Vilma Pimenoff: "The Dark Collection"

Finnish photographer Vilma Pimenoff explores the psychology of perception through strange, alien figures both fascinating and foreboding. POSI+TIVE chats with her about the method behind the madness.

Edited by Jenna E. Garrett. Photos by Vilma Pimenoff.

In her series “The Dark Collection”, Vilma Pimenoff explores the psychology of perception by presenting ambiguous objects that somehow seem to be alive. The formation of strange, alien figures are both fascinating and foreboding, their undulating and surprising shapes playing upon the mind as well as the eye. The series’ ability to evoke multiple reactions and interpretations target a person’s own psyche, rousing both uncertainty and wonder. POSI+TIVE chats with the artist about the method behind the madness.

You describe your work partially as a reminiscent feeling of childhood and that frightening feeling when in the dark shapeless forms suddenly come to life before our very eyes. As an adult, looking at your imagery re-awakens that sense of something unearthly manifest. What can we learn about how we interpret these unknowns and what it says about ourselves?

The idea of a dark space includes the notion of not being able to see clearly. There is a curious thing that happens the minute we close our eyes or step in a darkened room – we start imagining things. The series investigates visual perception and the complex ways vision is connected with our fears and desires, how images and objects in the real world merge with mental images in our minds, and how seeing alters the thing that is seen and consequently also transforms the seer. With “The Dark Collection” I aim to create a sort of twilight zone that allows us to see things unfixed, in a state of metamorphosis, merging into and out of being, allowing the viewer to look at different ways of existing and feeling in the world.

The idea of visually interpreting emotions and fears seems an incredibly difficult task. We all have an understanding of the word “fear” or “guilt” but creating a physical representation is something else entirely. Can visual art express these abstract concepts as both something unfamiliar and universal without using words?

This is a great question! I recently watched again the documentary of Pina Bausch (the dancer and choreographer), and she says this thing in the film: “There are situations that leave you utterly speechless. All you can do is hint at things…”  She talks about the possibility to express the intangible through dance. As I understand it, some experiences are just impossible to name and clearly identify, but instead of trying to figure out what something is, we can more easily describe how something is, and how it feels like, and come to understand the intangible through our senses rather than rational.

I find that analogy between emotion and abstract form seems to be a valid strategy in art forms such as dance or sculpture, but when it comes to our friend photography, somehow things get more complicated. I think this might have something to do with the indexical nature or our medium, the fact that photography still holds this ‘truthfulness’ in it. However, I do think that there is an extra something interesting in photography especially because of it’s heavy baggage of indexicality. It is quite thrilling how by photographing things I can make them look like other things – by lighting the object in a certain way or choosing a fixed angle. The point here is that the effect of mystery in my work would not be the same if my medium would be say painting instead of photography. The ‘realness’ that photographic medium conveys is vital to my images to work in the slightly uncanny way that I wish them to.

It could be said that Man is often afraid of what it does not understand or recognize. Does the notion of the uncanny only play into our xenophobia as a species or is there more to our nightmare?

 I find it interesting the way the ‘uncanny/intangible’ has a duality of being both fascinating and slightly frightening at the same time. This leads me to think are we actually fascinated by the fright itself? Why do we like the things we like?

I see the strange and uncanny as a possibility to learn about ourselves.  Recognizing something familiar in the unknown pokes out things that are important to us, but for some reason remain repressed in the unconscious. I would like to think that, despite its angst driven reputation, the unconscious could also be thought of something of a source, energy that feeds creativity and enables self – expression.

Vilma Pimenoff’s work has been chosen for the FreshFaced + Wild Eyed Exhibition 2012. “The Dark Collection” will be shown at The Photographer’s Gallery 15 – 30 September in London.

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