What exactly happened in that one scene?

Two years ago, at the Pori Film Festival, the audience gawped in a bewitched daze at Anna Eriksson’s debut film M. After the screening, the scriptwriter/director/lead actor/sound designer/editor – whose raw on-screen presence was unsettling in its utter bareness – took part in a Q&A session. “What exactly happened in that one scene?” asked a young member of the audience.
   The same dumbfounding quality is also inescapable Eriksson’s new exhibition on show at Rauma Art Museum. Eriksson hails from a small village called Ihode south of Rauma, and she currently resides nearby in the town of Uusikaupunki. What makes this exhibition masterminded by Chief Curator Heta Kaisto so unusual is Eriksson’s status as a complete newcomer to contemporary art. This show marks the artistic debut of a spellbinding director previously better known as a musician. It is gratifying to witness the evolution of an artist who has chosen to abandon popular success in favour of the more challenging domain of contemporary art, as opposed to vice versa.
  The walls of the museum are bathed in the nocturnal light of video projectors. The hang is technically immaculate: instead of being projected on flat screens, the images are displayed on the gallery’s walls, defying obstacles such as corners. The videos are accompanied by photographs and brief, screeching loops displayed on individual monitors. The images tie in with the content of M and its Marilyn Monroe-inspired lead character, which is played by Eriksson herself.
  The scene that provoked bewilderment at the Pori screening is featured in the Rauma exhibition in the form of an edited, autonomous installation displayed inside a black cube. Splayed on the wall is a close-up of skin and pubic hair. A pair of metal tongs appear and begin tugging at a bloody clump of flesh between folds of skin.
  Marilyn Monroe apparently suffered many miscarriages and abortions. The miscarriage I endured many years ago was altogether different (as they presumably all are), but upon viewing Eriksson’s video, I felt that she had captured one of the most extreme experiences of my life. The very fact that I recognized what was going on in this gory scene seemed strangely healing. 
The iconography Eriksson foists upon the viewer might be too much for some, but this has nothing to do with immorality – what makes her images difficult to stomach is the mercilessness with which the artist punishes herself. The content is so brutal that were she directing anyone other than herself, it would probably smack of abuse of the director’s power.
   Eriksson’s M - The Rituals of a Lonely Bitch is an extremely intense creation weaving together the themes of authorship, womanhood and “Marilyn-ness”. The memorable feature of Eriksson’s art lies in how it portrays women with no interest whatsoever in pleasing anyone.
 Eriksson’s Mediterranean gardens are reminiscent of Sandro Botticelli’s renaissance painting Allegory of Spring, which portrays round-bellied graces dancing in a bucolic landscape, the sweetness of the scene blemished only by the darkness of the trees and the figure of Zephyrus looming between the branches. In Eriksson’s video, the fecund deities are replaced by a super-lean, sinewy nude who haunts the dark gardens along with a multiplied army of pale, mechanically jerking mannequins. In Eriksson’s Paradise, Eve bites the apple and then the serpent – and takes control.
In the words of Eriksson’s Untitled Ritual # 9: “I’m getting the fuck out. I’m tired of being the preserver of life. I’m tired of loving, of giving. Tired of understanding.”
Imagine if Marilyn Monroe had tried her hand at experimental contemporary art. Perhaps it might have saved her life.

Tuuli Penttinen-Lampisuo / An art critic / Art Magazine, Taide lehti


“M” stands for emancipation

The Finnish Museum of Photography is currently featuring Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn. How many women – or men – have at some point imagined they knew who Marilyn Monroe truly was? Kirkland’s portraits for Look magazine display the famous star wearing nothing but a sheet – and perhaps a few drops of Chanel No.5.

Now, however, we are not in Helsinki, but at Rauma Art Museum, which is hosting Anna Eriksson’s exhibition The Rituals of a Lonely Bitch. Outside literature nobody prior to Eriksson has dared to peer behind the iconic mask, the glossy red lips and the powderpuff pastiches replicated ad nauseam by pop media, nobody has dared to delve into the murky depths of the subconscious to ponder exactly what imprint all the hype and publicity around the legend of Marylin has ultimately left in our culture. Because objects of desire, just like beautiful women, are rarely what they appear to be.

Back when I described the release of Rauma-born Eriksson’s internationally acclaimed debut film M as the cultural highlight of 2018, I noted how the film added a wholly new Monroe to the existing spectrum of syrupy fan fantasies and portrayals of a sweetly vulnerable actress dedicated to her art – Eriksson gives us a modern, emancipated Monroe: a hard-edged character who refuses to be subjugated yet who is irresistibly powerful in her heightened awareness of her own corporeality. M confused, cajoled, and challenged us into totally rethinking Marylin. Eriksson peeled away the tragic veils until she exposed a dominatrix who outright violently subjugates the viewer.

The film and accompanying book are autonomous artworks, and the Rauma exhibition now marks the continuation of the same theme in a series of works combining visual and audio material. The images are by Matti Pyykkö, with curation by Heta Kaisto, Chief Curator at Rauma Art Museum.

The sombre-toned exhibition architecture heightens the uncanny content of this complex, multidimensional art experience. First the viewer enters a black cube. Behind the curtain unfolds the image of a spanner digging a fleshy clump inside a bleeding vulva. With a hypnotic soundtrack playing in the background, the vulva invokes a sighing mouth – not unlike that of the former screen icon, the innocent in the white dress. Viewers who recover from this initial shock are invited to go on and experience further encounters with Eriksson’s video projections and photographs.

The viewer’s gaze is drawn like a magnet to the image of a perfect but difficult figure of femininity. In place of a white dress stands a sculpturesque nude, resplendent in the whiteness of its glistening plastic flesh, placed on display before us like an object. M is shown nude, crouching, a mechanical mannikin that is replicated in a cavalcade of headless sculptures in a moonlit garden. She teeters on high heels as she polishes a motorbike, simultaneously loved and punished by her creator as she drapes herself across the shiny metal vehicle.

Reduced from being a woman to the mere letter “M”, the figure contorts herself from one impossible pose to the next, tantalizingly available like the forbidden fruit, but with dubious ambiguity. “I can do whatever I want with her,” states the artist, describing her relationship with the woman she consciously reduces to being a toy, just as contemporary society does to the natural world.

Towering in glamourous Louboutin pumps, this deity with bulging calf muscles prowls among the lush foliage of an overgrown garden, her name reduced to a mere symbol, M. She is an old soul trapped in the body of a self-absorbed bitch who expresses her disgusted weariness with it all, with people who care nothing about her paradise – and perhaps also weariness with her own fetishes, her compulsive rituals.

The video installation Untitled Ritual #3 features double exposures and an ear-splitting, metallic soundscape reminiscent of Lynch. This is the only work that suggests the presence of an outside menace – a faint flicker of fear crosses the woman’s eyes. If David Lynch had made a movie about the Hollywood legend as he originally planned, would his Marilyn have looked like Eriksson’s? But Marilyn is gone, and Lynch is not Eriksson, whose take on Monroe is fresh and original – all that remains of the idol is a dream-factory shell and the signature platinum blonde coiffure.

Reinventing an icon was a bold and stirring move from Eriksson, and its impact only gathers momentum from one version to the next. What I see in Rauma is an exhibition about the life of an immortal bitch, whose name “M” stands for emancipation It is impossible to imagine a cliché-stripped myth escaping any further from the dream factory, but here it transpires. Through Eriksson’s creations, M is reborn in a new role; as someone real, as nobody. As someone free.

Kati Heljakka / An art critic / Satakunnan Kansa