Refusing to conform is meant to be dangerous. But Finnish artist Pilvi Takala shows that nonconformity is something much worse than dangerous: it’s uncomfortable.
Takala pulls pranks, insinuates herself into everyday situations and tests everyone’s limits. It’s like ‘Trigger Happy TV’ but art, with all the laughs swapped for squirms.
In the earliest work on display, she’s filmed at a party for old Finnish couples. She’s overdressed, way too young and totally alone, waiting for a partner who never shows up. They take pity on her, invite her to dance, drink and share tables. But she remains a hauntingly discomfiting presence, an outsider making everyone’s night creak with tension and awkwardness. On the one hand, why is she there? But on the other, why shouldn’t she be?
You realise how fragile yet pervasive our conformity is
Another video shows her dressed as Snow White and trying to get into Disneyland Paris. As kids stop her for photos, security guards try to kick her out for not being the ‘real’ Snow White but also somehow looking too much like the ‘real’ Snow White. ‘I thought the “real” Snow White was a drawing?’ she protests. She’s quietly, tensely, awkwardly testing the boundaries between capitalist reality and animated fiction.
The best work here uses hidden cameras to follow her on a month as a marketing trainee at Deloitte. Instead of working hard, making tea and looking busy, she stares blankly into space for hours and rides the elevator all day. When confronted by co-workers, she says she’s doing ‘brain work’. They’re all fascinated, amused and deeply worried by her unconventional behaviour. Panicked emails start flying around, colleagues beg for someone to explain what she’s doing. It’s brilliant: a series of tiny shifts in behaviour that are both totally innocuous and utterly unacceptable.
Other pieces ditch the hidden cameras in favour of recreations – in one she gets a job as a security guard, in another she takes up residence as a ‘wellbeing coordinator’ in a trendy east London coworking space and insists on touching and hugging everyone – but the disconnect with reality makes them work less well than the pieces with real, immediate reactions.
But the main rub, the central premise of Takala’s work, functions regardless. She ever-so-slightly undermines normality until you burst with embarrassment, and then realise that what she’s doing simply isn’t that big a deal. It’s not murder or violence, just little changes that should mean nothing but somehow tear the fabric of the everyday apart with cringing awkwardness. In the process, you realise how fragile yet pervasive our conformity is, and just how tightly clenched we all are too.