Gay City: Ilppo Pohjola


"Amorphous Questions of Emotion: Lush fantasy colors and the daily war absent in mainstream cinema."

As published in Gay City News:

Transgendered individuals battle to be accepted by the mainstream. So do experimental filmmakers.

Ilppo Pohjola s(ill-Poe poy-Yo-la) addresses assumptions of the “subversive” in his pseudo-documentary, P(l)ain Truth, that chronicles a transgender sex change. The Finnish artist and filmmaker, whose films have been widely screened at festivals and group shows around the world, makes his debut American solo exhibition at Klemens Gasser & Tanya Grunert, a Chelsea gallery with a strong film and video program.

In P(l)ain Truth (1993), Pohjola fuses the mainstream cinema language of over-simplification, with the experimental film language of symbolic meaning. Based on a true story, Pohjola names the form “Symbolic Documentary” as the film does not investigate the facts, but rather, addresses the more ambitious and amorphous question of emotion. The film is charged with stylized renderings of the sexualized body, as well as the clinical text of the medical establishment, which becomes literally written into the flesh of the “patient.”

A soundtrack by Glenn Branca adds an eerie undertone to Pohjola’s reconstruction—both physical and mental—of an individual’s sexual identity.

Pohjola’s Routemaster (1999), which screens in the larger room of Gasser & Grunert, juxtaposes black-and-white race cars as well as races with tinted images of human cadavers that have been employed as crash-test dummies. Pohjola’s technique is part mechanic, part medical examiner, in both ways reducing everything to pieces. Three versions, with three different musical scores, evidence the interchangeability of his artistic concerns, and, by extension, all concerns.

With visual emphases gleaned from structuralist film and minimalist art, Pohjola’s employs repetition, variation, and quick cuts to produce a paradoxical slowness, as if representing the movement of life in a strobe light. In our own ever-racing culture, Pohjola affirms that we are the crash-test corpses, riding shotgun, awaiting spiritual deaths that are as assembly-line as they are inevitable.

Pohjola’s films give a glimpse into what’s missing in mainstream cinema––the lush colors of fantasy, and the daily war that provides us all, depending on our moods, with victory or defeat. Themes of sex and death, evoked by Pohjola’s bold sensibility, generate a saturated and lasting impression.