Artist Pilvi Takala: “It’s necessary to reconsider unwritten rules”

Artist Pilvi Takala: “It’s necessary to reconsider unwritten rules”

Artist Pilvi Takala’s first solo exhibition in Ireland opens in Dublin on 19th July. In this interview she tells about her interest in communities, her works and her expectations for the exhibition. 


Why are you interested in communities and their unwritten rules? 

“It’s something that’s always present. How do we treat each other on a societal level and in our everyday lives? Nobody can escape this topic. I think it’s necessary to regularly reconsider unwritten rules.”


How have your working methods developed over the years?

“I have always been interested in social behaviour and I have been making videos based on social interventions that I enact for the majority of my practice. At the centre of my method is the use of my own body as a research tool. 

The starting point for this way of working was a piece called Event on Garnethill. In 2003 whilst studying in Glasgow I dressed up in a local school uniform and headed to the street where pupils of this school hung around. I wanted to observe how a visual change, such as me adopting the uniform, changes the environment around it. This became a book based on my notes.

My research methods have remained mostly the same over the duration of my practice, but the means I use to make the videos have to adapt to what the situation both needs and permits. I have worked with candid camera and other forms of covert recording, initially as material for the final piece itself, but these days more so as research material which tends to form the basis of a reenacted film.”  


Have you found similarities between the communities? 

“Researching communities includes always something universal. Even if some of the works are based in contexts that feel very different from our own, they often make us think of our own behaviour too.

I don’t try to distance myself from the communities that I work in or present them as something ‘other’, because whatever phenomena you focus on is rarely limited to that environment and in fact usually has something to tell us about society at large. 

Rules are never completely finished. In addition, rules can cause feelings of security and anxiety at the same time. I have researched for example a boarding school’s teacher’s life.  It was a very close-knit community, where everyone observed each others’ actions. On the one hand it is kind of comfortable, because you are never alone, but on the other hand it can be distressing, if you constantly have to consider if your actions are accepted in the community.”


This is your first solo exhibition in Ireland. What kind of reception do you expect?

“I am visible in the work, so people often recognise me outside of the exhibition space and come to talk to me. They tell me about their own experiences, awkward situations and odd behaviours. It’s fun.” 

What is The Stroker, the main piece of your Ireland exhibition, about?

“In addition to approaching the unwritten rules of this type of community (a coworking, startup space), The Stroker deals with situations where issues are expressed without words, through bodily reactions and movements. Focusing on this ‘physical negotiation’ in this work is a new angle for me. I also adopted a very active role in this process, so it has been more challenging than before but also more rewarding.

My aim is always to challenge some kind of boundary, but in this case where I am making physical contact with people, even if only lightly touching them in passing, it’s important not to be too aggressive. I had to swiftly evaluate how comfortable someone is with being touched. Through repeating this ‘approach’ action I was able to fine tune the method and, for example, reach out to someone whilst not fully stepping towards them, allowing them the space to avoid the interaction if they wanted to. The intention was always to confront with subtlety, and allow just enough awkwardness to make it interesting.”


Text: Jenni Ahtiainen 

Photo: Pilvi Takala, The Stroker, 2018, video installation, courtesy of Carlos/Ishikawa


Pilvi Takala, 19/7-7/9, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, 5–9 Temple Bar, Dublin 2, free admission.


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