Dr. Harri Laakso (b. 1965) is Associate Professor of Photography Research. At Aalto University he works mainly in the Department of Media but also in the Department of Art and the Department of Film, Television and Scenography. Previously he worked as Professor of Visual Culture and Art for 12 years. Laakso's primary research interests are photographic images and theory, artistic research and word/image relations. In addition to his own art projects, research projects and publications, he has curated many exhibitions, e.g. co-curating the Falling Trees exhibitions in the Finnish and Nordic Pavillions at the Venice Biennale (2013).
The submission is interesting and relevant in its subject matter (and displays a certain artistic integrity in its approach – which is no small feat). There undoubtedly exist many other similar projects but I find it to always be of value and interest to examine the changes to our communities in the globalized world, and to explore the ways in which the experience of those communities can be visually and aurally performed in a nuanced way. The question of speed and slowness in relation to place is a pertinent vantage point (and a research area) here, as places never exist without duration. In fact, I think that the use of "moving stills" (and slowed down video) is an apt description of that tension. Likewise, the exposition as a whole creates a rich interplay between elements that are seen or unseen, visible or invisible, clearly represented or inchoate.
In my view the submission does expose practice as research in a successful way. The main questions and themes are clearly set (that is, the representation, in many technical forms, of a slow community and the artist-researcher's own relation to it and its inhabitants). The three case studies seem motivated and provide a rich range of approaches. The different elements create a vivid and nuanced depiction of various individual responses to places, often providing small but sufficient social clues (sometimes beyond the immediate community - e.g. the Joy Division song heard and Bob Dylan inspire this), which help to create strong atmospheres from a limited set of variables. The "stories" seem at one and the same time individual, personal and unique and sharable on a wider scale (which, I suppose, should be one general aim in artistic research).
The techniques used (slowed down videos, narrated sound pieces, textual fragments) are not as such radically innovative in any particular way (and there is no need that they should be). However, the interplay of the various elements is very effective, and produces tensions and creative leaps, which generate the production of new insight and knowledge. These leaps can be seen as another facet or effect of a "distance" that needs to be overcome, related to the "distance" that the author explores in relation to geography or her own emotional position as a filmmaker. This activation of making connections relates not only to the art pieces embedded in the work, and their mutual relation, but also to the way in which the theoretical frame (e.g. Levinas, Merleau-Ponty) is alluded to and activated.
The artistic practice has great merits (and I think it is a fascinating work) but the exposition’s potential as research would have benefited greatly from more precise grounding in the theory. Since the idea of "place" is central in this work, the author might benefit from reading theory of that precise area, e.g. humanistic geography, for example the work of Edward Relph (his classic Place and Placelessness etc). There are of course many possible avenues available, depending on the author's preference. And as the issues of touch, portrait (face) and landscape come up in a strong way the work of Jean-Luc Nancy (and also his idea of the "immemorial") might be of interest to the author.