Donna M. Roberts
Teemu Kivikangas: The Aleph
2-31 July, 2015
Hippolyte Photographic Gallery
Yrjönkatu 8-10 (Courtyard), 00120 Helsinki
An innovative, interactive installation, that combines gaming technology and the fantastic literary imagination of Jorge Luis Borges to create an aesthetic experience of infinite spatial intrigue.
Kivikangas’ installation is an inventive virtual elaboration of a short story by the Argentine master of fiction, titled The Aleph: a melancholic tale that weaves together the classic Borgesian themes of love, poetry, time and space. Harnessing the spatial effects of gaming technology, Kivikangas – a professional games designer – has created an imaginative impression of the Hispanic colonial mansion of the story, through which the viewer navigates freely via mouse. Four screens reveal different aspects of this evocatively rendered interior which, in the story, houses deep in its basement the mysterious metaphysical point known as ‘The Aleph’: ‘a place where all the places of the world, seen from every angle, coexist’. The fictional punctum of the story is playfully reconstructed through a multi-screen experience that simulates the notion of ‘interactive’ story-telling developed by Argentine writers like Borges and Julio Cortázar. Although we have some control over our view-point, a non-interactive screen scrolls different, slightly unattainable perspectives, introducing a rather sinister David Lynchesque dimension of surveillance. On this aspect of the work the artist commented ‘I was almost surprised how visionary and relevant Borges’ ideas on surveillance, archive, seeing and recording, etc. felt, and thus a highly contemporary medium felt like a good one.’
There is, however, immense pleasure in participating in this installation, not least because the house is beautifully rendered by Kivikangas, its external courtyard perfectly capturing the crepuscular light of the Argentine capital as it glances through palm trees and ornate balustrades. According to Kivikangas ‘the work is patched together from thousands of different photographs’ taken while the artist was resident in Buenos Aires. They are effectively animated here in a space that is both lucid and uncanny. To those familiar with the writer’s work, the installation plays on Borges’ seamless merging of fiction and reality, his creation of labyrinths of space, time and imagination. In The Aleph, Kivikangas interprets the potentials of fiction through the spatial and perceptual potentials of video gaming, which makes for a very absorbing experience, both aesthetically and imaginatively. Through a process akin to single-player video gaming, we are drawn directly into the superbly constructed space, compelled to explore the intricately rendered paintings, prints, and arcane objects such as Egyptian antiquities, astrolabes, and chess boards – a classic Borgesian metaphor for the infinite game of life.
As we manoeuvre through corridors, stairwells, and antechambers we find typed pages from Borges’ story placed on surfaces like clues, telling of enigmatic characters such as the long-dead beauty Beatriz Viterbo who haunts the house in photographs and memorabilia, and who around one corner is wittily evoked by a rendering of Rossetti’s portrait Beata Beatrix. Kivikangas has sharply reproduced Borges’ cabbalistic sense for mystical symbols and the semiotic play of the ‘text of the world’ echoed in tapestries and the gorgeous Moorish patterning of the ceramic tiles that weave together the ‘skin’ of the house as both fiction and spatial reconstruction.
In many ways, Kivikangas’s work is about the processes and pleasures of looking as well as the technical innovations within the history of image construction. There are many delights here for those with an interest in art history and the study of perception. In one room, copies of Aby Warburg’s Mnemosene Atlas are hung next to monochrome photographs (of the mysterious Beatriz?), presenting a mise-en-abyme of the constant relay of images that occurs throughout the recursive history of representation. Renaissance prints of camera obscura are here juxtaposed with old box cameras, a telescope in one room is mirrored by a microscope in another, thereby echoing the Borgesian play between microcosm and macrocosm, the correspondences between the internal and external structures of the world that are as much the subject of science as fiction.
This is an incredibly engaging installation that re-interprets ancient themes through the most contemporary of media, and the cool, calm space of the Hippolyte gallery is a perfect distraction from the streets of Helsinki this summer.
Published in Finland Today