Mäki – Photography
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|HOW TO BE A WOMAN OR A MAN?
|How to Be a Woman
or a Man? (2003–) is a photo series
where I portray women and men of different ages,
convictions and professions.
In the series I try to make visible the internal
and external struggle people go through when
they try to live with the male and female gender
roles our culture has produced. Some of us just
try to fit to the expectations, some try to
modify the given roles and some directly rebel
against them. My premiss is that these roles
have very little to do with biology and thus
what I'm investigating is a cultural, social,
political and philosophical struggle for
identities and empowerment. Gender roles are
products of culture and that's potentially both
an oppressive and emancipatory fact.
The oppressing side is that as gender roles are
created and defined in by social and political
forces, they can be – and usually are – as
unequal, as unfair as any other structure in
society. A stereotypical gender role in this
sense is almost automatically a prison, that
restricts a person's personality and/or enables
him/her to restrict other peoples personalities.
The benign and emancipatory side of the same
thing is that a person is not at the mercy of
his/her biological or cultural gender, one is
not "born to become a man (or a woman)", but can
instead understand that his/her gender identity
was and continually is formed by culture and
s/he can and should take the steering wheel in
this process – to be an active subject, not a
printout of cultural prejudice.
The other main theme in the series is mortality.
For us humans, sexuality is a gift from
mortality. In the spirit of Georges Bataille
I’d put it like this: Only discontinuous beings,
like us, who don’t procreate by splitting or
multiplying themselves, only we have need and
use for sexuality. And it’s only our kind of
beings who have this double relationship with
death. We don’t want to die, at least we tend to
try to postpone it, and yet without death we
would not be and would not have the kind of
passions we have.
The photographs are extremely detailed, as I've
shot them usually with a large format camera,
using 10 x 12,5 cm slide positive film. The
exhibition prints are usually of the size 160 x
128 cm or 100 x 80 cm, either dipped in
plexiglass (Diasec) or mounted on aluminium with
traditional wooden framing.
At the moment there are about 50 works in the
series, but as some of them are diptychs,
triptychs or quartets, all in all there are now
about 80 pictures in the series. The number of
people photographed for these works is now 64.
As the big format camera requires the models to
sit or stand as still as possible, the end
results in a way are quite similar to
traditional portrait painting. The poses, props,
somewhat allegorical compositions and monochrome
color backgrounds that I've used in many
pictures also relate and refer to painting,
which was my first artistic discipline. On the
other hand this long series of fully lit and
super-detailed photographs equally belong to the
tradition of documentary and topological
I've been exhibiting parts of this series in
solo and group shows in museums and galleries in
Finland and abroad since 2004, for example in Photographic
Gallery Hippolyte (Miten olla mies tai
nainen?, Helsinki, 8.2.–3.3.2013), then in Kunstihoone
(Kuidas olla mees või naine?, 7.8.–31.8.2014)
(Who Are You?, Vaasa, Finland, 13.2.–24.5.2015).
I've written a 50 pages long
photo series and its
themes, in Finnish:
tai nainen ja
I'm not at the
moment willing to
as I'm saving
it for my next
it has been
An overview from
Photographic Gallery Hippolyte, Helsinki,
A view from my exhibition Kuidas olla mees või
/ How to Be a Woman or a Man? in
Kunstihoone, Tallinn, Estonia, 2014.
With the central panel of
The Kiss – Portrait of
Katariina Katla and Anna-Liisa Kankaanmäki
in Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art (Vaasa, Finland, 2015).
June 2003 I did a photography workshop, BE YOUR ENEMY,
for children and teenagers in eastern
Helsinki. It was funded and organized by
KIASMA (Contemporary Art Museum) as a part
of their subURB festival of urban culture.
In the workshop I the task for each
participant was to make a self-portrait in
three photographs, in other words, a
triptych. In the first photo one was to pose
as one's idol. In the second photo one
was just to be and reveal
unpretentiously the mundane normal self. In
the third photo one was to pose as one's
enemy. I helped and guided and a team of
three pros (a photographer, a make-up and
wig specialist and a costumer) helped each
participant to fulfill his/her visions. In
the end I myself did the assignment too.
Over forty triptychs have been
made in the Be Your Enemy workshops
that I've conducted with art historian /
Elovirta since 2003.
Kuntsin Modernin Taiteen museon
tiedote BE YOUR ENEMY
-näyttelystä helmikuussa 2015:
tuloksista innostuneena Mäki ja Elovirta
järjestivät neljä työpajaa lisää vuosina
2003–2005 Suomessa ja Venäjällä. Työpajojen
tuloksista koottu laaja näyttely on ollut
esillä kahdeksassa taidemuseossa Venäjällä
(Pietari, Moskova, Novosibirsk, Petroskoi,
Arkangeli, Murmansk) ja Suomessa (Vantaa,
Tampere). Kuntsin modernin taiteen museossa
kuvat tulevat esille laajempana valikoimana
kuin koskaan aiemmin.
Teoksissa näkyy miten
erilaisia käsityksiä meillä on moraalista,
politiikasta ja siitä, mitä on hyvä elämä.
Roolileikin varjolla kuvien tekijät saivat
mahdollisuuden olla tavallista rehellisempiä
ja uskaliaampia ja kertoa avoimesti mistä
unelmoivat ja mitä pelkäävät, keitä he
unelmissaan ovat ja keitä painajaisissaan.
