Artist Profile: Jaakko Pallasvuo

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Low Epic, 2011

Your identity/brand is split between multiple internet presences.  There is definite cohesion between the works on your artist website and your Tumblr, but your illustrations seem severed and separate.  Google image searching you, your comics and illustrations actually appear more frequently than your other work.  In Auditions you briefly meditate on identity association and representation on the internet and I’m curious as to how you intentionally shape this identity.  How do you approach self-design?

The way I think is fairly contradictory so it makes sense that the works would emerge that way as well. I question how satisfying maintaining a strict, programmed artistic identity would be in the long run. Making art is for me very much a form of learning. I will gladly sacrifice cohesion if it means that I can explore larger fields of knowledge.

I've been uploading works to various internet contexts since I was 16 and can accept that I cannot control their circulation. I do contemplate the way I represent / have represented myself online but I can't completely dictate my "brand" anymore. I appreciate artists who are able to maintain a cohesive image, but I don't think I could be / would want to be one.

A lot of your image work utilizes 80's and 90’s aesthetic and culture as a jumping off point.  From the midi backing tracks heard in your How To video series, to the gradients, colors and photoshop brushwork found on www.dawsonscreek.info, where do you place nostalgia, irony and sincerity throughout these works? Where do these begin and end for you?

Irony and nostalgia are difficult terms. I think of irony as snarky non-commitment and nostalgia as uncritical sentimentality. It feels unsafe to connect them to my own work. I have an interest in the recent past and have made attempts towards charting what I assume are generational experiences. I am genuinely fascinated by Tumblr culture, Dawson's Creek as well; choosing the URL was not merely an ironic gesture to me. It's easy to understand how people would perceive my work that way (as ironic), but my approach is quite serious and sombre. I guess it adds to the confusion that I do want to investigate nostalgia, irony and sincerity as themes. It's a fine line between making works about irony and making works that are ironic. I'm treading that line.

Previously, we’ve spoken about the influence of cinema in many of your video works.  Your interest in a type of ‘cinema of the internet’ or the idea that many of your works are informed by cinema while also attempting to address their circulation as documentation on the internet, while becoming documentation in and of themselves.  Could you talk more about this?

I appreciate how sites like Youtube assign the same context to all video material. There's something cruel and reductive about it, but it also makes obscure things accessible. I feel like the divide between short-form cinema and video art is often artificial and maybe the internet can help erase that divide. I have an ongoing interest in the idea of ethnographic/anthropological cinema and the methods of essay film. I have made videos that explore those interests. There is a fair amount of meta-commentary going on, the videos discussing their own failures. It's the curse of self-awareness. I don't really see my work as documentary, although I do understand how that connection could be made. The videos definitely have to do with awkwardly imposing dramatic structures onto reality, the relative impossibility of that.

It's a tired observation that the Internet diffuses the divide between high and low culture, but I feel like I have to point that out because it's central to my interest in the medium. I've recently been enjoying this SinäTuubaPaska (the Finnish equivalent of Youtube Poop) channel more than most institutionally verified art. The videos are edited in such a brilliant, hypnotic, varied way, it reminds me of Jazz. I also like how the Finnish dubbing of mainly American source material localizes and complicates the videos, how it ties them to 90's childhoods. The videos deal with the unreliability of videos (I was trying to write "the unreliability of memory" before I got distracted). 

I also like when this is reversed, an artwork that transcends art and becomes a meme. I think the best thing about the How To videos was how much attention especially the Internet Art related episode got from sort of random sources. I enjoyed reading the comments on Knowyourmeme.com (pro tip: don't bother making a video if you're gonna post a half-assed slideshow made in windows movie maker). It was reassuring to understand that I am somehow able to imitate the mechanics of meme content, and fun to receive feedback on the video as both art and content nugget, even if the feedback was mostly negative and related to the failure of the videos to be any of the things they alluded to being (art, critique or lulz). 

Low Epic and Screen Test discursively reflect on the social and cultural placement of the self within a networked age.  These videos become personal and highly self-conscious yet you never really reveal yourself. There is always someone else narrating, posing for the camera, etc.  Why choose to use an alternate identity?

It's about obscuring and obstructing, about freeing myself from the constraints of gender and national identity and about variation.

I don't know if I should quote Barthes but I want to:

"In order to suggest, delicately, that I am suffering, in order to hide without lying, I shall make use of a cunning preterition: I shall divide the economy of my signs.

The task of the verbal signs will be to silence, to mask, to deceive: I shall never account, verbally, for the excesses of my sentiment. Having said nothing of the ravages of this anxiety, I can always, once it has passed, reassure myself that no one has guessed anything. The power of language: with my language I can do everything: even and especially say nothing.

I can do everything with my language, but not with my body. What I hide by my language, my body utters. I can deliberately mold my message, not my voice. By my voice, whatever it says, the other will recognize "that something is wrong with me." I am a liar (by preterition), not an actor. My body is a stubborn child, my language a very civilized adult."

To this I would add: the thing that interested me in early internet culture, that still interests me, is its elaborate anonymity. Using avatars and screen names to both diffuse yourself and be more yourself than you could actually be. I've tried to extend those tactics into my work, asking friends and professionals to stand in for me, other voices and appearances. I think of them as avatars. I recently read an interesting essay about the way Bresson thought of his actors (not as actors but as models, even props, icons?), that has something to do with it.



