On dogs, circles, planes and nuncanada

In Werner Herzog’s early experimental films, shot on super 8, you see landscapes, in which the German film maker explored the possibilities of expressing primary human feelings, moods, ideas and the general human condition through the use of something external to humans and also greater than them – in his case, nature. Then, in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), he presents a character whose first encounter with the world comes when he is already an adult, but given his condition, his reflections about the world are not limited by acquired, ready-made concepts and, at the same time, are far from being childish or naive.

This, that is, the unlimited and pure primary reflection seems to be something like the dominant unifying element, combined with the formal clarity and pureness of expression – also manifest in certain recurring formal features – in Krista Autio’s work. 

Meanwhile, my reference to Herzog and his work is only one of many possible examples to demonstrate how deeply ingrained and prevalent the desire is in all fields of art to find a visual world, a language of shapes, colours, shades, staticness or illusions of movement for the immediate and clear expression of emotions, ideas, social criticism, ethical meaning, etc. In other words, how elementary the artistic need is to achieve a directness of unmeditated and authentic subjective reflection. 

Autio’s reflection about the world, the situation is far more complex than in Kaspar Hauser’s, as while her reflection is pure and genuine, instead of just nature, her sources of formal elements, painterly language and theme range from the everyday state of affairs, personal emotions, drives and desires (shame, 2009; j’aime l‘ argent, 2012, me you berlin, 2009), the human condition of the age, urban life, personal and community history, gender issues, female roles (i’m not Laura, 2010) and the media – filtered through or coming from a very personal experience. And all this is presented in a visual language that, although always distilled to the level of the most direct expression, in fact, requires, and also displays, considerable technical skills. 

Also, this pureness and primary expression is the pureness and natural expression of an art that is very conscious of the periods and processes in art history that preceded it, and also of its consequences. In fact, Autio’s pure painterly reflection is very timely, and is made possible by all these historical antecedents. It is the artistic approaches, processes and practices of the 20th century, from the early avant-garde to the conceptual and post-conceptual age that have cleared the way, liberated the painterly language to the extent that, like Herzog in the Bavarian forest, Autio can use any formal element from childlike drawing and painting to large plain surfaces (nuncanada, 2012), media images (nuncanada) and words that appear just for their visual or even acoustic quality (prenzlauer, 2012), or carry moral reflection. The traditional elements: colours, shades, shapes and lines are of equal importance in their visual function and in their expressive function with words and letters, whose presence is sometimes motivated by their visual quality and their typographic character (abouttoday, 2009), or the quality of the sounds they represent (F. (fucking furious fat finn), 2012), while sometimes they are there through associations with the image, the association being motivated morally or ethically more than visually (shame), but without becoming captions. (While playing her serious game of free visual association, Autio leaves us space to play and reflect, too.) Meanwhile, shapes and figures are sometimes also present primarily because of their physical features (the bloody painter, 2010) and contribute to the meaning of the work only on a more indirect, or, if you like, more abstract level (5, 2012).

While being consistent in all of the above terms that provide theoretical, thematic and figural links among them, Krista Autio’s work also lends itself readily to groupification by cycle thematically as well as technically. Her drawings, plain surfaces with words, works with dogs, aeroplanes etc. form distinct and coherent units.

Not long ago, I visited artists’ studios in China. Among the many lessons that I learnt there, there was one that applies very clearly in the case of writing about Autio’s work, too. Standing in front of a huge and very complex, and amazingly skilfully made painting, I interpreted the Chinese artist’s work in detail. He listened to me patiently, nodding to my observations carefully, and then he said: “This work is about love”. Then about the next one, he said: “it is about pain.” Yes, in fact, theoretising verbosely about Autio’s paintings also goes against the basic principle of her work. The clarity of observation and the authenticity of reflection are killed in the translation. However complex their meanings or associations may be, however complex issues they may comment on or explore, these works stand on their own perfectly, and speak for themselves more clearly than any possible interpretation can aspire to. They are what they are: pure, genuine and authentic observations, shared with the viewer in a language that is the most adequate to what they stand for.

Zsolt Kozma