Eija-Liisa Ahtila

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Eija-Liisa Ahtila
Born 1959
Hämeenlinna, Finland
Education UCLA, American Film Institute
Known for Video Art

Eija-Liisa Ahtila (born 1959 in Hämeenlinna, Finland) is a video artist and photographer. She lives and works in Helsinki.

Her first conceptual works were motivated by art philosophy, by a critique of art institutions and by feminism. She focused on the construction of the image, language, narrative and space. In her recent films she focuses more deeply into individual identity and the limit of the self and body in relation to the other.[1]

In 1998 Eija-Liisa Ahtila participated in the second edition of Manifesta. She was the winner of the inaugural Vincent Award in 2000.[2] In 2002 she had a solo show at Tate Modern,[3] and in 2006 her multi-screen video piece The Wind (2006) was exhibited at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).[4] In the same year she won the £40,000 Artes Mundi Prize in Cardiff, Wales.[5]

Her work is held in the collection of the Tate.[6] She is a former professor at the Department of Time and Space-based Art at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts (Finland).

Her work[edit]

Most of Ahtila's works are focused on women going through a traumatic experience, and most display multiple screens and vantage points of the story, simultaneously. This mode of presentation intentionally floods or overwhelms the viewer's senses, sometimes confusing one's ability to follow and understand the narrative thread intellectually, in order to produce a strong emotional impact.

Writing in the journal PAJ, Jane Philbrick describes Ahtila's films as "Smart, emotionally arresting, engaging, affective." Philbrick continues, saying, "A self-described 'teller of human dramas', she approaches narrative equipped with a rigorous arsenal of postmodern strategies ... One of her most potent tools, however, is a two-centuries old dramatic genre of proven emotional reach and punch, melodrama." Although done in a more sophisticated way than conventional melodramas, Ahtila's work likewise exaggerates plots and characters to affect the viewer's emotions, with less appeal to immediate intellectual comprehension.[7]

In 1993, Ahtila created the three mini-films Me/We, Okay, and Gray: Each of these 90-second mini-films was shown separately and as a trilogy, as trailers in cinemas, on television during commercial breaks and in art galleries. Ahtila explores questions of identity and group relations through her use of narrative conventions derived from film, television and advertising.[8] In Me/We the father of a family speaks about his family in a monologue and other players mouth his words. When the father speaks about his family members' emotions, their personalities mix together and become inseparable. In Okay a woman is speaking about violence in man and woman relationship and as she steps across the room like a tiger in a cage, her voice goes up and shows pure violence. In Gray three women in a lift go down into water and talk about atomic explosion and its effects, while words and pictures mix identity crisis and an atomic disaster.[9]

In 2002, Ahtila created a film called The House, for which she performed research that included conducting interviews with people who are afflicted by psychotic mental disorders. The film begins with a woman driving to a secluded house, and as events continue they take on a dreamlike state. The sounds become disorienting and the images begin to combine: the woman can see the car on the walls of the house; she hears boat horns that make no sense. The film is meant to be presented in an exhibit that displays each of the three screens on separate walls, making the viewer feel as if they are actually in the house where the project was filmed.[7][10]

Among Ahtila's many other works is The Hour of Prayer, first presented in 2006, at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. The film is a four-channel video project that shows scenes from a woman's experience surrounding the death of her dog. Bridget Goodbody, writing for Time Out New York, says that it presents "a nonnarrative cycle of apparently random, but nonetheless consequential scenes." Some of those scenes show how, when she was away from her dog, he fell through the ice of a frozen pond, breaking his leg. Another shows the dog brought to a veterinarian for treatment of the injury; a diagnosis of bone cancer is made. After the dog dies, the film presents scenes of the woman moving on with her life, living as an artist in Africa.[11]

Another of her films, which debuted in 2009, is Where is Where?. New York's Museum of Modern Art, which housed the seven-day exhibition, called it, "a haunting and layered consideration of how history affects our perception of reality." In the film, a present-day poet, with the assistance of a figure who is the personification of death, investigates a murder committed fifty years ago. Two young Arab boys had killed their French friend during the Algerian War of Independence. As the poet investigates, images from the past and present begin to mix and collide; at one point the poet discovers the two boys seated in a boat, in the small swimming pool behind his house.[12][13]

Although Ahtila's films do include more than one character, they tend to focus on the internal experience of just one person. Her work seems to be more about studying and understanding an individual's subjective experience, and how the influences around individuals shape who they are and what they do, and shape their unconscious selves. She is greatly interested in the factors that go into the construction of personal identity, and in how fluid that construct can be. Ahtila wants to explore, as she says, "how the subconscious is inherited in some way," citing as an example, "[the way] in which my mother is physically present in myself and I am present in her."[7]


  • 1993, The three mini-films Me/We, Okay, and Gray: Each of these 90-second mini-films was shown separately and as a trilogy, as trailers in cinemas, on television during commercial breaks and in art galleries. Ahtila explores questions of identity and group relations through her use of narrative conventions derived from film, television and advertising.[8]
  • 1995, If 6 was 9
  • 1996, ID: An International Survey on the Notion of Identity in Contemporary Art (exh. cat., Eindhoven, Stedel. Van Abbemus.)
  • 1997, Tänään (Today): Won Honorable Mention in 1998.[14]
  • 1999, Cinéma–Cinéma: Contemporary Art and the Cinematic Experience (exh. cat., Eindhoven, Stedel. van Abbemus.)[15]
  • 1999, Consolation Service: video art, installation. Received Venice biannual prize.
  • 2002, The House
  • 2006, The Hour of Prayer
  • 2009, Where is Where?
  • 2011, The Annunciation


  1. ^ "Eija-Liisa Ahtila". The Paolo Curti & Co. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Vincent Award winners
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ moma.org
  5. ^ Sisario, Ben (3 April 2006). "Arts, Briefly". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 25 May 2013. 
  6. ^ tate.org.uk
  7. ^ a b c Phibrick, Jane. Subcutaneous Melodrama: The Work of Eija-Liisa Ahtila. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, Vol.25, No.2 (May,2003), pp.32-47.
  8. ^ a b "Eija-Liisa AHTILA". Light Cone. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  9. ^ Talin Abadian (2006). "Eija Liisa Ahtila - among creating fantasy and documentation". Psychology and Art (in Persian). 
  10. ^ "Eija-Liisa Ahtila: The House | The Art Institute of Chicago". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  11. ^ The Hour of Prayer at Marian Goodman Gallery. Goodbody, Bridget. Time Out New York, 26 February 2006.
  12. ^ MoMA Presents Where Is Where? Gallery notes from an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art presented 1 October − 7 October 2009.
  13. ^ MoMA to show Where is Where? Art Knowledge News, 11 September 2009.
  14. ^ "awards". imdb. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  15. ^ "Artist biography". JOHN-PAUL STONARD. TATE. 10 December 2000. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 

External links[edit]