 


Age: 25

Location: Berlin (and Helsinki)

How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

It's been a gradual process. I was an avid video gamer as a child and in my early teens. The games (favorites included Final Fantasy VII, Fallout 2, Deus Ex) were my introduction to computers and also to art in some sense. A few years ago I made the connection between what was interesting to me and what I thought I should do. I used to paint but even then I put a lot of emphasis on photographing the works, photoshopping the documentation, sometimes drastically, and circulating the images online. I didn't think of it as part of an artistic process then, more in terms of public relations, livejournaling. Then I moved to Berlin and stopped having a studio and access to materials/facilities. I had also lost interest in my earlier tactics. I wanted to keep blogging images but also to figure out a way to do it without having to physically produce material for the image. So I guess transitioning to digital means was a fairly practical decision.

Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

At the moment I work mainly with video, text and (static) .gifs. I like .gifs for their small file size and sharpness and how the colors are reduced. I use them mostly in relation to http://www.dawsonscreek.info and I guess they have a lot to do with "Tumblr culture". Video and writing came about from me really hating them and being bad at them. I think the best advice that I got in school was to imagine the kind of work I would never do, or would think least likely, and do that. I think the work that I'm doing now is a result of following that advice. I'm really into embarrassment and honesty as materials and I think writing is a tool that makes those feelings accessible and present. I like that Thomas Mann quote about a writer being " a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people". 

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I studied at the Finnish Academy Of Fine Art in Helsinki. I studied at the painting and sculpture departments.

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

I want to think of my videos as going into a cinematic tradition. At least my biggest influences right now are essayistic filmmakers: Agnes Varda, Chris Marker, early Peter Greenaway. I also draw a lot but the drawings are at the moment a bit disconnected from my other work. I think that the knowledge I have of one medium can more often than not be transferred to other media. 

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

To be honest, not really. I used to be involved in music stuff, and was thinking I should pick that up again.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

I work as an illustrator, mainly for magazines. It does relate to my practice, but not as much as it used to. I enjoy illustration as a sort of intersemiotic translation: reading journalistic texts on different subjects and trying to figure out how to translate them into (catchy) images. It relates to the comics I've made which in turn relate to the video work, so I guess it's not that far removed. 

Who are your key artistic influences?

I'm not a very faithful viewer. I get really excited about a claim and almost immediately begin to seek its opposition. Probably the biggest influences are things I've picked up unknowingly. Artists that I've been enthusiastic about recently include Joan Jonas, Ellen Sturtevant, Lee Lozano and Alex Bag.

There's also peer influence. I think the most interesting thing for me is sustained dialogue with people I respect as artists. The combination of the work and the exchange is really potent and better for me than formal pedagogical structures. 

From the loosely defined Internet Art scene I could mention Jon Rafman for the strategies he uses as a filmmaker and Oliver Laric and Aleksandra Domanović for the elegant/economic way they present their artistic positions (although this is something I admire rather than something I could imagine emulating). 

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

I've collaborated with a fair amount of people. My recent solo shows and video works have all been collaborations to a degree, with the main creative control in my hands, but with a lot of responsibility and trust placed in others as well. I made a more equal (in the sense of 50/50 creative control) collaborative project with Martin Kohout about a year ago, culminating in a music video for Islaja. My main collaboration right now is Oval Office, with Berlin-based video artist Mikko Gaestel. We have finished a science fiction short film that is very different from my own work, and are currently crafting new things.

Do you actively study art history?

I am actively interested in it, but I don't study it systematically anymore. I do feel like my work is informed by it and that I have a fairly good perspective on some of it, mainly the history of (European) painting. 

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

I was really into post-structuralism at some point. Foucault and Michel de Certeau made an impression. I have also been inspired by Hannah Arendt's writing about public and private space. I guess I'm mostly interested in political philosophy and philosophical theory that has its roots in the study of history. From the art side I've really enjoyed texts by Boris Groys. Right now I'm reading John Kelsey which also seems to work. I really enjoyed this essay by Hito Steyerl. I've kind of slowed down on theory though because so many of the writers that I find interesting have chosen to write in convoluted and uneconomic ways which I find hard to engage with (Derrida and the type of curatorial writing he has inspired for example). Not that it's not a legitimate choice, I just find it exhausting. Recently I've been more into writers like Joan Didion who have journalistic clarity and strict pace, dare to state things bluntly. This has nothing to do with art criticism / critical theory though, except, I guess, for my wish that a more personal, intense, less (faux)-academic take on art criticism would emerge. Especially with Net Art I think the ways its written about have room to expand and mutate, like the art itself. 

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

In general I'm worried about the hold private market structures have on the art world. How the past 30 years have seen the "art market" flooded with money and how the capital has begun to shape the art world into something that would adhere to the logic of investments and returns. I see the internet as a potential exit strategy from that logic, so I'm always a bit alarmed when I see new media artists compromise for old media prestige. I guess it's still quite difficult to only work through the means of the internet and be "taken seriously". I see the net art around me dissolve into sculptures and videos and other more recognizable art forms. I'm also participating in that and I do have concerns about it. On the other hand I don't know if it makes sense for me to categorize myself as a new media artist. I'm drawn to the idealism around emerging technologies, but the idealism is more central to me than the technologies.