New ways of seeing


When documenting the changes in the environment, the aesthetic evidence offered by photographs is unparalleled. The works repeat the global worry for climate change and littering, especially when it comes to plastics. Some of the proposals stand out because they “hook” or “seduce” the observer by disrupting the ways of looking, interpreting, or acting we have considered normal.

The project Kuona (Dross) by the Finnish artist Onni Aaltonen takes a critical look at waste burning, the culmination of linear consumption. The landscapes look natural, but are revealed to be massive piles of burnt waste, used for example as noise barriers lining high ways. The photos have an impact since they make the amount of burnt waste concrete, and create a new dimension into seemingly clean landscape.

In the Matters Matter project by the French artist Michel Monteaux waste does not look ordinary. The images challenge the essence of waste by transforming it into imaginative and mystical shapes. The observers is challenged as well: when waste is not only waste, its processing and prevention may be addressed in new ways.

Waste management is not only a technological field, since anybody can take part in its interpretation and making value judgements through art. In Like Water through Plastic by the Brazilian artist Mark Isaac, the plastic is looked at, on one hand, from the stress it creates on the environment and, on the other hand, through people’s ability to see beauty despite the plastic. In other words, the works prevent desperation, try to see beyond it, and inspire the observer to find solutions to the problem.

The works create images of change through personal images of experiences. In the piece Cyanoscape by Finnish Noora-Maija Tokee, the topic is the harmful occurrences of cyanobacteria, which prevent swimming in Finnish lakes. Close-up photos of the bacteria bring to mind Earth, as seen from space. Its color scheme transforms from blue and white into green “mush” of bacteria and floats of plastic, and that way into a global cry for help for the warming and increasingly eutrophic seas. In the work Persistent Fertility by Norwegian Andras Ladai, the dark photographs raise the question of the vegetable kingdom’s ability to react to changing environmental circumstances, as well as nature’s persistent efforts to find alternative ways to survive. Ladai’s series guides the observer to notice changes, to interpret them, and to learn from them.

The work Hope? by the Finnish artist Julia Weckman examines critically the information transmission in the digital era. The images of hope are not transmitted as they are, but instead there are disruptions. When looking for a better future, the recipient needs to be aware. Blind faith or relying on simple options do not offer unambiguous answers to big questions. The critical attitude of the observer and questioning the naturalized performances is one of the cornerstones of change. In the piece Invisible Fighters¸ Finnish-American Isabella Presnal highlights both collectivity and the individual viewpoint in the catalog of information transmission. The documentary photos taken at the climate rally organized in Helsinki remind us of a time, when preventing climate change was still possible. The anonymous people depicted in the photo leave room for the observer’s interpretation, seduce into interpreting, and at the same time involve the observer into the climate discussion.

The work Reef by the Polish artist Alicja Wróblewska exploits the stereotypes of nature by creating beautiful images of the coral reefs, which are disappearing in the future due to the seas warming. In their beauty, the photographs challenge the traditional way nature photography depicts nature. When Wróblewska recreates ancient reefs through plastic compositions, the images break our stuck ways of looking at nature. The works create an astonishing polyphonic opposition, where the frailty and colorfulness of the millennia-old coral reefs is compared to the bright plastics, which remain for centuries.

In Food for Thought, North-American Robert Dash depicts the destruction of the biodiversity of nature through climate change and globally unsustainable food production. The visually delicious works flip our images of food as an edible thing upside down, and open up our senses to new and alternative visual tastes. Dash’s work hooks the observer into thinking about the nature of new kind of food production, for example genetic engineering.

In the work Lost Eternal Summer the Finnish artist Niina Kiiveri builds a sort of a digital herbarium, which in a new way depicts the survival challenge of nature through the mass extinction of insects in the world of climate change, invasive alien species, and microplastics. The end result is a paradox, where the visions are extremely beautiful, but at the same time frightening in their monotony. They remind us of the pain of losing the diversity of nature, if pixels replace the living nature.

Juha Suonpää