In her new works, Henna Pohjola continues to explore the themes already addressed in her earlier two exhibitions, as Art Centre Salmela´s Young Artist of the Year (2002) and at Galleria Heino. The large-scale mixed-technique drawings executed on plywood board deal with representations of the sexual human body and related gender-specific conventions.
Her works start out with the erotic profiles on Internet dating sites and in soft-core porn magazines. Pohjola says she grew interested in the way people would use openly sexual and revealing images to introduce themselves in the public space that is the Internet. What were the images meant to communicate, and to whom? What is the impression the images are intended to give? Dating sites are about finding a mate, yet character and personal history seem to come in a distant second to images. Besides the Internet, Pohjola also combed magazine racks at department stores, second-hand book stores, pinup calendars and the tabloids for the photographic material in her works. One can imagine pictures of women were in plentiful supply; erotic material depicting men might have been more difficult to come by.
Pohjola´s artistic strategy is the seemingly innocent and candid attitude with which she, as a young woman artist, delves into the worlds of erotic imagery. The draughtsman examines her subject with a fervent, almost clinical curiosity. The drawing hand meticulously charts every single square inch of the male form, its anatomical details and scanty clothing. The contours of the body are emphasized, gradually delineating the absolute male form out of nothingness. The work is finished with acrylic paint and glazed with a protective coat of varnish to resemble an object. The ritual is complete. Ultimately, the young men in the drawings come to reveal much more than merely their naked bodies. The classic treatment aestheticizes and distances the subject; yet is a man drawn and lacquered on plywood, hanging in an art gallery with a smile on his face and his penis at attention, more difficult or just different to approach than the bodies splayed across soft-core porn magazines or the Internet? The works shine a spotlight on the boundaries of private and public presentation, showing and viewing.
Pohjola´s works are typically images which engage in dialogue with countless others, meaning that any interpretation of her work also depends on the contexts to which the audience relates them. The works dredge up an entire cavalcade of art history, starting with renaissance art, the imagery of saints, or Edouard Manet´s Olympia, termed flat in its time. A second strategy of the works is indeed a conscious clash between the Western tradition of art and the modern, constantly evolving uses of images, with surprising consequences. A recent graduate of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, Pohjola in the written section of her thesis says she first seized on some of her visual influences, such as the drawings by Tom of Finland, already in her teens.
One option would be to perceive the works as a critical commentary on the increasingly explicit pornographication of main-stream imagery that objectifies women and men alike. However, it would be equally possible to perceive the works as speaking of the private sexuality of private individuals and the possibility of authentic bodily existence in a culture that simultaneously denies the body and worships it with an obsession.