Heli Hiltunen’s (b. 1960) works create pathways between the present and the past. They provide clues to the audience by forming routes in a kind of map, and by offering perspectives for a closer look. The truth that emerges from one route is not unconditional; rather, you can disagree and engage in dialogue with it. The name of the exhibition, Thank God, I’m Beginning to Be Delivered of My Melancholy, is a quote from the play Leonce and Lena by playwright Georg Büchner from 1836.
The most thematically unified series in the exhibition comprises 17 works with floral motifs. The works have been printed from slides, which in the early days of slide projectors were captivatingly called Magic Lantern slides. In Heli Hiltunen’s works, everyday phrases are screen-printed inside a frame, where they are joined with floral motifs replete with dreams. The materials used by Hiltunen include shopping lists, letters, and photographs, for example, and the way she employs them forms an essential part of the content of her works. The found materials remind you of time, which keeps going at its own pace. The fragments and words that are left behind are rearranged: in the hands of others, in a new life. Words may become lost over the years, they may be forgotten, or they may be organised into new layers.
Using trees and wood as materials remains a common theme throughout the exhibited works. In Hiltunen’s oil paintings, you can see branches, pathways which could have been formed by pests living in the tree. It is also possible to use trees to measure time. As the tree grows, its delicate frame is transformed into a thick trunk. Hiltunen’s collage Tiedon portaat (‘The Steps of Knowledge’) portrays a Finnish type-planned veteran’s house, which is also made of wood. The house was once full of life, but now it has turned into a forlorn scene. All that remains is a ladder, a shovel, and a bucket. Hiltunen has made the collage into her own personal archive. The veranda rail is covered in payslips. Underneath the glass, there are documents casting light on people’s lives and their fates. There is also an uplifting drawing, where flowers reach up to the birds flying in the sky.
Balls coiled from old rug weft allude to everyday chores in the pair of photographs The Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Although the balls are black, tightly-wound knots, they are marked with white spots that make them shine in the dark. Could it be that the spots form star charts?
Hiltunen’s works investigate people’s micro-histories and examine what will be left of us after we are gone. The remaining material also inspires you to think about what you ultimately knew of those who are no longer with us. Their handwriting and spelling can reveal something about the time in which they lived, but maybe also something about their fate and social standing. Even if the words were written by someone close to you, they may, in all their familiarity, seem peculiarly strange in retrospect (when the person has passed on). Hiltunen’s works are very discreet, and while people are present in them, they never show their faces. The trees continue to grow by the house. The branches become thicker, and the scenery changes. The house has a new owner, but the temporal layers live on.
Heli Hiltunen (b. 1960) graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1990. She has since organised several solo exhibitions and participated in group exhibitions both in Finland and abroad. Her works are included in several Finnish and Nordic collections, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM), Saastamoinen Foundation’s Art Collection, the Wihuri Art Collection, the Niemistö Collection, and Sara Hildén Art Museum. Heli Hiltunen received the Ars Fennica Award in 2001.
– Ulla-Maija Pitkänen