Alumni Spotlight: Pilvi Takala
Artist Pilvi Takala explores our social norms and rules in her performance art. She infiltrates various communities in undercover roles and quietly challenges the acceptable ways of behavior. Unwritten social codes become visible in her video works. Takala spent Jan - Jun 2015 in residency at the ISCP, New York, with the support of FCINY and the Alfred Kordelin Foundation.
“I am endlessly fascinated by how the rules and regulations of society are formed in real life situations. These wordless negotiations are always complex and messy”, Takala explains.
The kind of disruptive behavior Takala explores in her work is usually more passive than aggressive; the tension often comes from choosing not to participate in a specific action or quietly questioning certain norms, rather than explicitly breaking rules. A good example of Takala’s method is her film The Trainee (2008), in which she depicts her month-long internship in the marketing department of the international accounting firm Deloitte. Takala spent time in the office on the pretext of working on her master’s thesis, but in reality, she was filming a performance. Only a few people in the firm knew of Takala’s real identity. She wanted to explore what would happen if, instead of working like everyone was expected to do in the office environment, she would just sit by her desk doing nothing physical, only thinking. Gradually Takala’s behavior started to attract attention and cause questions and confusion among her colleagues.
“The grey areas interest me. I never do a performance if I feel that I can already guess beforehand what people’s reactions to a specific situation are going to be. My creative process is about going through different types of behavior and possible responses in my mind, and when I come across a scenario in which I can’t guess the outcome in advance, I might develop that idea further.”
The next step in Takala’s process is spending time in the community, familiarizing herself with the new social environment and finding out what the norms and rules are. Currently, she is working on a new project around the theme of start-up companies and start-up business culture. The project concludes her residency period at the Aalto University School of Business in 2018. Takala attended one of the world’s leading start-up events Slush that takes place annually in Helsinki, Finland, as well as a few other countries. Slush aims to connect start ups and tech talent with investors and media, and has been rapidly growing in size during the past years, currently drawing more than 40 000 attendees to events around the world.
Takala explored Slush under the guise of a business founder with her own made up start-up company. She spent time at the event talking to people and pitching her imaginary idea, filmed the reception and is now in the process of going through the material.
“I’m interested in how Slush as an event has reached such an established position and how start-ups have become kind of an officially cool thing. Start-up founders are often regarded as model citizens. I wanted to explore what kind of social norms and codes of conduct are formed within the start-up business culture.”
In her performances, Takala often chooses actions that people usually tend to avoid – namely, behavior that somehow challenges the socially acceptable. In her videos, Takala seems almost immune to any feelings of awkwardness, but claims otherwise. She explains that she uses the level of awkwardness that she feels as an indicator of whether the performance is interesting or not.
“If I’m not feeling embarrassed, the performance probably isn’t that interesting or challenging. My tolerance for awkwardness in social situations is pretty high. I have to find that balance between feeling the embarrassment and still being able to stay in control of my own behavior in the situation and observe what’s going on.”