By Harri Laakso

At the root of an image

To appear as if from nowhere, behind the black curtains, in the wet of the developer – that was the original miracle of photography, and still is. A photograph resembles the stage in East Asian theatre, where much happens in the shadows and in the dark. An image is a storage space, where many a latent figure awaits his turn, many a seed to germinate. The base often remains hidden: A plant’s foundation is its roots, somewhere underground, where light cannot reach. That makes the work of an image resemble that of a plant; bringing previously unreachable things into the light of day.

In the images of Marjukka Vainio the consistency of the artist’s history meets the rootlessness of our own history. Vainio’s ability to master her floral subjects is familiar and has been renowned for many years. In the images the plants are impressive, pure flowery display, or wilting towards death. As a form of consolation we may remember the images of seeds, buds, stems and flowers.

At the same time the images reveal some timeless, immemorial history, from which we remain detached. The plants remain separated from their backgrounds, leaving even the roots rootless, at a distance from the soil. Separation is their home. The images are different from what they represent, and distant, beyond our reach. The distance is both spatial and temporal, and also a distance to the unknown. In the images these detachments are upheld and at the same time they are overcome – as a strike, a caress of petals, a discharge, a potential difference.

If Vainio’s images of roots that resemble the flash of lightning confuse and bewilder us as something paradoxical, it has to do with a contradiction deeply embedded within every image, the concurrence of the worlds above and the worlds below. French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy has written that every image is the “opening of the sky in the earth”. This means nothing sacred nor magical, only that light itself is the agent of separation and that every image opens its own sky and horizon. To experience an image means placing oneself at its root, and from there seeing the sky..

When lightning strikes we start counting seconds, the distance of the thunder. The lightning announces that something else is also about to arrive, that another sense is about to be activated. We wait for an instant, as if under surveillance, under a lens, as man might have felt in antiquity, under the half of a celestial sphere.

Every image gestures in some way that it is an image. An image opens up and offers itself as image. It exposes itself to me, like a plant exposes itself to the weather. Images and flowers have a clandestine bond, an eternal union. Jean-Luc Nancy says this quite bluntly: An image brings distance close to us, to our very skin, à fleur de peau, our touch-sensitive surface. That is the way in which images are intimate from a distance. Like silk on skin.

Image is the force, not the form, by which an image remains separate. An image is discontinuous and heterogeneous, although there is a lot of continuity in our world, and many histories follow us. Image, flower, kimono – each touching and far from home.

The petals of the China rose, like the finest fabrics, fold uniquely in comparison to their neighbour. They have the same intense colour anywhere in the world, and yet are always different. That is the immemorial past of the China rose. Man too has to get accustomed to sharing distant things, often without recognizing what they have in common. And they are no further than each thing in an image always is. Flowers, and perhaps man too, have the capacity to be different in the same way.

What do we do when we are alive, to feel alive, to stay alive? Different traces, signs, gestures: from cave paintings to shopping lists and photograms. Images are like graffiti, or bouquets offered, or the discarded tops, which attest to being, or things passed. Images offer us momentary assurance that things are in order, taken to their limits. In the same way as nature takes things to their limits before our very eyes.

The photographs of Marjukka Vainio are gestures – gallantly carrying the plants. A gesture (gestura) originally referred to posture, how one carried oneself and to being animated. The poise of the plant, the animation of the image, marks only an instant. For things to appear as if from nowhere, nowhere must sometimes be given a turn.