31 March – 21 May 2023

In her works, Sandra Kantanen raises questions about the fundamental nature of photography and the ways in which a landscape is constructed. The primary focus of her production is the interface between the real and the ideal. Her photographs are like aesthetic journeys into an illusionary world and landscape that does not actually exist.

The Smokeworks series was photographed between 2016–2021 in the forests near Kantanen’s home in Hanko. Finnish nature, saturated with national romanticism, was initially a tricky subject for Kantanen, who was accustomed to more exotic photography locations. Eventually, she found a way to approach it through the area’s wartime history. Encountering the remnants and memories of the war is commonplace for the inhabitants of Hanko, and there are still bombs from the 1940s Russian occupation on the peninsula. Kantanen began staging the forest with colourful smoke bombs during different seasons, as a reminder of the history carried by the place and individual trees. In light of recent events, the idea that war is a possibility in this day and age has made the images unexpectedly topical.

Kantanen uses the language of painting in her photographs to emphasise the photographer’s active role in the process of creating the work and to question the distinction between the two techniques. Her visual thinking has been influenced by Asian landscape traditions and Eastern philosophy in particular, with some elements also reminiscent of Romantic-era painting. In Kantanen’s works, smoke functions as a kind of three-dimensional paint, making something invisible and transcendental visible. On the other hand, the layered images and the digitally stretched, paint-like pixels underline the artificial nature of the image and the landscape. The brushstrokes then transform into digital glitches, as if intentionally disturbing our contemplation of the image and pursuit of the fleeting ideal.

Sandra Kantanen (b. 1974 in Helsinki) graduated from the University of Art and Design Helsinki as a photographer in 2003 and has studied Chinese landscape painting in Beijing. Today, she is one of the most renowned photographers of the Helsinki School, whose award-winning works are most often seen outside Finland. This spring, Kantanen’s production can also be seen at the contemporary art museum Chappe in Tammisaari.

The exhibition is supported by the Swedish Cultural Foundation and the Finnish Heritage Agency.