Kilpisjärvellä

THE FILM

Kilpisjärvellä tells the story of two Argentine explorers who set out into one of the most northern places in the world, Kilpisjärvi (Lapland), with the sole objective of filming one of nature’s most sublime phenomena: the aurora borealis.

After his previous project (The New Artist, 2008- ) in which humans are not needed for the inner structure of the piece—the artist and the spectator are both robots—, the figure of the artist returns to Straschnoy work from an opposite extreme: he is playing as romantic a role as possible. It is the 19th century artist and explorer who puts his body on the line on a journey to the ends of the earth to capture the pure beauty of nature. Furthermore, this artist is reverting colonial history: it is no longer the European but the Latin American setting out to far off lands to document their exoticism. But these are not the explorations from the centre to the periphery of the 19th century or those from the periphery to the centre embarked upon by the visual artists of the 20th century, the relationship is between two peripheries; a South-South connection even though Finland is one of the northernmost countries on the planet. With Kilpisjärvellä, Straschnoy is finally identifying with Finnish art (assuming the role, with a certain irony, of a Finnish artist) on engaging with its tradition of landscape art—a journey to the white and empty north to photograph nature—that can be read both in terms of its historic significance and as cliché. And that irony emerges not only in his professed affiliation but also because at face value it would seem to be entirely incompatible with another important reference: Argentine conceptualism and its exploration of the devices of representation. The conversion is tainted; Straschnoy is no longer a one hundred per cent Argentinian artist and neither is he a tourist in Finland. The mixture creates new formal results within those earlier traditions.

The spectator also returns in an exaggerated manner; in a cinema seat, where they will perceive the exquisite phenomenon thanks to one of the most complete, attractive and all-encompassing of representation devices. Straschnoy draws on research into a specific architectural typology, from Italian Baroque domes with a di sotto in sù perspective that seek to expand the two-dimensional surface of the ceiling to represent what is beyond, to planetariums committed to a similar task, no longer looking at God but the Cosmos. After previous closed and autonomous circuits, Straschnoy does not timidly return to two-dimensional representation as a window onto the world, but the architecture of exhibition as a gateway onto knowledge of the Universe.

Symptomatically, this expansion is not only a metaphor around the representation device, but a concrete strategy in the whole structure of the project: its stages of financing, production, distribution and exhibition. Straschnoy formed a partnership with the Bufo cinema production company and Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre, creating a space for dialogue between three diverse disciplines. The work thus displaces each from their traditional settings, forcing the emergence of new, unsettled sensations and considerations. Straschnoy negotiates the narrative structure: simple and linear if compared to the video-art tradition but without the conflict and resolution expected of cinema; with the natural, astronomic phenomena expected of a scientific planetarium but without the usual didacticism of this sort of production. There are also formal adjustments: the rhythm of the film is slow for a flat, rectangular screening but borders on dizzying on an all-round screen. As it is filmed with a time-lapse technique—the only technique that can currently achieve the required quality for a planetarium without using animation—there are brusque jumps when the camera is moving, but when it is fixed to record the sky, Straschnoy captures a powerful dichotomy of temporalities marked by the speed with which human time moves compared to cosmic time. Furthermore, filming at 360 º there is nothing behind the camera or outside the frame, aspects fundamental to cinema as a narrative component and used in video-art to include them at a formal level with projections on several channels. Working with a device that captures everything has an effect on the story—the film is also about the process of making the film—and the perception of the spectator, who does not construct the world being represented by including that suggested outside the frame but through editing as they must choose where to look in the wide field presented by the image.

-Javier Villa