Pilvi Takala On Discomfort

CCA Goldsmiths, London 19 March – 4 June


In a classic Pilvi Takala video, a high-concept situation is arranged and unwinds in excruciati­ng detail. The aesthetic experience involves figuring out the nature of the prank and cringing as unwitting participan­ts fail to cope with someone else shirking social expectatio­ns. Among the works shown in On Discomfort, a survey of Takala’s distinctiv­e oeuvre from 2006 to the present, are The Trainee (2008), in which the artist confuses colleagues by idling aimlessly in an o”ce; Real Snow White (2009), in which security is provoked as she attempts to enter Disneyland Paris in the character’s costume; and The Stroker (2018), which sees Takala irking strangers in a coworking space with excessive friendline­ss in the name of wellness. All this builds towards creating a captivatin­g counter-iconograph­y of contempora­ry life – one keenly attuned to the ways communal spaces are shaped by profit and productivi­ty.

Yet in a recent three-channel video installati­on titled Close Watch (2022), the target is less clear. Much of the format of previous works is present – infiltrati­on as an artistic mode – but the video itself records a workshop held after Takala has completed her stint as a security guard. Where earlier works revelled in the texture of corporate life – lanyards, emails, copyright infringeme­nt, marketing lingo – with a heavy dose of ironic detachment, in this lifeless conversati­on clichés abound. Security guards defend racist jokes as a form of camaraderi­e while in an accompanyi­ng screen the ¢ÅAE assures the artist that this is not in line with their values. An encounter of sorts has taken place but it never gets beneath a surface of stock phrases. Critics who’ve described this work as addressing the role of private security firms are mostly reading the press release, as the actual content hovers in a generalise­d space of workplace misconduct and takes on the form of a Ç© training session.

It’s uncomforta­ble how often security guards feature as the poorly paid representa­tion of unseen, unaccounta­ble corporatio­ns in Takala’s work. By contrast, in Workers Forum (2014), an animated text conversati­on where microtaske­rs for a ‘fake relationsh­ip’ app vent their frustratio­ns regarding managing customer expectatio­ns and the emotional demands of playing a persona, we glean a deeper sense of the texture of their lives and the reality of this strange digital phenomenon. The meeting of cringe and spectacle in Takala’s work can be understood as a navigation of attention and empathy. In this setup/payo¨ format, tension is teased but never fully released; pangs of sympathy breathe life into absurd situations, as does the sheer unpredicta­bility of abandoning social norms. We watch these narrativel­y dense yet unresolved scenarios, waiting for the next thing to happen and, perhaps, to understand the world anew.

Chris Hayes

 ?? ?? Workers Forum (still), 2014, video, 6 min 23 sec. Courtesy the artist
Workers Forum (still), 2014, video, 6 min 23 sec. Courtesy the artist

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom