Baltimore — Full Circle Photo Gallery presents Orphaned Light, a solo exhibition featuring the work of Finnish artist Marja Pirilä. On view now through May 29, photographs of room-sized camera obscura projections from two series are featured.
For these enigmatic images, rooms in two abandoned buildings were set up as camera obscuras: a former psychiatric hospital and an abandoned and unfinished mansion whose owners died suddenly before its completion. By infusing these rooms with light from the outside environment, they are brought back to life, though in a dream-like state.
Latin for ‘dark chamber’, the phenomenon of the camera obscura has a long history going back as far as the fifth century BCE in China. They were popular in eighteenth-century artistic circles as optical aids, in the nineteenth century as tourist spectacles, and with contemporary photographers such as Abelardo Morell. While Pirilä uses the same phenomenon, she uses it in an entirely different way, netting results that carry the unhappy histories of the interior spaces.
The process of preparing the room is slow, and the aperture is critical to gain clarity and strength of the projection, which is completely dependent on good weather for a clear image. It is unpredictable and requires patience waiting for the magical and decisive moment. The duality captured in the image—the exterior and interior spaces—challenges the existence of a singular space and one time. Moody and filmic, incorporated into the images are partially open doorways through which light beckons one to reality once again.
Photographs from the series Speaking House, 2006, were taken in an abandoned former mental hospital. These images consider themes of disintegration, fragility, loss, and the death of the artist’s mother. While the exterior imagery is unrelated to the history contained in the hospital walls, it nonetheless takes on a feeling of dystopian tension. Images from the Milavida series, 2013, were taken in the eponymous mansion, which has been abandoned and empty for years in the artist’s hometown of Tampere, Finland. The mansion’s original owners died shortly before it’s completion and left four small children orphaned. The projected images are not just of the outside world cast inwards, but also conjure the family home that could have been. Pirilä’s photographs give us imagined memories of joy. Orphaned Light offers these wraithlike reflections born by light, to raise questions of our own spaces, histories, and experiences.
These light meditations bring forth the past and the present where they not only coexist but also engage in constant dialogue.
Marja Pirilä graduated in 1986 as a photographer from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, Finland and as Master of Science from the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Helsinki. Pirilä’s photographs have been exhibited in Europe, North and South America, and Asia and it has been collected by major European public and private collections. Carried by Light, a monographic book on her output, was published in 2014.
For more information, visit www.fullcirclephotogallery.com/orphanedlight.