It was in the mid-’90s, when Maija Timonen saw Duane Hanson’s works for the first time.
”That was among my earliest encounters with modern art, and his works have printed on my memory as a great experience.”
Today — more than twenty years later —Timonen has created a live performance that will be acted in dialogue with Hanson’s works. In other words, to be performed in the middle of lifelike, stationary human sculptures at Serpentine gallery 29 August.
Since the beginning of June, Londoners and tourists have wandered to the gallery, in the heart of Hyde Park, to walk around Duane Hanson’s (1925-1996) striking characters showcasing working-class Americans. Such as construction workers, smoking cigarettes, feet dangled over the side of the scaffold. And a middle-aged couple, seated at a table of a café, drinking coke from a glass bottle and eating ice cream from a traditional glass bowl. In one of the corners of the museum, a baby is found in a trash bin.
This is the first time for Maija Timonen to work with actors in a live performance. Her piece will be shown in a dialogue with Hanson’s thought-provoking, frozen characters.
”In a live situation, I don’t have as much control. This sort of surrendering in front of the situation and the performers’ own creativity fascinates me,” says Timonen, renowned for her writing and video works.
In 'The Only Living Boy' — to be seen in Serpentine on Saturday 29th— two women are engaged in a casual dialogue. The topics of their anecdotes seem to echo their surroundings, pointing at some sinister realities hidden in plain sight. As they try to piece together an image of something that took place from increasingly macabre fragments of stories, the women keep ignoring a silent man sharing the space with them. As the repressed begins to return, in physical form, a doubt is introduced as to the sincerity of the women’s efforts to recall.
Subjects and objects keep on changing places throughout the show as the actors’ movements happen in the middle of Hanson’s seized human sculptures.
”When I got invited to do this, it felt meaningful since I realized Hanson’s works speak to themes I am interested as well. Also, building a dialogue between his work and mine was possible,” Timonen says.
She moved to London in 1996, finished her pHD at Slade School Of Art five years ago, and has focused on moving image ever since. In addition to that, experimental fiction is an essential part of her projects.
”I’d say my works are quite researched: I read and process the thoughts for a long time. In a nutshell, I could say I’m interested in feminism, corporality and the way economics impacts on the world as we experience it,” says Timonen, who also works as a professor of artistic research at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki.
The last cinematographic work of the versatile artist, Aune, or On Effective Demise (2013), is an hour-long, experimental film that retells freely a book for girls called ’Aune’, written by Immi Hellén in the end of 17th century. In the book, the main character is under threat to get amputated. In Timonen’s work, she becomes an interpreter for feelings surrounding the austerity politics of today.
Collaboration with Serpentine got started when the gallery’s ’Saturdays Live’ project’s curators contacted Timonen. They had read a description of her forthcoming book ’The Measure of Reality’ that gets published in the end of August by Book Works.
”It looks at different concepts of romance from a slightly tragicomic perspective,” Timonen says.
In Duane Hanson’s works, Timonen is drawn to their special aspect of humanity that faces the lifeless body. The point of view brought thoughts of objectification to her work as well.
”I was also interested in how lightness intertwines with very dark themes in Hanson’s sculptures,” she says.
”This dark dimension is sort of an ’elephant in the room’, an idea from which my live performance begun. What kinds of things do we refuse to pay attention to in our everyday lives?”
Saturdays Live: Maija Timonen
Serpentine Sackler Gallery 29 August at 3pm, 4pm and 5pm
The Measure of Reality (Book Works 2015) at Serpentine bookshops from 29 August
The event is free, but booking is required via firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: the performance will take place at 3pm, 4pm and 5pm. Please specify your preferred time in your booking.