Eija-Liisa Ahtila Makes Art With the Attention Span of a Bird

THE DAILY PIC: At Marian Goodman, Eija-Liisa Ahtila gets us to look at the world through animal eyes.

THE DAILY PIC (#1773): This image shows two of the four screens, on the four walls of a room, that make up Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s fascinating Studies on the Ecology of Drama, now on view at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York.

It is impossible to see all four screens at once, so by changing what she projects on each one Ahtila can keep total control over our attention. She pulls us now one way, now another as we try to build a total picture of her piece. And that is precisely the unsteady state Ahtila needs to keep us in, since her piece is all about the unsteady nature of attention, and perception, and how different creatures build different pictures of the world. She dwells for a while on the common swift, a bird that flies at absurd speeds and doesn’t alight for years at a time. Footage of a flying gymnast has him standing as a kind of human surrogate for such a creature—and maybe we viewers do too, as our attention flits bird-like about the room.

Ahtila also considers the lives of butterflies and their caterpillar “parents.” Humans perched on branches in green sleeping bags stand in for those larvae. You feel jealous of their peace as your attention shifts endlessly from screen to screen—like a butterfly? (Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery)

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