Yleisöllä on sama mahdollisuus, sillä kun
näkee muiden ihanne- ja inhokkiminäkuvia,
innostuu ehkä pohtimaan myös omiaan.
-sarja alkoi Kiasman järjestämästä lasten
ja nuorten valokuvatyöpajasta vuonna 2003.
Lapset ja nuoret tekivät siinä
kolmiosaisia omakuvia Mäen ja Arja
Elovirran ohjauksessa. Kolmiosaisissa
omakuvatriptyykeissä tekijän ihanneminä on
aina vasemmalla, arkiminä keskellä ja
painajaisminä (tai vihollinen tai inhokki)
Näyttelyn aikana Vaasassa järjestetään myös
uusi Be Your Enemy -työpaja, jossa syntyvät
teokset ovat esillä Vaasan Taidehallissa
Saara Luoto's Be Your Enemy
-triptych; her self-portrait as her idol (farmer), as
her normal self and as her nightmare self (school
Testing Your Ideals and Identity
IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE
A work in progress (2000–). Photo
diptychs about how everything is relative.
(In These Pictures the Artist
Teemu Mäki Personifying the Divine
Purposes of Life)
|Photographs, texts, a
mirror, 1995–1997, overall size 400 x 400 cm.
On text panel on in the pile of photocopies: THE SACRED
DISHWATER, which has been translated
to Finnish, Russian, Bulgarian, German, Danish
and Italian. The theme is another biblical
task: "Name your essential roles – or modes of
being – the ones you can't deny or escape.
Learn to embrace them, to the extent that you
can call them divine."
The pictures are titled:
Self-portrait as Bataille's eroticism.
Self-portrait as a culturally male.
Self-portrait as a culturally female. Femme
Self-portrait asan artist. Photographing my
dead grandmother (father's mother) on the day
of her burial.
Self-portrait asyou. The mirror.
Self-portrait as a procreator of life. Helping
my wife to give birth to our daughter.
Self-portrait as a devourer of life. Meat my
Self-portrait as a rational verbalizer. The
A multipartite work in progress since 1988,
photographs, texts and a mirror.
An early overview of This Is My Family,
a part of Death
At Work, Museum of Photography, Helsinki,
Finland, 1994, 165 x 1000 cm
Excerpts from This Is My Family
and from other chapters of Death At Work. Click on the images
to see the larger versions:
AT WORK is a multipartite work, not
a series. I wrote about its construction
principle in 1994:
of my photos are multipartite works and
consist not only of photos but also of
texts. I have meant the texts and images to
be of equal value. The texts are inside
the works, they are not press releases,
background info or introductions to the
"actual" works, the pictures. Neither are
the images illustrations of the texts,
instead, the content of the work is meant to
be built from the collision of images and
Multipartite work is not a series, series being a very
common concept in the tradition of
photography. A series usually consists
of a set of variations on a theme.
Typical names of serieses in photography are
titles like Irish
landscapes, or Prostitutes of St. Petersburg.
From a serial work you can pick an extract
and it can stand on its own, even though it
is thought that the full meaning of that
extract only becomes visible when the whole
series is shown. I have not made serial
works at all, instead I have made
multipartite works, that rely completely on
the idea of montage,
on the idea that a collision of pictures
produce a meaning that can be far removed
from the meaning that any isolated picture
could have. That's why you can not show
extracts from a multipartite work."
There are approximately 70
pictures in the whole work, at the moment.
About 75% of the pictures in this work are
black and white photographs, most of
them 40 x 30 centimeters each (with
passe-partout and frame 73,5 x 56,5
cm). They are printed on fiber-based Ilford
Multigrade 1k photographic paper and treated
with selenium toner for maximum archival
quality. The color photographs are usually
sized 73 x 56 centimeters each (with frame
73,5 x 56,5 cm). They are cibachrome prints.
As the work is so large, it has never been
exhibited in its entirety, even though it's
meant to be an undivided whole. The
compromise I've made has been exhibiting
extensive "chapters" of it, the most
frequently shown chapter has been This Is My
photo and a text. Occasionally exhibited
with an audio CD of music, Ein Tod Folgt dem Andern,
thus forming a triptych. The size of the
photo and text panel is 40 x 30 cm (74 x 57
including the frame. My atheist/relativist
version of the Ten Commandments of the New
Testament. I only came up with nine anyway.
This piece was central to my early work: its
photo and/or text popped up again and again
in various installations, performances,
musics, videos and multidisciplinary pieces.
EIN TOD FOLGT DEM ANDERN
A piece of music by Teemu Mäki and Max
(6'30, included in the double CD: Max
Savikangas – Extraterrestial, UUCD102, 2003)
The lyrics of the music are a modified version
of Christmas Never Comes:
"A death follows another death. Christmas
The presents have already been given.
Everything you can own is inside your skull.
Know your enemy from your friends:
You don't need any thing that you don't
You are not dying of hunger, so how meaningful
your life is to you
depends, not on what you do but on what you
Consumerism's comfort doesn't make you come
but says instead:
"Don't worry, be fatty, you're not ill, you
just need a sleeping pill!"
Christmas is a celebration and promise of
eternal life and happiness...
...but only mortality gives us the possibility
to project personal purpose
and meaning onto our lives in a meaningless
And to be alive is to be in pain.
Death at work