Fieldwork explores the dialectics of nature and culture in both artistic and scientific contexts. Since 1997, Finnish rising star Sanna Kannisto has spent several months per year living alongside biologists in the rainforests of Peru, Brazil, French Guyana, and Costa Rica. Adopting elements of her companions’ scientific methods and concepts, she developed her own form of visual research, extending her depictions of the flora and fauna beyond the confines of the natural sciences. Rather, Fieldwork explores the dialectics of nature and culture in both artistic and scientific contexts, challenging the limits of knowledge and truth.
The core practice of the natural sciences is to collect in order to inspect more closely in the service of public knowledge. Collecting implies taming and containment, traits shared to some extent by photography. Breaking away from the conventions of scientific documentation, which typically presents specimens in isolation and devoid of context, Kannisto’s work addresses the acts of staging and image-making. Her photographs, with their biologically correct titles, show not only the breathtaking beauty of nature, but also the tools used to achieve the would-be image at center—the velvety black drapes at each side, the difficult “neutral” lighting rig, the seamless white background. Signs of a scientifically standardized process—graph paper, rulers, test field markings—are also included, appearing uncharacteristically absurd, strangely out of place amid the lush green foliage of the rainforest.
With her gentle humor, Kannisto both recognizes and utilizes the constraints of science and photography alike, investigating the concept of truth in photography to challenge how we view and “know” the natural world.
Kannisto’s work references old botanical encyclopedias, early natural history illustrations, traditional still life paintings, as well as anthropology, studio portraiture, and staged photography. Steve Baker contributes an excellent essay that addresses the representation and use of animals in contemporary art.
Fieldwork was made possible, in part, with generous support from the Finnish National Council for Photographic Art. Additional support for the exhibition was provided by FRAME (Finnish Fund for Art Exchange) and the Consulate General of Finland.