A Video Carries Hot New Yorkers to Cool Finland

THE DAILY PIC: A video at Scandinavia House by Ahtila is (almost) as good as a plane ticket.

THE DAILY PIC (#1596): What could be better, on a hot summer’s day in midtown Manhattan, than to be transported to a cool autumn day in the woods in Finland? That’s what happens when you take in the video called Horizontal, by the wonderful Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila, that is now on display in a group show called “Another North: Landscape Reimagined” at Scandinavia House in New York.

The piece is nothing more than a few minutes of unmanipulated footage of a giant spruce tree, as it blows in the wind on a clear day. It’s not just that the subject of the piece is autumnal and outdoorsy, although that certainly accounts for part of its effect. I think the sense of being carried away from New York, today, also depends on the particular way the work was shot. Rather than using one camera with a hugely wide-angle lens, Ahtila has assembled six different shots of the tree, taken from a scissors lift that moved to six different positions up its trunk. The psychologist Michael Kubovy has argued that when the brain takes in a realistic image, whether photographic or drawn with perspective, we get a strong (if unconscious) sense of being transported to the spot its subject was originally seen from.

In the case of Leonardo’s Last Supper, as Kubovy argues, the perspective carries us high up into the middle of the room on whose wall it sits, leaving us with an almost physical sense of lofty transcendence. With Ahtila and her multiple viewpoints onto the spruce, we seem to float, unanchored, in the air in front of it, passing up and down its trunk like the wind that rustles its branches. By showing it horizontally, she further frees us from gravity’s normal pull.

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