It is snowing.
I eat paper.
I am wearing a green shirt, as a small child.
There are father’s shoes.
Where is my mother? There is my mother.
I want another one, mother. I want another film.
Look, the baby is sleeping in father and mother’s bed!
What is this room? It is not our kitchen.
What is that room?
Hey, why is that furniture covered?
A Christmas tree. I collected it with father.
Who made it?
Now, the baby is sleeping in my bed.
Mother, can you put another film on? Please.
That text was saved on 19.8.2010, when Elias was just under four years old. The video was already almost finished at that point, and Elias saw when I was testing it on the television screen. He was generally used to watching children’s programmes on television, and, of course, compared to them, mum’s art video was boring – in the text, too, he asks me over and over again to: “put another film on.” Elias, nevertheless, watched to the end of the work and commented on it totally spontaneously. In terms of my future work the comments seem important, because you hear the protagonist’s own voice in them. What does a child experience when looking at his own picture on video? At least one thing that catches our attention is that, sometimes, he talks about himself in the first and, sometimes, the third person. I do the same myself when I use my own picture in works: sometimes, I am me, sometimes, a character.
OUTSIDE THE WINDOW IT IS SUMMER
Many of the texts written by viewers echo the structure of Two rooms and a kitchen: returning to the window at regular intervals. A good example of this is what the Finnish performance artist Pilvi Porkola wrote:
A window with snow falling outside
A view into a kitchen, water-green cupboards, white chairs
A baby sleeps, sucks its thumb, opens its eyes
And closes them again
The window with snow falling outside appears again
The baby is on its stomach on the floor,
Trying to reach a melodic rocking doll
The baby is on its stomach,
Playing with greaseproof paper, trying to eat it
The window with snow falling outside appears again
The baby gets up to stand leaning against the kitchen cabinet
The baby sits in a feeding chair, the baby sits under the table,
The baby eats an electric wire
Outside the window it is summer
The original text is a little longer, but I wanted to end it with the word “summer”, since it is a surprising turn as the listener has already become accustomed to endless winter. Equally surprizing, of course, is when summer suddenly arrives in Two rooms and a kitchen. This happens at a point at which the complete plumbing replacement is going on in the apartment. The open bedroom window is covered in plaster dust, and behind it some green trees can be seen. It had not occurred to me that there was anything odd about this, since the majority of the apartment interiors had been shot in the summer – it just happened that no windows were visible in them. Added to that, to my mind, the winter shots occupied a different timeline from the interiors – snowfall represented the present, other images the past. Nevertheless, many viewers have found the green trees confusing. Further bafflement has been caused by the way that, after the plumbing renovation, nothing appears to have changed in the apartment. This made the Dane Ellen Friis – whose idea of the window as an hourglass I referred to earlier – interpret the renovation as a flashback. Friis’s complete text goes like this:
The window is like a clock
But it’s a clock which doesn’t show progress in time
It is an hour glass
Sleep is like the window
It’s a moment of rest before the next step
The interior of the apartment is a classical frame for development and growth
Flashback to the creation of the frame, when the apartment was redone and painted
This is the film’s meta-level
Viewers’ interpretations of the work’s temporal dimensions demonstrate that film time is by no means a simple matter. For example, no editing devices have been used in the renovation scene that differ from those in the rest of the video, and yet time ‘changed direction’ in Friis’s mind. As regards the winter window, I well understand that the viewer does not necessarily experience it in the same way as I do, who sees the landscape outside the window when sitting at my worktable. The snow falling on the other side of the window was, thus, the present moment at least in my working process when I edited the video in the late winter of 2010. To the outside viewer the idea of two time levels is perhaps too complicated a construct, or it should have been brought out more clearly.
The audience’s confusion during the renovation sequence had me pondering the true nature of the plumbing replacement, ‘philosophizing’ at its expense, inspired by Bachelard. Compared with conventional repair or painting work, a complete piping replacement is like a massive surgical operation. It is not applied to the building’s surface, but to its structures, its ‘interior organs’. The skin of the kitchen and bathroom are opened up and the corroded pipes exposed. After the operation, the wound is sewn up, and no change is necessarily visible from the outside. For the person living in the apartment the experience can, nevertheless, be a gruelling, even a traumatic one. It is shocking to see your home like a bomb has hit it. This made me think of the history and future of this building built in the 1920s. The renovation thus opened up a new viewpoint on the space, and that is why it seemed important to include it in the video, too.
Even if the viewers’ texts have a lot in common with each other, their scale or perspective varies. Where in Pilvi Porkola’s text we are sitting with the child under the table, the writer of the following text – whose name I do not know – seems to observe things from somewhere far away, from another country, and even from another century:
What did I see?
An ideal home, very clean
A privileged human nest in Finland in the early 21st century
IKEA is everywhere
The global viewpoint is accentuated by the assertion “IKEA is everywhere”. Like Sidsel Pape, the writer also notes the tidiness of the apartment. This is something that recurs in many of the other writings, too, and it clearly evoked conflicting feelings. It made the Belgian architect Thierry Lagrange doubt the veracity of the video, and even his own senses:
I saw clean rooms and a kitchen. The floor reflected the furniture. There was no dust. Was it real?
I heard what I saw. Did I hear right? I heard my own kids touching, finding, being confronted with what they see and hear.
The snow brought in silence. Was it real? There was no dust in the sound.
In all honesty, I have to say that our home is not quite as tidy as the video would have people believe. When filming, I have a habit of ‘styling’ the reality in front of the camera, of arranging it according to the classical rules of composition. Another reason for the impression of cleanliness is that dust, finger marks and other signs of life simply do not show up in a relatively low-resolution video image – especially in an extreme long shot. And most of the images in Two rooms and a kitchen are such broad, tableau-like views. The framing of the shot, for its part, emphasizes the theme of space. The child is seen from a distance, as part of the room space, sometimes even behind a piece of furniture. He frequently also has his back to the camera, which seems to make him abstract, less of an individual and more of an image of a human being.