Stiina Saaristo produces drawings that are difficult to ignore. Mixing cloyingly sentimental subject matter with content many find repugnant, her works delineate uneasy relationships and strange worlds.
Just consider 2014’s Watership down vs. Brambly hedge currently on show in the The Sin, a group exhibition installed at the Göstä branch of the Serlachius Museums. The scene depicts something reminiscent of the Mad Hatter’s tea party, but here there’s an alternate form of madness at work.
The space is intensely claustrophobic. Crowded with figures, it is also brimming with floral patterns, sentimentalised religious imagery and assorted kitsch.
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Moreover, the mood is intensely unpleasant. It is obvious from the look on the rabbits’ faces that they have been interrupted. Wearing threateningly hostile expressions, they glare out at viewers. It seems we have caught them praying.
It’s probably at this time that many notice those are human hands, not paws, that are clasped together. ‘Praying for what?’, we may well wonder, while a handgun also rests at the corner of the table.
Though the figures are only partly disguised, their masks makes then unidentifiable. These once naturalistic furry coverings begin to seem quite strange. They look more rubbery than real and the eyes, visible through the ill-shaped openings, frighten.
The rabbits defiance contrasts dramatically with the bravery and desperation of the scene’s second cast of characters. Situated at the drawing’s periphery, the mice form a ring that delineates the desperateness and horror of war.
Despite the odds against them, they engage in risky guerilla tactics fully aware that possibility of death lingers in the air. While one pair creep dangerously close to the opposition to set their flag afire, another attempts to dislodge the pin in a grenade sitting on a shelf.
Balancing these operations is the evidence of casualties, and the fearful women and children who are trying to find their way out of this perilous melee.
Saaristo employs visual conventions used in the depiction of fairy tales and adventure stories to excellent effect. Watership down vs. Brambly hedge bristles with action and suspense but, unlike such escapist narratives, offers no prospect of a happy ending.
The tableau’s significance not only lies in the way it subverts the prettiness that typically pervades such scenes, but also in how it speaks about the abhorrence of diversity and the insanely brutal methods some exploit to assert control.