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Niina Vatanen

Beyond the Visible Surface

“I cannot penetrate, cannot reach into the Photograph. I can only sweep it with my glance, like a smooth surface.” Roland Barthes

When we look at photographs, our gaze often remains fixed on the content—the seemingly precise depiction and localization of a past reality. We see the photographic image as an authentic source of information, a kind of “contact sheet” of reality. But with our intense focus on the content, we often do not look deeper into the meaning of the photograph, and our gaze is instead deflected off its surface. It is as if we can’t see the photo for all the information depicted in it. It is only with a certain distance that the ambivalence of photography becomes obvious. The works of Finnish artist Niina Vatanen use simple, playful interventions to afford us this distance and to point our gaze directly at the photographic surface, revealing the act of seeing as an inherent element of photography.

The viewer always interprets his or her own personal and sensory experiences in what he sees, searches for truths and meanings, and even discovers patterns and implications that are not present in the image at all. Without intending to, he incorporates these into his own imaginary context, consisting of memories, past events, and illusions. Niina Vatanen’s work considers the potency of images that are hidden or obscured, and the empty spaces in between things. She explores perception in the interaction between the visible and the not-visible, between the surface and what lies underneath, using these themes as artistic tools to represent memory, feelings, and moods. In so doing, she engages in a complex interrogation of key aspects of photography including materiality, visibility, memory, and imagination. In Vatanen’s work, photographs do not merely depict but stand alone as autonomous images.

This comprehensive exhibition of Niina Vatanen’s oeuvre is being presented for the first time in Berlin by C/O Berlin. The exhibition is curated by Ann-Christin Bertrand.

Niina Vatanen . Beyond the Visible Surface is building the starting point of the new exhibition series Thinking about Photography. With this series, C/O Berlin has created an entirely new exhibition series for Berlin that places a deliberate focus on new trends in contemporary photography. Photography has always been strongly influenced by technological innovations, and in the recent history of the medium this has led to constant development and change. The advent of digital photography launched yet another transition process, whose gradually emerging effects and implications have been the subject of intense discussion in recent years among international artists and experts in photography. The new series “Thinking about Photography” will provide an opportunity for reflection on new trends and artistic developments in the medium of photography in up to three exhibitions per year. By exploring new modes of photographic production, perception, and presentation, the series will encourage broader consideration of the future of the medium.