Kunstsi Showcases Jensen’s Refined Aesthetics
Anita Jensen’s solo exhibition; Kohtalokas kauneus / Beauty of Tragic elegance / Den Förgängliga skönheten / 物の哀れ
at Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art 4.2. – 23.4.2017
The works of Helsinki-based artist Anita Jensen (b. 1957) unites elements from two cultural spheres: the Western and the Japanese. The result is a confident artistic style that clearly gives precedence for horizontal seriality.
The themes contained in the works – metamorphosis, sensuality, naturalness, elegance, exuberance and vanitas – have been polished into an elegant aesthetic.
The exhibition at Kuntsi features recent examples from Jensen’s body of work, which extends back several decades.
Even without any knowledge of Japanese aesthetics, it is clear to the viewer that Jensen’s style represents a fascinating combination of two polar opposites. On one hand, the beauty of Jensen’s works is taken to extremes, embodied in an extraordinary precision and consummate technical and artistic mastery.
On the other hand, her images, in all their beauty, are disturbing, grotesque medical expositions of illness in visual form.
In Western philosophy, such a combination of horror and beauty has been referred to as Unheimlich, a term borrowed from psychoanalysis and Sigmund Freud’s Das Unheimliche.
It is precisely through horror that Jensen’s suite On the Evolution of Emotions (2008–2014) challenges the viewer’s notions of beauty.
Jensen has also mastered the depth in her images, although the eye is primarily drawn to the paper scrolls and the continuum of images, as in The Scrolls of Time (2017). But there is more to these pictures than the surface.
The series The Collection of Madama Butterfly (2016) is a superb example of what wealth of depth can be included in a picture beyond the primary surface.
The series is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera (1904), which in turn is derived from Pierre Loti’s novel about a game involving butterflies, Madame Chrysanthème (1887).
Jensen has turned the gender roles upside down, depicting the male actor as the butterfly wife.
Behind the images is a story that flows in time and is transformed into a contemporary interpretation. Yet, the series can be appreciated without any awareness of its background at all: Jensen’s ability to fill her images with content derives from her knowledge and vision.
That is the mark of a true artist.
Extreme efflorescence – flowers in full bloom in all their exuberance – is also a reminder of the wilting that inevitably follows nearly the very moment the climax is reached.
Folded into accordions, the picture series insist that the viewer slow down, examine each picture separately, turn back and look again.
Jensen’s art can also be seen as a welcome counterbalance to the present overflow of digital images, a turning towards a different being of the image.
To take an example: the mirror in Western art is a theme that is also an attribute of luxury (consider the historical mirror tax), truth, sensuality and vanity.
In Jensen’s art, the mirror is turned to face the viewer; the sensuality of her pictures invite dialogue. Jensen’s virtuoso technique causes materials to shine and creates contrasts both with the documentary material and with the opposites selected by the artist.
For connoisseurs of Japanese culture and aesthetics, the exhibition presents a grand vista. Yet, the images do not make demands on the viewer: they are just as refined and aesthetic even without special expertise.
During her long career as an artist, printmaker and photographer, Jensen has also worked as a teacher. When you know how, you can also teach others.
MAARIA NIEMI Pohjalainen, 9.4.2017