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The truth is out there Mari Laaniste text (2006-03-01)

The truth is out there Mari Laaniste text 2006-03-01

Assesment on gradual work in Akademy of Fine Arts, Helsinki

The final work project of the graduand consisted of:
* a solo exhibition titled “The Truth is Out There” in Vaal gallery, Tallinn 1.-12. Nov. 2005.
* a painting titled “Kill Your Darlings I” presented at the spring exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts, in Helsinkin Taidehalli, 19. May – 11. June 2006.

The report

It is fair enough to say that Maarit Murka is already an accomplished painter. Her works demonstrate a great deal of skill, confidence and ease. She also has a unique and clever manner of expressing herself through reinterpreting the visual clichés of modern mass media.

Murka’s experiments with the “trendy”-looking photorealistic painting style began while she was still studying in the Estonian Academy of Arts. Over the years, this prolific painter has managed to develop that approach into a distinctive, personal means of expression. Although the most obviously striking feature of her works tends to be their sleek and highly marketable photo-realistic look, Murka’s true interests and ambitions reach far deeper from that glossy surface. On closer inspection, none of her paintings are actually true to the photorealistic genre. Despite maintaining the “coldness” of the classic photorealistic approach, Murka’s manner of handling odd snapshots and film stills contains more emotional involvement and painterly expressiveness than “proper” photorealism does. The manner she uses to re-create the (often familiar) images has a distinctly hallucinatory quality – this is evident in her many paintings of film stills as well as in the eerie self-portraits.

The painting “Kill Your Darlings I” presented at the spring exhibition is also a kind of self-portrait – a nearly inhuman one, with a colour scheme consisting only of über-cool, completely unnatural blues, and with polished, “hot-cold” aesthetics highly reminiscent of glossy international commercials (for designer jeans, maybe?), and an overall set-up reminiscent of glamorous semi-erotic Hollywood thrillers. It’s a curious piece of work that contains several possibly contradicting layers of meaning. (Obvious inner contradictions, and even calculating the bizarre, confusing effects these will have on the viewer, are a common trait in Murka’s work.) It could be interpreted equally well as a celebration of a twisted, narcissistic ego and self-image, or a self-loather’s dreamy vision of the inachievable “perfect” self, or a critique on the objectification of young, good-looking women so common in the mass media and modern society’s shallow, clichéd expectations of them – and quite possibly all that simultaneously. Maarit Murka certainly makes good use of the heavily filtered, distorted aesthetics of commercial mass media to contemplate her own existence and world experience.

Her rich and reflective solo exhibition titled “The Truth is Out There” was also ripe with references to popular culture – however, not using them to appear clever, quirkily campy or satirical – Murka’s approach is far deeper than that. Although the premise of the show might sound gimmicky, she is not trying to offer quick laughs – rather possibly not any laughs at all.

She picked the tagline of the cult TV series “The X-Files” as the title and painted a rather matter-of-factly rendered series of iconic images from heavily hyped (not necessarily good nor significant) modern American horror films like “The Village”, “The Ring”, “Saw” and “The Blair Witch Project”. In order to present those, she created a naturalistic thicket inside the gallery, with real trees and a thick layer of smellily decaying dead leaves on the floor. (Murka’s solo exhibitions – she held another one titled “Wake up!” in Tallinn’s ArtDepoo gallery in late March – actually present her as an installation artist as well as a painter, as she puts a lot of effort into designing the surroundings in which her paintings are to be presented, picks the background music carefully, etc.) The exhibition also had a sound background in the shape of a rather discreetly displayed video clip emitting strange noises, panting and screams (the imagery of the video consisted mostly of wandering in the woods, again reminiscent of the “Blair Witch”). The effect was uncanny: Murka managed to turn the safe gallery environment into a morbidly jolly “theme park of horror” of sorts and through it, point to our culture’s bizarre understanding of fear and horror as categories of consumer goods.

I find Maarit Murka’s media-saturated, beautifully bleak vision both pleasing to the eye and fascinating as a thought process.

Mari Laaniste