EMMA AINALA: SOFT HARDCORE
Emma Ainala’s latest works originate in her observations of the surrounding world, in discussions about it and, conversely, in her personal pain. Being a woman, sexuality, human relationships and power structures, social roles, the meaning vacuum, escapism, consumerism, the effects of individualism, longing for love, fear – these are just a few of the common threads running through the plethora of Ainala’s themes.
This body of works is framed by the world of social media, which has become an essential part of communication today. Ainala equates social-media communication with real-world exchanges. We seek to make a connection with other people through it and use it for self-expression: the selected aspects of ourselves that we put on public display construct a story that also leaves many things untold. Ainala is fascinated by visual communications, an example being “statement” clothes or hairstyles that can signal membership of a group or manifest an emotional state or an attitude. This is all a kind of fantasy and a game, while also being a plane of communication that Ainala sees more as an opportunity than a threat.
At the centre of these new paintings are women, often posing defiantly and self-confidently. Growing up as a woman was already a subject of Ainala’s previous works, but this time she focuses on relationships between women and on a sense of community, on myths related to womanhood and sexuality, on restrictions, ideals and taboos, on the phenomenon of “slut shaming”, and on the male gaze. Her sources of inspiration have been selfie photos taken by women and the community that has arisen around them, in which the women comment on each other’s pictures and encourage each other. The women do not compete with each other, but provide mutual support. This selfie culture has also faced criticism and stirred up misogyny – women who celebrate themselves and their own sexuality are seen as attention-seeking, dangerous or narcissistic.
Posing for the camera can also be a performance. The clown – one particular archetype of performance – appears in two of Ainala’s works. Some of the women in the paintings are also hiding behind a mask – they are on display, but via a role. Being on display is one kind of artisthood; a public persona is moulded out of the self, but where does the performance end – or does it end at all?
Ainala’s paintings are a form of visual fun, a jungle of symbols, figures and elements. It is impossible to get a coherent impression of a painting all in one go, as more new details are constantly emerging. Besides online images, Ainala quotes from the films and toys of her childhood, from games, and from art history. Her works are like kaleidoscopes, highly multi-dimensional, both visually and in their content. She is intrigued by the idea of convolutedness – of how things can be viewed from many different angles, instead of acceding to the pressure to package and squeeze them into some easily understandable form. A painting arises out of the subconscious, the unconscious, providing support for Ainala’s occasionally paradoxical or contradictory subject matter.
Ainala has frequently positioned object assemblages alongside her paintings, but on this occasion the subjects of the paintings get their continuation in ceramic sculptures. One particular issue that emerges through them is consumerism, which is touched on in the paintings, too. The pastel-toned trainers, hamburgers and pizza slices underscore the attractiveness of the objects with their overstated cuteness.
Emma Ainala (b. 1989, Helsinki) lives and works in Savonlinna. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki, in 2013 and has been actively taking part in exhibitions ever since. Ainala was invited to hold her first solo museum show at Mikkeli Art Museum in 2017, and an extensive exhibition at Jyväskylä Art Museum is scheduled for 2019. This year, she received an invitation to the tradition-steeped Spring Exhibition at Kunsthal Charlotteborg in Copenhagen. Her works are represented, for instance, in the Saastamoinen Foundation, Henna and Pertti Niemistö Art Foundation and Mikkeli Art Museum collections. 'Soft Hardcore' is Ainala’s third appearance at Helsinki Contemporary.