph has gained more value than ever before as a means of communication and information. Kahilaniemi captures nature through his lens before applying the alchemical process that makes art out of the familiar. This is in stark contrast to traditional land art, for which the photo is only a proof of existence that can never fully convey the experience of the actual site-specific work. Like Nils-Udo, whose work with delicate materials like flowers and leaves makes photography essential for capturing the result that may disappear within minutes, Kahilaniemi uses the documentary nature of photography to prove to himself and to the viewer that this very own 100 hectares out of Finland's 20 million does indeed exist.
100 Hectares of Understanding is also a work about shouldering the duties of adulthood. In works like Measured and Weighed or 100 Planted Saviors of the Heritage, Kahilaniemi tends to his forest, nursing it and taking responsibility for it. Hailing from a family of foresters, Kahilaniemi's own forest is both inheritance and heritage, a symbol of the artist's ancestry. It's also a very tangible origin: quite literally the roots of Kahilaniemi, who diverged from family tradition and became an artist. 100 Hectares of Understanding sees Kahilaniemi creating an intersection in which his own life as an artist meets the parallel life of Jaakko Kahilaniemi, the son of foresters.
Paternal expectations are a theme usually mulled over by older artists, often as a sort of cleansing ritual. Alejandro Jodorowsky was 86 when he made his autobiographical film Poesía Sin Fin, in which he deals with the difficulty of becoming an artist because of his father's disapproval, and Louise Bourgeois processed childhood memories until her death at age 98. It's rare for young artists to succesfully work with subjects like family history and parental relationships, but Kahilaniemi's 100 Hectares of Understanding is an eloquent meditation on these themes.
The meditativity becomes clearly visible in the documented acts which Kahilaniemi perform. In the collage of 18 photographs titled Hunting the Midpoint, the artist ploughs his way through ankle-deep snow into a typical young Finnish forest and out again. The act is simple, unpretenious. A similarly understated and evocative piece is Imaginary Borderline, in which cross sections of wood float upon a background of deepest black, not unlike the backgrounds of the achingly beautiful Dutch and Flemish 17th century still lifes. It's a secret map, as are many of the other works of the series. Kahilaniemi himself refers to some of his works as “visual secrets”, and in this lies the core of their strength: they are aesthetically beckoning yet enigmatic.
Commissioned by Gallery Taik Persons, 2016Published in Gallery Taik Persons Newspaper 03jaakkokahilaniemi.com