MARJA PIRILÄIn Strindberg's Rooms
It was an experiment from the beginning. To live and photograph for six months in the dark. To invite the light in. Holes and lenses in the darkened windows. The world upside down, camera obscura. To be exposed to light and reflections. To photograph with a camera inside a camera. Where the light falls, there is the reflection: on notebooks, books, slips of paper, skin, clothes, furniture, ceiling, walls, floor, me. The motion of light. Light notes.
The series In Strindberg’s Rooms was created in 2015 in an artist residence in France, the birthplace of photography. The purpose of my trip was to make new camera obscura experiments inspired by the words of Louis Kahn (1901-1974): "It is good to return to the roots of the phenomenon, because it is a magnificent moment of all phenomena; there you will find the possibilities and the spirit of the phenomenon and also the inspiration for the upcoming tasks.”The writers’ residence in Hôtel Chevillon, the village of Grez-sur-Loing, became the test laboratory for light and photography. Converted into camera obscura, my rooms were like eyes and their walls like retinas on which the same landscape would reflect: the small village street and silhouette in upside down reflections in the changing light from one day to another. The lens holes in the windows were an interface between the inside and outside worlds, just like the lenses in my eyes are the interface between me and the world. With that interface and light, the reflections of the outside world became part of the room, just like the world becomes part of me.
One day I was told that August Strindberg (1849-1912) had lived in the same apartment in the 1880s. For me, Strindberg had always been more a pioneer of early photography than one of the most prominent and controversial authors in Sweden. The thought of him having worked in the same building inspired my work throughout my stay in the residence. Taking photos alone in the dark, I would think of all the writers and artists that had influenced me during the years: Tranströmer, Pessoa, Magritte and many others.
Strindberg’s experiments with self-made cameras with or without lenses of even without a camera had fascinated me a long time ago when I first started to use pinhole cameras. They led me to the camera obscura method in the 1990s. In my exhibition, the work Wunderkamera/Camera Obscura, built with Petri Nuutinen into a large oak wardrobe, was named after the camera Strindberg had constructed for himself. It visualises the simple but magical phenomenon: camera obscura. Strindberg realised that "our image of the world is but an optical illusion". Therefore my exhibition is a tribute to camera obscura and light.
Photographic artist Marja Pirilä (b. 1957 in Rovaniemi, Finland) has been specialising in the camera obscura technique since the 1990s and introduced it in Finnish contemporary art. Pirilä graduated as a photographer from the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 1986, and the same year, a biologist (M.Sc.) from the University of Helsinki. Her works have been shown in various exhibitions in Europe, the Americas and Asia, and she has many works in several significant public and private collections. She was awarded the State Prize for Photographic Art in 2000, and Carried by Light, a retrospective photography book was published about her work in 2014. In Strindberg’s Rooms was first shown in Serlachius Art Museum Gösta (30.9.2017-21.1.2018).