GAO presents a virtual reality (VR) moving image installation by the Finnish-born, Los Angeles-based artist, Anikó Kuikka.
Showing in international exhibitions and film festivals, and often featuring a cast of archetypes from traditional fables, Kuikka’s work aims to deconstruct our pre-existing values surrounding notions of power, identity, and the psyche. Although her past installations have mostly focused on the surreal nature of everyday life in society, Wednesday 12 marks something of a departure in that its roots are unabashedly personal, drawing from an instance of childhood trauma. Until now, Kuikka has largely withheld the origins of her work, believing that the private revelations at its centre need not necessarily be disclosed. With Wednesday 12, however, she recasts a deeply felt, subjective herstory through the frame of a timeless narrative—the lost innocence at the core of Hänsel & Gretel. Kuikka strips the Grimms’ fairy tale down to its bones, transfiguring the allegorical witch into a paedophile.
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Essentially, Wednesday 12 is a film in four parts. On entering the gallery, we encounter the first: a short, looping video projected against the back wall of a balloon-filled space. This footage establishes the narrative conceit and ushers us through the doorway, whereupon we arrive at the centrepiece of the show—the portal to the rest of the film—a large, shed-like enclosure containing an array of yoga balls, and three VR headsets. For some time now, Kuikka’s practice has been expanding in reaction to what she views as the relatively staid conservatism of much video installation art. For this exhibition, she has gone even further in her attempts to synthesize aspects of sculpture and narrative in real space and time, thereby expanding the world of the moving image into the gallery itself.
The point of view from which we experience Wednesday 12 varies with our choice of headset. Behind the eyes of Harry or Greta there is an uneasy, anxious sense of detachment, even before they encounter the Beast. The eerie ‘ping’ sounds we hear when they communicate with one another are typical of Kuikka’s aesthetic: simultaneously nostalgic and contemporary, recalling bygone cartoons and iPhone notifications. The Beast’s perspective is excruciating. ‘That’s a lot of Hubba Bubba,’ he growls, fondling Greta’s body, ‘nice and pink.’ While the children have an increasingly audible soundtrack of shivering, ambient dread, the Beast has only his predatory breathing. Kuikka presents a startling formulation of the familiar fable, but one of the most striking things is the way in which she subverts the liberating capabilities of VR to convey the anxiety of being stuck inside a body, experiencing pain, and not being able to do anything about it.
In the 1940s, the French film critic André Bazin thought that photography had the power to strip the world of ‘that spiritual dust and grime with which our eyes have covered it.’ But in the hyperlinked, image-saturated world of today, photographs have lost most of this affective currency. One somewhat underappreciated aspect of VR is how it has inherited this quality: removing the headset after a VR session can act as a kind of experiential palate cleanser, resetting our perceptions; offering us a fresh pair of eyes with which to view the world. Kuikka deploys this trait to disorienting effect. Withdrawing from VR, the surrounding installation doesn’t feel like a set so much as a dream—sounds float in and out of recognition, references point back to themselves, each piece of chewing gum now carries a great deal of metaphorical baggage—we have to keep directing our attention to what is contradictory about the tableau, in order to fill in the blanks.
Since Kuikka believes that a person’s perspective is analogous to their identity, and that their physical experience is developed by their perceptions, it seems that in VR she has found the ideal vehicle with which to move an audience through her ideas. Because she has always been so attentive to the position of her viewer (either as a character or a hidden observer), it seems entirely right that Kuikka’s practice should embrace immersive technology in this way. And yet she doesn’t succumb to the breathless rhetoric that too often accompanies it. VR is simply the best way for us to subjectively experience this particular narrative. For Kuikka, seeing is believing, but the technology serves the story—not the other way around.
Anikó Kuikka (b.1986 Espoo, Finland) is a graduate from the Royal Academy Schools and the Academy of Fine Arts Helsinki. Her works have recently been shown at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Glasgow International, Forum Box Mediabox Helsinki, Bury Art Museum, Royal Academy of Arts London.
The production of Wednesday 12 is supported by Arts Promotion Centre Finland, The Paulo Foundation, VISEK.
Starring: Nikk Alcaraz, Shai Culver, Skip Pipo
Original Music: Fraya Thomsen
Sound Design: Roy Boswell
Hair & Makeup: T’ai Rising-Moore
Voices: Alfie Harvey Gilmore, Jacob Thomas
Architect: Markku Erholtz